Women with disabilities in the Matabeleland North province have more battles to fight in order to be free from gender-based violence.
Emily trips and falls to the ground as she tries to escape her attacker; she fumbles into the air as if trying to grab something but she is just not strong enough. An order clothed in a cold threat booms as she recognizes the voice as belonging to her uncle. Everything around her is blurry as she retreats into a cocoon as he rapes her repeatedly. She knows in a moment it will all be over and her mind wanders off.
Emily (15) is not your typical ordinary teenager. She is visually impaired and is heavily dependent on adult members of her family to get around, something that increased her risk of sexual abuse and the subsequent cover-up that ensued. She has been subjected to sexual violence at the early age of 11 by several members of her family. Her attempts to report the abuses to her mother were in vain as instead of taking action she was cowed into hiding them.
At 14, she stopped reporting and along the way she contracted a sexually transmitted infection and was denied medical treatment over using traditional herbs for fear it might expose the abuse.
Emily’s heartbreaking story is an example of many similar testimonies of persons with disabilities in Hwange and Binga.
Making up an estimated 10 per cent of Zimbabwe’s national population according to ZIMSTAT 2019 census, persons with disabilities seemingly remain an invisible and excluded group across all levels of society.
It is also widely acknowledged that women with disabilities are at a heightened risk of sexual violence and twice as likely to experience domestic violence.
Further evidence indicates that women with disabilities are four times more likely to suffer sexual violence as well as at risk of intimate partner violence than their able-bodied counterparts. Research has shown that generally women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
There are no official statistics on the total number and percentage of women with disabilities in Zimbabwe however, the Inter-Censal Survey by ZIMSTAT states that the proportion of males to females with disabilities is 56 and 44 per cent respectively.
Although women with disabilities represent 56 per cent of the female population there is too little attention given to them with the few studies devoted to disability and gender-based violence all highlighting the vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities to various forms of violence. Interestingly 80 per cent of women with disabilities living in rural areas are unable to meet their own needs and are heavily dependent on family and friends.
According to a case study carried out by Disability Agenda Forum (DAF), a Matabeleland North focused disability rights organisation in Hwange and Binga districts, women and girls with disabilities are at a heightened risk of violence and remain excluded from basic services, such as education, health, work and social support.
“Our field experience and research in Binga and Hwange districts have shown us that women and girls with disabilities in particular face double marginalization as they remain excluded from basic services, such as education, health, work and social support,”O says ctavia Phiri, DAF Director.
“This development in turn heights their risk of exposure to gender-based violence and exploitation. Having the disability in the first place makes them vulnerable and their inability to fight back when attacked or violated. Our condition exposes us as women with disabilities to abuse as we are taken advantage of easily and that is what results in us being at double risk to GBV,” says Phiri.
She says myths, culture, stigma and discrimination were fueling the risks of women falling victim to different forms of abuse resulting in underreporting.
“Stigma, myths and cultural beliefs amongst other factors play a leading role in fueling GBV. You find women and girls with disabilities being sexually abused for ritual purposes as well as because of beliefs such as if one sleeps with a woman who has a disability you get rich or will be cured of a disease or curse.”
Phiri adds that most of them don’t report because they fail to get services due to being shunned by service providers as there is a lot of stigma and discrimination when it comes to disability. So most cases go unreported and when they are reported, are taken for granted.
She says oftentimes perpetrators are family members on whom the woman or girl depends on which led to cases being covered up and the abuse continues unabated.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin