Saturday, January 28, 2012

Disability and Violence against Women

Photo: Art for Prabhat, Disability India Network
Within the gamut of violence against women, one of the things that I find extremely intriguing, at least, in the context of India, is reluctance among organizations and activists to take up issues of sexual violence against children, especially girls by their family members and sexual violence against disabled women. Here, I want to bring attention to a general apathy, and denial around sexual lives of disabled women and sexual violence against them. References to sexual rights of this population group and their violations are rarely heard. Discussion and programmes designed to address violence against women rarely keep this group in view. These groups’ numerical under-representation in the organizations working on violence against women could be one of the reasons.

I find that the reluctance also has to do with this group being a minority – accessing information about the abuses this group goes through and reaching them with protection and care services would require some extra efforts which do not seem ‘cost effective’ to many.
The disability movement in India has focused on political ideas of universal physical access and survival. The issue of violence against them is not a priority. As a result, public and private violence against disabled women, especially intellectually challenged women, has not surfaced as an issue.

Families, most of them, somehow cannot see their intellectually challenged family members as anything other than a curse and a liability on the family. It is not surprising then that despite protests by some women’s activists, institutional violence against disabled women is sometimes carried out with the support of their family members. Examples of such collaborations include prevention of (potential) pregnancy by violent methods like vaginal hysterectomy or uterine hysterectomy.

These actions are given the name of protection measures. But protection from what – living with implications of having a sexual life or from implications of sexual violence like rape? If such measures are a protection from implications of having a sexual life, shouldn’t one treat these measures as violations of reproductive rights? And if these measures are being treated as protection from implications of sexual violence like rape, shouldn’t these measures be considered as institutional and family ‘approval’ of men’s ‘right’ to rape women?

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