Concerns abound for women with disabilities
JAMAICA ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and signed the optional protocol in 2007, but there are concerns that women and children living with disabilities here continue to battle discrimination.
The concerns were raised by the International Disability Alliance (IDA) during the recently held 52nd session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), held at the UN Commission in New York.
IDA, which comprises a number of international groups who fight for the rights of the disabled community, made a number of suggestions which they feel could help to better improve the lives of those living with disabilities.
The group noted that women and girls with disabilities "are often subjected to multiple forms of discrimination, especially with regard to access to education, employment, access to health care, and protection from violence."
It is an observation that has also been made by member of the National Advisory Board for Persons with Disabilities, Maia Chung, who told All Woman that these women are oftentimes prime targets for sexual abuse.
"They are open to sexual harassment from persons who see their vulnerability," said Chung, who recounted stories from women who were approached by men to give sexual favours in exchange for their assistance.
One of the suggestions made by IDA, is that Jamaica, "address the heightened risk for girls and women with disabilities of becoming victims of domestic violence and abuse, and adopt urgent measures to ensure that both services and information for victims are made accessible to women and girls with disabilities".
The group also called on the Government to adopt measures that would ensure that education, information, healthcare and services relating to sexual and reproductive health and sexual transmitted diseases are made accessible to women and girls in age-appropriate formats.
Apart from catering to the reproductive health of these women, they pointed to the need for a health service that would also offer physical treatment and psychological counselling.
"I can safely say that sufficient health and education avenues are not available at this time in Jamaica for persons living with disabilities or those having to deal with the disabled," noted Chung, who was recently appointed by Cabinet as the chairperson for the Public Education Sub-Committee.
Jamaica in response to CEDAW has pointed to a number of special temporary measures to address discrimination against women and children living with disabilities.
They include the introduction of the Social Protection Project (SPP), which was designed to place emphasis on job creation and income support while providing options for further skills training and increased involvement of women.
The SPP was also designed to foster continued employment, especially for women as heads of households through co-ordination with local government and other public and private sector organisations. The programme provides grants to assist minors, pregnant mothers, the elderly and persons living with disabilities to help women and their families who are falling below the poverty line.
Provisions are also to be made in the proposed Occupational Safety and Health bill to protect persons from the practise of screening for HIV/AIDS, as a prerequisite for employment.
The new Victims Charter came into effect to ensure that victims are protected and given fair and just treatment throughout the various stages of the justice process.
At the same time, the Bureau of Women's Affairs has made recommendations to the Justice System Reform Task Force to make special provisions for women — including the disabled and other vulnerable groups — and children who are affected by acts of violence, infected or affected by HIV and AIDS as well as other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
There is, too, on-going in-service education for all categories of health care workers and this includes inter-personal relations and provision of youth-friendly services. This should help to highlight the needs of special groups such as the disabled and adolescents while serving to eliminate barriers or discrimination, if any, against clients/patients, including women.
The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities continues to focus on the human rights of persons with disabilities to improve their status and enable them to benefit from better quality of life in areas such as education, employment, health, housing, transportation and accessibility to all areas of society. The Bureau continues to work with persons with disabilities to provide training and awareness-raising activities around specific legal and other issues especially gender-based violence.
Other national programmes have also been introduced to facilitate the development and social integration of persons with disabilities and co-ordinated by the Jamaica Council on Persons with Disability (JCPD) to help disabled women and their families to access social and economic benefits provided by the Government of Jamaica.
In addition, a project was implemented under the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP) and initiated in 2004 to provide financial assistance to business operators in Jamaica. That effort also aimed at increasing the capacity of the productive and service sectors as well as their intermediary private sector and support institutions to grow their business and improve their competitiveness.
Further, to ensure equality of opportunity to all persons, a new initiative — the Economic Empowerment Grant — was allocated to the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities to fund small business ventures among other social and economic activities. This was geared towards providing assistance to a large number of disabled women and their families who were involved in small business ventures.