Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Eugene, OR
August 22, 2012

Greetings everyone! It’s a pleasure for me to join you again at the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability hosted by Mobility International USA – I only wish I could be there with you in person.

First, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of women activists with disabilities and those who support them to improve the future for women and girls with disabilities around the world. It’s thanks to your tireless efforts that we are able to raise awareness on the issues and daily challenges facing women and girls who live with disabilities and that we are able to work together to address them. I also want to thank Susan Sygall for continuing to champion for the rights of people with disabilities and inspiring so many from all walks of life. Susan, you are an inspiration to all of us.

The Gender, Disability and Development Institute has successfully brought together women with disabilities—who are also leaders—from every continent, along with development professionals from various sectors. Because of these efforts we know the great value of building networks, continuing dialogue, and supporting inclusive programs and efforts focused on economic empowerment, political participation, gender-based violence, and health, among so many other issues. Building the leadership capacity of women with disabilities worldwide is essential and this Institute has played a vital role.

Judith Heumann is a leader at the State Department focused on this very important cause in the work we do around the world. She is tireless and knows that we will continue to work together, alongside men, to ensure that all women – including women with disabilities – are fully engaged at all levels of policy and development efforts. Whether at the decision-making tables, government, in business or running an NGO – ALL people with disabilities have the right to fully live up to their God-given potential.

All too often in my travels around the world I have witnessed the heartbreaking conditions in many places, the marginalization still faced by people with disabilities. Our work is far from done. When I was in Tashkent, Uzbekistan not too long ago, I met an extraordinary businesswoman who showed up at my meeting in a wheelchair. She told me about her accident, her immobility and her sentence to life outside the mainstream, but she said one day she realized it didn’t have to be this way. She not only established a successful home garden business, she also has become a strong advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. And there are women like her everywhere.

In July 2009, the United States joined 142 other countries in signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). That document not only promotes dignity, rights, and inclusive development but also underscores that women and girls with disabilities are susceptible to multiple types of discrimination – both inside and outside the home, and are at greater risk of violence, neglect or exploitation. This is why we must continue to raise awareness and break down barriers to move people with disabilities from the margins of their societies to the mainstream so they, too, can fully participate in their societies at all levels, no matter where they live. In an effort to address these issues, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) developed a disability policy across all Missions to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities both within USAID programs and in host countries where USAID has programs. This policy has helped to develop tools needed to better understand inclusive development and to take concrete steps to ensure U.S. assistance programs are indeed more inclusive.

We will always be by your side and will continue to partner with you to raise the voices and improve the lives of all people with disabilities no matter where they live. We applaud the extraordinary work of the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability. Go WILD Women!