women, disability and conflict – why we should say and do more

The number of documents I have read on the experiences of women and girls with disabilities during times of conflict and violence in all my years of peacebuilding do not take even two hands to count. And I have gone looking for them. This lack of evidence is one of the main reasons why I am so happy to have been involved in the study What Violence Means to Us: Women With Disabilities Speak. Led by women with disabilities themselves, this research examines the situation for women in Plateau, one of Nigeria’s most conflict affected states.

Grace Jerry (one of the report’s co-authors) and I discuss research findings in this recording.

We also wrote conflict deepens dangers and worsens exclusion for women with disabilities for The Guardian:

Conflict can be both a cause of disability and a devastating complication for those already living with disabilities. Although all disabled people are affected, women face intersecting discrimination because of their gender and disability.

There is little research on the experiences of women and girls living with disability in conflict. To fill this gap, Inclusive Friends, a disability rights organisation, and the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme studied the implications of violence for women and girls living with disability in Plateau state, where there has been sporadic violence along ethno-religious lines and between farmers and pastoralists for the past 15 years.

Women with disabilities led and participated in the research, which found that women’s experiences during conflict were an extension of the difficulties they lived with during peace time.

Daily life for those with disabilities in Plateau, and elsewhere in Nigeria, is bleak. Families rarely send disabled children to school and many keep them indoors to protect them or to hide them. Women said healthcare is often inaccessible – physically, financially and because staff have little knowledge of how to manage care for patients with disabilities. Workplaces are also inaccessible: many employers presume that disabled women have poor intellectual skills, and customers may be reluctant to buy goods from them.

Violent conflict exacerbates this reality. Women with disabilities find it difficult to flee violence and are often left behind. The study found that in one village in Riyom, members of the community locked all those who were elderly or had disabilities in a room before an attack; but the room was set on fire when the attackers came.

People with hearing impairments might not hear warnings, gunshots and sounds of others running away, and so remain behind, in danger. People with visual impairments might not know what is happening, exactly where they are, or how to escape. We heard of visually impaired women who were deliberately left in unsafe areas. We also heard of women who mistakenly ran towards the attackers and were raped and killed.

The family of Godiya* left her behind when violence broke out. Unable to walk, she tried to crawl along the ground to escape. But then she fell into a river and almost drowned before someone walking by rescued her. She told us she still wonders what would have happened to her had the passer-by not come to her aid.

Even when they are able to escape, women with disabilities might have to leave behind mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, medicine and hearing aids. This can lead to long-term health consequences and restrict their independence. If their caregivers have left the area, the women may become completely dependent on others.

Camps for internally displaced people (IDP) are often difficult to navigate for those with mobility problems or other disabilities. We have heard of men forcing disabled women and girls to have sex with them in exchange for “help” getting food and water. In the Jos North district, 15 out of 35 women with disabilities spoke of violations in IDP camps.

During peace and conflict, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience gender-based violence but are less likely to be able to escape, speak up, to be believed, or to access services. Globally, women with disabilities aretwice as likely to experience domestic violence and up to three times more likely to be raped by a stranger or acquaintance.

Because women with disabilities rely on those in power, the risks of sexual violence and abuse are greater. When asked to identify perpetrators of violence, most of the women we interviewed named caregivers and family members – followed by security agents. We heard of female students experiencing violence from those charged with helping them. In one case, a student who was supposed to be helping a visually impaired woman to transcribe her notes raped her. She became pregnant and had to drop out of university.

When Uhuam* went into labour, her family were shocked and confused, as she had been confined to a room in the family home. They later found out that a male neighbour had sneaked in when no one was around and raped her. During our research, we heard from girls with mental and intellectual disabilities whose parents had injected them with contraceptive implants in case men raped them.

Godiya and Uhuam were among many women who felt that no one was helping them. They said they were not included in existing projects, and definitely did not benefit from programmes designed for them. Most said they received no assistance from community leaders or social services. When we spoke to people working in civil society, almost four-fifths said their organisations had no programmes to mitigate violence against women with disabilities.

The main reason decision-makers do not take these realities and needs into account is because women with disabilities are not involved in policymaking. Although there is increasing recognition of the need to put women at the centre of peace and security efforts, women and girls with disabilities are rarely included explicitly.

This general exclusion leads to further marginalisation, and undermines any hope of maximising their unique perspectives, skills and talents. Worldwide, people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, making up 15% of the global population, or one billion people. Three-quarters of people with disabilities in low and middle-income countries are women.

As development, security, peacebuilding and women’s rights activists, professionals and officials, we need to start thinking about women with disabilities when designing and implementing laws, policies and interventions. Our work has to protect, empower and include them. If we do not, we are failing.

The report is available to read here.


mediation, violence against women and girls and gender roles in Plateau state

Between 13th and 16th August, the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme held training in Jos in Plateau state. The first 2 days was a training of trainers session for 20 participants. On Thursday, 20 young people joined us and our trainers had a chance to put their training into action.

    Am in Jos now for mediation training for Trainers organised by National Stability and Recounciliation Program Nigeria @NSRP
    It can be amazing when we take time to share the meaning of the names we bear…names are powerful!! @NSRProgramme #Mediation Training!
    @Smaguire12 talks about equality of all persons and the place of respect.@NSRProgramme
    NSRP supports initiatives aimed at better management of conflict and reduction of the impact of violent conflict in Nigeria.
    Talking about stereotypes and prejudice. People with disabilities seen as not being able to do anything. This makes us angry. #nsrp
    I am an Islamic teacher – people think I train terrorists/ jihadis. I am the one to tell you who I am am, not the other way around. #nsrp
    .@ibeabuchiii talks about perceptions of not seeing disabled women as sexual beings and that they are more vulnerable to rape #nsrp
    #Communication is vital for #Conflict prevention-@NSRPProgramme on #Mediation training
    Working closely w/#youth is vital for #Conflict prevention in #Communities-@NSRPProgramme training on #Mediation
    Now talking about negotiating land use between farmers and pastoralists in the Plateau and potential for conflict #nsrp
    For Fulani man, anything green belongs to animals – doesn’t go down well with farmers! Says Amina re pastoralists/ farmers dispute #nsrp
  12. Just got a mentee @NSRProgramme on #Mediation….connection has been amazing! @ChitraNagarajan pic.twitter.com/TeNnxBvx10
  13. We watched the amazing Daughters of the Niger Delta: http://www.daughtersofthenigerdelta.org/
    1 out of 7 children in Niger #delta estimated to die before age of five – far outnumber casualties of reported violence & kidnappings #nsrp
    Maternal mortality rate in the core Niger #Delta is the second highest in the world #nsrp
  16. A participant @NSRProgramme facilitating a session..well done #nsrp for including persons w/ #Disabilities!! pic.twitter.com/j9Idn1zRok
    Women most affected as do river fishing & men do ocean fishing and rivers are more polluted than oceans #delta #nsrp
    Nigeria flares more natural gas than any other country – toxic particles carried and fall as rainwater #delta #nsrp
    Women have to alternate livelihoods as can no longer fish b/c pollution; instead buy imported fish to sell – less sustainable #nsrp #delta
    Now hearing of woman who got all As at university but got 3rd class degree b/c wouldn’t sleep w lecturer – now can’t find job #nsrp #delta
    Since 1960s and first extraction, more than 3x oil spilt in #delta than that spilt into Gulf of Mexico in 2010 #nsrp
    If a woman at uni tells me her lecturer is sexually harassing her, I advise her to leave – b/c you can’t fight; nobody listens #nsrp #delta
    Cash crops eg yam are easier to produce than labour intensive ones eg cassava but women don’t have start up capital to grow #nsrp #delta
    Most women not able to build up savings so little to fall back upon if lose husbands & property allocated to them by tradition #nsrp #delta
    Only very few men will go far in assisting women – want to sit at the table & be served & wait for wife or kids to clear plates #nsrp #delta
    Why can men whose wife dies marry & woman whose husband dies not marry? have to leave all children & money if you want to marry #nsrp #delta
    Women have not been part of decision making in communities – men sit there and make all the decisions #nsrp #delta
    If come together to prioritise needs, women want healthcare & water but men want buildings that give aesthetic beauty #nsrp #delta
    Fragile peace will not be sustainable without protecting people’s right to food, water and healthy environment #nsrp #delta
    Women gather and go to chiefs and pastors to ask them to do something about widowhood rites so we can get our freedom #nsrp #delta
    Nothing is done about sexual harassment & since nobody does anything to discipline, nobody (girls) wants to learn #nsrp #delta
    @chitranagarajan I agree with u, sexual harrasment is on the increase in our communities and so is the silence. #nsrp #delta
  33. What’s the cause of women’s oppression? asks the facilitator <wow, big question #patriarchy #poverty #nsrp #delta pic.twitter.com/2grO5J8UEo
    So, my #nsrp #delta tweets are of event that is part of my work at @nsrprogramme – have been doing mediation life skills training all week
  35. We then go on to talking about what is expected of girls/ young women and boys/ young men
    @ChitraNagarajan is facilitating a session on societal roles and perceptions in communities @NSRProgramme #Mediation training in #Jos
    Being a boy in Plateau – you are expected to provide security and defend the family and loved ones, be strong physically #nsrp
    Boys in Plateau are expected to be responsible, educated, hard working and protect the family #nsrp
    Boy in plateau state thinks he is the leader of the house and can do whatever he wants says one of our young girls #nsrp
  40. Boys in Plateau work but tend to be quite wasteful with money – drink etc > talking about masculinities #nsrp pic.twitter.com/38qBsG57lR
    Being a boy in Plateau mean that you go to school more than girls as their lives are curtailed as seen as going to another house #nsrp
    Women w/ disabilities have to rely on caregivers and often when caregivers get angry, they threaten to abandon them says @ibeabuchiii #nsrp
    Girls expected to be fragile, home-makers, supposed to be at home crying & praying to meet guys, a sex machine, denied right to edu #nsrp
  44. War is cause of disability, affects us greatly. We can contribute to its resolution but overlooked says Grace #nsrp pic.twitter.com/z2in7qOBQG
    #women w/#Disabilities are often physically less capable of defending themselves in cases of #Violence and #rape @UNWomenWatch @UN_Women
    Talking about women with hearing difficulties not able to hear dangers around them when they go to the stream to get water #nsrp
    #Violence against #women w/ #Disabilities has similiarities with violence against other women bt has unique dimensions as well @UNWomenWatch
    Don’t look at your 16 yo daughter as 3 yo you are taking to the park – says attendee after hearing story of girl abused by boyfriend #nsrp
    #women w/#Disabilities usually have less #access to information about how to protect themselves against#Violence and #rape@UNWomenWatch
    Talking about barter system at IDP camps whereby disabled women are forced to have sex in return for being helped #nsrp
    More vulnerable women, more likely to experience violence & less likely to be helped – who listens to girl w/ mental health issues? #nsrp
  52. Wow, me & @smaguire12 are blown away by @ibeabuchiii – we have found a superb gender trainer #nsrp pic.twitter.com/PxrCIbJM9c
    Talking about importance of realising correlation between women’s ability to participate in peacebuilding & violence they experience #nsrp
    #women can play important roles in conflict resolution.They need space, Visibility and space for action-@NSRProgramme #Mediation training
    In 2013, we can sit together in a mixed group and talk re HIV, she was wounded in her vagina & domestic violence. That is progress #nsrp
    The ongoing#Mediation training organised by @NSRprogramme has provided platform for networking & action.
  57. Now talking about different forms of gender based violence against women #nsrp #vaw pic.twitter.com/VqbTf3yPQK
    To break the silence on #vaw, need to create awareness, involve women in decision making, men need to challenge other men #nsrp
  59. Young people deep in discussion with mentors of case studies on #vaw #nsrp instagram.com/p/dEj2kDTZnu/
    ‘When you throw stone in market, don’t know whose head it will fall on’ – Hausa saying used to explain why ppl should work together #nsrp
    #youths help to build bridges across communities, helping address the root causes and outcomes of insecurity @NSRProgramme
    #youths are on the frontline of most #Conflicts, making them vital stakeholders in #peacebuilding efforts @NSRProgramme
    There is a new generation of #Peace builders emerging from #Nigeria;they are raising their voices & making impacts daily @NSRProgramme
    So proud of our young trainees on NSRP mediation course – youth says he was perpetrator but now knows he must stop abusing girls.