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Are We Doing Enough

Are we doing enought to support D/deaf women and girls? Recently I had the privilege of attending the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) Forum 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa, for the first time. I’d like to begin by giving a special thank you to the Sexual Violence Research Initiative for facilitating my attendance at the conference, with interpreters, through the award of a bursary for which I am extremely grateful.

SVRI Forum 2019: A truly global event

Delegates came from all over the world to network, share knowledge, research, and resources, to build robust and innovative solutions to not only reduce, but eliminate violence against women worldwide. It is vital not only to raise awareness, but to change social norms and behaviours. I have to say the conference was a great platform from which to learn more about new research, interventions, methodology and projects, with over 750 researchers, policy makers, funders, practitioners, activists, influencers and academics attending/presenting. It also provided a great space for networking, for furthering and developing one to one contacts and discussions that naturally evolved from the plenaries and workshops. I was so motivated and inspired by the excellent speakers in the open plenary sessions whose stories, many of whom were very moving, greatly impacted me.

The conference was action packed with many events taking place throughout the day/evening – plenaries, workshop sessions, exhibitions, networking, and was extremely well organised and professionally run.

I was pleased to see more people with disabilities attending the conference, and that disability was obviously on people’s agenda in terms of the research being carried out.

This was my first time attending, and I hope it will be the first of many to come!

So, returning to the question that is the title: Are we doing enough to support D/deaf women and girls?

D/deaf refers to deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people, collectively, as ‘D/deaf’, encompassing those who are profoundly, culturally, ‘Deaf’ through to those who are hard of hearing, ‘deaf’

My post conference reflections that I’d like to highlight:

Deafness is one of the largest disability groups globally: Over 460 million people have varying degrees of hearing loss. WHO reports that by 2050 the number may possibly have reached over 900 million. (Deafness and hearing loss, WHO, 2019)

D/deaf women and girls are at least twice as likely to be victims of abuse including violence than their hearing peers:  D/deaf women and girls who endure GBV are doubly affected, through direct violence but also due to barriers they experience in everyday life. For example, issues relating to communication, isolation, difficulty accessing information, difficulty of reporting/accessing post disclosure support, and difficulty accessing the wide range of justice services. (Sullivan, Vernon, & Scanlan, 1987)

D/deaf people are one of the most marginalised groups: Due to the relatively small numbers in any one location, and the additional costs incurred in meeting their needs through ensuring the provision of accessible information, sign language interpreters, often project times are longer and more resources needed, D/deaf people are marginalized and vulnerable.

Communication is a major barrier for D/deaf people, permeating all aspects of their lives. For D/deaf people who perhaps have little or no understandable speech, and struggle to lipread, the use of sign language can be a huge help if those around them can also use sign language, or interpreters are accessible. However without the use of interpreters, many Deaf people struggle to access services (whether those services relate to health, social care, criminal justice, education, social interaction, or any other services) or even to access their own family, many of whom never learn to communicate with their D/deaf child.

D/deaf people also struggle to access information (be it in the form of leaflets, information booklets, articles on the internet, etc.), as the spoken/written language used by their family could be the D/deaf person’s second or even third language. Most information will be presented in an inaccessible format and at a level way above that which they would be able to understand. This can lead to misinformation, misinterpretation and isolation which can severely affect their mental health and well-being. Often support services provided for the general population won’t be accessible, as few organisations provide interpreters for support groups, advice sessions, counselling, reporting incidents and other vital services, so perpetrators don’t get brought to justice.

Research and deafness: Outdated, limited and poorly measured

Most deafness related research is outdated, (where available), with little accurate data to demonstrate need, and yet this is a huge group of people. Without research and evidence, they will remain a forgotten, marginalised group.

Many measurement scales/methods of validation are available for use with the general population but practically none are suitable for use with D/deaf women and children – again through not being in an accessible format, requiring one to one interviews with either skilled/qualified D/deaf people or through sign language interpreters.

D/deaf people’s progress is particularly difficult to monitor and evaluate with current tools/methodology. Most rely on written questionnaires/surveys for baseline, midline, end line information, requiring a level of literacy skills above that acquired by many D/deaf women and children. The questions can be translated into sign language for them to watch on video, but when the D/deaf person signs the answers, who will translate those into the spoken/written word to be analysed? Who pays for that translation service? In addition, the time needed is therefore much greater than for hearing children.

Deafness: A call to action

I’m reaching out to the SVRI network including the funders & donors to carry out more work with D/deaf women and children particularly on GBV issues, to initiate more research, to consider the need for accessible processes for D/deaf women/children. New projects are needed focusing on GBV that meet the needs of D/deaf women and girls, that are inclusive. At the conference last week, the issue of donors requiring immediate results was raised many times, but donors/funders need to be aware that collating data and analysing results takes time, and in particular takes longer with this population where communication is an added complication.

I would like to appeal to any academics who are keen to work with D/deaf children to work with us to develop validation/MEL tools to meet the needs of D/deaf people that can be shared anywhere in the world.

Let us work together to ensure that this large group doesn’t remain marginalised and left behind.


Written by Jaz Mann, DeafKidz International


Jaz Mann, Head of Programmes

DeafKidz International

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