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Disabled Women and Violence: Access to Justice

Eliona Gjecaj skrifar

Violence against disabled women is a major human rights concern. Of grave concern is the fact that disabled women are at a higher risk than other women of experiencing violence, that they experience violence for longer periods of time than non-disabled women, and that they experience a wider range of forms of violence. While a large body of research on violence against disabled women exists internationally, in Iceland the number has been growing and covering different aspects of such violence (Snæfríðar-Gunnarsdóttir et al. 2023; Gjecaj et al. 2023; Arnalds and Snæfríðar-Gunnarsdóttir 2013; Bergsveinsdóttir 2017; Haraldsdóttir 2017; Traustadóttir and Snæfríðar-Gunnarsdóttir 2014; Snæfríðar-Gunnarsdóttir and Traustadóttir 2015).

To date, research focusing on access to justice for disabled women who have been subjected to violence remains surprisingly sparse. Drawing from my current research study, which is based in Iceland and aims to deepen understanding and expand knowledge of this topic, I provide below some findings and recommendations which can inform initiatives to enhance access to justice for disabled women:

  1. Lack of reporting violence: Most of the disabled women interviewed for this study did not report the violence they experienced. Main reasons were lack of accessibility to do so, they knew they were not seen as being credible, and because of fear of potential media emphatic portrayals of their disability as well as the dismissive and imposing shame reactions by the community overall. Raising awareness throughout the society and media outlets is necessary to educate and address the negative connotations attached to disability and disabled people. Positive actions must be taken by the government to ensure disabled women that their voice matters, will be heard and believed across the justice structures.
  2. Importance of Rights Protection Officers. Their role is crucial to protect the rights of disabled women when reporting and/or prosecuting violence. Their help in seeking supports and reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of the disabled woman is essential. In addition, they play a key role in informing other justice workers in how to facilitate and accommodate disabled women who report violence. The involvement of Rights Protection Officers is not obligatory but should be strengthened.
  3. Lack of clarity about the need to provide reasonable accommodations. While Rights Protection Officers can be called upon to identify and recommend individually- tailored adjustments, there is no clear obligation on justice staff to accept their recommendations and provide reasonable accommodations. It is recommended that that this problem is addressed and that the reasonable accommodation duty be included expressly and clearly explained in relevant investigation and prosecution guidelines. This would be in line with the requirements of the CRPD.
  4. Lack of disability-based-rights training for all those involved in administrating, leading, and executing the justice system. The current limited training given to police and judges is not sufficient nor adequate. Stronger measures in terms of training, reasonable accommodations, social understanding of disability, the intersection of disability and gender, and disability human rights, are needed to ensure disabled women’s access to justice. Only by ensuring appropriate training and awareness-raising can the human rights principles and values of the CRPD be firmly embedded across the Icelandic justice system.

Access to justice should rest on systematic protections, not accident or happenstance. It is therefore timely for the government to redouble its efforts to ensure the provision of effective access to justice for disabled women seeking redress for violence against them. It could make important progress to this end by taking action on these recommendations.

Höfundur er doktorsnemi í fötlunarfræðum við HÍ. Greinin er birt í tengslum við alþjóðlegt 16 daga átak gegn kynbundnu ofbeldi.



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