16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence & Disability Inclusion

by Chandra DeNap Whetstine, Senior Technical Advisor, Disability Inclusion at World Vision

Each year on December 3rd, the international community observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This day aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. As World Vision convenes technical knowledge around gender and disability within the newly formed Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Unit of IPG, it is not lost on me that this important International Day falls within the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

Women with disabilities face an increased risk of gender-based violence, and it is imperative that we meet the needs of this vulnerable population. Women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience neglect, maltreatment, rape, trafficking, and exploitation than women and girls without disabilities. They are up to three times more likely to be victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and rape than those without disabilities. And adults and children with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities are four times more likely to experience gender-based violence.

When gender inequality intersects with disability, it leads to heightened vulnerability. Inequality, discrimination, and lack of access to services and information can be intensified depending on a range of overlapping factors such as age, sex, type of disability, religion, class, and ethnicity. In many countries, having a disability carries stigma; which may be linked to perceptions that disability is a curse or punishment. In such contexts, families may limit mobility of people who have disabilities due to shame, leaving these individuals with little access to services and information about their health and rights. In societies where women and girls are expected to collect water or carry out household tasks, physical disabilities may result in these women being seen as less useful, which can lead to neglect or abuse. Perceptions that people with disabilities (especially women) are not sexually active may lead to them not receiving important information about sexual and reproductive health, including HIV and AIDS. In some countries, forced sterilization of people (mostly women) with disabilities occurs despite legal prohibitions. These attitudes, combined with the fact that many people with disabilities feel dependent on a caregiver, leave them not only vulnerable to violence but also unable to speak out when violence occurs.

Unfortunately, the needs of women and girls with disabilities are often not met within services and programs. Women with sensory disabilities, such as those who are blind or deaf, may not receive important messages about their rights and therefore may not know what services are available to them. Services are often not physically accessible to people with mobility limitations or those unable to use public transportation. When service providers assume that people with disabilities are not sexually active or capable of sexual activity, services for survivors of sexual assault and abuse are often not targeted to people with disabilities. And when they do experience violence, it may be difficult for people with disabilities to bring charges against their abuser due to lack of access to the police or courts, a feeling of dependency on their abuser, a fear that no one would believe them, or the ingrained belief that they are not deserving of justice.

As we commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and participate in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, we must consider these intersections of gender and disability which increase vulnerability. World Vision’s mandate is to care for the most vulnerable. How are we meeting the needs of women and girls with disabilities and addressing the staggering realities that leave them at increased risk for gender-based violence? Are we doing all we can?

Learn more about World Vision’s work on gender equality and disability inclusion.