LONDON — Last week, from June 10-13, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict took place in London and included over 1,500 delegates from 129 countries.
The goal of the summit was to “shatter the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict” by creating an new international protocol, calling on the training of humanitarian actors to recognize and handle sexual violence. By doing so, the protocol would increase the amount of resources for survivors and inspire a general attitude change about the nature of sexual violence from one of inevitability to one of unacceptability.
Many of the delegates at the summit called for an increased focus on the lives of disabled women who experience violence in times of conflict.
Although there is not a significant amount of research or data on the subject, the Violence Against Women Working Group prepared a detailed report in 2012 that includes discussions about the intersections of gender, disability and conflict.
The introduction to the report emphasizes the multidimensional nature of the issue, stating, “When gender and disability intersect, violence takes on unique forms, has unique causes and results in unique consequences.” In other words, studying violence against women and violence against people with disabilities separately ignores the experiences of women with disabilities who are challenged both by their gender and their disability.
When this type of violence is examined excluding the context of wartime, the disparities are still shockingly high. According to the report, “Women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence as non-disabled women, and are likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of the violence.”
In a violent conflict setting, these disparities are compounded for a variety of different reasons.
Disabilities can cause people to be physically incapable of leaving conflict areas or protecting themselves. Unfortunately, this makes disabled persons more vulnerable to violence. The pain and distress that all people experience when living through violent conflict can serve to exacerbate the effects of disabilities. In addition, medical care is often unavailable during times of conflict, leaving disabled persons without any form of support in a time when assistance may be needed most.
In the refugee camps that arise to shelter people from violence, there are often few or no mechanisms in place to serve people with disabilities. Vital resources may be completely unreachable. The report described that in some situations “sanitation may be impossible as toileting facilities and safe drinking water and food sources may be in inaccessible locations, resulting in poor nutrition and increased risk of disease.”
The journey to a refugee camps is a barrier for women with disabilities as well. They are often not a priority for aid organizations, and “gaining access to persons with disabilities who are scattered among affected communities can be difficult.”
The limited amount of research on the intersections of gender, disability and conflict has revealed a serious need for improvement in the protections offered to women with disabilities during wartime.
Combating poverty may be an effective method to help remedy this problem. In addition to the fact that poverty can create violent conflict, the report discusses the idea that “disability is both a fundamental cause and consequence of income poverty.” By aiding the impoverished, conflict will be stemmed and low-income disabled persons will be able to receive better treatment.
Currently, the amount of violence against women with disabilities is “shockingly high.” The added context of conflict pushes these numbers even higher. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was the largest gathering ever devoted to the topic. Hopefully research into the lives of disabled women during conflict will continue, allowing humanitarian actors to better serve the victims’ needs.