Yet another women's day has passed. More campaigns have been floated and promises have been made. But for women with disabilities, there is no light in sight yet. They continue to live a marginalised existence. Teased, taunted, looked down upon, and spoken about instead of spoken to, women with disabilities experience the combined disadvantages associated with both gender and disability. They live an invisible existence on the fringes of society, a society where the risk towards their safety is soaring day by day.
The ground reality is horrifying.
A 14-year-old girl with speech impairment in UP’s Bulandshahar was sexually assaulted and murdered. A 19-year-old with an intellectual disability in rural West Bengal was raped. When her pregnancy became impossible to conceal, she couldn’t explain the plight due to her disability. A minor girl with an intellectual disability in Patna was assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in her home and because of her disability, she is unable to explain the incident. A 33-year-old man was held for raping a 13-year-old deaf and mute girl in Haryana. A hearing-impaired 11-year-old girl was raped by 16 men for six months in Chennai. A 15-year-old deaf and mute girl was allegedly gang-raped in Bihar's Madhubani district and her eyes were damaged with a sharp object so that she couldn't identify the perpetrators.
It’s the right of every woman, irrespective of her disability, rural or urban location, ethnic identity, and social or economic background to be on equal footing with others. (Representative photo: Getty Images)
Cases like these weigh in on the denial of autonomy, respect, dignity, and equality of personhood to women with disabilities. Even after records of a plethora of such gender-based violence, why is there no effective system in place to register the scores of atrocities against women and girls with disabilities?
The fight ahead is on three fronts:
1. Lack of Sensitisation and Data: Women and girls with disabilities are susceptible to violence, and many times, sexual assault and gender violence go unreported and under-addressed. Those who go ahead and report face a slew of barriers and gaps in the system like lack of sensitised officials. Both governmental and non-governmental sources are silent on disability and gender. Disability does not figure in the routine macro-data collection endeavours of the state, such as the Sample Registration System (SRS), the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). With no data, any policy and law we bring into practice would be a directionless tick-box move by the government.
2. Equality before the law: Women with disabilities continue to remain far from achieving equality before the law. A legal interpretation of equal recognition before the law has been covered in various conventions, ratified by India but all of them are yet to be effectively enforced. The two crucial components - legal capacities and access to justice - are found in CEDAW (Article 15) and CRPD (Article 12 & 13). But there continues to be ambiguity in the legal capacity of women with disabilities. The government has enacted some progressive laws like the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act 2016 (in line with UNCRPD), the Mental Health Care Act 2017, and Criminal Law Amendment 2013. To some extent, these laws have reflected issues faced by women with disabilities. There is a lack of information and awareness about the rights of women with disabilities, and therefore, a lack of monitoring the process.
3. Exclusion at the level of policy: Women with disabilities continue to be neglected both in disability-specific and gender-specific programs and policies. In the four per cent reservation for persons with disabilities in education and employment, there is no provision for women with disabilities. Even though the Persons with Disabilities Act mandates a three per cent allocation for persons with disabilities in all poverty alleviation programs, there is no allocation for women with disabilities. There is no mention of girls/women with disabilities in the budget & government schemes; allocation to women with disabilities failed to find any mention in Part B of the gender budget statement, implying an absence of any specific schemes and programs for women and girls with disabilities. There is also no commitment to ensure Universal Health Care and coverage, including disability-specific services and care, and health care needs of women and girls with disabilities.
It’s the right of every woman, irrespective of her disability, rural or urban location, ethnic identity, and social or economic background to be on equal footing with others. Dedicating one day to women holds no importance if on the other days they are excluded, stigmatised and prejudiced on every level.