This is the script of a speech given by Clare Moore, WWDACT CEO, at the Canberra Women’s March on January 20th, 2019. Please be aware that this speech contains reference to violence, abuse and sexual assault.
Social Isolation and Violence against Women with Disability
I am a non-binary, genderqueer person, raised as a woman. I am a queer person. I am a person with disability. I march with you today as a person who balances the intersectionality of these identities. I hope to help you to understand some of the complexity facing those of us at the intersection of disability and gender. Unfortunately statistics for nonbinary and gender diverse people with disability are virtually nonexistent so this speech focuses on women, but anecdotally, I know that many of the same gendered issues are faced by us.
The disadvantage placed on a woman with disability is not simply the sum of ableism and sexism. It’s multiplied. Women with disabilities are disproportionately excluded in public life, work, health care, housing, income and so much more. We are all too often invisible, because just getting to a march like this involves conquering barriers that others don’t ever think of. That invisibility and isolation drives and enables an epidemic of violence against women with disabilities.
The statistics on violence against women with disabilities are harrowing. The violence and harassment discussed in mainstream feminism is amplified for us. 52% of women with disabilities have experienced workplace sexual harassment. In the US, 69% of women with disabilities experience physically aggressive street harassment. Our sisters with disabilities tell us that this is replicated in Australia. Here research tells us that 70% of women with disabilities have experienced violent sexual encounters and 90% of women with intellectual disability have experienced sexual abuse. And much of this goes unreported.
Can you imagine life where you are verbally abused every day, jostled at the bus stop, bullied at school, belittled at home. Where the media you see tells you you’re something to be pitied. The more different you look or sound to others, the greater the incidence of abuse. The impact of a life of put-downs contributes to lowering self-esteem, eroding confidence, and preventing young girls with disabilities from developing a strong sense of self. Little wonder that there is a high incidence of chronic depression and mental illness in addition to a primary disability. A power imbalance is created in all our interactions with able bodied society. This power gap is increased when disability intersects with a different gender identity. And this can be exploited by those who target women with disabilities, in relationships and in families, and from support workers, or co-workers.
Little wonder that women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience domestic violence. That takes different forms for us because partners are often the ones providing necessary supports. They can withhold that support as a form of abuse, use that power to discourage women from reporting and leaving. This is reinforced by policy that expects partners or family members to be primary carers, and often leaves women powerless to speak up.
Women with disabilities also experience abuse from paid support workers in institutions and from service providers. Over the first 3 months of its operation, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission received 184 reports of abuse or neglect, 29 of which were sexual assaults, from within service providers in New South Wales and South Australia. This is just the tip of the iceberg, in a new scheme that covers only a fraction of the population. We have been asking for a Royal Commission to shine a light on the true extent of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities for years, and stories like this just keep coming. You can call for it too. It is, after all, an election year.
In so many settings, women with disabilities are targeted by abuse because we are isolated and othered by able bodied society. Each of you can enable women with disabilities to be more visible and included, helping to break the cycle of isolation and abuse. That means personal and organisational commitment to including women with disabilities in our community.
Look for opportunities to improve access and inclusion without waiting for one of us to point it out. Make sure your next event asks attendees about their access requirements. Ask your local politicians about their plans for inclusion. Seek out people with disabilities to work with you. Follow the work of local advocates like WWDACT and learn from our perspectives. Boost our voices in the community, stand in solidarity with us. Only if we are included is our isolation decreased and our level of safety in the community increased.
Together we are strong women with strong voices.
Include us and march with us.