16 Days of Activism: Five forms of violence against women with disabilities that must be addressed
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to data on violence against women with disabilities is that we don’t have disaggregated data to assist in showing the heightened violence faced by them.
What is ‘normal’? In this fortnightly column, Srinidhi Raghavan explores the understanding of bodies-minds and navigating spaces as disabled, chronically ill and sick people. Read more from the series here.
As November set in, I was reminded of the global commemoration of 16 days of activism. 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and continues until 10 December, Human Rights Day. This November (at the very least), let’s take a look at violence against disabled women.
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to data on violence against women with disabilities is that we don’t have disaggregated data to assist in showing the heightened violence faced by them. In this piece, Abha Khetarpal talks about the scant reporting on violence against disabled women and why we need to talk more about the violence faced by women with disabilities. While researching for this piece, I began looking for newspaper reports of violence against women with disabilities. Unfortunately, since there is no uniformity in reporting on women with disabilities, newspaper reports only turned up articles when searches were done for terms like, “mentally challenged”, “differently-abled”, “specially-abled”, “physically challenged”, “mentally retarded” etc. This however is for a whole other column — one around our language with regards to disabled people. But even within these searches, it showed only experiences of sexual violence and/or sexual assault.
Violence against women with disabilities spreads across a wide landscape of acts of violence and discrimination.
Data from National Crime Records Bureau shows us that violence against women is increasingly perpetrated by those they know. Similarly, from anecdotal evidence from work done with disabled women shows us that violence often happens by people within the home. [Watch this video made by Rising Flame (Ending the Silence) from several years ago that looks at violence against disabled women.]
Here are five forms of violence against women with disabilities that we need to highlight, discuss in mainstream media and within our movements. Many of these experiences that I share below are from the years of engaging with, listening to and witnessing women with disabilities experiences of violence through my work.
Denial of assistive aids/mobility aids: Women with disabilities have often shared that their assistive devices like wheelchairs, crutches etc are hidden from them or not provided to them, in a way to restrict their mobility and increase dependence on the family.
Compromising of privacy: Due to an inaccessible digital world or the inaccessible physical world, there is a loss of privacy for many disabled people. For instance, since many banking applications are inaccessible to screen reader users, women with disabilities may be required to provide their private information or passwords to others to navigate the system. Their right to privacy is undervalued or not valued at all.
Denial of autonomy in making decisions related to SRHR: There is massive control over disabled women and their bodies which results in many forms of violence which is not limited to rape and sexual assault. Since disabled women are often not seen as capable of being mothers or managing their menstrual cycles, there are forced hysterectomies conducted on them without their consent. Additionally, in matters of their bodies, sexual experiences, child bearing and more, family members, caregivers and institutional support staff make these decisions for them.
Denial of socialisation: Women and girls with disabilities often discuss the isolation they face because of the restrictions in leaving homes. They are not taking to weddings or social functions because of the prevalent stigma around disability. One woman shared how when she performed in a school function, her family was upset when they found out. They prohibited her from singing or performing in public ever again. This control over their socialisation and exposure has drastic effects on self-confidence and sense of personhood
Denial of access to information: In a recent study conducted by Rising Flame and Sightsavers around the COVID crisis and its impact on disabled women, a deaf woman shared how she was told that if she went out, she would die. Only after receiving information through non-profits who made information accessible in sign language, was she able to understand the reasons for her to stay indoors, the existence of a virus and the safety precautions she can take.
These examples of violence against women with disabilities are often restricted to anecdotal evidence because of the lack of acknowledgement except within the women with disabilities community of the harsh effects these experiences have. A prolonged and continuous reinforcement of the idea remains that disabled people, especially disabled women, are burdens to their family. It is essential for us to interrogate and document these experiences of violence of women with disabilities.
Srinidhi Raghavan is a writer, researcher and trainer. She works at the intersections of sexuality, gender, disability and technology. She works on programme development with Rising Flame and is the Co-Founder of The Curio-city Collective.
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