‘Women With Disabilities Refine Their Agenda: The National Workshop on Violence Against Women With Disabilities’

This is an article about the National The National Workshop on Violence Against Women With Disabilities which was conducted by Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) in February 1998. The article originally apperaed in the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program Newsletter, Issue 2, 1998.

Women with disabilities took a step towards increasing their political strength – and raised a number of issues relevant to SAAP service providers – at a national workshop in Melbourne in February 1998. The ‘Workshop on Women With Disabilities and Violence’ was organised by Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and funded by the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women.

One remarkable aspect of this workshop was the fact that the organisers managed to include in the limited number of participants (25) women from all States and Territories, NESB and indigenous women and women from all major disability groups.

Another important outcome from both the event itself and its organisation is that WWDA and its members have extended their networking capacity as well as focusing attention on what has been a relatively neglected part of the women and violence debate.

In fact, one of the key findings from the workshop’s mapping exercise was that there is hardly any reliable research data on women with disabilities and their experience of violence in Australia. Some overseas studies quoted in the workshop suggest that women with disabilities are between two and twelve times more likely to be assaulted, raped or abused than non-disabled women.

The workshop explored the factors which make women with disabilities more likely to be targets of violence, and at the same time make them less likely to receive assistance or services when they do experience violence.

It explored the shortcomings of existing services in Australia, and started to develop a strategic plan of action to combat violence against women with disabilities.

Participants conducted small-group detailed mapping of current activity on a State by State basis and reported their findings to the full group. The result was a bleak picture of scattered initiatives, occasional representation for women with disabilities on relevant bodies, and research projects which may include – but rarely focus directly on – the needs of women with disabilities.

The WWDA Information Kit compiled for the workshop is probably the most comprehensive collection of information in this field in Australia. The Kit contains, for example:

  • State by State analysis of policy, programs and services on domestic violence generally and violence against women with disabilities specifically, together with a Commonwealth perspective;
  • detailed information about the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence Strategy, including projects funded and an update on progress;
  • extensive bibliographies (including an annotated bibliography on women with disabilities and violence) and a summary of Internet sites dealing with the issue;
  • contact information for domestic violence crisis services in each State and Territory, including TTY numbers for the relatively few that have them; and
  • various papers, excerpts from reports and summaries of relevant studies done by WWDA and others.

A panel session on disability, gender and violence saw the workshop tackle the issues at the theoretical level, with speakers making strong points about the marginalisation and silencing of women with disabilities even, according to some participants, by sections of the feminist movement.

Identifying the Gaps

Day Two of the workshop was concerned with identifying the gaps in both knowledge and service provision, and starting to develop strategies to fill the gaps. The workshopping process was split to deal with the themes: Services, Education, Information, Social Action, Research and Other.

There was some overlap between the thirteen ‘gaps’ identified under the services heading, but major points to emerge dealt with:

  • lack of access to shelters for women with disabilities, including daytime limits on opening hours of services;
  • lack of support services, including affordable counselling for women with disabilities who experience violence; and
  • lack of resources, with the view expressed that funding agreements for services should reflect their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act (eg: deaf women don’t go to services because there is no-one there to sign with them).

Filling the Gaps

The workshop group dealing with Services called for research to establish more precisely the extent of need of women with disabilities, and for the adoption of common best practice standards across Australia.

There was also a strong emphasis on training for existing services, with an indication that a significant number of women with disabilities would e prepared to assist with the necessary training.

Many other valuable strategic suggestions came from the “Research Card” initiative, in which each participant upon registration was handed a card with a specific question, which they then discussed informally with other participants throughout the workshop.

The Research Card initiative produced some excellent suggestions, but SAAP News does not have the space to do them justice. The full list of suggestions are contained in the final report of the workshop proceedings which is available from WWDA. The Women With Disabilities and Violence Information Kit is also available from WWDA.

Copies of the ‘Violence Against Women With Disabilities’ Report (published January 1999) are available from the National Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) Office.