16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence & the International Day of People with Disability – Focus on women with disability

Today’s post comes from Liz Gill-Atkinson, a Research Assistant and PhD Candidate with the W-DARE program, based at the University of Melbourne. 

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that starts on 25th November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on 10th December, Human Rights Day.  Violence against women is deeply rooted in gender inequality and on average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime (1). The campaign hopes to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international level.

In addition to being midway through the 16 Days of Activism, today, Wednesday 3rd December, is also the International Day of People with Disability, a day which aims to “increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate the achievements and contributions of people with disability” (2).

At the intersection of these two international campaigns is the issue of violence against women with disability, who are disproportionately affected by sexual and gender-based violence due to both their gender and their disability (3, 4).

In 2012, a systematic review and meta-analysis of the global prevalence of risk of violence against adults with disabilities found that adults with disabilities are 1.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than those without disability (5). Whilst the review does not separate findings for men and women with disability, studies from around the world confirm that violence against women with disability is common in high, middle and low-income settings and occurs in many forms, including sexual, physical and psychological violence (6).  Some studies report that women with disability are two to three times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than women without disability (5, 7).

The vulnerability of women with disability to violence varies according to a number of factors, including factors relevant to violence against women without disability, such as low household income, lower educational level and illiteracy, poor health status, and alcohol abuse in the home (5 However, women with disability also experience additional risk factors that are directly related to their disability, such as; dependency on carers; social isolation; lack of awareness of what is considered acceptable behaviour and of rights; communication barriers; and lack of self-protection skills.  Perpetrators perceive women with disability to be powerless, reject their human rights and perceive that they are easily able to get away with abuse (8).  Types of disability also increase risk, for example women with intellectual disability are thought to be at greater risk of violence than women with other types of impairments (4).

Women with disability who are victimised by an intimate partner may be more likely to stay in the relationship because of financial or physical dependence on their partner (9). Escaping violent situations also poses many barriers for women with disability who face specific obstacles such as lack of communication aids, transport inaccessibility, and decreased physical capability for self-defence, among others (10). It has been well-documented that perpetrators will exploit the challenges presented by a specific disability, for example by removing mobility aids, limiting a woman’s ability to take action against the violence (11). Social and cultural myths about disability (which vary between and within settings), such as the myth that women with disability are asexual, further increase the risk of violence for women with disability (4).

In the Philippines, it is estimated that one in five women aged 15-49 experiences physical violence (12). Whilst national data is not available for women with disabilities, studies suggest that the number of women with disability experiencing violence may be significantly higher than for women without disability. The Filipino Deaf Women’s Health and Crisis Center report that approximately one out of three deaf women is raped and 60 – 75% of deaf girls are molested (13). Qualitative interviews conducted by women with disability with other women with disability in the W-DARE project found that violence and abuse were common themes reported by the women themselves:

“Instead of talking, always, he’ll hurt me. That’s how he dealt with our situation. He’ll beat me” (Deaf woman, Quezon City)

In her publication “What works to prevent violence against women with disabilities” Van Der Heijden highlights that whilst some research has been conducted into violence against women with disabilities, much more is needed in order to develop appropriate and effective responses to prevent violence against women with disabilities, in particular in low and middle income settings such as the Philippines (4).

After building the capacity of women with disabilities to conduct research with other women with disabilities, W-DARE has continued to work directly with women with disabilities, their representative organisations and their communities as well as health service providers and local government, to improve the SRH of women with disabilities, which includes efforts to address and prevent violence against women with disabilities.  In 2015 we will be working with the Women’s and Children’s Protection Units in Quezon City and Ligao City, and other service providers, to increase service providers’ awareness of the increased vulnerability of women with disability to violence.  We will work with violence prevention services to help them ensure that their services are accessible to people with disability, and that their staff have the knowledge and skills needed to support women with disability who may be experiencing violence or abuse.

A full update on Phase 2 activities that will be running throughout 2015 will be included in our second newsletter for 2014 and will be updated to this blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more updates from the W-DARE team and project partners to learn about the W-DARE interventions as they unfold throughout 2015.


  1. United Nations. (2006). Fact Sheet: UNiTE to end Violence against women. United Nations Secretary General’s campaign. Accessed via: http://www.un.org/en/women/endviolence/pdf/VAW.pdf
  1. International Day of People With Disability. (2014) Campaign website. Accessed via: http://www.idpwd.com.au/
  1. Foster, K., & Sandel, M. (2010). Abuse of Women with Disabilities: Toward an Empowerment Perspective. Sexuality & Disability, 28(3), 177-186.
  1. Van Der Hijden, I. (2014). What works to prevent violence against women with disabilities. WhatWorks To Prevent Violence. A Global Programme To Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls. UK Department for International Development. Accessed Via: http://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/VAWG/What_Works_Inception_Report_June_2014_AnnexW_Interventions_for_abuse_against_WWD.pdf
  1. Hughes, K., Bellis, M.A., Jones, L., Bates, G., Eckley, L., McCoy, E., Mikton, C, Shakespear, T., & Officer, A. 2012. Prevalence and risk of violence against adults with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Lancet, 379, 1621-1629.
  1. WHO & UNFPA. (2009). Promoting sexual and reproductive health for persons with disabilities: WHO/UNFPA Guidance Note. Switzerland: WHO.
  1. Lin, L.-P., Yen, C.-F., Kuo, F.-Y., Wu, J.-L. & Lin, J.-D. (2009). Sexual assault of people with disabilities: Results of a 2002-2007 national report in Taiwan. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30, 969-975
  1. Shettle, A. (2009). Women with disabilities in development: Intersecting invisibility, intersecting realities. A Report on the E-Discussion on Women with Disabilities in Development. Hosted by GPDD & World Bank.
  1. Mona, L. R., Cameron, R. P., Goldwaser, G., Miller, A. R., Syme, M. L., & Fraley, S. S. (2009). Prescription for pleasure: exploring sex-positive approaches in women with spinal cord injury. Topics in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation, 15(1), 15-28.
  1. Center for Women Policy Studies (2011). The Barbara Faye Waxman Fiduccia papers on women and girls with disabilities. Washington, Center for Women Policy Studies.
  1. Ballan, M.S., & Freyer, M.B. (2012). Self-Defence Among Women With Disabilities: An Unexplored Domain in Domestic Violence Cases. Violence Against Women, 18(9), 1083-1107.
  1. NSO (National Statistics Office). (2008). Philippines National Demographic and Health Survey: Key Findings. Accessed via: http://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/SR175/SR175.pdf
  1. PARE. (2012). Qualitative Study on the realization of reproductive rights and protection from violence for women and girls with disabilities in the Philippines. The United Nations Population Fund, Philippines.
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