Introductory Remarks by Stephanie Ortoleva

Article excerpt

In a groundbreaking effort to "Confront Complexity" (the theme of the 2012 AS IL Annual Meeting), the International Disability Rights Interest Group sponsored an engaging roundtable entitled "Forgotten Sisters: Violence Against Women with Disabilities, Human Rights, and Complex Identity Status," co-organized by IDRIG co-chairs Stephanie Ortoleva and Hope Lewis. Speakers shared cutting-edge work on legal issues, which are summarized below. These include international human rights treaty implementation and interpretation, access to justice, domestic implementation, civil society advocacy, and state due diligence obligations in light of violence and discrimination committed by non-state actors.

INTERSECTING AND MULTIPLE DIMENSIONS

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women focused on the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that contribute to and exacerbate violence against women, noting that factors such as ability, age, access to resources, race/ethnicity, indigenous status, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and class can exacerbate the violence women experience. (1) Although women with disabilities experience many of the same forms of violence that all women experience, when gender and disability intersect, violence has unique causes, forms, and consequences. Women with disabilities who are also members of other identity groups can be subject to particularized forms of violence and discrimination.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES

Recently the violence and discrimination experienced by women with disabilities has become somewhat more visible and noted by the international community. Despite the evolution of normative frameworks concerning the human rights of women and of persons with disabilities, the impact of combined effects of gender and disability has not gained sufficient attention, data collection is inadequate, and the violence remains at shockingly high rates.

Violence against women with disabilities occurs both at home and in the community, perpetrated and/or condoned by the state and private institutions, and in the transnational sphere. Forms of violence are complex and include physical, psychological, sexual, and financial violence; neglect; social isolation; entrapment; degradation; trafficking; detention; denial of health care; and forced sterilization and psychiatric treatment, among others. Women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence as non-disabled women, experience abuse over a longer period of time, and suffer more severe injuries. A disabled woman's abuser may also be her caregiver, someone upon whom she relies for personal care or mobility. Violence also contributes to the incidence of disability among women in the first place.

ROLE OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

In various ways the justice system itself (and therefore the state) perpetrates and/or condones the violence experienced by women with disabilities. Justice systems and the law itself may be both a source of liberation and a source of oppression, (2) both remedying inequality and discrimination, and perpetuating inequality and discrimination. This is the character of disabled women's interaction with the justice system: they frequently do not report violence; they lack access to legal protection and representation; institutions of justice are often not physically accessible to them and do not provide reasonable accommodations; law enforcement officials and the legal community tend to be ill-equipped to address the violence against them; their testimony is often not viewed as credible; and they lack the access to information available to non-disabled women.

ICONS OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM--SYMBOL OF FAIRNESS OR STEREOTYPING?

A confusing graphic representation of how society views gender and disability is found in the iconographic historical symbol of justice, the blindfolded Lady Justice. …