People living with disabilities suffer from disability stereotypes and stigmatisation in their communities, but it is even worse for women living with disabilities. They are the most vulnerable to gender-based violence due to their disabilities. They cannot protect themselves from the perpetrators and some of them cannot speak for themselves. Women with disabilities are often seen by society as weak, further putting them at greater risk for gender-based violence.
A report by Dr Sisa Ngabaza, a lecture at the Department of Women and Gender studies at the University of Western Cape, reveals that women with visual impairments and those with mental challenges were much more at risk than women with other forms of disabilities. Those with a visual impairment could not be able to identify perpetrators and those with mental challenges may not remember what would have happened. The report further found that women with disabilities often struggled to report perpetrators because they were usually people close to them, like family members or friends.
Gender-based violence against disabled women is a serious issue and needs more attention, particularly during this month of Disability Rights Awareness. South Africa has a long history of violence against women whilst among those women, disabled women have been suffering in silence. They have experienced multiple forms of violence compared to other women. For example sexual assault, discrimination, exclusion from society and so forth. They are often targeted by men who perceive them as less powerful because their perpetrators know they won’t be reported.
It is crucial that South Africans are educated about the daily barriers women with disabilities encounter. We need to be made aware of people with disabilities because alongside women’s rights, disability rights are human rights too. Women with disabilities should be empowered with knowledge according to their disabilities which will help them express their rights and needs.
I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to protect and accept people living with disabilities. As society, we need to initiate a culture of respect and support for women with disabilities. For example, we need to ensure that they are safe at all times with the special attention that they deserve. They need to feel welcomed in our communities. Women with disabilities should be given the priority in everything, be it education, employment, housing and so on.