Law and Policy on Violence Against Women with Disabilities

last updated 4 August 2008

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (the Convention) is the most comprehensive set of international standards outlining the rights of people with disabilities and government obligations toward the disabled.  Although it does not specify any new set of rights for persons with disabilities per se, it does summarize and clarify the rights outlined in various other international human rights treaties. 

The Convention has many facets.  It identifies areas where adaptations have to be made so that people with disabilities can exercise their rights, as well as areas where the protection of disabled people’s rights must be reinforced because those rights have been routinely violated.  It establishes universal minimum standards that should apply to everyone and provides the basis for a coherent framework for action on the part of governments.  Under the terms of the Convention, States are obliged to consult with people with disabilities, through their representative organizations, when developing and implementing legislation and policies to effectuate the Convention, and on all other policy matters that will affect the lives of people with disabilities.  The United Nations has published a Handbook for Parliamentarians that details an approach for implementing the Convention.

In passing the Convention, the UN specifically recognized that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple forms of discrimination in addition to gender, including disability, and sometimes other grounds as well.  The Convention notes that women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside their homes, of violence, injury, abuse, neglect, negligent treatment, maltreatment and exploitation.  States that are parties to the Convention must take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the Convention particularly names women with disabilities.  The United Nations has outlined a collection of international norms regarding women with disabilities that influenced the passage of the Convention.  These norms indicate that equality between men and women is not only a guiding principle of the human rights work of the United Nations, but also a right in and of itself.

Often countries enter into region-specific treaties in order to protect disabled women from violence.  For example, the Inter-American Convention of the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women has been passed by the majority of countries in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.  These countries have agreed that equal rights for women are an imperative, and that protecting women from violence is an absolute necessity in guaranteeing equality.  Article 9 says that special account must be taken of the vulnerability of disabled women who are subject to violence.

At the national level, the United States has passed the Violence Against Women Act of 2000.  It allows increased funding to law enforcement personnel for recognizing, addressing, investigating, and prosecuting instances of violence against women with disabilities.  This funding is available for state and local governments, as well as for private entities whose goals involve providing education aimed at preventing instances of violence against women with disabilities.

States within the United States are also joining the fight against violence toward disabled women.  For instance, a recently proposed California law titled “The Crime Victims with Disabilities Act” attempts to focus state efforts to prevent violence, even if the state is experiencing a budget deficit.  It makes relatively simple changes such as:  requiring long-term care facilities to report abuse to law enforcement personnel, expanding the protocol for examining sexual abuse victims with disabilities, and requiring victim-witness assistance programs to cover people with disabilities.