Speech by Kasja Żedlycka

Katarzyna Żedlycka (Autonomia) gave the following speech at the webinar “Ending violence against women with disabilities in the European Union” organised by the European Disability Forum on 24 November 2020.

II am a woman with a disability. I am also a Wendo trainer – Wendo is a feminist self-defence and assertiveness training for women and girls. I teach women with disabilities how to recognize violence and react to it. From my meetings with women with disabilities I can tell that we have a collective experience of physical, psychological, economical and sexual violence. We are touched without our consent. We are treated as children. It is assumed we do not have sexual desire, but we experience sexual harassment and violence. Most of our offenders are not punished.

Society teaches us to be silent. When we are in danger we are afraid to yell. In a meeting with women with intellectual disabilities we were talking about what to do when someone touches us without consent on a bus. One option is to yell. This will bring attention of the passengers. After the meeting one carer came to me. She said: do not teach them to yell, because people will think they are mentally ill.

In Poland we do not get sex education. We are not taught body awareness. Often we do not know, when and how to set boundaries. And when behaviour is violence or harassment.

Women with disabilities complain that others touch their wheelchairs and their white sticks without permission. Therefore, they learn how to use these devices for self-defence. The crutches or the wheelchair become their defence tools.

From January 2020, Autonomia Foundation, Garance and organisations from Belgium, France and Germany have been carrying out a project for women with disabilities with the name “No means no”. We organise empowerment workshops. We also collect their success stories. Women with disabilities tell us how they reacted to violence. The success stories will be included in a safety guide. The aim of the guide is to help other women learn how to react and recall their own stories.

In my experience, it is very important for trainers and women with disabilities to share their experiences, support each other and learn to recognise and respond to violence.

Finally, I would like to stress that we must remember that most of the work must be done by men. They are 95% of the offenders. There are also men with disabilities among them. Violence prevention means educating men, and men should take resposibility for changing harmful assumptions around sexual violence.