The 3rd of December marks the International Day of People with a Disability. This year’s theme is focused on the transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all. Drawing on the Sustainable Development Goals principle of “Leave no one behind”, this International Day aims to increase understanding about people with disability and celebrate the contributions of people with disability. Today we are highlighting the experiences of women with disabilities and obstacles they face.
Women living with a disability make up approximately 9.5% of Australia’s population and 20% of Australia’s female population. It is well documented that women with disabilities experience multiple forms of disadvantage that result from the intersection between widespread discriminatory attitudes towards people with disabilities and towards women. As a result, women with disabilities experience higher rates of socioeconomic disadvantage and social isolation. Further, they have less access to services, are more likely to live in unstable housing, have inadequate health care, and are denied opportunities to contribute to and participate actively in society. This disadvantage is not only in comparison to women without disabilities but also to men with disabilities. As Women with Disabilities Australia et al point out: “Only 16 per cent of all women with disabilities are likely to have any secondary education, and men with disabilities are twice as likely to be in paid employment as women with disabilities.”
Women with disabilities in Australia experience more severe violence more often than other women, endure additional violence because of their disabilities and encounter more barriers when they try to protect themselves and seek justice. Data collection in this area is lacking, but disability support services report that “women and girls with disabilities were 37.3% more likely than women and girls without disabilities to experience some form of intimate partner violence, with 19.7 percent reporting a history of unwanted sex compared to 8.2 percent of women and girls without disabilities.” 24 per cent of women and girls with disabilities who had made contact with service provider respondents in 2012 identified as having been affected by violence.
The social marginalisation and discrimination that women with disabilities experience can be compounded, for some, by reduced mobility, which limits capacity to escape violent situations. As a result, women with disabilities are at risk of the same forms of violence that other women face but “also experience forms of violence that are particular to their situation of social disadvantage, cultural devaluation and increased dependency.”
Women with disabilities who live in rural and remote communities and have less access to services, information and education are particularly susceptible to domestic violence as well as other forms of gender-based violence. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 2.2 more likely than other people in Australia to live with a disability, which increases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s risk of being subjected to domestic violence.
The Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) Stop the Violence Project provides a strong framework for policy and practice reform to address violence against women with disabilities. This includes providing information and support to ensure women are aware of their rights and are empowered to speak out where violence is occurring, training for service providers to enable them to recognise and respond appropriately to women with disabilities, and legislative and policy reform at the national and State and Territory levels. These reforms our outlined within the Stop the Violence Project reports, which can be accessed at: http://www.stvp.org.au/Resource-Compendium.html.
(Image credit: Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)
 Disability Representative, Advocacy, Legal and Human Rights Organisations (DRALHRO) (2012) Disability Rights Now: Civil Society Report to the United Nations Committee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities. Available at http://doc.afdo.org.au/CRPD_Civil_Society_Report_PDF
 Women with Disabilities Australia (2009) Submission to the National Human Rights Consultation, p. 7. Available at http://wwda.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/wwdahrsub1.pdf
 Women with Disabilities Australia et al (2013) National Symposium on Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities: Background Paper, p. 28. Available at http://www.stvp.org.au/documents/STVP%20Background%20Paper_FINAL.pdf
 See: Women with Disabilities Australia, Submission to the UN Analytical Study on Violence Against Women with Disabilities (2011).
 Women with Disabilities Australia et al (2013) National Symposium on Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities: Background Paper, p.28, Op Cit.
 Stop the violence: addressing violence against women and girls with disabilities in Australia: background paper Dowse, Leanne et al Women With Disabilities Australia, Hobart 2013 http://www.stvp.org.au/documents/STVP-BackgroundPaper.pdf at 48).