UNESCO and partners conduct community dialogues on gender-based violence against women with disabilities

The UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa through the European Union-funded Spotlight Initiative is partnering with Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to undertake community-based dialogues on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices (HPs), which negatively affect women and girls with disabilities. These dialogues are targeting community leaders who include chiefs, village heads, school heads, religious leaders, health workers and government officials. 

Through this partnership, Deaf Women Included (DWI), Disabled Women Support Organization (DWSO), and National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) are facilitating the dialogues in the Spotlight Districts within 4 provinces. The dialogues target community leaders to sensitize them on the plight of women and girls with disabilities particularly in matters relating to Sexual and Reproductive Health. The involvement of community leaders makes them aware of the needs of women with disabilities so they become advocates for disability rights. In addition, the dialogues are contributing to changing perceptions about women and girls with disabilities and equipping community leaders with skills for developing strategies that can be adopted at community level to promote prevention and response to cases of GBV. 

Currently, dialogues have been conducted in 8 districts and some of the major issues raised include the lack of capacity for most service providers to assist persons with disabilities. Most service providers indicated that communication is a barrier, as they do not understand sign language. Members from the victim friendly units in most districts also indicated that issues of GBV and sexual abuse go unreported and women and girls with disabilities continue to suffer in silence. This is because most services are not disability friendly and persons with disabilities continue to feel segregated. These community dialogues have also shown that there are no statistics of the actual number of cases of GBV against women and girls with disabilities as their data collection tools do not disaggregate disability data.

In most districts, community leaders pledged to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities and to ensure that all cases of SGBV are reported. Government representatives in the districts also indicated that they would make commitments to ensure that their services are disability friendly.