Women with disabilities at greater risk of violence

Yet, they have poorer access to support.

Women with disabilities at greater risk of violence

Yet, they have poorer access to support.

By Alexandra Gartrell, World Vision Australia Disability Inclusion Advisor

“I stay alone and I can’t see … I’ve heard that women with disabilities get raped … harmed … so I get scared and worried that such things happen to me … I don’t know how I could ring someone because my phone has no credit … so I may have to yell to the neighbours.” – Woman with visual impairment, aged 35, Kompong Cham, Cambodia

On 3 December, the world marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is also the mid-point in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. While the statistics on violence against women are high and often shocking, the picture is significantly worse for women and girls with disabilities. 

  • Worldwide, young persons with disabilities, especially young women and girls, are two to four times more at risk of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities (DFID/UNFPD, 2018).
  • In Australia, gender-based and disability-based discrimination doubles the risk of violence for women and girls with disabilities as compared to women without disabilities (State of Victoria, 2016).
  • Women with disabilities experience all types of violence at higher rates, with increased severity and for longer than other women (State of Victoria, 2016). They face different forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse; bullying, coercion, institutionalisation, trafficking and forced sterilisation (DFID/UNFPD, 2018).
  • Impairment-related abuse included actions such as withholding medication and disability aids (State of Victoria, 2016).
  • Men who use violence often target women and girls with disabilities who they see as less powerful, such as women with barriers to communicate to others what has happened to them and those restricted in their physical movement.

Feminist analysis has identified that women with disabilities experience unique disadvantages that are the result of intersectional discrimination associated with gender, impairment type and severity, poverty and rurality (Lee et al, 2015; Mac-Sieng and Boggs, 2014; Frohmader and Ortoleva, 2013; WHO & WB, 2011;).

Despite their greater risk of all forms of violence, women with disabilities face multiple barriers to access health services and have greater unmet health and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs than women without disabilities (WHO & WB, 2011).

They are often excluded from activities that promote access to health and SRH information, screening, prevention and care services because disability is incorrectly associated with asexuality, and an inability, and/or lack of desire to bear and parent children (Vaughan et al, 2015, Murthy et al, 2014). SRH information and services may be physically inaccessible, communication modalities may be inappropriate, healthcare systems may lack disability awareness and be poorly prepared to cater for women and girls with disabilities.

Globally, we have a lot to learn about the unique risks, vulnerabilities and needs of women and girls with a disability and much work to do to prevent violence against them, to ensure their access to relevant supports and services that welcome survivors, and to build inclusive communities where they are valued and have voice.

World Vision globally is strengthening its work to systematise disability inclusion in its programming. In Australia, World Vision’s new EDGE Team – Environment, Disability and Gender Equality – recognises that individual, relational and structural factors shape access to, and control of, social, economic and environmental resources, as well as opportunities, that are foundational to quality of life, and that the poorest – women and girls, particularly those with disabilities, are systematically disadvantaged.

Framed by World Vision’s focus on child wellbeing and our commitment to the most vulnerable children, we are committed to both targeted programming in support of disability inclusion as well as ensuring disability inclusion is integrated as a minimum standard across our programming. The EDGE Team is also building approaches and tools to ensure the intersections between these three areas are well understood and inform our programming.

Our work in support of disability inclusion requires building our internal capacity and our understanding of the needs and priorities of women, men, girls and boys with disabilities, integrating disability inclusion analysis into the foundations of our programming, and engaging with people with disabilities and their representative organisations. This work is supported by a cross-organisational Disability Inclusion Working Group. 

For more information contact: Alexandra Gartrell, ANCP Disability Inclusion Advisor, Alexandra.gartrell@worldvision.com.au and Sarah Shteir, Senior Gender Equality Advisor, Sarah.Shteir@worldvision.com.au.


Want to know more?
Alexandra Gartrell, Klaus Baesel & Cornelia Becker (2017), “We do not dare to love”: women with disabilities' sexual and reproductive health and rights in rural Cambodia, Reproductive Health Matters, 25:50, 31-42, https://doi.org/10.1080/09688080.2017.1332447
Kristin Dunkle, Ingrid van der Heijden, Erin Stern and Esnat Chirwa (2018), “Disability and Violence against Women and Girls: Emerging Evidence from the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls Global Programme”, https://www.whatworks.co.za/documents/publications/195-disability-brief-whatworks-23072018-web/file
State of Victoria, Department of Health and Human Services (2016), “A discussion paper of the Victorian State Disability Plan 2017–2020”.
UNFPA (2018), “Young Persons with Disabilities: Global Study on Ending Gender-based Violence and Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights”, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/Final_Global_Study_English_3_Oct.pdf