Disability Considerations in GBV Programming during the COVID-19 Pandemic




This note provides information and practical guidance to support gender-based violence (GBV) practitioners to integrate attention to disability into GBV prevention, risk mitigation and response efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. This document complements other resources relating to GBV and COVID-19 and assumes that the user is already familiar with common GBV prevention, risk mitigation and response approaches. It should be considered a “living” document; given the evolving nature of the pandemic, it may be adapted as more evidence relating to disability, GBV and COVID-19 becomes available. COVID-19 presents added risks to women and girls, in all their diversity. The GBV community is being challenged to re-think programming and service delivery systems as governments put in place strategies to contain, delay and / or mitigate the spread of the disease. More inclusive GBV prevention and risk mitigation efforts, as well as remote case management support, can improve access for women and girls with disabilities and female caregivers of persons with disabilities. As such, there is an opportunity to take lessons learned from this crisis and use them to strengthen disability inclusion in GBV programming in the longer term.

GBV and Disability

Global evidence suggests that intersecting factors, such as age and disability, will increase risk of GBV. A systematic review of studies from largely high-income countries indicates that persons with disabilities are 1.5 times at greater risk of violence than non-disabled people, with even higher risk for persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities (Hughes et al., 2012). More recent studies from low- to middle-income countries demonstrate that women with disabilities are 2-4 times more
likely to experience intimate partner violence (IPV) than their non-disabled peers (Dunkle et al., 2018). Women with disabilities may face added barriers in seeking assistance due to dependence on the perpetrator for mobility, communication and/or access to medications and health care (Ortoleva & Lewis, 2012). Evidence further demonstrates that women and girls with disabilities face increased risk of GBV in settings affected by conflict. For example, in research undertaken in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 76-85% of women with disabilities reported experiencing physical and/or sexual IPV in the month prior to responding to the survey, compared with 71% of women without disabilities. This same study demonstrated that older women with disabilities were more likely to report physical IPV than younger women with disabilities (Scolese et al., 2020). In another study from refugee settings in Burundi and Ethiopia, women and girls with disabilities who were isolated in their homes and those with psychosocial disabilities reported being subjected to rape on a repeated and regular basis and by multiple perpetrators. Refugee community members in Burundi, Ethiopia and Jordan also reported that women, men, girls and boys with intellectual disabilities were vulnerable to sexual violence. This same study documented how stress due to displacement, social isolation and loss of protective community networks all added to the risk of violence inside the home for persons with disabilities, as well as for other women and girls in the household (Women’s Refugee Commission & International Rescue Committee, 2015).

Intersections with COVID-19

There is currently no research which explores the intersection between GBV and disability in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it well recognized across the literature that crises exacerbate pre-existing inequalities, disproportionately affecting women, girls and other sub-populations, and adding to their risk of violence, abuse and exploitation (Care International, 2020, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2015).

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