Around one in five women worldwide has a disability. For disabled women gender-based violence and disability discrimination intersect to create brutal barriers to wellbeing. ADD International has launched a new paper on the invisible violence against women with disabilities.
Violence against women with disabilities has remained invisible. Women with disabilities around the world experience much higher levels of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, for longer periods of time and with worse physical and mental outcomes as a consequence of violence than women without disabilities.
Most incidents of gender-based violence are not reported to the police. Disabled women and girls often have crushingly low self-esteem; many women fear that reporting incidents of abuse might lead to them being abandoned, having their children taken away, losing financial support and care, and increased isolation. Even when women do report violence they face considerable obstacles in accessing support and justice.
Stigma and impairment specific challenges - such as complications in identifying the perpetrator, communication difficulties - create multiple barriers to justice.
Unfortunately, too many existing programmes meant to prevent gender-based violence do not take into account the unique dangers and challenges faced by women with disabilities. Without specific attention and solutions, these women have been left behind and at risk.
“Women with hearing impairments don’t hear the warnings of approaching predators. Women with visual impairments don’t know where to run to for protection. I’ve heard stories of blind girls who unsuspectingly walk on the street and ask for directions and someone says, ‘I’ll help you, I’ll guide you’ and they are led into places where they are raped.”
Joseph Walugembe. Country Director, ADD International Uganda.
This has to change.
Development agencies, power holders and service providers need to build into their programmes the right protection for disabled women. It will require sustained global focus, momentum and action. But if we are serious about fulfilling the global aspiration to ‘leave no one behind’ then it has to be done.
Over the last 30 years we have supported women with disabilities to either set up their own activist organisations or to mainstream gender into the work of existing groups. We have seen women with disabilities become stronger, more empowered and outspoken. This learning paper outlines key lessons from our work to help guide a collective path forward.
What we are calling for.
Inclusion: Governments, aid agencies and donors must prioritise reaching disabled women and girls in all areas of services. Access to prevention and justice programmes is essential, but so too is access to education, sexual health programmes, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as economic empowerment. Investment in testing approaches involving men and boys to address issues of violence is also needed.
Empowerment: The ‘leave no one behind’ agenda will only be possible through the empowerment and agency of persons with disabilities themselves. Supporting empowerment of women and girls with disabilities to be involved in decision-making processes and to become leaders themselves is essential if women and girls with disabilities are to be valued equally to men.
Participation: Governments and donors must build skills and expertise into how to take into account the unique dangers and challenges faced by women with disabilities. Meaningful participation of women and girls with disabilities in project planning and implementation processes is essential to help them do this.
Policy Frameworks: In spite of the progress observed, further support is required for partners to understand the universality of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its practical implications in terms of support to women and girls with disabilities.
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