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Preventing violence against women with disabilities

3 minutes

Violence against women and girls with disabilities is a prevalent, serious and preventable violation of human rights.

Women and girls with disabilities experience violence, abuse and neglect at much higher rates, over longer periods of time and perpetrated by more people, than people without disabilities, or men with disabilities.

Understand the issues

For women and girls with disabilities, gender inequality and ableism intersect to drive higher rates of violence against them.

Women and girls with disabilities experience many forms of violence related to their gender and disability. This includes all the forms of violence that women and girls without disabilities experience, such as family and intimate partner violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. It also includes those forms of violence that men with disabilities experience, such as abuse in disability service settings, including physical violence, restraint and neglect.

Women and girls with disabilities often experience all these forms of gendered and disability-related violence at higher rates. In addition, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience other forms of violence – particularly medical exploitation and abuse and sexual and reproductive violence and coercion (such as forced abortion or sterilisation). 

Violence against women and girls with disabilities is perpetrated by a range of people, from intimate partners, friends and family, to paid and unpaid carers, health care and disability workers, colleagues, peers and strangers. As with violence against women generally, violence against women and girls with disabilities is usually perpetrated by men who are known to them.  

This violence is driven by specific forms of gender inequality and ableism that intersect with and compound each other.  

Gendered drivers

Gendered driver 1: Condoning of violence against women 

Gendered driver 2: Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life 

Gendered driver 3: Rigid gender stereotyping and dominant forms of masculinity 

Gendered driver 4: Male peer relations and cultures of masculinity that emphasise aggression, dominance and control 

Ableist drivers

Ableist driver 1: Negative stereotypes about people with disabilities 

Ableist driver 2: Accepting or normalising violence, disrespect and discrimination against people with disabilities 

Ableist driver 3: Controlling people with disabilities’ decision-making and limiting independence 

Ableist driver 4: Social segregation and exclusion of people with disabilities

Infographic of a conceptual model, which shows that the intersection between gender inequality and ableism drives violence against women and girls with disabilities.
Our Watch and Women with Disabilities Victoria’s conceptual model provides a visual depiction of the intersection of these drivers of violence.

For a comprehensive description of the drivers of violence against women and girls with disabilities, refer to Changing the landscape.  

Women and girls with disabilities come from a diverse range of backgrounds. This means that for some women and girls, ableism and gender inequality can intersect with other forms of oppression, such as homophobia, racism or classism, to drive higher rates of violence against them. 

Preventing violence against women and girls with disabilities means explicitly addressing these intersecting drivers. It is also critical that women with disabilities are involved in all prevention work – as practitioners, leaders and champions. 

Things you can do 

  • Implement targeted prevention work to address the intersecting ableist and gendered drivers of violence against women and girls with disabilities. 
  • Ensure prevention initiatives enable women and girls with disabilities to participate fully in leadership, governance and decision-making processes. 
  • Mainstream organisations can partner with specialist organisations led by and for people with disabilities, including organisations that work specifically with women with disabilities, to co-design initiatives that address one or more of the drivers. These might include for example, direct participation programs to engage men and boys in the prevention of violence.  
  • Support and resource initiatives led by women and girls with disabilities that challenge ableist and sexist stereotypes, attitudes and systems that drive and excuse violence against women and girls with disabilities.  
  • Build awareness of, and support for, the right of women and girls with disabilities to participate in all aspects of society, such as education and employment, on an equal basis to others. 
  • Ensure all prevention work, including community consultation, is inclusive and accessible to a range of audiences and take specific measures to ensure activities do not lead to further harm, disadvantage or discrimination.  
  • Train primary prevention practitioners to understand how to deliver prevention work that is both gender transformative and disability-sensitive. This includes building awareness of any unconscious biases that might make prevention work exclusionary or harmful to people with disabilities. 

Changing the landscape

Changing the landscape was developed in partnership with Women with Disabilities Victoria. 

Programs for and about women with disabilities