Activists say more women needed on UN disability committee

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A deaf sign language user has been elected to a key United Nations committee for the first time, but activists say they are troubled that new elections left the committee with only a single female member.

Activists on Wednesday praised the election of Valery Rukhledev, a deaf sign language user from Russia, to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but they said the new elections leave only one woman among 18 members of the committee, down from six previously.

Advocates also praised the election of Robert Martin, a person with intellectual disabilities from New Zealand.

Priscille Gieser, chairwoman of the International Disability and Development Consortium, said women with disabilities need to be better represented.

“It’s not possible to think that men with disabilities can adequately speak on behalf of women with disabilities, because the problems that women with disabilities face are specific situations as double discrimination on gender and disability and this results in exposure to violence, less access to justice or education and denial of reproductive rights,” Geiser said.

Chairwoman of the of Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, who will step down at the end of the year, said the situation of women with disabilities was especially precarious with only 1 percent of them having access to education.

“The election yesterday has been very strange for us because three candidates were women and not one of them was elected, she said. “I cannot understand this situation.”

Cisternas Reyes said that while the men elected to the committee were all highly qualified so were the women who were passed over.

A U.N. conference on disabilities seeks to highlight the situation of the most vulnerable people with disabilities and the need to reduce inequality and poverty among them. The conference continues through Thursday.