Ending violence against women living with disabilities: Interview with Anna Alaszewski
The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) opened a Special Funding Window in 2018 specifically for projects working to prevent and end violence against women and girls living with disabilities. Over the course of the window between 2018–2020, 28,504 women and girls with disabilities directly benefited from UN Trust Fund-funded projects. Anna Alaszewski, Portfolio Manager of the Special Funding Window, spoke to us about this work.
- Why has the UN Trust Fund prioritized this special funding?
Women and girls with disabilities are at higher risk of violence than their peers over longer periods of time with more serious consequences, as well as facing particular forms of harm. Despite the heightened risk of violence, programmes aimed at ending violence against women and girls have often failed to accommodate the needs of women and girls with disabilities, resulting in barriers to participation. Furthermore, efforts to end violence against women and girls with disabilities have been chronically underfunded.
- How is the UN Trust Fund supporting this work?
In 2018 the UN Trust Fund launched its Special Funding Window for projects implemented by civil society organizations with the aim of preventing and ending violence against women and girls with disabilities. It has since funded 21 projects in all world regions to a total of over USD9 million.
- What does success look like?
We’re seeing changes at individual, community and national levels, all of which will ultimately result in changes in the lives of women and girls with disabilities. Strategies aimed at empowering these women and girls have shown great promise in reducing the violence they face.
UNABU [Rwandan Organization of Women with Disability] is implementing a project in Rwanda which has so far reached 2,250 women with disabilities through self-advocacy groups, where they learn about their right to live free from violence and how to access support if needed. In the first 18 months of the project, 20% of participants experienced violence as opposed to 64% as recorded [when the project began]. The interventions have shown the potential for lasting effects, breaking isolation and social stigma, and transforming the way women and girls living with disabilities are perceived by themselves, their families and communities.
Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust in Zimbabwe has assisted 616 survivors of violence in accessing justice services by providing logistical support, disability expert services, home visits and psycho-social support to lessen the financial and psychological burden of survivors as they pursued justice. In response to advocacy efforts by the grantee, 70% of survivors reported that police and court staff attitudes had positively changed. Training received as part of the project has resulted in police officers reminding survivors of court dates, hospital appointments and checking on the progress of cases.
Stars of Hope, a women-led disabled people’s organization operating in the State of Palestine, has reported that networking, advocacy and coordination activities have resulted in the acceptance of their participation in discussions to improve the national referral system. This enabled them to sensitize state and non-state actors to the needs of women and girls with disabilities so that they could be taken into account in discussions and resulting action.
- What are we learning from this work?
We learnt that dedicated funding ensured that funds reached those with expertise on disability rights, enabling partnerships across sectors and bridging the divide between organizations with different areas of expertise.
It enabled meaningful consideration of inclusivity in programming to ensure that all women and girls with disabilities can participate. Ensuring the inclusivity of participants with different needs, such as those with hearing impairments, physical disabilities or learning difficulties, requires careful planning, resource allocation and expertise, most importantly that of women and girls with disabilities.
- What have you learnt during the COVID-19 crisis?
We learnt that organizations working to end violence against women and girls play a crucial role in their communities as front line responders in a crisis. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Trust Fund grantees reported that women and girls with disabilities were seriously impacted, facing higher risks of violence, lacking hygiene equipment to protect themselves, as well as being impacted by the economic consequences, including food shortages.
Many grantees played a critical role, meeting the immediate needs of women and girls with disabilities by providing food, cash assistance and dignity kits. Organizations such as IDIWA [Integrated Disabled Women Activities] in Uganda found that information provided by the government was not accessible to many women and girls with disabilities [so IDIWA] produced materials in multiple formats and languages.
UNABU in Rwanda provided cell phones to community focal points in rural areas, who checked in with individual project beneficiaries, providing them with information about the pandemic and how to protect themselves.