Today is Day 9 of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
There are over a billion people with disabilities on the planet. Approximately half of them are women with disabilities. They are grandmothers, mothers, partners, lovers and sisters. They are seldom seen in market places, the fields, the classrooms, at the health clinics or in the workplace. Women with disabilities are by and large an invisible group in society. Their invisibility is partly due to the multiple forms of discrimination and the intersectionality of disability and gender.
Violence against women and girls with disabilities is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of gender-based violence. A reflection of attitudes ingrained in all cultural systems of the world where women are seen as lesser human beings – and women with disabilities as even less worthy – makes it easy for abusive power and control over them. Research by Women’s Aid indicates that one in four women experience domestic violence. For women with a disability, this figure doubles. Be it at the hands of their partner, family, or caregiver, almost one in two women with disabilities will be abused in their lifetime.
The experiences of women with disabilities fit within traditional definitions of domestic violence, but some do not – they are disability-specific, such as having medicine withheld, being physically assaulted, deliberately not being assisted to go to the toilet, or having their assistive devices taken away. Also women with disabilities may fear reporting or leaving an abuser because of emotional, financial or physical dependence, or fear of loss of parental rights. In situations of conflict where rape is often used as a weapon of war, women with disabilities are seen as easy targets. Conversely, situations of conflict invariablely increase the incidence of disability. The United States Government National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security highlights the need to take special measures to protect women and girls with disabilities from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006, recognized that “women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation” and emphasized “the need to incorporate a gender perspective in all efforts to promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities.”
So as we work to combat the epidemic of violence against women, the inclusion of women with disabilities must be deliberate. For examples, shelters must have the necessary accommodations for women with disabilities. Courts should have ramps, sign language rosters and trained staff who do not turn away women with disabilities because they do not think they are deserving of services.
Our intensified efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women must translate into accessible information on a range measures – that legal frameworks and policies are more reflective of the day-to-day experience of women with disabilities; that prevention actions are addressing all segments of the population; that efforts to prosecute perpetrators and protect and support victims recognize the specific needs women with disabilities might have; and that initiatives to enhance research and collect desegregated data include women with disabilities.
Finally as we consider the major structural factors underlying gender-based violence, it is necessary to address disability-based discrimination as a root cause of some of the gravest inequalities and human rights violations in the world. The intersection between gender and disability needs to be addressed explicitly and recognized in the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework and beyond.