The strong impact of gender-based violence against women with disabilities in Mexico

A new study has found that Mexican women with disabilities experience shocking levels of domestic violence. This is the first time that the National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships, conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), has included women and girls with disabilities as a differentiated category since it began recording and analyzing data on violence in 2003 over women and girls aged 15 and over.

According to the 2021 edition of the survey, which was published in August 2022, 11.9% of women and girls aged at least 15 in Mexico, who number more than six million, have some type of disability. The study confirms that all women and girls face a high rate of violence throughout their lives, 70.1%. But for women and girls with disabilities, the percentage is even higher: 72.6% have experienced violence at least once in their life. The study examines five categories of violence: psychological, physical, sexual, economic and gender, which in the latter case refers to any action or inaction that affects the victim’s survival. And for every form of violence except sexual violence, the percentage of respondents who experienced violence in the past year was higher among women and girls with disabilities.

Over the respondents’ lifetimes, rates of sexual abuse were very similar between those with and without disabilities. In the other categories, however, the percentages are significantly higher for people with disabilities. The inclusion of this type of information is essential to adequately establish and develop policies that prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities. And while this makes the new edition of the study very valuable, there is still room for improvement.

For example, the survey did not collect enough information on women and girls with psychosocial disabilities or mental illness. The Mexican Statistics Agency and other government agencies that collect data on violence against persons with disabilities must make a coordinated effort to collect information on girls and women with psychosocial disabilities to fully understand the magnitude of the problem.

Another area that is not present is women who are institutionalized, which in itself constitutes violence against people with disabilities. There are no national data available on disabled people living in institutions where most incidents of abuse are unlikely to be reported. Due to the difficulties associated with collecting data from people in institutions, it may not be easy for INEGI to obtain this important information for the next national survey. But another type of tool, such as a general census of people living in institutions, and which has been implemented in other countries, such as Brazil, can make it possible to know how violence affects people with disabilities who live in these settings. We had called on INEGI to collect disaggregated information on the violence experienced by women with disabilities. Even with the missing information, we now have a much more accurate picture of what the situation is and what policies need to be put in place.

Public agencies at all levels must analyze these new data and revise their policies and practices to contribute to the safety of women and girls with disabilities.

A legislative project is already underway so that women with disabilities have access to services that protect them from violence. Last year, a coalition of women’s organizations with disabilities and other NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Yo Tambien, introduced a proposal to reform the General Law on Women’s Access to Lives Free of Violence, establishing a requirement that women’s shelters make their services accessible to women with disabilities and, among other things, provide the necessary support services to escape violence. Although the Senate approved the proposal in November 2021, it is currently delayed in the Chamber of Deputies.

Now that it has concrete evidence of the high levels of violence against women and girls with disabilities emerging from the INEGI study, the legislature should take this opportunity to promote the legislative process and allocate the necessary funds. These reforms will offer long-awaited protection to women and girls with disabilities who have long suffered without help or recourse.

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