Actions to guarantee responses to violence against women with disabilities in residential institutions

26. Jun 2017.

On Tuesday, June 20, 2017, MDRI-S met with representatives of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, members of the Parliament, independent institutions, the Republican and Provincial Institutions for Social Protection and international organizations. We discussed violence against women and girls with disabilities in residential institutions in Serbia. MDRI-S presented a study showing that women with disabilities in residential institutions are exposed to various forms and manifestations of violence. Administration of contraceptives without informed consent, forced abortions, sterilization, sexual and partner violence are just some forms of violence to which these women are exposed. "It is important for us to present the testimonies of women with disabilities about the violence they survive. Their voices need to be heard by the public and their personal stories to be more visible," said Biljana Janjić, MDRI-S program associate. We sent a clear message that it is necessary to plan and continuously work on deinstitutionalization in Serbia by developing sustainable services in the local community that are focused on persons with disabilities using a multidisciplinary approach. Acting Ombudsman, Miloš Janković, pointed out that "persons with disabilities in institutions of social protection have been deprived of their liberty without a legal basis, and deprivation of legal capacity is used as a basis for deprivation of liberty, which is completely inadmissible. The institutions of the system have to solve this problem." Director of the UN Women Office in Serbia, Milana Rikanović, pointed out that women with mental disabilities were left out of support policies and programs, that existing services are inaccessible and specialized services are underdeveloped. “As a society, we have no response to violence against women with disabilities in residential institutions,” she stated, “and there is no unanimity and clarity about violence against these women, especially sexual and partner violence." "When policies to improve the situation of people with disabilities are formulated, women with mental disabilities are often left behind, and when working on gender equality policies or those to prevent violence against women, these women are again invisible," said Kosana Beker, associate of MDRI-S and author of a study on violence against women with mental disabilities in residential institutions (which will soon be available to the public). This meeting recognized the necessity for all actors to participate in increasing the visibility of violence against women with mental disabilities in residential institutions. The meeting further advocated for the recognition and visibility of these women in policies, program planning, and support services, and created a basis for the actors present at the meeting to form a platform for further actions. As a systemic issue constituting some of the most severe forms of violence including institutional violence and neglect, initiatives focused on violence against women with mental disabilities stress that the resolution of these issues must include the dialogue of all actors, especially independent institutions and the Government of the Republic of Serbia. Once again, the need for transparency in working on amendments to the relevant legislation was emphasized. Also, it was reiterated at the meeting that the formulation of internal procedures in social care institutions on the implementation of restrictive measures, such as physical restraint or isolation, is completely in violation of national legislation and international standards to which Serbia has committed itself and such practice is therefore unacceptable. The briefing with policy-makers is part of the project "Deinstitutionalize and End Violence against Women with Disabilities in Custodial Institutions" that MDRI-S has been implemented with the support of United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women and Disability Rights International.