Learning Disability Today
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Disabled women underrepresented in research on violence against women

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for more research into how disabled women are affected by violence. Existing evidence shows that women with disabilities experience higher levels of violence, yet the WHO says this is largely hidden in most global data.

The WHO says more research into violence against disabled women is therefore needed on an international scale, and it has now published a briefing document designed to strengthen the measurement and data collection of violence against women with disabilities.

“Older women and women with disabilities are underrepresented in much of the available research on violence against women, which undermines the ability of programmes to meet their particular needs,” said Dr Lynnmarie Sardinha, author of the brief.

“Understanding how diverse women and girls are differently affected, and if and how they are accessing services, is critical to ending violence in all its forms.”

Disabled women vulnerable to specific forms of violence

Discrimination, stigma and misconceptions about disability can increase the exposure of women with disabilities to violence. Women with disabilities are also vulnerable to specific forms of violence, including sexual violence and partner violence.

One study from seven violence-prevention programmes found that women with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries were nearly twice as likely to report intimate partner violence than women without disabilities.

The WHO says women with disabilities also face specific risks and additional forms of abuse, sometimes at the hands of caregivers or healthcare professionals. These include coercive and controlling behaviours such as withholding of medicines, assistive devices or other aspects of care, and financial abuse.

Women with disabilities can be extremely isolated when violence occurs, making it more difficult for them to escape and report the abuse, while stigma and discrimination can further reduce access to services or information, or result in report of violence being dismissed by responders.

However, estimating the population-based prevalence of violence against women with disabilities continues to be challenging due to a lack of international data, and this is impacting access to support services.

A long-term vision

For this reason, the World Health Organization has recommended several measures to address the evidence gaps to ensure disabled women’s needs are understood and addressed. This includes:

  • Improving the inclusion of women with disabilities and the issue of disability within violence against women population-based surveys, as this is necessary for an improved understanding of the risk factors for violence against women.
  • Women with disabilities need to be involved in the survey and research teams and throughout the process including in the research design, implementation, and data analysis and interpretation.
  • Measures also need to be taken to increase the accessibility of women with disability to participate as respondents in surveys.

The WHO says a long-term vision for inclusion of women with disabilities in research is also required, and this would contribute to a better understanding of the specific needs of women with disabilities subjected to violence and allow more tailored prevention strategies and response/services and programmes to be devised that address those needs.

Dr Avni Amin, Head of the Rights and Equality across the Life Course Unit at WHO and HRP, said: “Gender-based violence is rooted in unequal power and control over women. For … women with disabilities, their dependency and isolation are further exploited by perpetrators, increasing their risk of abuse.

“Services must be responsive to their needs and identify appropriate contacts through the health and care systems, so that all women experiencing violence can access empathetic, survivor-centred care.”

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