The struggles faced by disabled victims of gender-based violence were highlighted at the Ilitha Labantu conference this week. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - The National Strategic Plan against gender-based violence will have a specific focus on women with disabilities who have been raped.

So said the chief director of the Women, Youth and Disabilities Department in the Presidency, Ranji Reddy, who spoke at the Ilitha Labantu conference on gender-based violence.

The conference, held at the Cape Sun Hotel ended on Friday.

The aim of hosting the three-day conference was to discuss and review various issues that victims encountered and the setbacks within the justice system, locally and internationally.

The theme for this year was “Ensuring equal access to justice for victims of violence and abuse: Rule of law in action”.

Among issues raised was a lack of sensitivity by judges when dealing with cases and the justice system not protecting abled and differently abled women enough.

Reddy said: “Women with disabilities, who are mentally ill or physically impaired need more attention. There is a lot of focus on women that are able-bodied, however, the cases of those with disabilities are even more severe.”

“A blind, deaf or a mentally challenged women will have different difficulties when giving her statement after being raped. If they struggle to express their case, then what are the chances of a police officer believing them,” she said.

Director of Ilitha Labantu Ella Mangisa said: “There is often an element of separation when judges deal with a victim’s case.

“We understand that there should be neutrality in court, however, allowing some sensitivity and emotion does give a sense of trust to a survivor.”

Mangisa added that disabled women felt the double plight and were often discriminated against. Many of their cases seemed to be dismissed.

The deputy chair for Disabled Women SA Nomonde Mbebe said: “Women and children are strongly being focused on, however, we tend to forget that they suffer the most with matters of rape.”

Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise said: “At some point, the system does not work for certain people such as those who are differently abled or differently sexed.

“The people in charge need to be competent within the seats they hold and in the decisions they make.”

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Cape Argus