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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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