Faculty Post: Violence Against Women with Disabilities

This blog post was written by Northeastern University School of Law Professor Hope Lewis, who co-founded the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, and her colleague, Stephanie Ortoleva, for the IntLawGrrls blog.

As members of a Working Group on Violence against Women with Disabilities, the two of us, Hope Lewis and Stephanie Ortoleva, are pleased to announce the release this month of a report entitled Forgotten Sisters: a Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities—an Overview on its Nature, Scope, Causes, and Consequences. An abstract and the report are now available for download on SSRN here, and the 228-page report is also available here via the website of WomenEnabled, the education and advocacy project that Stephanie founded. In this post, we summarize some of the points explored in our report.

A Global Issue

IntLawGrrls readers know that the problem of violence against women is global (on violence against women with disabilities, see paragraph232(p) of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, available here, and paragraph 69(j) of the “Beijing + 5” document on “Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action,” summarized here.) Violence against women is pervasive; it shows no respect for class, disability, race, ethnicity, or religion.

There are more than 1 billion persons with disabilities worldwide. Many of them are women or girls, according to recent World Bank and World Health Organization reports linked here. Gender-based violence is an international and transnational issue. In response to increasing activism, advocacy, legislation, and judicial recognition, the international community and UN mechanisms should take additional note as well.

According to our report:

‘The Working Group recognizes the need to ensure that women and girls with disabilities are included as full participants in data-gathering, analysis, and proposed solutions as the mandates of Ms. Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, and Mr. Shuaib Chalklen, the Special Rapporteur on Disability, move forward. Additionally, the Working Group calls on international organizations, especially those focused on women’s rights such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women (which will consider as its priority thematic issue violence against women at its 57th session in March 2013) and UN Women, and the international community, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to join us in the effort to highlight these critical issues.

‘Because women with disabilities make up a significant part of the world’s population, principles of fairness and equality require that the world engage in a vigorous discussion on how to end violence against them.’

Violence against women and girls with disabilities takes many forms. Women with disabilities experience violence in armed conflict situations, violence in the home from partners, other family members or caregivers, as well as inadequate or non-existent access to justice when they report such violations. They may be denied treatment for physical harms or literally and figuratively shut out from domestic violence shelters, police stations, courthouses, or doctors’ offices. The violence and isolation they experience may be exacerbated by poverty, employment or housing discrimination and social exclusion.

An Intersectionality Approach to Women with Disabilities

Although violence against women with disabilities occurs among every class, racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural category, such social and class distinctions make a difference when analyzing specific responses to violence as well as its nature, causes, and consequences in context.
Our report argues that effective responses will require multilayered local as well as global approaches:

‘The 2011 Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women focused on the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that contribute to and exacerbate violence against women, noting that factors such as ability, age, access to resources, race/ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and class can exacerbate the violence women experience. Although women with disabilities experience many of the same forms of violence all women experience, when gender and disability intersect, violence takes on unique forms, has unique causes, and results in unique consequences. Further, women with disabilities who are also people of color or members of minority or indigenous peoples, or who are lesbian, trans-gender or intersex or who live in poverty, can be subject to particularized forms of violence and discrimination. These intersections must be explored in greater depth to ensure that the complexities of violence against women with disabilities are properly understood and addressed.’

Resource List

The report contains an extensive “Selected Resources” appendix (primarily compiled by Northeastern University School of Law student, Sari M. Long ’13, and us two co-authors). The Resource List includes links to major international treaties, statements of Human Rights Council mechanisms, leading international, regional, and domestic judicial decisions, numerous academic and social media articles, as well as non-governmental organizations.
We hope the report will be widely disseminated and that it will be a useful tool for policymakers, activists, legal advocates, students, and scholars.

Note: We are also the Co-Chairs of the International Disability Rights Interest Group of the American Society of International Law, but the views expressed in our report do not necessarily reflect those of the interest group or of ASIL as a whole. Heartfelt thanks to our colleagues Professor Michael Stein, Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability, and Janet E. Lord, Senior Partner at Blue Law International, and to the many committed and talented student researchers who assisted us on this project, including, but not limited to: Katherine Warren, Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges student and research assistant to the Harvard Project on Disability; Northeastern University School of Law students Gautam Jagannath, ’12, Sari M. Long, ’13, and Deena Sharuk, ’12; Meredith Leeson ’13, a student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; and University of Virginia School of Law students Natalie D. Morris ’12 and Lars D. Trautman ’12.

(Reprinted with permission from IntLawGrrls blog. Find the original post here. If you are interested in reading more by Professor Hope Lewis, please check out some of her blog posts here.)

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