Ana Peláez Narváez

"My mission is to fight discrimination against women and girls with disabilities."
Rodolfo Cattani

As a side event to a meeting of the European Disability Forum, I had a pleasant chat with Ana Peláez Narváez, whom many consider the advocate for the fight against discrimination against women and girls with disabilities in Europe and the world. Born in 1966 in Zafra, in the Spanish region of Extremadura, Ana, who is blind, graduated in Education Sciences and Psychology at the University of Seville and has specialized in the specific needs of persons with disabilities attending doctoral courses at the University of Salamanca. She is currently an international relations and activities adviser for ONCE, the Spanish National Organization of the Blind. She is also vice president of the CERMI Foundation for Women, the Spanish National Council of Persons with Disabilities, as well as the vice president of the European Disability Forum (EDF), for which she is also Chair of the Women's Committee. She was a member of the Committee of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from 2009 to 2016 and from 2010 to 2014 she was a member of the Board of the European Women's Lobby.

She was a representative of the Spanish Government in the International Commission that prepared the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, focusing on the cross-cutting theme of the gender issue. During her stay in the Committee of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities she contributed to the drafting of an important report on the same subject. For twenty years now, following the intersectional approach of human rights, Ana has guided and advised governments, civil society and various institutions, to ensure the full inclusion of disabled women and girls in the actions and policies that affect them. To this end, she was a speaker at various conferences organized by the United Nations agencies specializing in human rights, as well as by international bodies such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Since 2010 she represents women with disabilities in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Ana is an educated, extroverted, dynamic and determined woman who has dedicated herself to the fight against discrimination against women and girls with disabilities.

Ana Peláez Narváez

She has always fought against gender-based cross-sector discrimination; she has published numerous articles and reports on human rights and fundamental freedoms of disabled women and girls.

She is convinced that all the tools available to combat gender discrimination must be used, based above all on the rights guaranteed by the UN Convention. Disabled women and girls are still on the sidelines of gender equality decisions and initiatives and their voices are often unheard. For Ana, the time has come to include disability issues in CEDAW, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. "Almost one fifth of all women in the world have disabilities," says Ana, "and unfortunately this is too often ignored and marginalized. It is necessary to know and address their needs and aspirations, to be able to break down the barriers that force them into isolation and invisibility. Breaking the circle of invisibility and ignorance of the problems of disabled women and girls is my goal when I became the Spain representative in the CEDAW Committee." Ana is determined to fight for the emancipation of disabled women and girls and does not lack the arguments to demonstrate the urgency of bringing to light their suffering and the abuse against them. In fact, disabled women and girls are constantly subjected to forms of violence of all kinds, both within the family and in society. "I want to concentrate," Ana insists, "on the emancipation of these people who experience the difficulties of living a normal life every day. I therefore propose to work in order to ensure that this problem is discussed and understood so that in the future disabled women and girls can have equal rights and be included in the society for all. I strongly believe that we need to understand the meaning and value of human diversity, which is fundamental for overcoming the stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination still unfortunately widespread."

I asked Ana how she manages to reconcile her numerous professional and family commitments. Ana is married and has an 11-year-old daughter. "It is certainly difficult to take care of my family when I have to travel around the world and stay away from home sometimes for weeks at a time. Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband who supports me, and my daughter is doing really well both at home and at school. The price I pay is high, but I have many satisfactions, which compensate for the sacrifices I have to make. I have set myself an important goal and I hope to succeed in overcoming the prejudice that many disabled women and girls are facing. When I began working at ONCE, some twenty years ago, my director told me that I should focus on the condition of women. It seemed strange to me, because it did not seem to me that this problem existed. Today, I realize that this was an optimal choice, very important for my work and for my life. In fact, I discovered that discrimination against women is systemic and manifests itself in very different forms. The most striking forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities are sexual abuse and forced sterilization. I recently collaborated in research concerning this form of repression, I had not realized how widespread and severe it was.

Discrimination begins when you do not recognize it and do nothing to fight it. Silence and invisibility are complicit in discrimination and the vulnerability of those who cannot defend themselves leave too much room for perversion and the wickedness of violent people. This is why we cannot remain silent and we must denounce abuses with strength and clarity. To do this, we need to raise the awareness of women's and girls' advocacy groups who are still not sufficiently focusing on disabled women and girls. I am proud to be fighting this battle and I will work hard to win it."


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