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Best practice for international collaboration on preventing violence against women and girls with disabilities

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Remarks at the UN 57th Commission on the Status of Women – side event on Best Practice for International Collaboration on Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls With Disabilities


Speaker: Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women, E&OE

United Nations, New York

Australia is grateful for opportunity to make a contribution towards this discussion on the extremely important issue of international collaboration to prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities.

The 2011 World Report on Disability shows that more than one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world's population experience disability.

As we are all aware, women with disabilities are more vulnerable to and experience much higher levels of violence around the world than women without disability. This violence is often perpetrated by a family member or carer.

When they do experience violence, women with disabilities are also likely to experience significant barriers to accessing support.

Australia regards these issues as so critical that in our national statement to the Commission on the Status of Women this year, as with previous years, we highlighted the specific challenges faced by women with multiple disadvantage or discrimination due to disability.

Similarly, we are strongly supporting the inclusion of language in CSW's Agreed Conclusions which recognises that challenges faced by women may be compounded by multiple disadvantages related to race, ethnicity, disability, age and geographic location, including that these factors can increase a woman's vulnerability to violence.

Responding to the development needs of people with disability is a priority for Australia's aid program.

This is outlined in the strategy, Development for All: Towards a disability-inclusive Australian aid program 2009–2014.

The strategy was developed through a consultative process which gathered the opinions of people with disability and their representative organisations.

The Development for All strategy seeks to improve the quality of life of people with disability through a range of programs and funding mechanisms–including:

  • providing comprehensive support for partner governments' efforts towards disability-inclusive development,
  • ensuring major programs in sectors such as education and infrastructure meet the needs and priorities of people with disability and
  • building the leadership skills of people with disability and their organisations.

Some recent examples of Australia's work in this area provide useful case studies for best practice in collaborating to prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities.

Triple Jeopardy: Violence against women with disabilities in Cambodia

While we know that women with disability face greater risk of violence, most prevalence studies on violence against women collect very limited, if any, robust data about the experience of violence against women with disability.

Australia has recently funded a three year research project that comparatively examined the lives of women with disability and those without in Cambodia.

The research was a collaborative effort by NGOs, Banteay Srei, Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation (CDPO), CBM Australia, the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA), and Australia's Monash University.

What is innovative about this research is that it combined the World Health Organisation approach to measuring rates of violence against women, with two key disability indexes in order to get more detailed information on how violence affects women with disabilities. We commend this methodology to others working in the area.

The research found that women with disability face similar levels of sexual, physical and emotional violence by partners to women without disabilities, but endure much higher levels of other forms of family violence.

They suffer sexual violence perpetrated by family members at a rate five times higher than women without disability.

In addition, women with disabilities were found to be 4.2 times more likely to have their activities and whereabouts restricted by partners.

The research concluded that there is an urgent need to improve policies and services to stop violence and discrimination experienced by women with disability.

The research team has used the findings to develop training resources and guidelines to improve access to services and assist specialist and mainstream services to address these issues more effectively.

Supporting woman and girls with a disability in emergency situations

Efforts to identify and address the protection needs of women and girls with a disability in emergencies, in particular those experiencing or at risk of sexual and gender based violence, have often been inadequate or neglected.

There is a paucity of international and national guidance, tools, and identified good practices to address these situations. So Australia is supporting the Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) and UNHCR to drive a process of establishing such a framework.

Australian funding to the WRC has enabled the Commission to work in partnership with the UNHCR to develop a workshop curriculum on Disability Inclusion in Programs for Refugees and Displaced Persons.

Australia's 2011 Humanitarian Action Policy specifically recognises that the challenge for humanitarian action is to ensure it is inclusive and recognises the rights and specific needs of women, girls, boys and men, and of vulnerable people such as those living with a disability.

In September 2012, Australia committed AUD12 million of targeted support to UNHCR's sexual and gender based violence protection initiatives. This will assist in the implementation of UNHCR's Action against SGBV: an updated strategy, which identifies people with a disability as one of six core groups of concern.

Our work on gender based violence through the Pacific Gender Initiative is including women with disability as key participants from the outset with five per cent of project funds specifically allocated to:

  • ensuring that any infrastructure built is accessible for women with disabilities in line with AusAID's Accessibility Design Guide;
  • ensuring that on-line forums, and other information materials about the initiative, are accessible to people with vision impairment; and
  • actively facilitating women with disabilities to participate in the programs, by running specific information sessions through Disabled People's Organisations.

It is crucial that at CSW we consider the increased vulnerability to violence for women with disability and the barriers they face in accessing services. But beyond these meetings, to make this a reality, let us all work together to ensure that the voices of women with disability are present in our global efforts to end violence against all women.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 23 April 2013
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