Published on Sustainable Cities

Five facts to know about violence against women and girls with disabilities

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Photo: Basile Ouedraogo / WaterAid Photo: Basile Ouedraogo / WaterAid

Across the globe, studies reveal staggering and terrifying facts on violence against women and girls. Evidence tells us that girls and young women with disabilities may face up to 10 times more violence than women and girls without disabilities.  Perpetrators may target them because of their limited physical mobility or means of communication. Most vulnerable to violence are children on the autism spectrum, as well as those with hearing, visual, psychosocial, or intellectual disabilities.

What’s worse, most of this violence goes unreported and unpunished.

Our new In Focus Brief on Violence Against Women and Girls with Disabilities is an effort to explain the causes, types, and consequences of violence against women and girls with disabilities. The brief reveals the types of violence that girls with disabilities face throughout their lifecycle – from childhood into adolescence, adulthood, and into old age. It also provides recommendations on how to promote constructive and holistic approaches to inclusive policies, more receptive institutions, and more aware communities.

Here are five facts the brief tells us about violence against women and girls with disabilities: 

  1. Discrimination and violence start early

Discrimination against girls and young women with disabilities can start early. Female infants born with disabilities are more likely to die through “mercy killings” than male infants with disabilities.

Many girls with disabilities never have a birth certificate. The lack of legal registration means they are not able to access health care, education, and social services. It also renders them more vulnerable to violence and abuse.

  1. Young girls are excluded from reproductive health and sexual education

As young girls with disabilities enter adolescence, their risk of experiencing sexual violence increases.  Harmful myths make them easy targets. In some African countries, for instance, it is believed that having sex with a virgin girl or a girl with Albinism may cure HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Girls and young women with disabilities are often perceived as A-sexual, and thus presumed virgins and targeted because of their disabilities.

Too often, young women with disabilities are excluded from family planning and other sexual and reproductive health services. Low levels of sexual education, including education about HIV transmission and prevention, often translate into risky sexual behaviors.

  1. Reproductive adulthood is filled with stigma and misconceptions

Stigma and misconceptions on disability – along with a lack of accessible health services, limited personal autonomy, and little to no sexuality education – often prevent young women with disabilities from experiencing and engaging in healthy sexual lives.

While women with disabilities are exposed to the same forms of violence experienced by women without disabilities, the intersection with disability puts them at further risk of violence that is unique and less detectable. These forms of violence include a lack of respect for personhood, including withholding of assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, and white canes, which may limit mobility and interaction with other people and increases a sense of powerlessness and dependency.

  1. Risks are real even at older age

Despite the stereotypical perception that violence is typically experienced by younger women, existing data confirms that physical and sexual violence can span a woman’s lifetime, including at later stages. The cumulative experience of violence throughout the lifecycle can have a negative effect on the physical and psychological health and well-being of older women. Disability is also often an added risk factor to violence for those women who acquire an age-related condition such as dementia.

  1. Violence can be stopped

What can governments, civil society and development partners do to leave no women and girls with disabilities behind in our work to end gender-based violence?  The following are the first steps to be taken:

  • Strengthen government entities with the mandate to prevent and respond to violence in an inclusive manner.
  • Design inclusive and accessible services and programs that protect women and girls from violence including health services, police stations, shelters and courts to women and girls with disabilities.
  • Invest in empowering women and girls with disabilities to know their sexual and reproductive rights and how to protect themselves.
  • Improve data availability on different forms of violence experienced by women and girls with disabilities in different parts of the world.
  • Invest in evidence-based interventions that can demonstrate a decreased incidence of violence and make a sustainable change in the lives of women and girls with disabilities.
  • Actively and purposefully include violence against women and girls with disabilities in development projects.

For too long, violence against women and girls with disabilities has been an issue surrounded by silence. The time has come to raise more awareness and ramp up our efforts to create deep and long-lasting change for those women and girls that have been left behind.

It is time to act to end violence against women and girls with disabilities. 




Mari Koistinen

Senior Social Development Specialist

Diana J. Arango

Sr. Gender-Based Violence and Development Specialist, World Bank Group

Camilla Gandini

Social Development Specialist

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