No more violence against women with disabilities!

No more violence against women with disabilities!

European Disability Forum statement on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Today, the 25th of November, recalling that,

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in force in the European Union since 22nd January 2011, recognises in the preamble that women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation;
  • The 2030 Agenda, through Sustainable Development Goal No 5, seeks to put an end to all forms of discrimination against women and girls and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual exploitation;
  • The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (known as the Istanbul Convention) has been ratified by thirty-four European Countries, including twenty-one European Union member states;
  • European Union Directive 2012/29/EU of 25 October 2012, establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, requires targeted and integrated support for victims with specific needs, such as victims of sexual violence and victims of gender-based violence, and further calls for due consideration of the specific needs of victims with disabilities in communications and specific protection needs assessments;
  • The European Commission’s ‘A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025’ recognises that women with health issues and with disabilities are more likely to experience various forms of violence and commits the Commission to developing and funding measures to tackle abuse, violence, forced sterilisation and forced abortion.

The European Disability Forum wishes to raise its voice to condemn the situation in which thousands of women and girls with disabilities in Europe find themselves as victims or at serious risk of being victim of violence against women and gender-based violence, in all its shapes and forms without exception and which remains invisible in public policies in this area.

This year, 2020, has been marked by the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic that has caused a state of emergency which is not just health-related but also a political and social emergency of unpredictable dimensions. It is still impossible to gauge the global impact of the pandemic; however, it has brought to light the human rights violations faced by thousands of women and girls with disabilities, as well as mothers and women carers of relatives with disabilities during the state of lockdown introduced in many countries in our region as a measure needed to halt the spread of COVID-19.

This reality has revealed the shortcomings of a society which still views certain resources and services that are essential for women and girls with disabilities in their daily lives as dispensable, leading to violations of their fundamental rights during these exceptional circumstances.

The most worrying aspect was and continues to be the rise in the number of requests for information and support recorded by specialist gender-based violence services and the negative impact of the restrictions for many women, who have been forced to live with their abusers as they have no alternative. Many women with disabilities have experienced violence and abuse in an even more appalling way. Available resources and services have become more out-of-reach and less accessible during the months of lockdown.

Many women with disabilities, and in particular older women with disabilities, remain institutionalised in segregated centres, leading to serious consequences during the pandemic. Most of these institutions remain cut-off, even though the rest of the population is now not. The situation of women with disabilities who are subjected to sexual exploitation and trafficking deteriorated also during the pandemic.

Women with disabilities are denied access to justice in practice, as a result of the lack of accessibility and procedural accommodations in legal systems. Legal advice is unaffordable to them. Judges, prosecutors, lawyers and law enforcement officials are often not informed about the rights of women with disabilities and demonstrate various negative stereotypes concerning women with disabilities in their working practices. Legal personnel often fail to grant credence to the testimonies given by women with disabilities and frequently do not open cases concerning violent acts against women with disabilities as they may require additional resources due to the need to ascertain the victim’s capacity to give consent and testify. The few court judgements issued involving women with disabilities fail to respect fully their human rights.

It is essential we put in place suitable policies that take the specific demands and support needs of women and girls with disabilities into consideration and do not treat these flagrant breaches of their human rights as isolated exceptions.

Despite national laws on violence against women, the data offered by official statistics are still extremely unclear about gender-based violence and violence against women with disabilities. Moreover, services for women victims of violence continue to lack accessibility. Furthermore, we must add the fact that practitioners in this field continue to demonstrate serious gaps in their training on violence against women from the disability perspective, while at the same time systems lack effective protocols to enable proper cross-institutional co-ordination when the woman victim of violence has a disability.

On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we call for:

  1. The European Institute for Gender Equality, in partnership with the European Commission and the EU member states, to carry out a study on violence against women and girls with disabilities and violence against mothers and women carers of relatives with disabilities. This study should facilitate an assessment of current legal, administrative and policy measures for their protection and recovery and should take into due consideration concrete risk and aggravating factors such as legal incapacitation, institutionalisation, poverty, rurality, age and type of disability.
  2. Guaranteed universal accessibility in shelters and victim support programmes for women victims of violence, courts and awareness-raising campaigns and accessible information material, in line with the CRPD and the Istanbul Convention.
  3. Guaranteed access to justice for women and girls with disabilities, ensuring full accessibility in all procedural safeguards, including by means of accommodations in procedures and to take account of age, access to information and communications and the human and technological support chosen by women with disabilities for their dealings with the justice system.
  4. Effective oversight of all residential institutions, mental health centres, day-care centres and alike by independent authorities, to prevent cases of neglect, mistreatment, abuse and violence.
  5. Efforts to foster personal assistance in the field of gender-based violence and violence against women, as an instrument to provide tailor-made support to those women with disabilities who need it.
  6. Enhanced training programmes on violence against women and girls with disabilities for law enforcement officials, justice personnel, practitioners working in specialised support services for victims of gender-based violence, healthcare staff and social services personnel. This training should break down those obstacles based on patriarchal and ableist stereotypes against women and girls with disabilities.
  7. The development of co-ordination protocols with the key actors involved in addressing gender-based violence and violence against women: law enforcement agencies, social services, healthcare services and specialised social organisations. The disability movement, and in particular representative organisations of women with disabilities, can play an essential supporting role in this work.

If there is one lesson to take away from this global pandemic, it is that the human rights of all persons with disabilities, including women and girls with disabilities, must remain in force and that these exceptional circumstances must not lead to violating their human rights.