Addressing Violence Against All Women
31 January 2012 at 10:09 am
The President of the Victorian Disability Services Board, and disability campaigner, Tricia Malowney says it’s clear that women with disabilities experiencing violence are being denied access to services which are vital to them. Her comments come on the heals of the a recent document Addressing Violence against Women and their Children – Action Plan Consultation Framework.
When an organisation is funded to provide services to women, it is my belief that that means all women. In the case of women with disabilities who experience violence, they are often not able to access the services that are available to other women.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its optional Protocol. The Convention recognises … that women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation[i]
In addition it is also clear in Article 6 of the Convention that there is a need for Government to take … all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the present Convention[ii].
The Victorian Government has also recognised the particular vulnerability of women with disabilities and the associated risks when looking at developing their recent document Addressing Violence against Women and their Children Action Plan Consultation Framework. [iii]
Women with disabilities (generally) trust me, and I have had women disclosing the violence they endure on trains, in coffee shops and at meetings. My Grandmother had one of those faces where people told her things, perhaps I am the same. The problem is, that often these women have not known how or where to seek assistance. Sometimes I have been able to assist them to find the help they need – but sometimes the help is not available, and they return to an unsafe situation.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic service providers out there, who go way above and beyond to try to support the women who come to them having experienced, for example, family violence, sometimes at the hands of carers.
However, there is a distinct lack of accessible refuges, and a distinct lack of brokerage funding to assist women who want to leave an abusive situation. Accessible transitional housing to support women when they leave is also in short supply.
I like to compare my own situation when explaining this to advocates – I have a supportive husband, who is happy for me to live my life as I wish and who support me in my work. But imagine if I was in an abusive situation – and my husband was my carer –how do I leave – I need the same support that other women need – I need a safe place to stay, I need assurance that my children will be safe, I need support.
However, in addition to that as a woman with a disability, I may need access to supports – like someone to assist me with basic functions, I might need accommodation that has a ramp and an accessible shower, I might need someone to read complex documents to me to help me understand my rights – I might need someone to act as my advocate through this difficult time, I might need someone to assist with my children. Or I might need all of the above.
Some of the stories that have been brought to my attention have made me cringe – a woman who was denied access to a service because she was deaf and the service did not think they would be able to cope. Another woman who was sent back to her abuser because the service was not able to provide funding for a carer to support the woman, another who was unable to access the refuge because another woman with a disability was in residence and there was no accessible transitional housing available.
Is this the fault of the service? It may be that they have not been supported to enable them to provide equitable services, or it may be that there is not enough brokerage available to enable equitable service deliver.
Or it may just be that they don’t know how to help.
What is clear is that women with disabilities are being denied access to services which are vital to them.
While we need to ensure that specialist supports are in place to assist women with disabilities, women with disabilities need to be treated with dignity and respect and as individuals. We need to ensure that we don’t make assumptions about a woman’s needs and capacity – in other words, treat women with disabilities as you would every other woman who has experienced violence – whether that be through family violence or sexual assault – as being in need of support and entitled to that support.
What we don’t need is a separate specialist service – imagine if you lived in a rural area, and you are experiencing family violence – and the service is in Melbourne – it is not going to work. What we need is to ensure that all services which provide support to women experiencing violence are able to provide a service to one of the most vulnerable groups in our community, women with disabilities.
There has been great support to women with disabilities from the family violence and sexual assault sector, who have been working in partnership with Women with Disabilities Victoria to ensure that women with disabilities are included in the discussion at all levels. Housing Resources and Support Services are working in the housing sector to ensure that transitional housing is available to ensure the safety of women with disabilities. Two small Not for Profit agencies work with the Government and non Government sector and which really do make a difference.
We welcome the Action Plan proposed by the Victorian Government, but just want to ensure that it meets the needs of women with disabilities.
About the author
Tricia Malowney contracted polio at age four months and used callipers until she was 16. At age 36, she developed post polio syndrome, was retired from a middle management position with Victoria Police at age 46 and now uses a range of mobility aids to get around.
She is President of the Victorian Disability Services Board, Chair of Women with Disability Victoria Board, Chair of Housing Resources and Support Services Board, Chair of the Royal Women’s Hospital Disability Reference Group, Deputy Chair of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, Member Women’s Health Victoria Council, Member Women’s Health East Board, Member of the Coroner’s Reference Group on Family Violence Deaths, and is the community representative on the Victorian Road Based Public Transport Advisory Council.
Tricia is also a member of the Royal Women's Hospital Community Advisory Committee and their Primary Care and Population Health Reference Committee, Breastscreen Victoria Community Advisory Committee and Maroondah Breastscreen Community Advisory Committee.
She is Patron of the LeadAbility Program being run in the State’s North to provide mentoring for Women with Disabilities in Rural communities.
Tricia's interest is in improving access to services for Victorians with disabilities, with an emphasis on access to Justice and Health. She is committed ensuring that a disability lens is applied to the development of policies and that a gender lens is applied to the disability sector.
[i] United Nations, 2006, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Preamble, (M)
[ii] Ibid Article 6
[iii] Victorian Government, 2012, Addressing Violence against Women and their Children, Action Plan Consultation Framework