Blind and Partially Sighted Women












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Policy Statement on implementing the human and social rights of visually impaired women
in Europe



Introduction

The Board of the European Blind Union (EBU), when considering WBU Resolution 96-09, Improvement of services for blind women and girls - asked the EBU Commission on Social Rights during the work period 1996-9, to consider what action may be taken to address the human and social rights of visually impaired women.

After consulting with the EBU Commission on the Advancement of the Interests of Blind and Partially Sighted Women, the Commission on Social Rights prepared a Policy Statement on this subject. The statement was included in the Commission's Report to the 6th General Assembly in Prague in November 1999 and was endorsed by the Assembly.

This Policy Statement has been further developed by the Commissions on Human and Social Rights and for the Advancement of the Interests of Blind and Partially Sighted Women, and has been submitted to the Board of EBU for endorsement.


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Objective of the policy statement

The Statement is intended to :

- Draw attention to the discrimination experienced by visually impaired women in Europe

- Recommend action that can be taken by national agencies representing the interests of visually impaired people to address this discrimination


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Discussion

A survey in Holland revealed that legislation is gender neutral, and services are officially available for all, however provision is male biased. Accounts from other European countries indicate that women nominally have the same human and social rights. However, women do not always gain access to those rights. The situation of men and women in the workplace illustrates this discrepancy. A covert hierarchy of opportunity exists. Able bodied men are in the best jobs, followed by able bodied women. Next in line are disabled men. Disabled women are located at the bottom of the employment hierarchy.

Although theoretically legislation usually offers women equal opportunities, in practice biological factors, attitudes, conditioning and inadvertent discrimination means that women do not have access to the same life opportunities as men. Visually impaired women are doubly disadvantaged.


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Recommendations for action by EBU members

This situation is wholly unsatisfactory. However there are many factors that create this problem. These include societal attitudes towards women that are beyond the scope of organisations such as the EBU and national agencies representing the interests of visually impaired people to address. It is therefore recommended that EBU members ensure that their organisation's internal policies and practices enable women to :

- Obtain employment at all levels and across the full range of posts within their organisations ;

- Receive the same pay and conditions of employment as their male colleagues ;

- Have the same opportunities for training and professional development as their male colleagues ;

- Receive maternity leave and have the opportunity to return to their job after the birth of children ;

- Receive encouragement and support to join Committees and Boards, so they can participate fully in the organisation's policy and decision making processes.

The EBU Commissions on Human and Social Rights and for the Advancement of the Interests of Blind and Partially Sighted Women and the Board of EBU invite all EBU Members to review their policies and practices in these five areas, and to consider what action may be needed to ensure that visually impaired women have equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities within their organisations.

It is also suggested that the progress being made in achieving gender equity is monitored annually, and the results published, together with a statement indicating the action being taken to achieve parity. This initiative will be seen by visually impaired women as a signal that the national organisation that represents their interests is committed to gender equity, and will encourage more visually impaired women to seek employment and Committee nomination.

It is often beneficial to form a council of visually impaired women at a national level. This facilitates mutual support, and enables women to develop their confidence, skills and experience. However, a council of women should be perceived as facilitating, rather than replacing equality of opportunity for employment or representation within organisations serving visually impaired people.

When internal gender equity has been established, organisations representing the interests of visually impaired people should encourage public bodies to give the same opportunities to suitable visually impaired women.


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