GBV Experiences of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Zimbabwe

Societies believe that people with disabilities should not get married while others say they should not have children. This is our challenge from the home to the community. My own father wanted me to stay at home so that my mother would look after me. He did not want me to leave the house and get married.
Ndaka (Zvimba District)

Ndaka’s story is just one of the many horrific experiences women and girls with disabilities face every day. They continuously experience all forms of violence, intersectional discrimination, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Harmful Practices (HPs) and denied sexual reproductive health rights. According to the Roeher Institute, 40-70% of girls with disabilities are sexually abused by the age of 18. The impact of Covid-19 has increased their challenges, as existing programmes meant to protect them are not paying attention to their unique needs, leaving them vulnerable and at risk.

Through the European Union-funded Spotlight Initiative to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe, the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa supported Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to undertake community-based dialogues to address the unequal gender power relations and the socio-cultural, religious, economic and political root causes of SGBV and HPs, which negatively affect women and girls with disabilities. This intervention with OPDs capacitated over 600 women and girls with disabilities on GBV and SRHR. It strengthened women and girls with disabilities’ capacity to identify and respond to GBV cases. 

Through these trainings, the OPDs were also able to identify SGBV cases that had not been reported and offered victims the support services they needed. OPDs have also been able to set up community support groups that create spaces for women and girls to get information on GBV and SRH. An estimated 300 Community leaders who include chiefs, village heads, religious leaders, health care workers and school heads were engaged by the OPDs. Through these interventions, the perceptions of community leaders towards disability changed. Most traditional leaders made a commitment to ensure the inclusion of women with disabilities at community gatherings and address their needs. 

After the interventions by Deaf Women Included (DWI) in our community, the way I view disability has changed. At one point I was surprised to see a woman with a disability pregnant but now I have been equipped with the knowledge that persons with disabilities are also sexual and also need SRH services.
Councilor, Shamva District

Community and religious leaders also pledged to ensure the protection and promotion of disability rights in their communities.

As part of the interventions and activities of the OPDs, UNESCO developed a documentary on the GBV experiences of women and girls with disabilities in Zimbabwe. The objective of this documentary is to raise awareness of the public and the local actors on the specific GBV challenges encountered by women and girls with disabilities, and support the advocacy work of all stakeholders in ensuring disability inclusive service delivery. This advocacy tool highlights the specific challenges encountered by women and girls with disabilities in terms of gender-based violence, discrimination, and harmful practices. It also highlights the types of discriminatory discourse, and beliefs that exist and are perpetuated by the different community actors. Most importantly, it sends a message that there is still more to be done to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy their rights as accorded by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has also been ratified by Zimbabwe, as well as by the national policies and laws. 

The testimonies of the women and girls with disabilities and key messages from community leaders and service providers have also been translated into Shona as well as Ndebele.

Watch the full documentary below.