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Collaborating to improve gender-based violence services

Lucy Muchiri, November 2023

Women and girls with disabilities face a higher risk of gender-based violence (GBV), yet they are often prevented from receiving support due to inaccessible services. And, while disability-inclusive policies exist for GBV services, implementation is often lacking.

This is why Sightsavers is committed to improving the availability, accessibility and quality of support services for people who have experienced gender-based violence.

The key to changing the status quo lies in participation, inclusivity and collaboration. Therefore, in May 2023 I was part of the Sightsavers social inclusion team that held a workshop in Uganda that brought together participants from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise to address the gaps in GBV service provision for women with disabilities.

The workshop was informed by preliminary interviews with GBV stakeholders and women with disabilities that asserted interest in disability-inclusive services. We also worked closely with our Uganda country office and engaged Grace Nakirijja, an expert consultant on GBV in Uganda.

Empowering change

Read our analysis of inclusive gender-based violence services for women with disabilities in Uganda.

Read the report

The workshop

Our commitment to improving GBV services for women with disabilities was the workshop’s core objective. We wanted to ensure that women with disabilities were in the driving seat, as they’re best placed to determine their priorities. We also embraced a participatory format, emphasising inclusion, equal partnership, transparency, shared power, responsibility, empowerment and cooperation among the workshop attendees.

The workshop was made up of 13 stakeholder groups, each representing a critical piece of the GBV response puzzle. These groups ranged from women with various disabilities to law enforcement, community leaders and health care providers. One of the most exhilarating outcomes was the connections formed among these different groups, as individuals connected to personnel in services they didn’t know existed thus enabling vital contacts, the sharing of resources and creating a web of support.

Day one and two

Over the first two days, workshop discussions focused on understanding the different stakeholders’ roles in supporting people who report GBV, the range of services available and the possibilities for joined-up working. Together we identified the gaps and barriers for women with disabilities in accessing GBV services, as well as the challenges of delivering disability-inclusive services faced by provider. We then explored potential solutions and ways to improve access to these services for women with disabilities.

Day three and four

On day three, we came together to discuss the findings and recommendations from the first two days. On the final day, we brought together groups of women with disabilities to prioritise their recommendations for developing inclusive and accessible GBV services. Surprisingly, despite all the information that exists on referral mechanisms, the lack of information and knowledge about the GBV referral process and service provision among women with disabilities topped their list.

Outcomes from the workshop

One of the key solutions the workshop participants identified was the creation of safe spaces. Women with disabilities who have been subjected to GBV told us that they felt afraid and were searching for someone they could trust and rely on. If a service provider’s first impression wasn’t welcoming, they would be unlikely to open up about their experience.

Others spoke about the communication gap, for example, the lack of sign language interpreters, or a lack of advocacy and awareness programmes, meaning that women with disabilities weren’t aware that these services existed or where to find them.

Watch workshop participant Esther share her key solution for supporting women who experience GBV.

Accessibility was also raised as a significant challenge, given that the environments where service providers are located are often inaccessible for wheelchair users. Rose, one of the workshop attendees, explains the importance of accessible spaces.

The workshop provided a platform for stakeholders to understand the lack of accessible and inclusive GBV support for women with disabilities. The urgent need for greater understanding by the women themselves of GBV and the requirements of service providers to create an enabling environment became evident. In order for Sightsavers to begin the process of tackling barriers in relation to lack of knowledge, negative stereotypes, behaviour, inaccessible environments, poor policy implementation and low levels of information and disability-inclusive information, we urgently need funding. Sightsavers is ready to develop a programme with local women with disabilities at the heart of the initiative.

The power of collaboration, inclusivity and learning from those directly affected will guide us in our work moving forward. We need to challenge ourselves and other organisations to actively support and engage in this vital mission. Together, we can create a future where no one has to endure violence in silence and where pathways to safety and justice are accessible to all.

Resources

After the workshop, we produced two guides to help organisations develop disability-inclusive strategies for tackling GBV.

Read the guide for civil society organisations (pdf)
Read the guide for state institutions (pdf)

Watch workshop participant Faith outline what she would do to make GBV policies more inclusive.

Watch workshop participant Rose explain why some GBV services are inaccessible for people with disabilities.

Author


Lucy Muchiri is Sightsavers’ technical adviser for social inclusion in East Africa.

 

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