A Conversation on Gender Equality and Disability Rights with Silvia Quan

As one of the most tenacious leaders in her generation of disability rights advocates, Silvia Quan has faced down the forces of discrimination and fought for expanding the rights of all persons with disabilities, in her native Guatemala, in the broader Latin American region, and on the global stage. For her many achievements, especially in her capacity as Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Silvia was recently honored with the International Advocate Award by the U.S. International Council of Disabilities (USICD).

Silvia epitomizes the strength that people need when facing discrimination based on disability and gender. When she lost her eyesight in her 20s, while on a career path in math and science, she could have quietly given up, or resigned herself to the limits that others would place on her, but she refused to accept the status quo or excuses for inaction. Rather, she transformed herself into one of the most effective leaders for disability rights and an example for all of us in the disability rights movement.

From the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to the committee’s review of compliance reports, Silvia has ensured that UN work on disability rights includes the voices of women. Her latest achievement on the Committee came in September, with the adoption of General Comment on Article 6 of the CRPD, which clarifies the interpretation of the prohibition of discrimination against women with disabilities and applies the principle throughout the CRPD.

Now that she has just completed the maximum two terms on the committee, I will be eagerly waiting to see her continue to break down barriers as she takes on new challenges. I will also be closely watching the UN Committee, out of my deep concerns about the limited representation of women with disabilities in international fora. There are many dynamic disabled women who are leaders in the disability rights movement around the world. We need their leadership on all levels -- local, national, and international -- and in all sectors of society -- government, civil society, business, and community life. My hope is that recognition of her contributions, by USICD and others, will inspire another generation of activists to follow in her path, and that they push themselves and raise their voices for change.

During her December visit to Washington, Silvia and I had the chance to record a short conversation, which makes clear why her work is so important for disabled people around the world.It touches the very heart of what it means to uphold human dignity and respect the rights of all. I hope you will take the time to listen to the podcast, and that it gives you something to think about in considering how we can promote human rights worldwide.  Thanks for listening.

Listen to Special Advisor Judith Heumann's podcast discussion with Silvia Quan on the U.S. Department of State's iTunes Channel. 

About the Author: Judith Heumann serves as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:

Special Advisor Heumann (second from right) and Sylvia Quan pose (far right) following a discussion on the importance of inclusion and gender equality in the disability rights movement. [State Department photo]
Posted by Judith Heumann
January 9, 2017

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