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Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us

The UN Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) published its concluding observations following its first review of the UK government’s compliance with the Convention. We contributed to the report and went to Geneva, as volunteers, to ensure that violations of disabled women’s rights were given attention. The Committee highlighted many areas of concerns which explicitly or indirectly affect disabled women, but we’ve highlighted three key themes below.

 

1) Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us

 

We share the Committee’s concern that disabled women and girls’ rights “have not been systematically mainstreamed into both the gender equality and disability agenda” and support its specific recommendation to “adopt inclusive and targeted measures, including disaggregated data” to prevent the multiple and intersectional discrimination we face.

 

Mainstreaming our rights, requires our involvement. We therefore also welcome the Committee’s recommendation to allocate “financial resources to support organisations representing [disabled women]” and develop mechanisms to ensure our involvement in planning and implementing law which affects our lives. For example, we were not consulted on the drafting of the coercive abuse offence in the Serious Crime Act. If we had, we would have been able to show how the ‘best interests’ defence for carers dangerously undermines the rights and safety of disabled women and people with learning disabilities.

 

Strategies need to be measured, financed and monitored. We therefore welcome the Committee’s recommendation for mechanisms to support our involvement in the design of strategies to implement the Convention through “measurable, financed and monitored strategic plans of action”. Measurability requires the collection of disaggregated data and this has been repeatedly called for by UN rapporteurs. Gaps in data mask the multiple discrimination faced by disabled women.

 

2) Multiple and Intersectional Discrimination

 

Disabled women experience sexism and dis/ableism in our everyday lives, along with many other forms of oppression (eg. based on age, sexual orientation, economic status and migrant status). Here’s an example to illustrate. A visually impaired woman cannot access information on an NHS website due to inaccessibility. This is disability discrimination, but is gender-neutral. However, lack of access to family planning services is clearly gender and disability discrimination. If she is actually a teenage girl living in a remote indigenous community, clearly intersections of multiple aspects of her identity operate to exacerbate the disadvantages she faces.

 

This is why the Convention specifically addresses the rights of disabled women in Article 6. It requires the Government to recognize that disabled women and girls face multiple discrimination. It’s therefore crucial that the Government implement the Committee’s recommendation to explicitly incorporate protection from “multiple and intersectional discrimination” in national legislation. Whether it’s routine GP appointments, cervical testing or maternity care, disabled women constantly struggle to access medical services, so we strongly support the Committee’s recommendation to develop “targeted measurable and financed” strategies to eliminate barriers in access to health care and services and to measure their progress.”

 

3) Access to Justice

Our rights are worthless if they are unenforceable or ignored. The barriers with the justice system are procedural, financial and accessibility-related and stop us from bringing claims to enforce our civil rights, count against us in proceedings (eg divorce and family matters) and prevent us from reporting criminal abuse against us.

 

We therefore strongly support the Committee’s recommendations:

  • to develop training for the judiciary and law enforcement personnel. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has already noted concerns about “women being deemed unfit mothers for having ‘failed to protect’ their children from an abusive parent”. Ignorant, counterproductive and damaging comments and actions by judges and police must end.
  • to provide “free or affordable legal aid” for disabled people in all areas of law. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has specifically noted concern about the evidential requirements to apply for legal aid and the consequences for family law problems.

 

The many other areas of concern noted by the Committee can be read here

 

Next Steps

 

We were disappointed by the lack of media attention given to the 17-page catalogue of shame but the disabled community, including the DPOs, continue to valiantly highlight the UN’s findings.

 

Whilst we welcome the Committee’s recommendation for the UK Government to produce annual reports on its progress, we fear it will be another exercise of denial and lack data, evidence or understanding of intersectional discrimination.

 

We, Sisters of Frida, are preparing for CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and working with other women’s organisations on this. In the meantime, we are joining the ENIL Freedom March in Brussels and will raise it with our MEPs as to how they will be responding to protecting disabled women on VAWG as the Istanbul Convention is being ratified by the UK government.

 

Vivienne Hayes MBE, CEO of the Women Resource Centre says:

“The last time Sisters of Frida went with the UK CEDAW Working Group to Geneva, we noted in our oral statement that women of all ages and backgrounds in the UK are facing threats to their rights but this does not have to be the case if government policies are created in partnership with women’s NGOs and include a gendered perspective. This will ensure that there is not a long-term legacy of discrimination against women, and will also impact on the future economy.

 

In 2017, Sisters of Frida note that disabled women are acknowledged as still facing the same level of discrimination in the UNCRPD Concluding Observations. We call upon the UK government to honour its commitment to women’s rights and work with us to establish a clear and inclusive mechanism in order to bring women’s voices into the heart of government.”

 

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Co-Director of the Women’s Budget Group said:

 

‘We know that disabled women have been hit particularly badly by austerity policies over the last seven years. Disabled women have lost income through cuts to both specific disability benefits but also to housing benefit, tax credits and benefits for children. Cuts to public services including social care, health, education and transport budgets have all disproportionately affected disabled women.

The Public Sector Equality Duty, contained in the 2010 Equality Act, places a positive obligation on all public authorities to have due regard to the impact of their policies and practices on equality. Despite this the government have failed to publish meaningful assessments of the cumulative impact of austerity on equality.

We call on the government to meet both their obligations under both domestic and international law to ensure that their policies meet the needs of disabled women’

 

Sarah Green, Co-Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition said:

 

“It is known that disabled women are disproportionately subjected to sexual and domestic violence by perpetrators of these crimes, and that disabled women face additional barriers to escaping and staying safe, and even in being believed.

 

“International human rights treaties require our Government to ensure that disabled women’s needs are specifically considered and addressed when implementing policy on policing and preventing violence. Following the UN CRDP inquiry into the UK’s performance in this area, we need to hear assurances from the UK Government that disabled women’s needs are known and are made part of policy and practice in relation to ending and preventing abuse.”

 

Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters said:

 

‘Leave no woman behind’ is an important development and human rights goal that is central to achieving gender equality and one to which the UK government claims to be committed. But in the UK this goal remains largely rhetorical as the most vulnerable women – those with disabilities and multiple needs – are rendered marginalised and invisible by increasingly harsh economic and social welfare measures. Disabled women’s needs and rights are being gravely and systematically violated by the UK government. Why else do we see such an appalling lack of access to emergency shelters, secure housing and welfare rights, education, work, health and counselling facilities for disabled women who are also fleeing domestic violence? If the UK wants to be recognised as a leader in disability and human rights, it must develop laws, policies and strategies that enhance the rights of all women. This means understanding and addressing the overlapping and intersecting forms of discrimination such as race, gender and disability that create additional vulnerabilities and barriers for women. Sadly this government is unlikely to turn its rhetoric on achieving a ‘fairer’ society into reality but we are ready to stand with our disabled sisters to shame the government into action.

 

Lee Eggleston on behalf of Rape Crisis England and Wales said:

 

‘Disabled women who have experienced sexual violence make up a quarter of Rape Crisis service users – which is an indication of how disproportionately disabled women are impacted by sexual violence, often by their own carers. The voice and engagement of specialist organisations run by and for disabled women, like Sisters of Frida and Stay Safe East, is essential to the CEDAW process in raising awareness of sexual violence to the Committee.’

We would be happy to hear from others, individuals and/or organisations, who would like to join us in our campaign for disabled women’s rights in issues mentioned here. Please comment below or write to hello@sisofrida.org, tweet @sisofrida

 

Note: Stay Safe East is a unique user-led organisation run by disabled people, providing specialist and holistic advocacy and support services to disabled people from diverse communities in East London (currently Waltham Forest and Newham) who are victims/survivors of domestic or sexual violence, hate crime, harassment and other forms of abuse.

 

Other resources

Sexuality and Dis/ability

 

READING LIST: intersectional disability & disabled women

 

More articles/blogs/podcasts

 

Daley, Michelle

Intersectionality and its relevance in social care for Disabled Women

Rise Up Against The Harm And Killing Of Disabled Women Through Myths (Huffington Post)

Parker, Lani

Sideways Times is a UK-based platform for conversations which in different ways link together struggles against ableism, white supremacy, capitalism and heteropatriarchy.

Join Our Steering Group

We’re looking for enthusiastic disabled women to join our steering group.

 

About Us

Sisters of Frida CIC is an experimental collective of disabled women. The barriers and multiple discrimination have not changed; we struggle to have our voices heard as disabled women in our own rights. We want a new way of sharing experiences, mutual support and relationships with different networks. We are a sisterhood: a circle of disabled women to discuss, share experiences and explore intersectional possibilities.

 

Our Activities

We are often invited to speak on panels at conferences locally, nationally and internationally. We work hard to amplify disabled women’s voices through political channels and advancing our legal rights. We also arrange events and safe spaces for disabled women to meet, share experiences and develop networks.  

 

The Steering Group

The steering group consists of three directors and three other co-opted disabled women. We have different experiences, skills and perspectives to share and contribute. You can see the current steering group here. The group drives Sisters of Frida’s strategy and priorities. You don’t have to be on the steering group to contribute to Sisters of Frida. We have a monthly meeting via Skype, a quarterly meeting in person and correspond in between these meetings.

 

What we’re look for

It’s important to us to be led by a team of disabled women who can contribute through experience or skills or enthusiasm. We’re open-minded. Perhaps you have one or some of the following skills

  • Website or social media management
  • Presentation and public speaking
  • Event facilitation
  • Governance
  • Marketing
  • Fundraising

 

Or you may be knowledgeable in any of the following:

  • Finance and accounts
  • Disability theory and research
  • Disability grass roots activism
  • Women’s rights and feminism
  • UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women

 

What we ask of you

To join our steering group you must:

  • Identify as a disabled woman ((trans, intersex and cis) non-binary and gender non-conforming people but not people who identify solely or primarily as men. )
  • Committed to the social model of disability and our intersectional approach
  • Be reliable and committed

 

What we will offer you

Sisters of Frida is recognised on an international scale and you will be in an influential position. You will have the opportunity (if you wish) to speak or present on disabled women’s matters on a local, national and international level. You will be in the perfect position to hear about research, funding and networking opportunities. Participating in the steering group’s activities, adhering to governance guidelines and being in the political spotlight represents an excellent personal and professional development opportunity.

Young People – Mentoring!


Developing and supporting young disabled women is one of our key values. Don’t be put off if you haven’t got experience of activism, politics or work. We all start somewhere! We would still like to hear from you if you are enthusiastic and reliable. If we can, we will match you with a buddy to help you get involved in our steering group and learn the ropes.

 

Express your interest

  1. Let us know that you’re interested by emailing us on hello@sisofrida.org. In your email tell us why you want to join and tell us something about you. If you want to send a CV, that’s great.
  2. If shortlisted, we will arrange a skype call (or accessible alternative) with you.

There is no closing date but places on the steering group are limited. Steering group membership is a voluntary position.

 

Sarah on why join Sisters of Frida Steering Group

 

Peer led skills development course for disabled women

women in groups - one at a table bsuy conversing with each other

At a Sisters of Frida event

Following our successful projects ‘Disabled women’s voices from the frontline’ and ‘Disability and Sexuality’, Sisters of Frida are excited to launch a new peer-led skills development course for disabled women, led by disabled women. This course is supported by a grant from Rosa, The UK Fund for Women and Girls.

 

The project will run from September 2017 until May 2018 and will give participants opportunities to

 

  • develop facilitation, presentation and research skills
  • gain and share knowledge in an area of interest
  • put this knowledge into practice
  • meet and work with new people

 

The project will be split into two parts. The first part will consist of three sessions aimed at building facilitation skills and confidence for the participants. We will then go on to design a number of further sessions tailored specifically to the needs of individuals within the group. You will have a mentor who will support you in gaining skills in the area of work which you are interested in. This could include building campaigns, arts and self-expression, challenging interpersonal violence – the possibilities are endless! You will then share the skills and knowledge through a workshop designed and led by you.

 

Where and when

The first part of the course will take place on the weekend of the 16-17th September at the YHA in Kings Cross, Central London. This will be a facilitation skills course.

 

The structure and timings of the following workshops will be agreed by the group following this initial training.

 

Who is it for?

The course is for any self-identified disabled women (trans, intersex and cis) non-binary and gender non-conforming people but not people who identify solely or primarily as men. Sisters of Frida follows the social model. We especially encourage people who do not have much previous experience in facilitation, public speaking and events-organising, and if interest exceeds spaces, we will prioritise those with less experience.

 

There are limited spaces on this program. If you think you may be interested, please get in touch by the 1st of September. Please tell us a little bit (just a few words) about what you’re interested in and why you would like to participate.

If you need a BSL interpreter or other access needs, please let us know asap.

Contact: hello@sisofrida.org / 07876 742600

Empty Room with a long rounded end table with 12 black chairs. There are pictures on the light walls.

Meeting room at the YHA, 79-81 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2QE

Exciting new project on skills development for Sisters of Frida!

about eleven/twelve women looking/listening intently. some are wheelchair users.

Participants at a previous Sisters of Frida event

New peer led skills development course for disabled women

(Start date  and venue TBD probably September now.)

Sisters of Frida is proud to announce a new peer led skills development course for disabled women.

Following our successful projects ‘Disabled women’s voices from the frontline‘ and Disability and Sexuality, Rosa funding is funding us to further develop disabled women’s skills and leadership in a space led by and for disabled women. This exciting project will span 12 months and will give the participants opportunities to

  • develop facilitation skills
  • presentation skills
  • and research skills
  • identifying your own specific skills

The project will be split into two parts. The first part will consist of three sessions aimed at building facilitation skills and confidence for the participants we will then go on to design a further seven sessions tailored specifically to the needs of the group and individuals within the group. You will have a mentor who will support you in gaining skills in the area of work which you are interested in you will then share the skills and knowledge through a facilitated workshop designed and facilitated by you.

 

Ideas for topics include

  • disabled women and domestic violence
  • sexuality and disabled women
  • building campaigns and spaces wich work for all disabled women
  • working with disabled young people
  • arts and self-expression
  • re thinking work for/with disabled women
  • building support networks in challenging interpersonal violence

The list is not exhaustive and will be led by the participants. There are limited spaces on this program, please get in touch if you are interested to hello@sisofrida.org

rosa fund logo

Intersectionality and disability at WOW Festival 2017

Main talks programme panel “Intersectionality for Beginners” at Women of the World Festival 2017, in London South Bank. This panel featurered a keynote from Lydia X. Z. Brown and panel of Guppi Bola, Kuchenga Shenje, Emma Dabiri, and Eleanor Lisney (from Sisters of Frida) chaired by Hannah Azieb Poole. Transcripts kindly provided by Lydia)

This was the prepared speech by Eleanor Lisney  for the panel (but not read out)

When I came back to the UK to take up the position of relationship manager at a university, people told me I ticked many brownie points. I learn to realise they meant I had many disadvantages , because I was a woman, of an ethnic minority, and disabled. Some said it must be an advantage in applying for jobs but believe me, it isn’t . This is before I even heard of the term ‘ intersectionality’, the multiple oppression that arise out of having multiple identities,  and understand the impact it had on my life and that of others.

In January, I was invited to speak as a Sister of Frida at a hearing at the European Parliament on domestic violence and disabled people, and I used a personal example when mentioning intersectionality. When I was living in France I went through a divorce process, the court saw me as a non white, disabled woman with a bad grasp of the French language. My ex, a white British man, is an international  civil servant, had many human rights’ lawyers as his friends. I did not even know French divorce laws were different from those in the UK.

I think it was partly from that experience I co founded Sisters of Frida – understanding the complexity of having multiple identities- and also it’s in  Article 6 of the Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities.

States Parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The UK has ratified the CRPD and In fact, quite a few of disabled activists are heading for Geneva because of the examination of the uk govt for its implementation. I wanted to go but it conflicted with the international women’s day events and me here at WOW.  Disability and feminism. Women organisations do not know much about disability and disabled people’s organisations are gender neutral, we hope to build bridges there and make a change. Just insisting on our rights to be heard and to make spaces more inclusive and accessible are challenges. I hope we have made some difference. If I make a mention here, one Sister of Frida, is Rebecca Bunce who is a co founder of IChange has campaigned tirelessly for the Istanbul Convention and spoken on the need for access at public spaces for disabled women.

The disability movement is very white here and we would like to promote and make black and ethnic minority women more visible. It’s a natural reaction that you don’t join when you can’t identify with the people in it. And to show that they are not just engaged in being there as recipients but also in leadership roles.  We have had discussions on disability and the  cultural differences on the impact of disability. Many BME women come and share with me about their disabilities but they do not self identify (unless it’s a physical visible impairment ) as disabled people  because of the negative perspectives, stigma and non representation. But I know this goes for other communities not just  for Black and women of colour .

And in the UK austerity measures by this government have meant that the intersections of being BME and disabled and women mean that many of us are reeling from the compounding cuts in benefits and services. In all areas of our lives.

My friend and fellow Co founder of SoF, Michelle Daley, has spoken on the importance of intersectionality and the social services on Wednesday, she speaks as a black disabled woman

I quote her:

“I am a woman, a black woman and a disabled woman. In most areas of my life I’m forced to compartmentalised my different intersections…. I relate this point from one of my assessments of need. So when I explained that I needed help with skin care, which is not related to my impairment, it was dismissed. The assessor had no knowledge about skin sensitive and dryness often experienced by Black People and the need for daily skin care to prevent discomfort. In this example it demonstrated how my different intersections as a Black Disabled Woman were not considered and how they interact with each other. ”

She is chairing the SoF panel at 1.15 this afternoon. I recommend you go listen to her and my other Sisters at that panel.  Thank you.

 

row of people at the front. Photo taken from the back, with many rows of headss

Sisters of Frida Panel at the WoW Festival 2017

Why does much of the women’s rights movement marginalise disabled women?

During the last weekend in London at the Women of the World Festival (WOW) a panel of speakers discussed why disability is so often left out of conversations about intersectionality, and surveyed the key battlegrounds that disabled women are fighting on.

The panel was organized by Sisters of Frida.
Speakers included Lydia X. Z. Brown, disability rights activist; Magdalena Szarota, Polish disability rights activist and HIA Polska Board Member; Sarifa Patel of Newham’s Disability Forum; and Simone Aspis, Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) campaigner. Chaired by Michelle Daley of the Sisters of Frida disabled women’s collective.”

Other photos from the Women of the World Festival with SoF and disabled women at Flickr   

3 wheelchair users, oneyoung black, one middle aged East Asian and another white young woman. They are smiling at the camera.e

Becky, Eleanor and Emma

Sarah Rennie on the WEP panel

We collaborated on ‘Disabled women missing from history’ these were exhibited at the cafe of the Royal Festival Hall

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Disabled women speak at the WoW Festival

wow logoIf you are going to the Women of the World Festival 10th – 12th March, here are some ot the sessions to look out for – these are with Sisters of Frida and friends as speakers

Friday

The Genius Gap: women and creativity

Khairani Barokka

1:15 pm, 10 Mar 2017

Saturday

11.30

Women’s Day Off (with Women’s Equality Party)

Sarah Rennie

Intersectionality for beginners

11.30  The Clore Ballroom, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall

Lydia X.Z. Brown and Eleanor Lisney

Disability, women taking action (Sisters of Frida Panel)

1.15 Blue Bar, Level 4, Royal Festival Hall

Lydia X.Z Brown, Sarifa Patel, Michelle Daley, Simone Aspis, Magdalena Szarota

3:00 pm, Rambert, Marie Rambert Studio
How can we challenge the stigma around women’s mental health

Sunday

11.30

No Country for Young Women

Green Bar, Level 4, Royal Festival Hall

Becky Olaniyi

11.30am

Why Toilets are no joke for women

The Clore Ballroom, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall

Eleanor Lisney

Green Bar, Level 4, Royal Festival Hall
1:15 pm

Breaking the Silence – Giving Testimony

Weston Roof Pavilion, Level 6, Green side, Royal Festival Hall

Emma Round

Gender Revolution

Exhibition

Missing From History

 

 

 

At the European Parliament: Domestic violence against people with disability

 

2 semi circles of seated people facing each other with one woman in a bed chair lying down and man with hat at this end and interpreters signing in space between the semi circles

Photo of meeting from European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup. http://www.ardi-ep.eu 

Sisters of Frida was asked to speak at an event hosted by Soraya Post MEP on Domestic violence against disabled people by the European Network of Independent Living (ENIL) on the 31st January 2017. Here is the speech from Eleanor Lisney ( a summarised version was given as the meeting ran out of time)

Having support for independent living is one of the fundamental needs of disabled people and the structural barriers of being able to exercise our rights is in our battles with social services, schools, higher education, housing, stigmas and discrimination and ableism.
four women around a table, 2 wheelchair users, one with Middle Eastern, one with East Asian looks, the other Caucasian with one in a bed chair lying down position.

with Nadia (ENIL), Eleanor (SOF), Freyja and Embla (Tabú)

It seems right that we should meet with ENIL member before the event  – Nadia Haddad and Tabú ‘s Embla Ágústsdóttir and Freyja Haraldsdóttir for drinks to talk before the event.

Embla and Freyja were giving their testimonies on behalf of  the next day on domestic violence against disabled people. Here is their speech for Tabú.

It is clear that a new definition of domestic violence in itself will not solve the social situation of disabled women and end domestic violence against us. That does not change the fact that by redefining domestic violence legally and in policy can change, for the better, the practices of the police, legal system, social services and violence support networks. Changing the definition does not have to shadow the gender-based approach, it should enrich it. This should not have to exclude tackling of other forms of violence, e.g. institutional violence and hate crime. More so it could draw upon the multiple and concurrent forms of violence that should be beneficial to disabled women and service systems. It could deepen the understanding of which kind of violence affects or actuate other kinds of violence as well as offering a better ground to analyse how structures and cultures encourage and minimize abuse in the lives of disabled women.”

 

We also met up with all four of the Disabled Survivors Unite co-founders from the UK – Alice Kirkby, Ashley Stephens, Holly Scott-Gardner and  Bekki Smiddy. Here is their blog of the day with a audio recording and transcript. There was much appreciation of their testimonies.

John Pring of Disability News Service wrote the article  ‘Cuts mean government ‘is complicit in high levels of domestic violence’ on their appearance.

Ana Peláez, the Chair of the European Disability Forum (EDF) Women’s Committee and a member of its Executive Committee spoke on the structual problems faced by disabled women and girls

So the first thing we need to say is that violence against women and girls with disabilities is structural violence that arises from the mere fact that when we talk about their specific situation they are not recognised as women or girls. This non-recognition means they are excluded from policies aimed at providing assistance and recovery for women victims of violence. (Another related topic is the accessibility of these services, but today we don’t have time to go into this.)

A second structural aspect of violence against women and girls with disabilities is that in many cases they are victims of legal incapacitation which takes place due to their gender. This incapacitation is part of the process to enable these women to be subjected to forced sterilisation without their consent, or without their realising what is being done to them. This practise is another type of domestic violence in some ways, because it is the families who, in violation of the CRPD and even article 39 of the Istanbul Convention, choose to sterilise their daughters to protect them against unwanted pregnancies. I don’t mean to blame the families; they are also victims of the healthcare system, which very often suggests this type of practise. Sterilising a woman means mutilating not only her reproductive capacity, but also her civil, political and economic rights. In addition, the only thing sterilisation achieves is to leave girls and women with disabilities even more exposed to sexual abuse and rape. Even worse, they are also unable to access justice to report the perpetrators or seek remedies, because they have been deprived of their legal capacity.

Here is the Ana Peláez EP  (Word doc) speech in full that she kindly send us.

 

It was wonderful to meet Madelen Löw from We Rise Again (Sweden) who spoke her powerful testimony

two women, one speaking, the other woman is listening

Madelen Löw with Judith Ward UK MEP

People who were involved with the event spoke of their willingness to have further collaboration on the topic – we hope so! We will continue to follow the discussions. There was much mention of the Istanbul Convention that we hope will be ratified soon by the UK.

More photos from the event at Flickr account

At the European Parliament Panel: Structural problems faced by disabled people, when accessing their full rights

Hearing hosted by MEP Soraya Post S&D : Domestic violence against people with disability

woman with blonde hair and black rimmed glasses. She has a notice that says Feminism in Europe

Soraya Post MEP

MEP Soraya Post invited the civil society, NGO’s and Members of the Parliament to a hearing regarding domestic violence against people with disabilities, in order to raise awareness and put the issue on the political agenda

For the panel on Structural problems faced by people with disabilities, when accessing their full rights, Eleanor Lisney spoke for Sisters of Frida and ENIL (European Network of Independent Living)

(a summarised version was given due to meeting running out of time )

Thank you very much to Soraya Post MEP – for this opportunity to speak.

Sisters of Frida is an experimental collective of disabled women. We want a new way of sharing experiences, mutual support and relationships with different networks.

We are seeking to build a/or different networks of disabled women.
We would like a sisterhood, a circle of disabled women and allies to discuss, share our experiences and explore possibilities. So at this moment we remain strictly a female group – female includes anybody who self identify as female.

  • – unfunded, we focus on issues specifically to do with disabled women –there is a gap in Women’s organisations and disabled people’s organisations
  • – advocate disabled women’s rights – we went to UN CEDAW examination with other UK women NGOs to Geneva and the UN CSW (Commission on Status of Women)
  • – we re part of ROFA – Reclaiming our Future Alliance for CRPD shadow report
  • – we have spoken on events on social justice, on intersectionality and on domestic violence
  • – we spoke for disabled women at the Global Summit to end sexual violence in conflict

The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) is a Europe-wide network of disabled people,  Independent Living organisations and their non-disabled allies on the issues of Independent Living. ENIL represents the disability movement for human rights and social inclusion based on solidarity, peer support, deinstitutionalisation, democracy, self-representation, cross disability and self-determination

Speaking on structural problems when accessing full rights for disabled people, I would like to emphasise the importance of access –

  • Access to education – this includes sex education where disabled people are often excluded, and education is a key to being able to access rights, being aware of rights need you to be literate which leads on to
  • Access to information – including web accessibility, for knowing what’s happening and how, where, when to go to for help and make your voice known in consultations
  • Access to the built environment – physical access and independent living so that you are not trapped in your home or a residential place, having the right assistive equipment and care ( personal assistance.)
  • Access to justice – you can have the most wonderful legislation enshrining your rights but if you cannot get to them because you do not have the socio economic means, they would might as well not be there – legal aid is essential

Societal attitudes is also an impediment ie. Stigmas and societal discrimination (social model of disability)

Rashida Manjoo : UN special rapporteur on sexual violence said

  • “Violence against women needs to be addressed within the broader struggles against inequality and gender-based discrimination.” Rape and domestic violence do not occur in a vacuum, but within a culture shaped and influenced by issues such as normalised harassment in public spaces and the dehumanising objectification of women in the media.

Where disabled women are concerned, there is such a low expectancy to have relationships of any kind that they internalized a low esteem, supposing that they are ‘lucky’ to be in a relationship even if it is an abusive relationship and there is a real fear of care support being withdrawn.  Disabled women see violence and abuse as “part of life” : there are high levels of violence, with very low rates of reporting. Violence and abuse happen behind closed doors: at home, in day centres, in residential homes, in supported accommodation, in special hospitals and on mental health ward. Few disabled women access mainstream support services. There is also poor access to justice and often no response

A 2014 study found that only around 15% of rapes recorded by police as crimes resulted in rape charges being brought against a suspect. The research shows that more than 80% of people reporting rape to the Metropolitan Police are vulnerable to sexual attack (women with psychosocial disabilities and women with learning disabilities) but that these same vulnerabilities mean their cases are less likely to be result in a suspect being charged.

(see https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/02/28/revealed-why-the-police-are-failing-most-rape-victims/)

Professor Stanko’s (Professor Betsy Stanko 2014) research into how the Police deal with rape victims showed that women with mental health issues are 40 per cent less likely to have their case referred to the police for prosecution than women without mental health issues. Women with learning difficulties were 67 per cent less likely to have their case referred.

“These women face almost unsurmountable obstacles to justice, their rape is highly unlikely to carry a sanction, and in that sense, it is decriminalised.”

“Victim vulnerabilities effectively protect suspects from being perceived as credible rapists”.

Lastly, there is also the intersectional ( such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and immigration status) ) aspect of structural barriers – access is about more than just ramps – my needs may be about faith or culture, or about how you explain things to me, or getting the right interpreter who uses sign language that I can understand. My barriers may be compounded if I am a Indian lesbian deaf wheelchair user for example.

Sisters of Frida works with StaySafe East in London who has years of experience working with disabled survivors. I suggest asking them for advice on best practice on helping disabled people caught in domestic violence.

Having support for independent living is one of the fundamental needs of disabled people and the structural barriers of being able to exercise our rights is in our battles with social services, schools, higher education, housing, stigmas and discrimination and ableism.

 

Thank you.

Eleanor Lisney

Group photo of participants after the event/hearing.

Group photo of some of the participants after the event/hearing, Embla, Freyja, Madelen, and Eleanor in the front row. Aaron Isrealson, one of the organisers is in the back row.

 

 

 

 

 

Cold, chaotic and claustrophobic at times – but we were there at the Women’s March last Saturday!

Group of women, 2 wheelchair users holding a banner with words 'Sisters of Frida Disabled Women's Collective, four other women standing behind

Arriving near Trafalgar Square at the end of the march

 

We sent out this press release on the day of the march

“Sisters of Frida are joining the Women’s March in solidarity with all those marginalised and threatened by the politics of hatred and division. Amongst the many statements that triggered women to march was the mocking of Serge Kovaleski, Pulitzer prize winning reporter for the New York Times, who is disabled.

“Whilst the march was not accessible for all disabled women, Sisters of Frida have been working with the Women’s Equality Party to ensure that disabled women are represented and access improved. Both the Women’s Equality Party and Sisters of Frida will be live streaming and tweeting from the Women’s March on London to open up this space to those unable to join us today.

“This is a powerful example of how a movement can amplify the voices of those who are often most marginalised. Disabled women are twice as likely to experience abuse compared to non-disabled women, and we are still fighting for the right to independent living. Disability hate crime is underreported and can go unrecognised.

“Disabled women too often face barriers to fully participating in politics. Today we are demanding that space. We know that disability can intersect with other marginalised identities – including race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion. Today we march for a politics that includes all women. Tomorrow we will continue our work to amplify the voices of those women who are too often unheard.”

We had all intentions of meeting up and marching together with the Womens Equality Party but some of us were not well enough given the cold weather, impairment issues and sheer numbers of the people who turned up. It was very difficult to get together even if we manage to get in contact with our mobile phones. Negotiating through the crowds proved very difficult for many even those without a mobility impairment.

Reports of as many as 100 000 women were said to be there at the march and there was a feeling of being united together. There were some questions on the lack of intersectionality on the march and we were disappointed about the absence of the  disabled women voices.

We thank the Women’s Equality Party for their support.

 

Caucasian woman speaking to a East asian woman wheelchair user with many women carrying placards behind them

With Halla Gunnarsdóttir and the Womens Equality Party marchers

We were also joined by Liz Carr and Jo Church on the March. A few people send us messages of solidarity to say they could not come but to thank for representing them as disabled people/women.

More photos can be found at the Sisters of Frida’s Flickr account.