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Frome charity calls for women and girls with a disability to be protected globally

FROME-based charity ADD International are asking that the protection of women and girls with a disability becomes a global priority.

Set up in Frome in 1986, ADD International is a disability rights organisation fighting for independence, equality and opportunity for disabled people living in poverty in Africa and Asia.

With around one in five women worldwide having a disability, the charity wants to raise awareness of the barriers to wellbeing disabled women face, due to gender-based violence and disability discrimination.

Public fundraising manager, Laura Macchietto said, “The lack of data and evidence available on gender-based violence against disabled women and girls means that this problem often remains invisible.

“As a result, the unique dangers and challenges faced by disabled women and girls are overlooked by aid programmes designed to tackle gender-based violence.

“ADD International has recently completed a research project which has gathered crucial evidence about the scale of gender-based violence in certain parts of Tanzania. This research will help inform future programmatic and policy work to make sure that the right protections are put in place to support disabled women and girls.

“Women with disabilities around the world experience much higher levels of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, for longer periods of time and with worse physical and mental outcomes as a consequence of violence than women without disabilities.

“Most incidents of gender-based violence are not reported to the police. Disabled women and girls often have crushingly low self-esteem; many women fear that reporting incidents of abuse might lead to them being abandoned, having their children taken away, losing financial support and care, and increased isolation.

“Even when women do report violence they face considerable obstacles in accessing support and justice. Stigma and impairment specific challenges – such as complications in identifying the perpetrator, communication difficulties – create multiple barriers to justice.

“ADD International’s research project in Tanzania aims to tackle the first barrier to uprooting the invisible violence faced by disabled women – evidencing the scale of the problem.”

Working in partnership with local organisations of disability activists, ADD International have trained female disability activists on how to carry out field research and interviews with disabled women who have been victims of gender based violence.

“The disability activists were also trained on how to analyse and utilise the findings to inform future programmatic and policy work. By building disability activists’ capacity in this way, they have gained the skills needed to continue this vital research.”

ADD International’s Tanzania country director, Rose Tesha, said “We know that violence against disabled women happens firstly because of their impairment and secondly because they are women. We hear a lot of stories informally, but we need to record this information formally. We have collected the data to show people the reality of the challenges disabled women are facing.

“We have measured sexual and physical violence, we have gone out to rural areas [which experience a higher rate of gender-based violence because of the lack of information and awareness raising programmes], we have spoken to people with different impairments, we have looked at whether the abuse comes from teachers, or relatives, so that we can build a picture. We are showing how difficult it is for disabled women to report cases because of taboos and stigma, which also increase the magnitude of the violence.

“The level of discrimination is so high. We want to make sure that we are showing exactly what is happening within our communities. If we keep quiet this discrimination will keep happening.

“For me, the focus in Tanzania is to design programmes which will uplift the lives of people with disabilities. This research will help us do that, and it will help the community become aware of the scale of the problem.

“In this way, ADD International is contributing towards shifting the attitude of local people. The disability activists we support are setting a very powerful example in showing that disability is not inability.”

Calling for change, Laura continued, “Unfortunately, too many existing programmes meant to prevent gender-based violence do not take into account the unique dangers and challenges faced by women with disabilities.

“Without specific attention and solutions, these women have been left behind and at risk.

“Development agencies, power holders and service providers need to build into their programmes the right protection for disabled women. It will require sustained global focus, momentum and action. But if we are serious about fulfilling the global aspiration to ‘leave no one behind’ then it has to be done.”

More information about the work of ADD International can be found on their website www.add.org.uk

Pictured: Disability activists who work with ADD International.