By Lillian D’Costa
Bringing violence on women with disabilities in focus.
November 25, is the Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and while this year women’s groups will be celebrating the passing of yet another Act, namely The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which will safeguard their interests, an entire section of women will once again be ignored.
Here I am referring to women with disabilities. Statistics show that one out of every three women around the world face physical abuse, are coerced into sex, or abused. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury and death for women worldwide and women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence than non-disabled women. When one considers that women with disabilities constitute 42.46 percent of the disabled population in the country, one cannot fail to realise that there is a sizable problem of violence against women that is going unattended and festering under the surface. Sadly violence on women with disability is hardly talked about and is a highly marginalised issue in the discourse on women.
Research suggests that women with disabilities experience violence in situations similar to all women: that is, they will be assaulted by someone who is known to them, will most likely be assaulted by a man and it will most likely be in private, in their place of residence, the home of a friend or relative or in their work place.
What makes women with disabilities susceptible to higher levels of violence is their ‘vulnerability’. Their difficulty in protecting themselves, their lack of economic independence, illiteracy and ignorance about their rights, confinement to their homes and limited social contact, feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, repressed sexuality and susceptibility to coercion and bribery.
In an overwhelming majority of the cases violence is perpetrated by the caregiver, who is often the immediate family member. Being totally dependent on their families makes women with disabilities highly susceptible to violence.
Living in a highly confined environment many women are abused sexually by their fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, brother-in-laws and neighbours even at their place of work they are susceptible to sexual harassment, similarly girl students are often abused by their male teachers and most of this violence goes unreported. Girl children and women with developmental disabilities are further susceptible as they find it difficult to identify, express themselves and report violence. Fear, shame and lack of family support further prevent most women from speaking out and reporting violence.
Women with disabilities argue that violence against them get accentuated because they are often not considered as equal members of their family and looked upon as burdens. In an environment where they are perceived as lesser human beings it becomes easier to objectify them as tools of use and gratification. Many families simply send their women with disabilities to homes for the destitute.
The present situation for women with disabilities seems bleak and any response to the situation needs to recognise the correlation between violence and disadvantage. Things can change only if organisations working on disability and women’s issues decide to mainstream the issue of violence on women with disabilities. There is an urgent need also to ‘deprivatise’ violence so that women with disabilities feel confident to speak about, and report it. They need to know their rights and to understand that ‘it is not their fault’ but the perversion of the perpetrators that is responsible for the violence. The police and the courts can be helpful by adopting a more sensitive approach.
The community needs to be less tolerant towards violence and socially ratify the laws if they are to be effective. There is also a need for half-way homes and counselling facilities where women who have been physically, psychologically and emotionally brutalised can get the space to heal and access rehabilitation facilities.
(The writer is the Advocacy Coordinator of Alliance for Disability Rights)
The above article appeared in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald on 8th November 2006