International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: ensuring an inclusive response to VAWG

Violence against women and girls with disabilities poster from Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC).
Kirsty Smith.
Author:Kirsty Smith
Posted on: Sunday, 25th November, 2018

Globally, an estimated one in five to one in three women will experience violence at some point in their life. This ranges from controlling behaviour and psychological abuse, to physical violence, sexual assault, rape, forced marriage, ‘honour’-based violence and FGM. While men can also experience some of these forms of abuse, evidence indicates that they are experienced either disproportionately or solely by women [1].

Forgotten Sisters - A Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities finds that women and girls with disabilities are twice as likely to experience gender-based violence as those without a disability, and are more likely to suffer more serious injuries from the abuse, as well as violence over a longer period of time [2]. The World Report on Disability also finds that women and girls with disabilities are also more likely to experience forced sterilization than those without disabilities, often as a form of menstrual management [3].

At the heart of this violence are intersecting inequalities and discriminations – on the grounds of gender and of disability – and related power imbalances, ie men and people without disabilities typically hold the balance of power and advantage in many situations. In many parts of the world, a third intersecting factor of poverty can exacerbate the situation of a woman or girl with disabilities experiencing violence, for instance where she cannot access support services.

In Nigeria, CBM’s partner DRAC (Disability Rights Advocacy Centre) has carried out research into the public understanding of violence against women and girls with disabilities. A baseline study found that there is limited knowledge in Nigeria as to what constitutes an act of violence against women and girls with disabilities; for example 43% of respondees do not consider restricting a woman’s mobility through dismantling her wheelchair a crime; and one in seven do not consider financial abuse, such as forcing a blind woman to sign a cheque, as a form of violence.

The study found very limited public concern about violence against women and girls with disabilities, especially compared with issues such as unemployment, healthcare and education. Indifference towards the issue of gender-based violence also tended to be much higher amongst men than amongst women.

Women and girls with disabilities who experience violence in Nigeria often have little idea of how to access support services, and are sometimes faced with an attitude that they should accept or forgive abuse from a husband or partner because ‘at least he accepts her despite her disability’ and ‘if she loses him she may not find another man wiling to love her’.

The research also found that the public believes education is the most effective way to prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities; and in its recommendations, DRAC calls on the Nigerian government, NGOs and private sector organisations to increase awareness and challenge misconceptions that are based in traditional or religious beliefs. Additionally, DRAC argues there needs to be better laws and access to justice, as well as access to sexual and reproductive health services, better understanding and knowledge from other service providers, initiatives to prevent abuse of disabled girls in special schools, and improved evidence and data on the issue.

In its updated disability strategy, due to be launched in December, the UK Department for International Development will increase its focus on women and girls with disabilities through the overseas programmes it funds and in its global influencing work. CBM has lobbied DFID, directly and in partnership with the Gender and Development Network, to ensure that there is joined-up thinking across the Department’s work on both disability and gender; and to build the understanding of violence against women and girls with disabilities in all government departments that spend aid money. We have also called on Government to help build up data and evidence on violence against women and girls with disabilities - especially older women, who are often left out of data collection.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, each 25th November, provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the injustices faced by women and girls with disabilities. However, recommendations such as these must lead to a change in attitudes, laws and practices if perpetrators of violence are to be held to account and if women and girls with disabilities are to be able to claim and exercise their rights.

References

[1] The Intersection of Disability and Gender in the Global South: Narratives, Gaps and Opportunities. CBM UK, 2018 https://www.cbmuk.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/The-Intersection-of-Disability-and-Gender-in-the-Global-South.-CBM-UK-April-2018-2.pdf.

[2] Ortoleva, Stephanie and Lewis, Hope, Forgotten Sisters - A Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities: An Overview of its Nature, Scope, Causes and Consequences (August 21, 2012). Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 104-2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2133332.

[3] World Report on Disability. World Health Organisation and The World Bank, 2011 http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf.

Image: Violence against women and girls with disabilities poster from Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC).



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