Making women with disabilities visible

The research project we are launching today is vital for our understanding of the issue of women with disabilities, and for working with them to help meet their needs and priorities.

As such it should be a valuable contribution towards the protection of human rights for women with disability.

So I am pleased that the Australian Government has provided $22,000 to support such a progressive body of research. 

Australia shares your commitment to ensuring men and women benefit equally from development.

2008 marks sixty years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A few weeks back on the floor of the Australian Parliament, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed Australia’s strong commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, noting the Government’s resolve “as a nation, as a government and as a people to work on our own soil and to work with governments around the world towards the realisation of these rights for all peoples.”

And in July this year, the Australian government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Australian Government has also, for the first time, determined to make people with disability a priority for Australia’s aid program.  Just three weeks ago, Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullan, launched a strategy to guide our aid program in supporting people with disability in our region. 

The new strategy is called Development for All.  It aims to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, to strengthen prevention efforts and to promote international leadership on disability and development.

That strategy could not have been put together without the participation and the support of the very people it is intended to help.  Today I would like to say thank you to the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons and the Fiji Disabled People’s Association for helping us to put our new strategy together.  Indeed some of the individuals concerned are in this very room today.

As well as responding to our obligation under the UN Convention, this new strategy springs from strongly-held Australian values and beliefs - that all citizens should be able to enjoy the same freedoms as others, should be able to realise their full potential, should have the opportunity to live a rewarding social and economic life, and should share in their nation’s prosperity.  In Australia, that is what we often call a “fair go”.  And it why our new aid strategy is called Development for All.

Approximately 10 percent of the world’s people, about 650 million people, have a disability, and disability impacts around 25 percent – a quarter - of all households. 

Although they comprise a significant part of our communities, we know that people with disability have not always benefited from development programs.  They have often been excluded and as such are often amongst the poorest of the poor.  They do not get a fair go.

And women and girls with disability often suffer added disadvantage.  In many developing countries, they are the first to be denied the opportunity for education or work.  And they often face greater risk of abuse and violence.

We might say that such women are invisible.  And I guess that’s why this research project is titled “Making Women with Disabilities Visible”.

It’s a good title because it reminds us why this research is so important.  It will make information visible that was previously invisible.  It will bring facts to the attention of decision-makers in government and to the attention of the general public.  It will strengthen the hand of groups such as your own, who are fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.

So this research goes to the heart of equality of opportunity, and the notion of recognising each person’s right to the same freedoms and opportunities as others, that is, giving everyone a fair go. 

My hope is that this research will not only provide a strong basis for better policy and better public awareness in Fiji, but that it will also serve as a model and an inspiration for similar work in other countries in our region.

We are still just beginning, but if we can address the needs and priorities of women with disability, together we will see a transformation towards truly inclusive and sustainable development.

Let me conclude by expressing my sincere congratulations for the work of the National Council for your leadership on this issue; my best wishes to all those who will be involved in the research over the coming months; and finally my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Vinaka vakalevu.