Access to JusticeDecember 3, 20210 CommentsKituo Cha Sheria

The International Day of People with Disabilities is commemorated on every 3rd of December since 1992. The observance of the day is aimed at promoting understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. Additionally, it purposes to recognize and increase awareness on the gains that can be derived from integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. The 2021 theme is ‘Fighting for rights in the post-COVID 19 era.’ Notably, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing inequalities for women and girls, and has led to an increase in violence against women and girls.  

The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence are observed from 25th November to 10th December. This is a worldwide campaign to oppose violence against women and girls and to raise awareness on the negative impact of violence and abuse of women and girls. As 3rd December falls within the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, this is another advocacy moment to discuss how women and girls with disabilities often face disproportionately high rates of gender-based violence, sexual abuse and exploitation;[1]and how to address the vice.

Women and girls with disabilities are subjected to multiple layers of discrimination because of their gender and disability status. This can be exacerbated where they belong to marginalized ethnic or other groups. Furthermore, the UN estimates that seventy five percent of women with disabilities are unemployed, and those who are employed often earn less than their male counterparts or other women without disabilities.[2]The literacy rate for PWD is three percent, with just one percent representing women and girls with disabilities.

The most common perpetrators of violence against women with disabilities are their spouses or male partners. The experiences of violence against women with disabilities are compounded by impairments such as physical, sensory or intellectual as well as marginalization and inaccessible environments. Because of their physical, economic and social dependence, they are more exposed to perpetrator they are dependent on, including intimate partners, family members and caregivers. Additionally, their reliance on others increases their risk of emotional and physical abuse that are disability-based forms of violence. These include prevention from using a wheelchair or other assistive devise, being under or over-medicated, neglect among others. Social and cultural myths around disability also increase their risk to abuse and violence. Some may be subjected to harmful practices such as cleansing rituals which involve rape as well as mutilation.

The type of disability increases the risk of violence for women with disabilities. The association between intellectual impairment and risk of violence to be significantly higher than with women with other disabilities. Impairments that reduce the emotional and physical defences as well as communication barriers hamper reporting of violence and increase vulnerability.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes that women and girls are often at greater risk of violence, injury or abuse and negligent treatment. The Convention emphasizes the need to incorporate gender perspective in all effort to promote the full enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) urges states to make commitments to protect women from gender-based discrimination including through gender based violence. Regionally, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) also prohibits violence against women by urging State Parties to protect and fulfill women’s rights to life, dignity, integrity, and security of the person, among other rights.

Similarly, Sustainable Development Goal 5 aims at achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. One of the targets includes ending all form of discrimination against women and girls everywhere.

In Kenya, the Constitution has a comprehensive Bill of Rights. In its Article 10, it sets out the national values and principles of governance including human dignity, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized. Furthermore, Article 29 provides for the security of the person and protection against all forms of violence. The Sexual Offences Act, Children’s Act and Protection against Domestic Violence Act and Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act also prohibit violence against women and girls. Polices and guidelines that are geared towards eliminating violence against women and girls include The National Guidelines on the Management of Sexual Violence and the National Framework toward Response and Prevention of Gender Based Violence in Kenya.

Promoting disability inclusion is key for advancement of equity and rights of women and girls with disabilities. Disability inclusion entails including people with disabilities in everyday activities and encouraging them to have roles similar to their peers who do not have a disability. This includes having adequate policies and practices in every country, community or organization. Inclusion leads to increased participation in many aspects, including socially and politically.

Interventions must be informed by evidence on what increases the risk of violence against women with disabilities. There is also a need to create awareness on disability-based forms of violence so as to address it more effectively. This must be compounded with empowerment of women and girl with disabilities on health care with a focus on sex education and reproductive health. Furthermore, promoting a culture of inclusivity of women and girls with disabilities into community based interventions addressing gender based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights and harmful practices is also key to eliminating stigmatization and discrimination.

Lastly, while there is no clear indication of whether an African treaty that focuses on the prevention of violence against women would improve the protection of women from gender-based violence in Africa, it can create an enabling environment for positive change. The ratification of such a treaty by African States may symbolize the will to eliminate violence against women in the Continent.

By Janet Kavulavu (Programs Officer Kituo Cha Sheria)



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