MANILA, Philippines — A woman with a disability is more likely to face the threat of being a victim of violence, may it be sexual, physical or emotional, than most other women and persons with disability.
Inequality due to gender differences and the presence of a disability may prevent women with disabilities from recognizing their real worth and exercising their right to be treated with equal respect and dignity as the rest of society.
Last November, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) organized “Eliminate Violence Against Women with Disabilities” participated in by mostly persons with disabilities (PWDs), government representatives, PWD advocates from non-government organizations, and other stakeholders. The highlight of this event was the viewing of digital stories of two deaf women, students of the University of the Philippines, who bravely shared their stories growing up deaf in a hearing world.
SPEAKING WITH HANDS
As these two deaf women “speak” through their hands, it was clear that they were oppressed in ways that challenged how society views violence, which happens even in our own homes and inflicted by people closest to us.
When people who are supposed to believe in them judge them as inadequate; when they are made to believe that their only value is to be of service to other family members and not as part of the workforce in spite of their skills and competencies; when they are taunted, rejected and simply ignored — these are tantamount to violence against their person and their worth, their feelings of significance in a world that is deaf to their plight.
When the deaf speak, we should listen. They only shout in silence if we refuse to hear their message that rings loud and clear — any form of violence against women with disabilities should not be tolerated.
Sam Chittick, governance adviser of AusAID, reported that in one study of 245 women with disabilities, 40 percent had experienced abuse, 12 percent got raped. This statistic is higher for women without disabilities where only 20 percent experience abuse, and only one percentwould be related to sexual violence.
There may be many other cases of abuse among women with disabilities, but these are not reported. In the case of the deaf victim, aside from the emotional, physical and psychological trauma she has undergone, she may not be able to communicate and express what she has gone through in a hearing world that is most of the time apathetic to the plight of deaf women.
We can choose to hear the deaf speak by supporting AusAID’s campaign to end violence against women with disabilities.
In cooperation with the Philippine Commission on Women, AusAID launched “Blow the Whistle on Violence Against Women (VAW),” an advocacy campaign, both symbolic and practical, to end any form of violence against women with disabilities. Everyone is entitled to a life free from violence and a voice to speak, even if that voice can only be heard if we choose to listen.