• WWDA project featured in The Guardian
  • Carolyn Frohmader photographed for portrait project
  • WWDA Publication: Preventing Violence Against Women
  • New App to assist women access specialist violence services
  • WWDA to be represented on Tasmanian Government Family Violence Action Plan consultative group

Domestic violence more severe against women with disabilities, research shows

Monica Tan, The Guardian, 10 June 2015

Disability advocates say the discussion around domestic violence has so far excluded the experience of victims living with a disability.

Tackling domestic violence may have finally found its place on the national agenda, but disability advocates say the discussion has so far “obscured” and “excluded” the experience of victims living with a disability.

Dr Aminath Didi, an academic for a joint project between the University of New South Wales and Women with Disabilities Australia, spoke at a domestic violence conference on Wednesday in Sydney.

She said this exclusion happened despite the fact violence suffered by women with disabilities tended to be “more extensive, suffered over longer periods of time and more severe” than violence against men with disability or violence against women without a disability.

Women and girls with disability made up 20% of Australia’s female population or about two million, she said, and came from a diverse range of sexual identity, ethnicity, employment status and type of impairment.

The 2012-13 Stop the Violence project, conducted by Women with Disabilities Australia, People with Disabilities Australia and UNSW, found that violence “intensified in frequency, extent and nature when gender and disability intersect”, Didi said.

Women with disabilities were more likely to experience violence in residential and institutional settings and the nature of this violence and abuse include the withholding of medicine and assistance devices such as wheelchairs, or refusal to assist with daily needs like bathing, dressing or eating.

Victims living in rural and remote communities were further disadvantaged due to a lack of services, information and awareness. And such problems were often seen as secondary to more basic needs like access to nutritious food, shelter and security.

Part of the problem lay in an inconsistent definition of what constitutes violence against women, Didi maintained. “It is generally conceptualised in the context of spousal or intimate partner or family violence, which frequently excludes what women with disability experience, in the settings where they live,” she said.

She said violence against women with disability extended beyond private and family dwellings into a range of institutions, such as group homes, hospitals, prisons, special schools and aged care homes.

And these forms of violence could include chemical restraint, forced or coerced sterilisation, forced contraception, forced or coerced psychiatric interventions, violations of privacy, forced isolation and deprivation of liberty.

“In these settings, violence is considered a workplace issue,” Didi said, “and not a human rights violation and potential criminal act.”

Joining Didi at the Ending Domestic Violence Criterion conference was project chair and co-author of the 2015 report Preventing Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities, Associate Professor Leanne Dowse, who said women with disability “continue to fall through a whole range of legislative, policy and service gaps”.

This was the result of the “multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination which make them more likely to experience or be at risk of violence”.

“Violence against women and girls with disability in all its form remains widespread and largely unaddressed,” Dowse said, and this was despite “clear obligations” by international human rights law to do so.

Monochrome Photograph of African American Woman in ProfileDowse said in relation to domestic violence against women with disabilities, several international human rights monitoring bodies had raised serious concerns about Australia’s low rate of reporting, prosecution and conviction of perpetrators, and an ongoing lack of data, inclusive legislation policy, services and support.

Figures on the prevalence and incidence on violence against women with disabilities were “hard to come by”, she said, “largely because our national statistical collection processes don’t take disability status into account.”

But that limited evidence indicated more than 70% of women with disability experience a violent sexual encounter at least once in their lifetime and were 40% more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women without disability.

“Legislation policy and service responses tend to view disability as an ‘additional group’, whose needs are exceptional or additional to the central prevention agenda,” Dowse said. “This means efforts and approaches to prevent violence against women in Australia are piecemeal and inconsistent in definitions and scope.”

She said it was time to “demand accountability from government and from other duty bearers in recognising and addressing the rights of women with disability to live free from violence”.

Read the original article at The Guardian

WWDA Executive Director featured in ‘Positively Remarkable’ Portrait Project

WWDA Executive Director, Carolyn Frohmader was recently featured in the Positively Remarkable People project. The documentary portrait project, photographed by Diane Macdonald, is described as ‘an ongoing project of portraits and stories of people involved in ending violence against women, and is displayed as a series, highlighting the individual’s efforts and, at the same time, marking the depth and breadth of the current movement within an Australian context’.

Each individual portrait is accompanied by a short biography of the individual, edited by Jennie Orchard. You can the portrait and read the biography from the Positive Remarkable People website. Carolyn’s portrait and biography is reproduced below, with permission.

Portrait of Carolyn Frohmader, Executive Director, Women With Disabilities Austrlalia

Photograph of Carolyn Frohmader (C) 2015 Diane Macdonald

I can only hope that in my young daughter’s lifetime, she will witness and benefit from true equality between men and women, and an end to violence against women and girls – in all its forms.

– Carolyn Frohmader

Carolyn Frohmader is the Executive Director of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) – and a formidable force in the global movement to prevent violence against women. Operating from a home office, Carolyn has built WWDA into a successful, pro-active lobby organisation that is now recognised by the United Nations. Carolyn is a true warrior who has fought tirelessly to achieve change for women and girls with a disability. ‘I can see now that we have made a difference – in awareness-raising, policy changes, recognition and advances in human rights for women and girls with a disability,’ she says.

These significant developments have all taken place in the 18 years that Carolyn has been working for WWDA. ‘I always believed that success does not come quickly,’ she says. ‘You have to be in it for the long haul and be persistent.’ Carolyn’s persistence has certainly paid off as WWDA now plays a pivotal role in the disability sector, dealing with everything from violence and abuse to employment, rolling out the NDIS, and practical issues like transport and housing. They have a strong international focus and assist with capacity-building in Africa as well as countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan that are struggling to cope with the needs of their disabled communities.

WWDA has come a long way from the fledgling organisation started by eight disabled women in Victoria more than 20 years ago. The organisation is now highly regarded in Australia and beyond – and Carolyn must take much of the credit for this. She has benefited in this role from an extensive background in women’s health, health policy, primary healthcare and community development.

Carolyn began her working life as a nurse at the Royal Hobart Hospital before becoming a community nurse. It was then that she became aware of widespread injustices such as elderly people being exploited and/or abused by family members, and disabled patients receiving inadequate care. This was a turning point for Carolyn who became determined to improve the lives of people disadvantaged by gender, age, disability or race.

Carolyn’s mother, who was a teacher and school principal, instilled in her from an early age a strong sense of social justice. ‘She advocated strongly for the rights of all girls and women to gain an education and realise their potential. She saw education as a critical mechanism for girls and women to challenge the entrenched patterns of inequality between men and women, and to break the cycle of violence. She taught me to be resilient and strong and to stand up for what I believed in.’

In the 1990s, Carolyn was commissioned by the Tasmanian and Federal Governments to do a research study of women’s health. She met many women living in abusive and violent relationships including one woman who had been beaten by her violent husband almost daily for 21 years but felt she couldn’t leave because she had no skills. The fear of leaving was greater than the fear of staying. Carolyn said this woman made her understand that violence against women is a complex issue and requires structural change, and that gender equality is critical in addressing violence against women.

Carolyn went on to do postgraduate studies. While working as a consultant to the Australian Women’s Health Network in Canberra, she was asked to take on an embryonic role at the WWDA. This started out as a part-time job but rapidly became full-time. Under Carolyn’s leadership WWDA has received a number of prestigious awards, state and national, for its ground-breaking work, including the National Human Rights Award.

In 2001 Carolyn received the ACT Woman of the Year Award in recognition of her contribution to the promotion of women’s rights. In 2009 she was inducted into the Tasmanian Women’s Honour Roll, poignantly joining her late mother Wendy who was posthumously inducted into the Roll in 2008 for services to education. In 2010 Carolyn was a finalist in Tasmania for the Australian of the Year Award and in 2013 she won the National Human Rights Award for her work with women and girls with disabilities at both national and international levels.

Carolyn makes no secret of the fact that she herself has a non-visible disability – she suffers from complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps it is this that has given Carolyn the insight and fortitude to drive an organisation to achieve such success. Asked what problems WWDA faces, Carolyn cites a lack of funding. Despite having a stellar national and international profile, the organisation is poorly funded.

Aside from the lack of funds, Carolyn believes the Government needs to recognise and respect women and girls with disabilities. ‘They have been denied their autonomy for too long, and are considered by society to be burdens of care rather than active contributors to society.’

She wants Australian leaders to gain a better understanding of what constitutes violence against disabled people. Although there are major gaps in the statistical evidence base in Australia, it is recognised that women with a disability are 40% more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than women without, and more than 70% of women with a disability have been victims of violent sexual encounters at some time in their lives. Ninety per cent of women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse, with more than two-thirds (68%) having been sexually abused before they turn 18 years of age.

‘This is not just about domestic violence,’ Carolyn says. ‘It is much more. It is about forced sterilisation, forced electric shock treatment, forced contraception – and sexual violence.’

Carolyn says there is still a big need for cultural change so that people with disabilities are given the same opportunities and rights that are afforded able-bodied people. She believes everyone has a role to play in ensuring an end to violence against women and girls. ‘I am a proud activist. But I am also a mother – and I can only hope that in my young daughter’s lifetime, she will witness and benefit from, true equality between men and women.’

Read the original article and access other portraits and biographies at the Positively Remarkable People website.

‘Preventing Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities: Integrating A Human Rights Perspective’

By Carolyn Frohmader (WWDA), Associate Professor Leanne Dowse (UNSW) and Dr Aminath Didi (UNSW)

Download the publication
[DOC] | [PDF]

This paper articulates a comprehensive human rights perspective and approach to the prevention of violence against women. This approach recognises and demonstrates that responses to violence against women cannot be considered in isolation from the context of individuals, households, settings, communities or States. It recognises that discrimination affects women in different ways depending on how they are positioned within the social, economic and cultural hierarchies that prohibit or further compromise certain women’s ability to enjoy universal human rights.

The paper argues that without a grounding in a comprehensive human rights frame, current approaches to violence prevention run the risk of reinscribing the marginalisation of gendered disability violence, resulting in the inadvertent perpetuation of the systemic violence and abuse experienced by women with disabilities in a wide range of settings.


Daisy App Logo

New App Assists Women to Access Specialist Violence Services

‘Daisy’ is a free national smart phone and tablet application developed as part of the Australian Government National Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women. Daisy is described as ‘an app that provides women with an easy way to find a wide range of services that can help them understand their rights and options. The services listed include specialist family and domestic violence and sexual assault services’.

In addition to providing contact information for specialist violence services, Daisy also lists relevant legal, housing, finance and children’s services. Users can view services based on their state or territory and the app includes security and safety features including a button to quickly dial 000 and a ‘quick exit’ button.

The app was developed by Medibank Health Solutions who are contracted to deliver 1800RESPECT – the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.

WWDA does not make any guarantee as to the accessibility of this app, however we see it as a useful tool look forward to working with 1800RESPECT in the near future to ensure that all its services are relevant and accessible to women and girls with disabilities.

The app is a free download from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

WWDA to be Represented on Tasmanian Government Family Violence Action Plan Consultative Group

WWDA has been invited to become a member of the Tasmanian Government’s Family Violence Action Plan Consultative Group, an initiative that will complement the work being done under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010-20122. WWDA is currently represented on a number of consultative groups across the states and territories, and at a Commonwealth level.

The initial meeting of the consultation group will be held on Friday 19th June in Hobart and key topics will include identifying key priority areas at a national and state level to be incorporated into the Tasmanian Government’s action plan.


Portrait of a young woman showing a Heart with Her Hands around on the brick wall background