Women and girls with disabilities
- Girls and women with disabilities face increased risk of abuse generally and particular risks during times of conflict that can increase the danger of physical and sexual violence. Conflict itself may render more women disabled due to landmines, gunshot wounds, fires, attack and mutilation by armed forces, and lack of vaccination to illnesses. Conflict also can erode traditional community structures, so that support networks women and girls with disabilities may have relied on prior to conflict are often non-existent during and after conflict (Human Rights Watch, 2010). According to a study by Human Rights Watch in northern Uganda, more than a third of women with disabilities interviewed had experienced sexual or gender-based violence (Human Rights Watch, 2012).
- The World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of any population is made up of persons with disabilities, with potentially higher proportions in communities that have fled war or natural disasters. Based on this, as many as 6.5 million of the world’s 43.51 million people displaced by conflict have disabilities. People with disabilities are among the most hidden and neglected of all displaced people, excluded from or unable to access most aid programs because of physical and social barriers or because of negative attitudes and biases. They are often not identified when aid agencies and organizations collect data and assess needs during and after a humanitarian disaster. They are more likely to be forgotten when health and support services are provided. Often, refugees with disabilities are more isolated following their displacement than when they were in their home communities. For more, see the Women’s Refugee Commission’s work on this issue.
For research studies, a toolkit, a fact sheet, and more resources devoted to this issue, see the WRC’s resources database on working on disabilities in refugee settings.
- The following are examples of increased vulnerabilities that women and girls with disabilities face (Human Rights Watch, 2010, and Human Rights Watch, 2012):
- Limited mobility. Limited mobility can result in an inability to flee dangerous situations, as well as an inability to physically access basic services such as food, medical care and shelter that able-bodied individuals can more easily get to. Women with disabilities may be unable to access water from distant boreholes. They may be forced to stay in IDP camps because they cannot travel back to their homes and have no one to assist them.
- Stigma and discrimination from their families, communities, and service providers. Women and girls with disabilities may be viewed by their families and communities as little more than burdens who cannot contribute to the community and may therefore be at heightened risk for intra-familial verbal and physical abuse. They may be denied access to basic services, isolated from or abandoned by their communities, and be more at risk of danger because they lack family or community protection. Because women and girls with disabilities can be more at risk of sexual violence and rape, those that bear children out of rape must sometimes care for these children on their own with little help from their families/ communities.
- Unequal access to information. Women and girls who are hearing or sight impaired, who cannot travel to community meetings, or who have been denied access to education due to their disability and/or poverty resulting from their disability, are often excluded from the dissemination of important information. Campaigns raising awareness about VAWG and services available may not reach women with disabilities, despite their increased risk. This is compounded by the fact that service providers are not sensitive or have the capacity to address various disabilities.
- Inability to participate in their communities and earn livelihoods. Physical access issues, such as lack of mobility devices and ramps, keep women with disabilities from engaging in community activities as well as meaningful work. Some are stigmatized as less intelligent or unable to work and are denied access to economic groups and other livelihoods opportunities in which they could support themselves.
- Denied access to justice. Women and girls with disabilities who have survived violence are often unable to turn to the justice system because of barriers to communication and mobility as well as stigma. Women who have been sexually assaulted face the threat of dual stigma of rape and disability, and many choose not to report crimes against them. Furthermore, there is a strong bias against their credibility in judicial processes in cases of mental or cognitive disability.
- Denied access to property, land, and livestock. Women and girls with disabilities are more likely to be denied basic resources and otherwise taken advantage of by others in the community who view them as being unable to defend themselves.
- Lack of access to health care. Women with disabilities who cannot access livelihoods are often unable to afford expensive hospital bills. Hospitals that cater to the needs of individuals with disabilities may be in short supply during and after conflict, or lack the funding to support necessary medical procedures. Further, women and girls with disabilities who have been sexually abused are at a high risk of HIV infection.
For more information on the intersections of disability and HIV/AIDS, see Tataryn, M. 2008., “Emerging from War, Finding a Voice: Intersections of Disability and HIV/AIDS in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings.” AIDS-Free World. Available in English.
For a report on sexual violence faced by children with disabilities, see Handicap International and Save the Children. 2011. “Out From the Shadows: Sexual Violence against Children with Disabilities.” London: Save the Children. Available in English.
For additional information on the violence and discrimination faced by women with disabilities, see Costa, S. 2011. “Invisible and Overlooked: Refugees with Disabilities.” Huffington Post; Available in English. and Dawn Ontario. “Family Violence Against Women with Disabilities.” DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario. Available in English.