What is Double Discrimination?

Double discrimination refers to the intersectional relationship of sexism and ableism as faced by women and girls with disabilities. Disabled women face discrimination on three levels; as a woman, as a disabled person and as a disabled woman. Discrimination against them is – at least - doubled. While they already face the same challenges that disabled men and non-disabled women face, they also face others too.

Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse

Women suffer high rates of gender-based violence compared to men. However, women with disabilities are more likely to be ‘insulted, made to feel bad about themselves, belittled, intimidated and subjected to physical and sexual violence’ than women without disabilities (ADD). They are also more likely to endure long-term abuse and suffer extreme injuries (HRW). Domestic violence shelters set up by women’s organisations are often inaccessible to women with disabilities.

Women with disabilities are also 4 times as likely to experience sexual assault than non-disabled women (HRW). They're more likely to be targeted for rape due to the belief that they must be asexual and therefore virgins and that sex with a virgin can cure diseases (HRW). Overall, it is estimated that ‘girls and young women with disabilities may face up to 10 times more violence than women and girls without’ (Worldbank).

Medical Neglect and Abuse

People with disabilities are often heavily dependent on family members, friends, carers and medical staff for care, making it near impossible for them to report or escape from situations of abuse (ADD). ‘In some countries, disabled women living in institutions are abused at twice the rate as those living in the community’, and women and girls are more likely to be institutionalised than men with disabilities (HRW).

Moreover, many health care workers lack the appropriate training in caring for disabled women in particular, and so they are often denied basic services including cancer screenings, birth control and maternity care (ADD). Women with disabilities are also subject to forced sterilisation and abortion and have to contend not just with urinary and bowel management but menstrual hygiene and wellbeing too, which comes with extra limitations, stigma, health risks and financial burden (UNICEF).

Poverty

Like men with disabilities, women come up against the disability wage gap. However, they battle work place sexism and the gender pay gap as well. As a result, women with disabilities are twice as unlikely to find work as a disabled man and 75% are not in the workforce (UNGEI; HRW).

Similarly, disabled girls are ‘the most excluded group of children from all educational settings' due to perceptions that it is more important, safer and economically viable to send boys to school combined with many schools being inaccessible and unsafe for disabled children (UNGEI).

Disabled women are also more likely than disabled men to be divorced and less likely to marry, removing another layer of financial and social protection (Meekosha, 2004). Combined with sexist property ownership laws, women with disabilities are generally hit much harder by poverty than others; they earn significantly less than both women without disabilities and men with disabilities (Meekosha, 2004). Even in a wealthy country such as the United Kingdom, approximately 47% of disabled people live below the poverty line (Worldbank).

How Our Work Tackles Double Discrimination

Women with disabilities are often overlooked by large feminist organisations fighting for gender equality, as well as by large disability charities whose work is largely focused on the experiences of men with disabilities and does not tackle the intricacies of being female and disabled. That’s why our Christmas Appeal 2021 focuses on this issue. We are asking people to help the world’s most at-risk people to live free from poverty, stigma, neglect and sexual, physical and mental abuse, by donating whatever they can here.

More about our work with women:

Bernadette’s story

Dolma’s story

Jackline’s story

Wheelchairs for women and girls in India | Motivation

A community of mothers | Motivation

Paving a way for disabled women and girls | Motivation

Sources:

The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative

Women Enabled International Fact Sheet

Action on Disability and Development

Gender based violence learning paper

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund

Children with Disabilities, 2013

Human Rights Watch

Dawncanda.net

Meekosha, 2004

World Health Organisation, 2011

Worldbank

In focus brief on violence against women & girls with disabilities

Refuge.org.uk