By Joyce Mukucha
Deaf Women Included (DWI) continues to foster collaboration among government, civil society organizations(CSOs), and women with disabilities oriented organisations as it strives to ensure that gender-based violence (GBV) against people with disabilities (PWDs), with the main focus being on women and girls with disabilities(WGDs) is curbed.
The organisation is thriving to elevate the voice of women as well as ensuring pathways for women and girls with disabilities to access justice, raise their voice, and highlight gaps in service provision especially sexual reproductive and health rights (SRHR).
Speaking during a virtual Roundtable on GBV on Thursday, DWI Director, Agness Chimdimba said during these unprecedented times of the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic, women and girls with disabilities were in increased danger of experiencing GBV, and their access to support and services was limited.
Chindimba said there was a need for engagement, collaboration, and mainstreaming disabilities by targeting and building inclusive and responsive policies to tackle GBV in all its forms.
“In situations like these of Covid-19, there is a greater risk of human rights violation. Women and girls with disabilities are more vulnerable to physical, psychological, sexual, or financial violence. They are and vulnerable to neglect entrapment and degradation yet there is limited disability accessible GBV service and transport. Difficulties in accessing sexual and reproductive health care are largely due to negative provider attitudes and cost care.
“Therefore, it is important to establish space for in-the-ground collaboration among government institutions and CSOs to help raise the profile of issues affecting girls with disabilities and ensure their participation in peacebuilding and other processes. There is a need to promote accessible accountability mechanisms to ensure access to justice for WGWDs who experience rights violations including GBV,” said Chindimba.
She indicated that it was significant to outline efforts to ensure disability accessibility including the provision of information in an accessible format such as Braille, easy to read and ensure that sign language interpretation is available.
She highlighted that the need to facilitate the involvement of WGDs in planning and designing of Covid-19 and GBV programs and response services and social support should be accessible to all women and girls including WGDs.
“It is important to ensure that health care including SRHR and anti-gender-based violence supports are accessible and usable to WGDs. Women with disabilities are not just in need of ‘special protections’ but can meaningfully contribute to the society’s post-pandemic development.”
The Chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum who joined the meeting from Zambia, Ms. Clare Musonda said efforts were being made by the Member States to ensure that the Model Law on GBV assists the work of the Caucuses.
She said the model law enables national legislators to amend and replace some policies which do not adequately contribute to capacity building, engagement, and communication of GBV issues.
She said it is the role of Parliamentarians to make sure that GBV victims, especially WGDs, receive assurance and support.
Regionally, she said, SADC recognises GBV as a critical area of concern, thus, the law model ought to emphasize the need to address all forms of GBV.
“The proposed process of drafting a model law on Gender-Based Violence in the SADC region initiated by the SADC-PF is in response to the prevailing shortfalls in legislation on Gender-Based Violence and the chronic implementation gap across the region.
“There is a need for Parliamentarians to exercise their duty for the benefit of the community by ensuring that the Model Law on GBV has effective laws and development by Member States policies. A model is a useful tool that guides national laws and legislation, supports the Government when dealing with GBV issues.
“It helps all SADC States to ratify international and regional treaties and instruments that contain important provisions relating to eliminating gender-based violence. It encourages member states to domesticate and implement key aspects of the model legislation at the national level. The model law also assists states to address all relevant areas in GBV legislation where they have gaps or where existing legislation needs reform,” said Ms. Clare.
A Member of the House of Assembly for Mutasa North Constituency who is also the Chairperson of Women Affairs, Community and Small and Medium Enterprises, Honourable Chido Madiwa said WGDs were living in difficult situations of experiencing GBV thus the need to strengthen efforts aimed at reducing their vulnerability.
She said a lot still needs to be done to make sure that survivors of GBV receive the support they need and highlighted that members of Parliament and CSOs should work together in creating a better environment for WGDs.
The government, she pointed out, was making a concerted effort to protect the rights of PWDs.
“Even though men and women experience GBV, girls, and women with disabilities are 10 times abused than men. Societies practice GBV on women and girls through marriage restriction for PWDs, restricting them to report cases of GBV. This increases their vulnerability for they end up being stuck in the same situations.
“Though a lot still needs to be done especially in increasing One-Stop Centres for GBV survivors, the Government has taken many steps to address these challenges through adopting Conventions such as the Beijing Platform to protect the rights of PWDs. It is the duty of the state to protect PWDs including WGDs from all forms of exploitation and ensure that there is a change in as much as gender roles stereotypes are concerned.
“MPs and CSOs are key to changing attitude therefore they must work collectively. They are vital in offering counseling services, fund, facilitate and support the full participation of WGDs so they should work together in research and crafting effective and practical laws,” said Honourable Madiwa.
She added that it was imperative for society to change perceptions and see WGDs as people who can positively contribute to the development of the community and the nation at large.
Other participants pointed out that an escalating issue to the abuse of people with disabilities was poverty hence the need for more skills training projects for sustenance in order to curb this challenge.
Some highlighted that “The model law for GBV is a good move to standardise the approach to GBV. However, I think in terms of the punitive measures in the model law I recommend that where a victim is a PWD, the punishment must be stringent.”
Participants also stressed that laws that criminalise GBV must be strengthened so that they act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators whilst others said the culture of impunity can only be tackled by strong legal frameworks and be accompanied by continued awareness and sensitization.
The Director for Musasa Project, Ms. Precious Taru said survivors were being tested for Covid-19 at the nearest clinic before admission.
“We have isolation centres before admissions. Our counsellors are trained on interacting in sign language. However more can still be done to ensure the services are too notch to meet the needs of everyone,” said Ms. Taru.