EU policy for women with disabilities: Between Praise and Criticism

In the European Union a constantly growing group of 80 million people is handicapped, just the same number of people that is living in the most populated EU country, Germany. More than 50% of the disabled Europeans are female, representing 16% of the overall female population in the EU. A report on women with disabilities, published by the European Parliament (EP) in late 2013, aimed at improving the physical, intellectual and social environment for those girls and women and came in for praise by the European Disability Forum (EDF). Just recently, EDF criticised the European Commission for another report on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, launched at the beginning of June 2014. The policy field therefore deserves a closer look.

In the course of 2012 EDF, an independent NGO that focuses on Disabilty matters, was invited by the EP to present its views to Members of the Committee on Women’s rights and gender equality. The self-declared front runner for disability right took its chance and made it clear to the Parliament that the EU and its 28 member states should undertake all appropriate steps to protect disabled women and girls at home and abroad and facilitate their access to society, politics and the economy through EU-based assistance and support.

General declarations can be found next to specific recommendations within the 2013 report. In the future, EU member states have to ensure that women and girls with disabilities enjoy equality before the law and are entitled to equality of legal protection and legal benefits. EDF demands the general inclusion of disability in all measures and policies on gender diversity as well as specific programmes for women with handicaps. The parliament urges the European Commission to develop a gender approach in the context of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020. EU finance tools like the Structural Funds should be used to increase accessibility and non-discrimination for women and men with disabilities.

Nevertheless, EDF is not satisfied with the new Commission report. In contrary to the procedure in the EP the Commission did not involve civil society in the evaluative report, according to EDF. Even though the report outlines adopted measures, it does not include an assessment of their actual implementation and of the available budget. Moreover the report does not address the diversity of persons with disabilities, by generalising living circumstances and needs of disabled Europeans it misses the important point of addressing different groups with different measures.