Why we need to talk about SRGBV and girls with disabilities, now!

December 3, 2016

Coverage in Bihar on disability by Prashanth Vishwanathan

Submitted by Fernanda Santana – Brazilian autistic woman, activist, member of Abraça (Brazilian Association of the Rights of Autistic People) and RIADIS (Latin American Network of non Governmental Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and their Families).  This blog is a part of the Global Working Group to End SRGBV 16 Days of Activism campaign.

In a society like ours, growing up as a girl is a challenge. Statistically, we are less likely to receive quality education than boys, less likely to get a good job or receive a fair pay for our work. Patriarchy, violence against women, gender inequality, oppression, objectification… everyone knows those words, right?

Well, in a society like ours, growing up with a disability is a bigger challenge. Did you know that children with disabilities are 3-4 times more likely to suffer violence (including sexual violence) than children without disabilities, and that women with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely[1] to suffer sexual violence than women without disabilities? That’s a lot, right? Yes, and it gets worse for girls and young women who end up in a long-term institution, where, in addition to being susceptible to all sorts of gender-based violence, you’re also deprived of your freedom and other basic rights. Recently I read a bizarre statistic, according to Women with Disabilities Australia(WWDA), 90% of Australian women with an intellectual disability[2] have been subjected to sexual abuse. 90%, that’s almost all of them! And more than two-thirds of these women are sexually abused before they turn 18 – in other words, as  girls or  young women.

It’s curious, because the sexuality of adolescent girls and women with disabilities is a taboo, especially for mental-related disabilities. I am autistic, and I see very often that people consider autistic girls and women as not capable of having a healthy sex life, or relationships, or be capable of being a good mother. We are forbidden to even try. It’s the same for girls with other types of psychosocial disabilities or with intellectual disabilities. It is because of this that often no one remembers or believes in the importance of the sex education for these groups, and so our sexuality is denied to us. However, when it comes to choose who to rape, we suddenly become desirable and a perfectly sexual human being. Again we experience violence, when one of us attempts to report abuse – we suffer again that when our reporting is dismissed, with statements such as, ” she can’t understand what she is saying”. And that’s it. No one explains anything to you. No one cares.

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Do you know where children receive sex education? Mainstream schools. Do you know where they do not want us(girls with disabilities) to be sent? Yes, mainstream schools!  We are denied access to mainstream schools, because they say we will suffer bullying and abuse. Because ‘regular’ school is a cruel place, they say. In regular school you will not get the attention you need, they say.

Well, I think the world is a cruel place and if inclusion doesn’t start in school, it will never happen anywhere. We, girls with disabilities, spent too much time away from society, living apart. That’s why nobody talks about us. That’s why no one remembers us. Violence is everywhere – in mainstream and inclusive schools as well, but especially out of it – in institutions for children and young people with disabilities. There is violence in the fact that the ‘regular’ school is denied us. And with this educational exclusion, is our exclusion from of all the life skills which mainstream education can offer, such as  sexual and reproductive health education and information.

It’s for your protection, they say. It’s for your well-being, they say. But what wellbeing is this that justifies girls and young women with disabilities being much more unprepared and vulnerable in schools (and outside of schools) than anyone else?

Yes, in a society like ours, growing up being a girl with a disability is the biggest challenge. It’s like starting a game but skipping the tutorial, very hard. Except that this is not a game, it is real. And when women and girls with disabilities get hurt, we really get hurt, very badly.


fotoAbout Fernanda
Fernanda Santana is a young Brazilian autistic woman, activist, member of Abraça (the Brazilian Association of the Rights of Autistic People) and RIADIS (Latin American Network of non Governmental Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and their Families). Her biggest interests are accessibility, women’s rights and, of course, in the rights of autistic persons. Also, she is an architecture student who likes cats and a good coffee.


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