Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University [Women of China English Monthly]
The United Nations' 61st assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on December 13, 2006. That act was a milestone in the protection of human rights. Previously, there had not been an international convention that protected the rights of disabled people.
It took the UN five years to negotiate, draft and eventually adopt the convention, which has since protected the rights of 650 million disabled people globally. The convention opened for signatures on March 30, 2007, and it took effect on May 3, 2008, after it was signed by 20 member states.
According to World Health Organization (WHO)'s statistics, about 650 million people suffer from various kinds of disabilities. They account for about 10 percent of the world's population, and 80 percent of them live in impoverished countries or regions.
The WHO's statistics also indicate the number of people with disabilities is on the increase globally. The main reasons include the increase of population, medical progress and the aging world's population. In countries or regions where people's average life expectancy is over 70 years, an average of eight years with certain disability is likely to occur within an individual's life cycle, which account for 11.5 percent of one's lifetime.
The convention provides world-recognized criteria on rights of people with disabilities. The convention helps raise the public's awareness of disabilities, and it helps people change their attitudes toward disabled people. Disabled people should be regarded as ordinary human beings, not as "useless" people. The convention makes clear the contents of the rights of disabled people and various applicable conditions.
Countries take the convention for reference when they establish and implement laws and policies on protection of disabled people's rights. It outlines assessment criteria, and it provides an effective mechanism for monitoring application of laws and policies. It also establishes a framework for international cooperation.
During the past decade, 165 UN member states have signed the convention, and they have promoted the development of disabled people and strengthened the protection of disabled people's rights.
Fast Development of Disabled People in China
In March 1988, the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF) was established in Beijing. The CDPF was established on the basis of the China Association for the Vision and Hearing-impaired Persons (established 1953) and the China Foundation for Disabled Persons (established in 1984). The CDPF opened a new chapter for people with disabilities in China.
The CDPF represents people with disabilities, and it serves and helps protect the legal rights of disabled people. With the support of both the society and the Chinese Government, CDPF has implemented numerous major initiatives.
In September 1988, the State Council, China's cabinet, issued the Five-year Outline of Work on Disabled People. In December 1990, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities of the People's Republic of China (amended in 2008). In December 1991, the State Council issued the Eighth Five-year Plan for Work on Disabled People and its implementation schemes. In September 1993, the State Council established a coordination committee on disabled people, which was composed of 32 leaders of ministries and commissions.
By implementing the above-mentioned initiatives, China no longer focused merely on aiding and supporting people with disabilities. Instead, with the aim of "equality and participation," China has focused on the rehabilitation, education, employment, social participation and welfare (including rights protection) of disabled people.
China has achieved steady progress in work on disabled people, and has entered the best period in its history in this regard. Deng Pufang, former CDPF chairperson, received the 2003 UN Prize for Human Rights for his efforts to promote and protect human rights of disabled people, from both China and the world.
In 2004, China "respects and protects human rights" was written into the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. In 2007, China signed and ratified the convention, and it was one of the first group of countries to do so. In 2008, China hosted the Summer Paralympic Games, which was attended by athletes from 147 countries. During the games, Chinese spectators greatly changed their attitudes toward disabled people, after they witnessed that disabled people loved life, struggled for success and were able to contribute to society.
The Chinese Government has strictly implemented the convention, and China has also formulated and improved laws, regulations and policies that protect the rights of disabled people with an aim to promote and realize the ideas and principles of respect, non-discrimination, equality, participation, integration and barrier-free. China has considerably improved the disabled people's living conditions and their capacity for development.
Incorporating Gender Equality in Work on Disabled People
The convention recognizes (17th paragraph) that "women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation."
Article 6 addresses the rights of women with disabilities, stipulating: "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the present Convention."
Although China has made great achievements in its work involving disabled people, the general public don't see the gender gap, age gap, gap between urban and rural disabled people, or the gap between disabled people of different ethnic groups. In addition, they don't understand that disabled people have faced difficulties in their development and the protection of their rights as a result of those gaps.
With the support from CDPF and the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council, we conducted research into the development of disabled women in China in 2010. We found the following three main gaps existed:
The first gap existed between disabled women and nondisabled women. Take access to education as an example; according to the sixth national population census in 2010, the illiteracy rate among nondisabled women was 7.29 percent. However, according to a report on disabled people, the illiteracy rate among disabled women was 55.3 percent in 2010.
The second gap existed between disabled women and disabled men. Take employment as an example; in 2010, the employment rate among disabled women was 26.4 percent, about one-third lower than the employment rate of disabled men, which was 38.4 percent. Disabled women also had fewer job opportunities than men.
The third gap existed between disabled rural women and disabled urban women. Take the income of disabled women in a designated province as an example; in 2010, the annual average income of disabled rural women was 1,173 yuan (US $180), less than 30 percent of that earned by disabled urban women. During the past five years, rural disabled women in the province have received no vocational education or skills training.
China has 85 million disabled people, about half of whom are women. Seventy percent of those disabled women live in rural areas. Disabled women in rural areas are more likely to face difficulties in their lives. If we solve the problems and difficulties that confront disabled women in impoverished areas, especially disabled women from minority groups, then we will actually solve a series of problems related to women's development and rights protection, the development of minority regions, rural development and poverty alleviation, and the development and rights protection of disabled people.
The convention correctly emphasizes (19th paragraph) "the need to incorporate a gender perspective in all efforts to promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities." Only by adopting a gender perspective in our work involving disabled people will we be able to truly implement and safeguard the right to life and right to development of disabled people. Only then will we be able to truly "implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and (ensure) no disabled people will be left behind." Only then will we truly realize social justice and gender equality in China.
The author is Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly September 2016 Issue)