The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign: What this Means for People with Disabilities

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign has been a central event which annually highlights the kinds of abuses faced by women and children, including physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse (South African Government, 2023). This year’s theme is aimed towards “Accelerating actions to end gender-based violence & femicide: leaving no one behind”. The event takes place between crucial historical dates, 25 November (International Day for No Violence Against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day). The event also foregrounds other key commemorative days within the 16-day period, including World AIDS Day on the 1st of December as well as the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on the 3rd of December (South African Government, 2023). As much as the 16 Days of Activism event holds significance for all marginalised groups, this paper is intended to highlight what the 16-day period means for People with Disabilities (PwDs).

Globally, it is estimated that PwDs number more than 1 billion people worldwide (Puce et al., 2023). While the world has recognised the need to build strategies for women and children facing gender-based violence (GBV), there is still limited attention allocated to strategies for women and children with disabilities, particularly for disabled women[1] in intimate relationships (Peta, 2017; Rugoho et al., 2022; Rugoho & Maphosa, 2015). GBV describes acts of physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and economic harm towards a group of individuals based on their gender (Tappis et al., 2016). These incidents for disabled women and children may include physical mishandling or abuse, use of demeaning slurs, controlling behaviours, rape, or withholding of their grants by a family member or partner (Humphrey, 2016; Nixon, 2009; Saxton et al., 2021).

Disabled women and children experience a series of overlapping and reinforcing forms of marginalisation tied to what is often a socially subordinate status as women or children, as well as a society designed around and for able-bodied people. Rugoho & Maphosa (2015) estimate that disabled women are twice as likely to experience GBV than women without disabilities. While children with disabilities (CwDs) are 2 to 4 times more likely to experience child sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers (Klebanov et al., 2023). What is more is that because PwDs are often excluded from family discussions, seen as an inconvenience in public spaces, as well as the limitations in mobility and accessibility within the built environment, reporting of GBV by PwDs becomes harder to present due to fear that they will not be believed or actively discouraged from reporting by family members (Peta, 2017; Rugoho et al., 2022; Rugoho & Maphosa, 2015). 

This year’s 16 Days of Activism theme, “Accelerating actions to end gender-based violence & femicide: leaving no one behind”, presents an explicit opportunity for disabled women and children to be prioritised regarding their experiences of GBV.  Action is needed in terms of awareness, advocacy, as well as strategic interventions to be responsive to the needs of disabled women and children facing GBV (Peta, 2017; Rugoho et al., 2022; Rugoho & Maphosa, 2015). For example, a collaborative, intersectoral response from police, social services, media, as well as the broader community, can bolster a network of knowledge, resources and social capital to foster protection of disabled women and children from perpetrators of GBV. This includes, most importantly, prioritising the voices and lived experiences of people with disabilities and actively involving organisations and stakeholders from within what is often a diverse range of disability communities to lead these interventions.

To ensure that no one is left behind during the 16 Days of Activism, it is crucial to make a unified effort that incorporates the voices of disabled individuals, both individually and collectively. The principle of ‘nothing about us without us’ should guide the definition and formulation of guidelines, policies and interventions, aligning them with the specific needs of the disabled community (Peta, 2017; Rugoho et al., 2022; Rugoho & Maphosa, 2015).


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[1]   Although the use of person-first language (i.e., people with disabilities) as opposed to identity-first (i.e., disabled people) is seen as respectful language, identity-first language is also accepted by various disability stakeholder groups as it encompasses the various aspects of PwDs’ lives which subject them to discrimination and oppression (Puce et al., 2023). Therefore, in this paper, I will use the term ‘disabled people’ intentionally for advocacy reasons.

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