Women with disabilities at higher risk of domestic and sexual violence with Covid-19

Covid-19 is having many ripple effects; one of them is the recent surge in domestic and sexual violence that has been reported here in the UK, a worrying trend that is also reported all around the world. In Kenya, for example, since Covid-19 started, one third of the crimes reported are related to sexual violence.

In some contexts, violence conducted by a partner is increasing as much as three fold linked to prolonged periods of isolation and lockdown in confined spaces, compounded by economic stresses.

We already know that women are more likely to face physical, sexual or psychological violence than men but what is really scary is that women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence and other forms of sexual and gender based violence as non-disabled women. It is estimated that 83% of them will be sexually abused in their lifetime. And when women with disabilities experience abuse, it is often over a longer period of time. They often suffer more severe injuries as a result of that violence.

Women with disabilities facing domestic and sexual violence struggle to access support

Around 1 in 5 women worldwide lives with a disability. For women with disabilities, gender-based violence which often translates to domestic and sexual violence is often compounded by disability-based discrimination. Many women with disabilities are often considered weak, worthless and sometimes subhuman, which can put them at a heightened risk of domestic and sexual violence.  

Some of the women with disabilities we are supporting tell us that when they report sexual or gender-based violence incidents, they are not taken seriously and sometimes they are just not believed at all due to the stigma and discrimination in their communities.

When women with disabilities are believed, they already often struggle to access support. They might lack access to legal protection and the services they need might not be accessible. Now with the covid-19 global crisis, we are very worried that many more women with disabilities will face domestic and sexual violence and will struggle even more to access the services they need to support them.

We are already noticing that women and girls with disabilities and sometimes female carers of people with disabilities are starting to face a range of new barriers in accessing sexual and gender based support services. For example, the services itself might be disrupted and they may not be available due to Covid19 and the lockdown, or the services might not be accessible because the transportation mechanisms to get to them may not be functioning. A woman with disabilities who might rely on a trusted member of their community may not be able to access that individual and therefore may not have somebody who can support them to access sexual and gender based violence services.

Challenges in accessing sexual and gender-based violence services compound an already-complicated situation for women with disabilities in the face of Covid-19. 

In some contexts, social norms dictate that women and girls are the last to receive medical treatment when they need it and we know that that’s also the case for women and girls with disabilities. Let’s just think about that in the context of Covid19: if a woman becomes unwell with Covid19, she might be less likely or able to try to access testing or treatment meaning they might become more ill before getting support.

We also know that some people with disabilities are at a greater risk of contracting Covid19, this includes women with disabilities, and this could be due to barriers in accessing hand washing facilities or performing hand washing tasks due to their impairments.

It could also be due to difficulties to follow social distancing for those that need a caregiver’s support to carry out daily tasks such as dressing, washing and eating.

There’s a huge push to ensure women and girls are front and centre of the response to Covid-19, and within this movement, let’s ensure that women and girls with disabilities are not forgotten.

Aleema Shivji, Executive Director Humanity & Inclusion UK

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