The National Alliance of Womens Alliance (NAWO ) – Sisters of Frida is part of NAWO – Chair Annette Lawson invited us to be part of their fringe event at the End Sexual Violence In Conflict Global Summit.
It was an honour to be at the same panel with the likes of Jane Kiragu, African Women’s Leadership Network, Marai Larasi, Director, IMKAAN, black feminist anti-VAWG organisation and Elizabeth Gordon, Survivor, artist and campaigner, Non-State Torture. It was chaired by Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Minister for Women
here is Eleanor’s speech
Thank you, Nicky, Minister, for the introduction.
At this Global Summit, we have heard how much violence there is against women in conflict and indeed are likely to encounter in everyday life, with domestic violence at home and harassment and sexual violence in the streets and workplace.
When it comes to disabled women,
“Violence against women with disabilities is a human rights violation resulting from the interaction of systemic gender-based discrimination against women and disability-based discrimination against people with disabilities. It includes family violence, sexual assault and disability-based violence. A range of behaviours are associated with these forms of violence, including emotional, verbal, social, economic, psychological, spiritual, physical and sexual abuses. These may be perpetrated against women with disabilities by multiple perpetrators, including intimate partners and other family members, and those providing personal and other care in the home or in institutional, public or service settings.”
(This is taken from Landmark Research: ‘voices Against Violence’ just published last month is Australia )
It sounds like its far from the war zones and disabled women seem so much better here than what women endure in the war zones in conflict? But those women become disabled – emotionally, socially, economically, psychologically, spiritually, physically and sexually deprived – and as disabled women we share the same gender based discrimination wherever we are globally. Research has shown that disabled women experience abuse at least twice as often as non-disabled women. Women who acquire disabilities then have to pick up their lives when they face discrimination not only for their gender but sometimes also from other women, from their own family members and shunted and the state will collude with putting us into institutions. We are seen scroungers, needy and we cant /do not fulfil our roles as lovers, wives and mothers. So disabled women are sterilized ( very often said to be a form of family planning and also because menstruation is such so messy ) and disabled women live in fear of having their children taken away because they are not seen as capable to be mothers. But then there is research that rape of vulnerable women, especially those with learning difficulties, has effectively been “decriminalised”, according to Professor Betsy Stanko a research academic employed by the Metropolitan Police.
According to Womens Aid, disabled women experience abuse at least twice as often as non-disabled women. Disabled women also experience disability hate crime where often rape can be part of the violence. Gemma Hayter, who had learning difficulties was taken to disused railway line where a bin bag was put over her head before she was stripped naked, strangled, kicked mercilessly in the face and then stabbed in the neck.
Last week I read about systematic abuse of disabled people in an institution in Romania
‘In a residential centre for disabled people, 10 women were sharing a squalid room reeking of urine. Two residents began crying. They said they’d been “punished” by staff, beaten because they’d refused to have their heads shaved.’
Officials when presented with the camera footage of the conditions said they believed that they ought to live in the community. In the UK which was a beacon for independent living, the Independent Living Fund ILF –used to support the most severely disabled is closing. They will probably end up in institutions – many of them are terrified for their lives – you only need to remember Winterbourne to understand that.
Austerity policies around welfare benefits and other support are disproportionately impacting on disabled women and and pushing disabled women into more poverty and insecurity. Many disabled women have been made destitute and homeless as a result of government policy. A bill is being put up by Lord Falconer to make changes to the current law for assisted dying. Disabled people fear that the common perception of themselves as a burden, especially when support services are cut, may contribute to their decision making that they were better off dead. We believe that the focus should be on assisted/supported living not on assisted dying. Not to have a lingering existence where its just being personal care and fed by agency workers who come for 15 minutes every morning and evening.
‘The history of human rights is one of gradual rather than spectacular gains. History also tells us that rights are never just handed down from above, but have to be simultaneously claimed from below’.
Disabled women should be afforded equality wherever they are as human rights – enshrined in UN Conventions, especially CEDAW and the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Disabled People). Our fight here for human rights as disabled women for Article 19, for Independent Living, is a fight for all disabled women so that we get included as women who has rights to be part of our communities, to be equal to non disabled men and women.
So when we campaign for human rights here for disabled women we are campaigning for all disabled women wherever they might be, globally, in solidarity.
This is Elizabeth’s speech
Thank you Annette and NAWO for giving me this space to speak today. I’d also like to thank Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald from Persons Against Non-State Torture in Canada. They have been campaigning for 21 years for the recognition of non-State torture as a crime and have been contacted by over 3000 girls and women from many countries around the world who have suffered non-State torture.
Non-State torture is a specific form of violence that is missing from the known continuum of violence against women and girls. The torture victimisation that women and girls suffer is invisibilised as it is not recognised as a crime in most countries.
Non-State torture is torture that is perpetrated by private individuals or groups like parents, family members, their friends, strangers, gangs, pedophiles, groups of traffickers, pimps and johns. It happens in places like homes, warehouses, churches, woods, boats, fields, streets and farm buildings.
Classic tortures include: physical, sexualised and psychological/conditioning tortures, chemical and spiritual and relational torture. There are socio-cultural tortures like
FGM, foot binding.
Commercial-based torture includes the world-wide trafficking, sexual exploitation and torture of girls and women for profit, a global industry fed by huge demand. Prostitution victimisation can begin with infants and little girls through to prostituted women who are subjected to torture by pimps and johns. There is an increasing demand for torture pornography. Trafficked children are subjected to torture ordeals
in infant and child crime scene pornography including snuff films and photos. Girls and women who are tortured in any ordeal may then be killed, or left to suffer and die of their injuries.
Here in the UK, the 2012 Children’s Commissioner Report on child sexual
exploitation in gangs and groups, confirms that the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK are predominately men of all ages and all backgrounds, and those they victimise are predominately girls in this report; from age 11 upwards, to young women.
There is also evidence that spillover domestic violence that can be torture occurs more in military families both during and after wars and conflicts and in the domestic setting is predominately suffered by women and girls.
In my personal her-story, my father’s family, “uncles” and other friends had mostly previously served in the military. Their private group torturing crimes were influenced by their war experiences and the cultural norms of a patriarchal society with misogynistic attitudes. They saw girls and women as their property and they acted with impunity.
My mother’s torture of me was directly linked to the sexualised violence she suffered as a girl in the second world war.
I grew up in a seemingly ordinary family in the UK..I went to school. The home-spun torture and trafficking I suffered was hidden in plain sight.
By the time I was 5 years old I had suffered many extreme life threatening torture ordeals. I had been beaten, repeatedly raped by several men. object raped and been suffocated with a pillow to near death. I’d had water thrown in my face while tied up. I had been electric shocked, drugged and caged. I had been imprisoned for very long periods in a freezing room with no toilet. I had been forced to stay awake through the night, tied to the bed while being screamed at and violently attacked.
One day when I was 5, I made a paper telephone. I went to plug my paper phone into the wall and just at that point by coincidence, like
magic, the house phone started ringing. The mother of a little girl called Johanna asked if I could come to play. This was one of the very rare occasions where I was let out to go to another child’s house.
Not long after this, one morning I was hung, tied by my arms from the bannisters in the hall while raw mince meat was thrown in my face and forced in my mouth. As I choked I was shouted at that I was was nothing and no one. ….This was my normal life. I thought everyone’s life was like this until I was a teenager.
Some while after this ordeal I made another paper telephone. I tried to plug it in the wall again wishing that Johanna’s mom would phone like she did before, but she didn’t call.
I was telling through my drawings and paper model making. I was reaching out, my paper phone was a cry for help.
At night sometimes, the men would come to the house in a black a car or a taxi with the light off. I was drugged and taken out of the house to their “torture parties” The “in home” captivity was 20 years. When I was not at school I was confined in my room for extensive periods. When I was little I was sometimes tied to the radiator.
When I was a teenager, I huddled next to the radiator in the corner of the room. If I moved or the floor boards creaked, the door to the room would fly open and extreme violence followed. Then the confinement period would start all over again. I couldn’t leave the room to go to the toilet. This caused me extreme physical and spiritual pain. Sometimes I used books in ways most people wouldn’t even think of; as
stepping stones, putting them on the floor where the floor boards didn’t creak to make a pathway to the window across the other side of the room so I could look out at the world.
Eventually I did escape, but then the problem I had for many years was finding support that named and recognised the harms I’d suffered as torture.
As Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald say:
“a global gender-based discrimination exists in reference to respecting the human right of women and girls not to be subjected to torture irrespective of who the torturers are–State or non-State…
If women and girls are to achieve gendered human right equality then torture whether perpetrated by State or non-State actors must both be acknowledged and placed on the continuum as specific and distinct forms of gender-based violence that occur in so-called public or private spaces.”
It is our human right as women and girls not to be subjected to torture. Non-State torture needs to be recognised as a specific crime otherwise it stays invisibilised, normalised and misnamed as abuse or assault and perpetrators continue to act with impunity and gender based inequality remains.
This is the poster I made in 2011 for a UN competition on the theme of
“Say No to VAWG” it says “Say No to non-State torture, it is her right to be free.“