Around the world, simply being a woman means you’re more likely to be discriminated against and to experience violence than men. But women with disabilities are even more susceptible to abuse. Through December 10, activists worldwide are uniting to raise awareness with the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Violence and discrimination against women with disabilities is something Human Rights Watch, together with many other organizations, works on every day.
For example, in India over the past three years, we documented forced seclusion, abuse, and neglect experienced by women with disabilities in institutions – amplifying the needs that local disabled persons’ organizations have advocated for decades.
Ratnaboli Ray, one of our key partners in West Bengal and recent recipient of Human Rights Watch’s Alison des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, explained the situation of women with disabilities in institutions: “All are forcibly committed in institutions by families. … Once you get in, you don’t get out.”
Working closely with mental health rights activists in India, Human Rights Watch developed policy recommendations that we raised with national and local Indian government officials. Together with our local partners, we met with the West Bengal state minister for health in December 2014, and urged him to end the use of isolation cells, explaining that they are inhumane and provide no support or care to people in crisis. Within days, the isolation cells in the state-run mental hospitals were torn down.
This May, the National Commission for Women in India launched an investigation into the situation of women with disabilities in all 47 mental hospitals in the country, citing our 2014 report as the reason for the investigation. The network’s advocacy and research had a real influence on bringing about policy change.
Disabled persons’ organizations across India have joined forces to create a network of women with disabilities, giving these women a platform and voice to advocate for their rights. Human Rights Watch joins their call to end the many forms of violence against women, including abuses in mental health institutions. We support the activism of our local partners, and work together to create concrete methods of protecting women and girls with disabilities in India and beyond.