Inclusion: Key in Fighting GBV against Women and Girls with Disabilities- DWI

“Around one in five women worldwide is a woman with a disability and for women with disabilities, gender-based violence is often compounded by disability-based discrimination”
By Joyce Mukucha
HARARE – Worldwide, women and girls with disabilities have borne the brunt of Gender Based Violence (GBV) as they face dilemmas which include systemic marginalization, attitudinal and environmental barriers that lead to lower economic and social status, increased risk of sexual violence and abuse, discrimination, negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation as well as harmful gender-based discriminatory practices.
According to 2018 UN Women study, it is estimated that more than one billion people in the world experience some form of disability with the average prevalence rate in the female population 18 years and older being 19.2 per cent, compared to 12 per cent for males, representing about 1 in 5 women who experience GBV.
This has been also seconded by ADD International, a disability rights organisation which partner with organisations of disability activists in Africa and Asia and help them access the tools, resources and support they need to build powerful movements for change.
ADD underscores that around one in five women worldwide is a woman with a disability and for women with disabilities, gender-based violence is often compounded by disability-based discrimination.
Realising the dilemma of women and girls with disabilities on accessing GBV services and other important tools and support, Deaf Women Included (DWI) is working on developing a system and strategy aimed ensuring Zimbabwean women and girls with disabilities’ inclusion in the Violence Against Women and Girls with Disabilities(VAWGD) system.
The strategy’s main thrust is to ensure a more systematic approach to strengthen the inclusion of the rights of women and girls with disabilities to access GBV services as well as ensuring that gender equality, empowerment of all women and girls and realisation of their rights is attained.
It has also been learnt that women and girls with disabilities encounter barriers to access education, health care, including sexual and reproductive health, information and services, and justice as well as civic and political participation.
In line with this, DWI is making concerted effort to ensure that best practices are provided when working with women and girls with disabilities in GBV service provision. These include safe houses, health, economic empowerment, rapid response and psycho social support among others.

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Speaking during a Manual Development Workshop in Harare on the 10th of June 2021, DWI Programs Manager Onai Hara said in as much as understanding GBV in the disability community is concerned, it was imperative for service providers to become knowledgeable on all types of violence as well as their impact on women and girls with disabilities.
She highlighted that huge gaps were still existing when it comes to extending services to women and girls with disabilities and emphasised the need to close those gaps.
Unfortunately, she said, 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.
Challenges, she pointed out, being faced with women and girls with disabilities were not thoroughly captured when disability issues are being discussed about thus the need to work collectively to make sure that they are also included.
She stressed the urgent need to capture these incidences so that women and girls with disabilities do not remain at greater risk of GBV reiterating that it was significant to ensure that issues to do with disability sensitive budgets and reasonable accommodations, flexibility in planning for services and planning for direct support for survivors of violence.
“In our work, we have realised that women and girls with disabilities face forms of violence which are rarely captured in the definitions and understandings of types of violence. For instance, a woman with a disability who is physically and emotionally abused by her family member because she depends on them to support her with personal care as well as changing her sanitary pads when menstruating. When she asks them to help her change the pad or when she spoils her clothes because they delayed in supporting her change the pad, she is shouted at and in some instances beaten.
“When it comes to resources, they are not disability friendly such as health ,education, justice and legal infrastructure is not disability friendly thus the need to work tirelessly to ensure that these issues are addressed and make sure that women and girls with disabilities are included in all spheres of life particularly when it comes to accessing GBV services. Again, when it comes to donations for people with disabilities (PWDs), is heartbreaking to realise that donations of children with disabilities are being enjoyed with the family members whilst the beneficiary suffers.
“Without specific attention and solutions, these women will continue suffering as they will be always left behind and at risk. This has to change, there is need for a twin-track-approach which has been widely accepted as a practical way of ensuring full inclusion of persons with disabilities through mainstreaming their needs in general services as well as developing targeted services, specific to their needs,” Hara said.
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In other instances, Hara further explained, there is a widespread belief that a woman with a disability will give birth to a child with a disability, hence, to prevent the ‘clan from being polluted by disability’ women with disabilities need are forcibly prevented to give birth as they are forced to take contraceptives.
“To curb this, when planning for services, it is imperative that practitioners understand the intersectionality of disability with other social categories such as gender, geographic location and level of education. For example is a deaf woman in the rural area who has not been to school and is not able to understand formal sign language communication, neither can she read and write.
“When working with such an individual, there is need therefore to ensure that there are appropriate and alternative modes of communication for example use of relay interpretation, working with deaf interpreters, use of pictures and other visual aids that are easy to understand. Hiring a sign language interpreter in this case would be of little benefit to the service user as she has not been educated on the formal sign language communication,” she said.
Articulating on best practices that should be put in place when working with women and girls with disabilities in GBV service provision, DWI Director Agness Chindimba highlighted that it was of paramount importance to ensure that psycho social support, economic empowerment, health, rapid response, awareness, legal and justice among other best practices were embraced for the better welfare of people with disabilities.
Jules Daudi a member of DWI pointed out that is was of paramount importance to ensure that PWDs have accessible helplines which allow them to have alternative forms of communication which become critical to promote their independence especially when reporting cases of violence.
She also indicated the importance of engaging people with disabilities at all levels to make sure that they represent the victims and survivors of GBV.
“Reporting violence is not always easy especially for women and girls with disabilities who depend on others for support so there is need for having police officers and health experts with disabilities so that it becomes easy for people with disabilities to explicitly explain their cases without force, threats, manipulation, deception or misrepresentation, “Daudi said.
In order to mitigate the risk of sexual violence, Daudi added, disabled women need to have greater means of independence as she highlighted that projects play an important role of tackling the economic dependence of women with disabilities on their families and partners as both a cause and effect of violence.
“Dependence inhibits women and girls’ ability to report perpetrators of violence due to fear of failing to fend for themselves if they do so. For GBV programming to be relevant, there is need to also link with economic empowerment programmes and ensure that survivors have alternative sources of income. This is quite important considering the poverty levels within the disability community as well as the dependence of women and girls with disabilities on their families for survival,”she said.
Other participants highlighted that It was imperative for government, disability oriented organisations, development agencies, power holders and service providers among other relevant stakeholders to build into their programmes the right protection for disabled women with a sustained goal of ensuring that they access GBV services.
They indicated that women with a disability are often considered weak, worthless and in some cases subhuman by their societies and because of that face a heightened risk of domestic and sexual violence which contribute to hindrance of their participation on an equal basis with others.
As a way to curb this, participants stressed the need for sensitization and awareness meetings that are aimed at educating families, service providers and community at large on how to treat PWDs especially women and girls with dignity and respect.
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