Rashida Manjoo - special rapporteur for the United Nations -
presented a report on violence against women with disabilities to
the General Assembly in August 2012. This report was the result of
research across severalcountries over the past year.
According to the 2011World Report on Disabilityby the World
Health Organisation and the World Bank, it is estimated that
approximately 15 percent of the world's population lives with some
form of disability - 12 percent of men and 19.2 percent of women.
These figures tell us that a significant percentage of the global
population is made up of women with disabilities. Despite these
high figures, however, nation states do not act with due diligence
in order to promote and protect the rights of women with
disabilities, especially in terms of the violence they face.
Many policies operate on the assumption that a disabling
condition is a defect, rather than using the social model of
disability rights which sees disability as a socially ascribed
so-called deficit. The impact of such a perspective is clear:
persons with disabilities are to be avoided and/or excluded, as
opposed to accommodated and included in the community (as is
recommended by the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons
with Disabilities). This perspective compounds with other
stereotypes and biases surrounding gender and disability, and
subsequently results in disabled women cultivating a psychological
sense of invisibility, self-estrangement, and/or powerlessness.
This is further intensified if they are economically deprived,
older, or belong to a sexual minority or any other disfavoured
Vulnerable groups of disabled women
Women living in rural areas, where issues of economic
dependence, literacy, income, inaccessible environments, and a lack
of services, information, awareness and education leads to further
exploitation of women with disabilities. This can often lead to
trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labour.
Indigenous women living with disabilities face multiple levels
of discrimination based on their disability, gender, and indigenous
status. Cultural and linguistic barriers lead to further isolation
and discrimination, and the environments they live in often have
high levels of alcohol or substance abuse, which leads to greater
violence being perpetrated against them.
Women with disabilities who are a part of ethnic or racial
minority groups may be subject to discrimination in terms of access
to education, employment and healthcare. Furthermore, justice
systems are often unresponsive to their needs, and they are seen as
contributors to their own abuse.
Women living in conflict or post-conflict areas may be at
additional risk to violence as members of a targeted group. They
may also face additional burdens in refugee camps which are rarely
designed to meet access needs.
Undocumented women with disabilities may also face violence due
to aggressors' control over immigration, language barriers, and
barriers to social and public services.
Lesbian women and other sexual minorities that identify as
female face social barriers, violence and exclusion due to a
compounding of disability with a marginalised sexuality.
Older women experience disability more frequently as they age,
and they are particularly vulnerable to violence, as well as
psychological, verbal and financial abuse.
Social prejudices also play a major role. In some societies,
women with disabilities are seen as less eligible marriage
partners. Therefore, such women often find themselves in unstable
relationships which may turn abusive, and leaves them with few
legal, social, and economic options.
Manifestations of Violence:
Violence against women with disabilities can be of a physical,
psychological, sexual or financial nature and include neglect,
social isolation, entrapment, degradation, detention, denial of
healthcare, forced sterilization and psychiatric treatment. This
violence can be meted out to them at home, at work, at school, on
the street. or in institutions
Women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience
domestic violence as nondisabled women. They are also likely to
experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more
severe injuries as a result of this violence. In domestic violence
situations, disabled women may fear reporting or leaving an abuser
because of emotional, financial or physical dependence; they may
also fear losing custody of their children.
Apart from the physical barriers of actually fleeing the abuser
and reaching the police, women with disabilities face a number of
obstacles within the justice system. There is often a refusal to
view such women as credible witnesses (particularly if they have
difficulty in communicating or are intellectually disabled).
The stereotypes that exclude or discount their testimonies make
them additionally hesitant to lodge a complaint, and therefore more
vulnerable. Furthermore, lawyers are seldom trained to deal with
clients with disabilities, and therefore the client-lawyer
relationship may not reach its full potential. Prison facilities
are often also inaccessible for women with disabilities who are
detained. Many prisoners who need psychiatric treatment are instead
The forced sterilisation of women with disabilitiesis a global
problem, and women who choose to have children are often criticised
for their choices. On one hand, motherhood is expected of all women
and, on the other, women with disabilities are often discouraged,
if not forced, to reject motherhood roles - despite their personal
desires. Research shows that no other group has ever been as
severely restricted or negatively treated in respect to their
reproductive rights as women with disabilities.
Women and girls with disabilities are at risk of being
trafficked and forced into sex work. The four major risk factors
for susceptibility to trafficking are poverty, ignorance, minority
status and being female. Women and girls with disabilities may fit
into one or more of these high-risk categories, thus increasing
their vulnerability to this form of exploitation.
Violence against women with disabilities originates from social
norms about the type of disability as well as gender, and disabled
women face various barriers to escaping, preventing or obtaining
redress for this violence. Women with physical disabilities may be
dependent on their abusers for daily needs - carers, families,
partners, etc. Furthermore, the fact that they are often seen as
asexual paradoxically leads to greater levels of sexual violence,
because they are less likely to be believed if they report such
violations. Some cultures and religions see disability as
signifying evil, which is used to further justify violence. Women
with disabilities may also lack education, financial independence
and information to recognise and report violence, particularly
Conclusions and Recommendations:
There are many normative frameworks in existence, like the
United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
other instruments and conventions drawn up by Human Rights Council,
and region specific policies in Africa, America, and Europe that
can be positively used to help address violence against disabled
Most states lack legislations related to persons with
disabilities, and specifically women with disabilities. States
that have a disability law do not specifically address the rights
of women with disabilities in general, or violence in particular.
States may also have a specific law on violence against women that
generally provides remedies for all women, within a
non-discriminatory framework. Unfortunately, such laws are not
effectively implemented in respect to women with disabilities. On
the other hand, non-governmental organisations are doing dedicated
work in researching the issue and providing support and training to
women with disabilities
The rapporteur recommends that states should adopt an
empowerment perspective rather than a vulnerability perspective.
She also suggests reforms in the justice system including prisons,
healthcare facilities, and media portrayals. She encourages
enabling women with disabilities to work with women's rights groups
and disability organisations for their empowerment and progress.
Further, she states that United Nations agencies and programmes
should be increasingly engaged in the issue of violence against
women with disabilities, including in the production of specific
reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities.
Read the full report here.