Category Archives: VAW

Destroy the Joint, sure, but feminism must include disability politics


This is reposted from The Conversation which uses a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence and with kind permission from Kate Ellis. We think this fits in very well with what was voiced at the panel on disabled women at Feminism in London.

The sometimes uneasy relationship between feminist groups and disability activists was highlighted last weekend, when online Australian feminist group Destroy the Joint (DTJ) blocked and banned a number of high-profile Australian disability activists, claiming the women were in breach of their rules.

DTJ had called for submissions to the hashtag #beingawoman on its Facebook page, sparked by a Buzzfeed article featuring both lighthearted and serious tweets reflecting on modern womanhood.

Several disability activists began posting their experiences, only to be deleted for being “repetitive, circular and off topic”.

The comments that were deleted included the following:

My doctor told me to get a hysterectomy or change my tampon in my office because there was no accessible toilet nearby at my workplace #beingawoman

when people deny my sexuality because they think disabled people having sex is disgusting #beingawoman

DTJ banned the commenters from its Facebook page, for “spamming this post and page with a large number of obvious half truths and distortions”.

After a number of members and disability activists encouraged the group to reconsider its stance on intersectional feminism, DTJ issued an apology yesterday afternoon:

Dear Destroyers,

Let us begin with a belated and unreserved apology about the way we have handled the comment moderation in this instance [the #beingawoman incident]. We acknowledge we can always be more inclusive.

We are constantly discussing ways we can achieve this and no woman living with disability should be excluded from this page. Anyone who has been banned as a result of this will be unbanned. Please email so we can be thorough about this.

It has always been our mission to include everyone and Counting Dead Women includes all women who have been killed as a result of gendered violence.

While it was a disappointing weekend for those of us who identify as both disabled and feminist, the gaffe has prompted a reflection on the ways disability politics are essential to feminist politics.

Intersectional feminism

Disability is a feminist issue and the silencing of disabled voices and experiences does not further the feminist cause. While the women posting on DTJ may have experienced gendered oppression, such as domestic violence, they are simultaneously affected by ableism.

American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw described the ways minority groups experience multiple and overlapping oppression as intersectionality in 1989.

Women with Disabilities Australia recognises that, for women with disabilities, the effects of gendered oppression are compounded. As Sue Salthouse and Carolyn Frohmader explained in a 2004 presentation for the group:

Low levels of education relegate women with disabilities to lower echelons of society, limit their access to information and their ability to interpret it, limit their life choices and limit their ability to achieve financial and living independence.

Women with disabilities are also more likely to suffer domestic violence and sexual assault.

Feminist blogger and activist Clementine Ford told me via Facebook that this is the reason why disability politics must be included in feminism:

It is vital for feminism to focus on the impact of sexual violence, but how can we do that properly if we don’t acknowledge that 90% of women with an intellectual disability have experienced sexual assault?

Reproductive rights are core to feminism, yet they cannot be discussed without also hearing from the women whose impairments have led to doctors and carers deciding – without their permission – they must be sterilised in order to prevent the physical aftermath of sexual violence becoming a “problem”.

Just today, I read an article about two parents with cerebral palsy who have been “allowed” to keep their child. The dehumanisation of women with disabilities is appalling, but even worse is the way these issues are marginalised even within feminism.

Disability politics marginalised within feminism

In Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory (2002), Rosemarie Garland Thomson explains how both women and people with disabilities are considered “deviant and inferior” within cultural discourse and subsequently excluded from participation in public and economic life.

Other disability theorists suggest the reason women with disabilities have been excluded from mainstream feminist circles is because they are a reminder of vulnerability and lack of control, identities feminists have traditionally sought to reject.

Whereas disability was once thought of as an individual’s medical problem to overcome, following the work of disability activists such as the late Stella Young we are increasingly coming to recognise disability as a problem related to inaccessibility and negative attitudes. Disability, like gender, is a social construct.

We are all women

Back in 1988, disability theorist Susan Wendell called for a “feminist theory of disability” as a way to move forward in both disability politics and feminist theory. Wendell argued the oppression of disabled people is closely linked to the cultural oppression of the body. She believed a feminist theory of disability would “[liberate] both disabled and able-bodied people”.

Disability activist Samantha Connor, who was the first to be banned on DTJ for contravening its commenting guidelines, continues to see the importance of mainstream feminism in breaking down power imbalances for people with disabilities. As Connor explained to me:

We are all women, and the issues we face are issues faced by mainstream feminism, not by individuals or minority collectives.

The incident illustrates an important truth: being aware of intersectional oppression in 2015 should not be an optional “extra”, but fundamental to any social justice movement.

Correction: a previous version of this article contained a paragraph stating that criticism had also been also been levelled at DTJ over allegedly failing to include women with disabilities in their regular count of women who have died as a result of domestic violence or abuse. While that criticism exists, it is not substantiated.

Kate Ellis

Kate Ellis

Dr Katie Ellis is a Senior Research Fellow in the Internet Studies Department at Curtin University. She holds an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award studying disability and digital television. She has worked with people with disabilities in the community, government, and in academia and has published widely in the area of disability, television, and digital and networked media, extending across both issues of representation and active possibilities for social inclusion. Her most recent book with Gerard Goggin is ‘Disability and the Media’

Violence Against Disabled Women – an European report


While we were at the Screening AccSex event at Leeds University, Sarah Woodin presented the findings of their report Access to Specialised Victim Support Services for Women with Disabilities who have experienced Violence which included guidance from Ruth Bashall and Susie Balderston.



This research is investigating violence against disabled women and their access to specialised women’s support services. Funded through the European Commission’s Daphne III programme and with international leadership from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, the project is running from 2013 to 2015 in four countries:

About the research

There are several elements, which include:

  1. Assessment of  the legal and policy framework
  2. Generation of extensive new data from disabled or Deaf women (through focus group discussions, in-depth-interviews) and service providers (online-survey, interviews with staff members), and
  3. Development of good practice examples and recommendations.  

187 disabled women from the four countries took part (106 women in focus groups and 81 women in individual interviews). They included women with mobility or sensory impairments, women with intellectual impairments, women with mental health conditions and women with multiple impairments. Specialised service providers assisting women who have experienced violence also took part in this study (there were in total 602 responses to an online survey and 54 individual interviews with representatives from services). However, the numbers are only provided here as an indication of the scale of the research. The focus was on exploring barriers and issues in depth rather than on recruiting statistically representative samples.

The Problem of Violence against Disabled Women

Disabled women experience a very wide range of types of violence. They report the same types of violence as non-disabled women, but also abuse that is specific to disabled people, and that takes place in a wider range of places and is enacted by more kinds of perpetrators. Domestic violence is substantial and highly damaging for disabled women, but violence also encompasses institutional violence from carers, where women live in residential homes or from assistants where they receive help to live in their own homes. ‘Hate’ violence and crime was also described, where women are abused on the basis of who they are seen to be. Violence is often directed towards perceived areas of weakness, such as attacks that focus on women’s impairments, often arising or increasing at the onset of impairment and at times when women need more help, such as during pregnancy and childbirth or if their residency status is uncertain. Although violence is most prevalent for young adult women, participants report experiencing violence at all stages of the life course and sometimes in many different settings.

Support to Counter Violence

A formidable array of barriers are identified by disabled women in relation to securing assistance and achieving a violence – free life. At a micro, individual level,   the active isolation of women by perpetrators, combined with the inaccessibility of services and a lack of knowledge and capacity to help, all result in keeping disabled women away from support services. Macro level systemic barriers include the ways that funding and administrative regimes combine to make movement away from repeat violence situations very difficult. The project is highlighting the dynamics of this pressing social problem and setting out the steps that need to be taken to prevent and address this abuse. Examples of good practice and innovation in each of the countries are also being documented.

Project Publications

UK Reports and Working Papers

Working Papers:


International Project Findings and Publications The main project website is maintained by  the international project co-ordinator, the Ludwig Bolzmann Institute, Austria

The site has reports and other publications from all four counties, in a range of accessible formats.

Dead Women Walking march – Sunday 23rd November 2014

women in red ponchos in the red

waiting for the other women to arrive

This is a remembrance walk and we walked to represent the number of women killed in one year in the UK, there was a Red Rain Poncho for each woman representing a murdered woman and a candle bearing a name – the candles had their wicks cut off to comply with Health & Safety rules and remained UNLIT.

It was a wet day but about 85 women, 4 men and a few children walked down from Grosvenor Sq mostly in silence while the names of the dead women were read out.

A candla for each woman

A candla for each dead woman

waiting outside 10 Downing Street

giving the petition at No10 Downing Street

giving the petition at No10 Downing Street


NE Women with Disabled People’s organisations (on tackling VAW together)


with Caroline Airs


with Sonali Shah

with Sonali Shah

NE Women invited us back to speak :

A conversation between women’s organisations and disabled people’s organisations

Wednesday 12th Nov 2014 – MPH Training & Conference Centre, Gateshead NE10 0HW

with Chair’s Welcome, introduction and context for the event –

Caroline Airs, with

“Hidden Voices: Disabled women who are survivors of violence,” Dr Sonali Shah, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow and

Using CEDAW, CRPD and other human rights frameworks to tackle VAWG

(an overview) with Roweena Russell, Co-ordinator, North East [End] Violence against Women

and Girls Network and Eleanor Lisney, Director of Sisters of Frida CIC.


Domestic Violence Murder March #deadwomenwalking Sunday 23 November London


2 women a week escape domestic violence in UK because they have been murdered

Some Sisters of Frida will be joining this – please write to if you re interested in joining

Date: Sunday 23rd November 2014
Time: Meet at 1.30pm for distribution of ponchos & safety info Please allow plenty of time for getting ‘lost’ and finding us so we can set off on time
Short speech at 2pm to start the walk
Meeting Place: Grosvenor Square Garden, Grosvenor Square, London

Travel:nearest tube is Bond Street (7 minute walk) or Marble Arch (10 min walk)

This is a remembrance walk and we will be walking to represent the number of women killed in one year in the UK. I will have a Red Rain Poncho for each woman representing a murdered woman and a candle bearing a name – The candles will have their wicks cut off to comply with Health & Safety rules and will remain UNLIT at all times.

The Ponchos are one-size so you will be able to dress according to the weather – If you could wear black from the waist down that would help to get the visual look I am hoping to achieve – a line of red and black. If you have a red coat do wear it! The walk is 1.6 miles and we will be walking in silence at a slow pace to arrive at Downing Street for approximately 3pm. Please do not bring whistles etc.. Sadly they won’t let us all in! Six people will deliver a list of names to 10 Downing Street and that will be the end of the march. We should be finished by 3.30 – 4pm at the latest.

from Claire Moore of Certain Curtain Theatre (Facebook

Gender Based Violence: NAWO panel at the ESVIC Global Summit



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.


NAWO group at the Excel Centre, Annette Lawson, Sarah Priest, Elizabeth Gordon, Jane Kiraga and  Marai Larasi

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’. 

(from’ Women and armed conflict from victims to activists’ (pdf)

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.

Thank you.

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.

Say no to non state torture

Speaking for Disabled women at the ESVC Global summit at the Excel Centre Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM




Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM

Excel Centre, ESVC Summit, Room 1

Chair: Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Minister for Women

Key-note speaker: Jane Kiragu, African Women’s Leadership Network

Marai Larasi, Director, IMKAAN, black feminist anti-VAWG organisation

Elizabeth Gordon, Survivor, artist and campaigner, Non-State Torture

Eleanor Lisney, Sisters of Frida, a Disabled Women’s Co-operative



It is Gender Inequality that lies at the root of all gender-based violence – from sexual harassment on a bus to sexual violence in conflict. It is gender inequality that must be addressed to end sexual violence in conflict or rape anywhere, domestic violence, trafficking and prostitution. Essential, albeit not sufficient is a stand-alone transformative gender equality goal with a powerful VAWG element in the post-2015 Framework.

Contact:Annette Lawson,

National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

Registered Charity Number: 803701