We are in the period of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence and elsewhere in this paper, we carry a story on the need to expedite the passing of the Disability Bill so as to guarantee the constitutional rights of young women and girls living with disability.
Passing of the Bill into law will guarantee them equal access to justice seldom served in matters of Gender Based Violence.
An estimated one out of three women globally will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. However, for those women living with disabilities, the odds are even worse as it has been widely noted that they are more prone to intimate sexual violence.
Therefore women with disabilities have to fight twice for their rights as they face stigma on the basis of their gender and disability, often called ‘double discrimination.’
More often, society largely views them as lacking sexual attraction or having minimum desire for sexual activity. This often leads to their exclusion from GBV programmes.
They are over four times more likely to experience controlling behaviour by partners, such as having their whereabouts or activities restricted.
Other types of GBV on women with disabilities can be experienced including psychological abuse; sexual harassment; deprivation of education, food, economic, and health resources; sexual exploitation and abuse, including trafficking; female genital mutilation/cutting; intimate partner violence; and elder abuse.
The state laws should thus be fully crafted so as to protect women and girls with disability.
An overarching policy framework on disability will set the standard for the inclusion of this marginalised group in GBV programmes and even eliminating its harmful consequences on the side-lined group.
It will set the precedence for inclusion into any national campaigns such as the current 16 days of activism further amplifying the women’s rarely heard voices crucial in fighting the evil that is GBV.
Implementation will give credence to the nation’s mantra of ‘leaving no one behind.’ This will also encourage faith in law enforcement in dealing decisively with GBV aggressors.
Yemurai Ngoma, Disability Inclusion Officer (ICODZIM) rightly noted that some disabilities stem from unreported issues of GBV therefore there is need to empower these women so they report any forms of abuse.
However, protecting the rights of women and girls living with disability should not be left to the enactment of the country’s laws alone. It should be a concerted effort by the whole nation.
It should be a societal concern as protecting the rights of women living with disabilities is very much everyone’s responsibility. All of us should be seized with the passion and the zeal to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for them.
They should never live a life of fear, neither of discrimination or stigma. We should raise boys into men that do not perpetrate violence against women with disabilities. We should also raise our children to have empathy towards such marginalised groups.
Their safety largely rests with us. Therefore we should note that the key to preventing GBV for women with disabilities is in our strong commitment to working towards gender equality.
We can also further play this part through addressing its root causes and increasing awareness of the problem and its impact which will result in improving services for women and girls living with disabilities.