Noticias

Gender-based violence in women with disabilities: a structural problem that demands visibility

25 Enero 2021

In Ecuador, 65% of women over 15 years old have faced some kind of gender-based violence throughout their lives. A 2019 national survey on family relations and gender-based violence against women highlights that all kinds of violence continue to be prevalent in most Ecuadorian women’s lives, regardless of their ethnicity, level of education, and age. This problem, however, is exacerbated in women with disabilities.

Clara * is from the Manabí province and has a 65% intellectual disability. When she was 15 years old, her mother handed her over as a “woman” to a 48-year-old man who beat and abused her. A civil society organization rescued her months later. By then, Clara was seven months pregnant. It is not known who is her child’s father; a psychological evaluation determined that her father and her brother were also abusing her and that one of them could also be the father of her baby. Clara's family fled and abandoned her. Now the young woman lives with her aunt, who has to take care of her and her baby.

A 2017 study by the Consejo Nacional para la Igualdad de Género (CNIG) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Ecuador, on pregnancy in adolescent women with disabilities and its relationship to gender violence, says that women with disabilities are seen as asexual beings. Nelly Jácome, current director of the CNIG and who led the 2017 study, says that the general population usually tag women with disabilities as “innocent,” “little creatures,” and “eternal angels.” These terms, explains Jácome, expropriates these women of their lives, bodies, sexuality, and above all, their rights.

This perception of the absence of rights and sexuality has made violence against women with disabilities invisible for many years. 

The gender-based violence that women with disabilities experience has not only been made invisible, but also normalized. Jácome says that it is so rooted that it was not until the study was carried out in 2017, that the Ecuadorian State finally recognized the existence of a problem of gender-based violence in girls, adolescents, and women with disabilities. For this reason, the government had not taken any kind of action or implemented any specific program to protect this population group.

According to Jácome, who is also an expert in gender studies, in 2019, another CNIG study revealed another problem: girls and women with disabilities are more likely to be abused through the practice of incest. In other words, their aggressors are part of their close family circle, especially parents and siblings. In Ecuador, incest is not classified as a crime in the Ecuadorian criminal code, and according to the study, it is not yet recognized as a structural problem.

Lola Valladares, Gender, Interculturality and Human Rights officer at UNFPA in Ecuador, says that the two studies are important because through them “it has been possible to make visible the problem of gender-based violence in girls and women with disabilities in the country.” Although it is difficult and heartbreaking, revealing the problems, says Valladares, is the first step to making changes, such as the adoption of public policies for prevention and care, that impact people’s lives.

To support girls, adolescents, and women with disabilities who are more likely to suffer rights violations, UNFPA Ecuador launched the We Decide program— an initiative that promotes the rights of adolescents and young people with disabilities, especially girls and women. The project has been very important and has helped many young people with disabilities in the country to “live a life free of gender violence and to enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights.” And although the project ended, Valladares assures that UNFPA will continue working in Ecuador to support women with disabilities to become leaders of themselves and in their communities.