GBV and Women with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities worldwide make up around 14% of the population according to the 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) report. Higher rates (18%) are reported for lower income countries...
First Pacific Disability Forum Women With Disabilities Conference, in Port Vila, Vanuatu, 20 April 2009. Photo: AusAID

Persons with disabilities worldwide make up around 14% of the population according to the 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) report. Higher rates (18%) are reported for lower income countries and lower rates (around 11%) for higher income countries. Women tend to represent higher proportions mainly due to their longevity and also record different circumstances under which the disability was acquired. One of these is GBV although no estimates of the impact on the total of women with disabilities acquired because of violence is available. In the same way, figures on the extent that GBV affects women with disabilities in particular is a subject that has just begun to be thoroughly researched. The few studies available do point to the higher vulnerability of domestic or intrafamily violence as well as institutional violence that affects the exercise of all basic rights to health, work, political participation, education, family life and others.

According to the statement made by the International Disability Alliance (IDA) on the International day for the Elimination of VAW November 25, 2015 “women and girls with disabilities experience multiple discrimination, placing them at a higher risk of gender based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation. They are subjected to violence both within and outside the home, and by practices condoned by the State which permit and sometimes target women and girls with disabilities for forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced contraception, and other forms of involuntary treatment including institutionalisation, which have been deemed to amount to torture or cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and UN bodies.”

Given this grave situation, the application of all International Human Rights instruments available is key as well as the policies and measures derived from these instruments to ensure that women and girls with disabilities are effectively protected from violence. In this regard it is important to remember that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) prohibits all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse against women and girls with disabilities.

Here a few good examples of how International Organizations as well as individual governments and persons with disabilities organisations are progressing in the measures and tools to comply with this prohibition and also increasing the knowledge to make this grave violation of human rights more visible.

In Spain, since 2008 a specific national plan addressing the needs of women and girls with disabilities was prepared in a very wide participatory approach by the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Persons with Disabilities (CERMI which is the Spanish umbrella organisation representing the interests of more than 3.8 million women and men with disabilities in Spain). The latest version of this Plan (2013-2016) has mainstreamed the issue of violence throughout the plan revealing the true extent of the systemic violence that women with disabilities face whilst making specific recommendations and actions to prevent it.

Also in Spain, a study by the Women’s Institute (Instituto de la Mujer) specifically dealing with the issue of violence against women and girls with disabilities was commissioned in 2012. The study’s aim was to research the living conditions of women with disabilities and observing the possible types and forms in which violence is specifically experienced taking into account the diversity of disabilities and differentiated from the rest of the female population. Some of the recommendations (and criticisms) regarding long standing policies are very interesting and clearly show the point of view of women experiencing discrimination at work, for example. Counter to very common policies worldwide that grant subsidies to employers who hire persons with disabilities, women interviewed in the study expressed that these subsidies are actually counter to the normalization principle and actually create more stigma benefitting only the employers. In line with the growing trend of inclusive education, the study also pointed out the double handicap of special schools that have isolated them further, limiting their circle of friends to other handicapped children and complained about low quality of teaching staff that further limited their chances at integrating into the work force. Lack of interest by parents in the education of girls with disabilities was also identified as a key issue that affected early termination of studies. More importantly the study clearly highlights the lack of specific measures in public policies that include women and girls with disabilities, which is in itself a violation of their rights.

In the international arena, in 2012 a report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights specifically addressing violence against women and girls and disability was prepared. In addition to giving an in depth analysis of the causes and manifestations of violence against women and girls with disabilities, the report assesses the laws, policies and programs for the protection and prevention of violence against women and girls with disabilities. Most importantly it underlines the gaps in addressing the root causes of violence against women and girls with disabilities and incorporating them women into gender-based violence programmes. Some of the recommendations in the study are already being applied by UN bodies such as UN Women. This entity in the Pacific Islands has supported the preparation of a toolkit specifically for girls and women with disabilities. “Developed by the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) in partnership with the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation (FDPF), the Toolkit on Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities in Fiji will support EVAW organisations and partners to work with disabled persons organisations to ensure women and girls with disabilities are included in their programmes and projects”. Given the fact that only one of the Pacific island States have yet ratified the CRPD, this initiative will be an important tool for raising awareness and advocating for the States’ obligation to comply with international legislation on the rights of women and girls with disabilities and more importantly to protect them from any type of violence.


I am passionate about ending GBV because of its terrible lifetime effects and its diminishing of capabilities and opportunities of those who experience it.

Elizabeth Villagómez

16 Days CampaignGender
Elizabeth Villagómez

Elizabeth Villagomez, independent researcher and consultant, has been the Adviser for Economic Empowerment of Women UN Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean and was the first economic adviser at the institution in 2001 as part of UNIFEM. She holds a PhD in Economics. Her professional activity has developed in teaching and applied research in economics with a focus on gender issues. She has worked in Eastern and South East Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, South-east Asia, and the Pacific Islands for various UN agencies and other European and international organizations.
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  • 16 Days Campaign 2015 – Video
    11 December 2015 at 2:33 pm
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    […] We learned about new approaches on how to engage men and boys in eliminating GBV as well about the importance of education in eradicating HIV and the reality of GBV in the lives of women with disabilities. […]

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