Gender, disability based violence  against women

The field of violence against women is still evolving and there is still no unanimity yet on how the term violence against women can be best defined.

The term has been used to describe a number of acts including rape, sexual and physical assault, sexual harassment, emotional abuse, battering, stalking, genital mutilation, pornography and even murder.

The debate is whether to define the word ‘violence’ or to broaden it using the expression ‘violence against women’ as antagonistic behaviours that adversely and dis-proportionality affects women.

The term “violence against women” means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. Violence against women and gender-based violence are sometime used interchangeably.

According to CEDAW (2005 General Recommendations) gender-based violence is defined as “a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men”.

According to our Domestic Violence Act and other regional and international instruments, gender-based violence includes a wide range of abusive actions including rape and sexual abuse, forced marriages, physical and emotional abuse; and economic exploitation, genital mutilation.

Gender-based violence is a crime and a human rights violation that often occurs to a number of women around the world, only that the forms differ from region to region and also country-to-country depending on culture or socio economic standing.

Gender-based violence is deemed rooted in the historical unequal power relations between men and women and frequently takes place in the private or in public spheres.

A number of studies have revealed that women with disabilities are victims of abuse on a far greater scale than women without disabilities.

One factor behind the increased incidence of violence against persons with disabilities is the stigma associated with disability. Persons with disabilities are often considered by society as “not completely human and of less value… The absence of representations of their identity favours the perception that one can abuse them without remorse or conscience.”

Some societies may believe that the disability is a punishment from God or that the person with the disability may infect others with disability. Others may see a person with a disability as an object for charity or pity, rather than as a person deserving equal rights.

Violence against women with disabilities impedes their ability to participate as full and equal citizens in society and this violence has different dimensions. It is a form of discrimination, which is disability, and gender based and is a gross violation of human rights.

Gendered disability violence is violence directed against a woman because she is a woman who has disability and such affects women with disabilities disproportionately as individuals or as a group. Some forms of violence against women with disabilities have not been visible as gender-based violence because of the heightened discrimination based on disability.

The violence is underpinned by the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that exacerbates violence against women. Factors that contribute to this violence include poverty, lack of education, access to resources and culture.

Although women with disabilities experience many of the same forms of violence that all women experience – when gender, disability and other factors intersect – the violence against them takes on unique forms, has unique causes and results in unique consequences.

Women with disabilities suffer a lot of abuse either from the society or family members. In their relationships they suffer from physical, mental, economic and cultural abuse. They suffer from gender based violence more than their able bodied counterparts.

Sexual violence constitutes the majority of type of abuse since studies have shown that up to 87 percent of women and girls with disabilities are victims of this kind of abuse. It therefore follows that as many as 29 percent may have HIV/AIDS.

There is a negative perception, by society, of Women with Disabilities and as such their chances of getting married are slim. They face alarming rates of illiteracy, economic dependency, and social exclusion since they are not only stigmatised but are also discriminated against.

The current socio-economic environment then makes them vulnerable. Because of this they then get involved in unstable relationships. This is best explained by the following scenario:-

Amina is deaf. She lives with her husband and their two children. She depends financially on her husband who is gainfully employed. Her husband also is the only person who helps her to be in touch with the hearing world.

She at times relies on her children, but sometimes it is just not appropriate to ask them to interpret. Whenever she wants to visit the doctor, shops or her children’s school, her husband or children have to interpret for her. Since they got married her husband was abusive to her.

He often hit her and sometimes rapes her. She tried to talk to her parents about this, but they told her to be kind to him, as, in their view it is worse to be alone than to be with him. Friends advised her to report to the police next time he beats her but she is afraid.

She knows that there is no-where she can go to since she depends entirely on him. If she does report to the police they are most likely not to believe her. What then will happen to her if she where to leave the marriage?

Amina’s situation is not unique since this is a reality for most, if not all, of women with disabilities. Relief for women like her however lies in some provisions of the Constitution especially Section 22 which provides that the State and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level must recognise the rights of persons with physical or mental disabilities. Sections 56 (3) & 4(a) does recognise People with Disabilities as full citizens just like any one else and should not be discriminated against based on their disability.

They should be accorded respect. Contrary to these provisions PWDs are not considered to be full and equal citizens. If this is the case with anyone else who has a disabilities, as has been alluded to earlier on, it is even worse for Women with Disabilities.

They suffer from intersectional discrimination. They experience oppression in varying shapes and in varying degrees of intensity simply because they are not only women but women with disabilities. Section 83 also provides for the protection of PWDs from exploitation and abuse among others.

It is therefore clear those women with disabilities, like any other women, have a right to protection from society in general and the State in particular.

The Constitution provides for the rights of women and protection of the family. Section 80(3) highlights that all laws, custom, traditions and cultural practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by the Constitution are void to the extent of the infringement. Section 25 (b) obliges the State and all institutions to protect and foster the institution of the family and to adopt measures for the prevention of domestic violence.


Those in need of legal advice please get in touch with us at Zimbabwe Women lawyers Association – 17Fife Avenue, Harare -Tel: (04)708481/706676 – Hotline: 0782 900 900/0776736873 – Toll free: 08080131

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