Brief overview of the results of the projects

“Pilot action for tackling violence against women and girls with disabilities in Bulgaria through research, raising awareness and strategic litigation” and “Enhanced cooperation with key stakeholders - the institutions and CSOs for strengthening of measures and policies for effective protection and access to justice of women and girls with disabilities, victims of violence in Bulgaria” - 2015-2018 supported by OSI-Budapest The projects were implemented in cooperation with the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation and the expert lawyer Aneta Genova


- Analysis of the legal framework- national and international standards, analysis of policies programmes, existing statistics and data- 2015- 2016.

Expert lawyers with experience in litigation on the issues of persons with disabilities and with experience in cases on issues of gender-based violence and domestic violence were involved. They outlined the framework of national and international standards and policies related to women with disabilities victims of violence. As regards to the existing cases and statistics, letters to 20 district and regional courts in the country were sent. In the letters there were questions about the number of cases concerning people with disabilities, who are victims of violence, as well as questions about access to the courts, and the level of competence of specialists. We received responses from 19 courts in the country, including 5 Regional courts and 14 district courts. Regarding the first question on the existence of cases of persons with disabilities, victims of violence the Regional Courts of Pleven, Targovishte, Ruse, Gabrovo, Vidin reported lack of statistics and legal cases concerning people with disabilities, victims of violence according to the Law on protection from DV, the Law on protection against discrimination or the Criminal Code.
Responses from 14 district courts are received as follows: Levski DC, DC Pomorie, Tsarevo DC, DC Ajtos, DC Nikopol, DC Tcherven Brijag, RS Pleven, DC Dupnitsa, DC Karnobat Haskovo DC, DC Gabrovo, Sevlievo DC, DC Drianovo, DC Tryavna. Almost all of them report about the lack of indicators and information such kind of cases. Only 2 of the courts reported a number of such kind of cases:

  • - District court Pleven – one case for sexual violence and one penal case on DV
  • - District court Karnobat – one penal case

The second issue concerns specific training related to the needs of people with disabilities. Responses from the courts report about the participation of approximately 10 judges from all examined courts in trainings on domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual abuse of children. No specified training concerning persons with disabilities has been mentioned.

In relation to applications for protection of people with mental disabilities placed under full or partial guardianship in accordance with Article 8, p. 3 of the Law on protection from DV, again there is no information from the courts on submitted claims for protection from violence for people with such a problem.

In terms of physical access of persons with disabilities to the courts, five courts have indicated the presence of full access for people with disabilities - the courts in Levski- District Court; Pleven - district and regional court, Targovishte and Karnobat District Courts.
In relation to the 2nd phase of the project: selection of magistrates/judges for participation in face-to-face interviews, in total 14 judges have been identified from the different courts.

Main outcomes, conclusions and recommendations from the legal analysis and processing of the social science research under the first research phase of the project:

- There is no clear role and obligations of the social workers who play a central role for the protection of persons and women with disabilities – about their training and pro-active role they have to play in such cases, including the protection from violence. They are not mandated and encouraged by law to be active in exploring and taking into account the whole family and other environment of persons with disabilities for their protection.

- The social services provided under the law are not adapted to women with disabilities- for example very short period of accommodation and with no specialized care provided for victims of violence with disabilities and after the crisis centres they are left without adequate service. Participation and suggestions to the new Law on Social Services in the next two years is needed/ such law was initiated by the Ministry of LSP, BGRF was invited in the working group/.

- The Directorates for Social Assistance do not initiate legal cases on DV against persons with disabilities as provided by the Law on Protection from DV- these bodies do not recognize and use their competencies for protection of persons with disabilities and under guardianship. Special additional provisions, mechanisms and guidelines are needed.

- There are not enough legal guarantees in penal law for cases of violence against women with disabilities- their extreme vulnerability/ especially to severe DV, sexual violence, trafficking/ is not taken into account by the system and access to justice is not facilitated which means de facto depriving them from justice. Special provisions are needed also in this field.

- There is need to ensure compliance with the UN CRPD and for insisting for the ratification of the OP to the Convention and the OP to the CESCR as well.

- Changes will be sought in the legislation on DV, in special legislation on persons with disabilities, in legislation on social services, in penal and penal procedural legislation. Also the adherence to international standards and mechanisms for access to justice.

- Research and analysis of the services provided to women and girls with disabilities by the organizations of the Alliance, and other service providers.

For the implementation of this activity, a study was implemented and processed with questions to 10 Regional directorates “Social assistance” (affiliated to the Ministry of Labour and Social policy) and to Social Assistance Agency. Half of the respondents replied.

The Social Assistance Agency states lack of database for people with disabilities, who are DV victims. This is in contradiction with the engagements of the Directorates according to the LPADV and concretely for the issuing of order for protection or a referral document for the service Crisis centers or Consultative centers. Initiation of the procedure for issuing court orders for protection and the referral document for use of the above mentioned service are issued by the units of the Directorates for social assistance dealing with people with disabilities, but those units do not maintain statistical database about people with disabilities who are victims of DV.

The Agency refused to cooperate for the study and it led respectively to such a refusal by the Regional Directorates for Social Assistance. They stated in their replies that without the Agency’s permission they are not able to provide information.

Onesinglereplywasprovided by the Regional Directorate for Social assistance from Bourgas. TheDirectoratestatesthatthereare 5 available social services on the territory and services for DV victims and people with disabilities.

Apart from the questionnaire sent to the social assistance bodies, the questionnaire for this study has been sent also to all centers for protection of victims in all cities where the Alliance for protection from gender-based violence operates and where services for DV victims are available.

For the last 5 years/ 2010- 2015/ the 10 centers of the Alliance provided consultations to 5053 victims of violence. For this period the people with disabilities who have been consulted was 253, and 53 people for the last year before the study. In conclusion, people with disabilities victims of DV who reached the Alliance’s centers and services are only 5% of the general number of clients DV victims who received support from the Alliance’ centers.

DV cases that have been brought to the judicial system with cases in accordance to the Law on protection against DV for the 5 years: 998 legal cases, and for the last year they were 195 cases. For the 5 years of the studied period cases for women with disabilities victims of DVwere72, from which 20 cases within the last year.

We can conclude that 20% of women DV victims who sought support in the centers do reach the judicial system, and around 8% of women with disabilities do access justice/judicial system.

Concerning the consultation services of the centers, in the 5 years, 287 women with disabilities have used the consultation services and 31 of those women used the shelters.

The files maintained in the centers reveal that the victims had different kinds of disability: 70 people had physical disability, 17 had mental disabilities and the rest -176 had psychological impairments (depressions, fear neurosis, post-traumatic stress, panic disorder, disorder in the adaptation, schizophrenia etc.).

- Elaboration of questionnaires and conducting research on the attitudes and expert opinions in the following locations: Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo, Gabrovo, Vidin and the other locations of the APADV. The survey included in-depth interviews with the different professionals and women with disabilities.

  • The interviews were conducted by professionals from the centers where counseling for victims is provided in the cities of the NGOs from the Alliance for protection against gender-based violence. 16 interviews were conducted as follows: 6 victims of violence, one relative of a woman placed under guardianship, 9 professionals. The conducted interviews are in the cities of Silistra, Burgas, Pernik, Haskovo, Varna.

Interviews with victims of violence cover the following issues: 4 victims of domestic violence who have a physical disability, one interview with a victim of internal trafficking - a woman with a mental disorder, 1 interview of a victim of international trafficking, a woman with an intellectual disability and one interview of a relative of a woman with mental disorder placed under full guardianship. The stories of the victims are different. Victims have passed through different ways to achieve protection. In summary, we can say that women with mental disabilities are hesitant and recognize violence only when the most extreme forms of cruelty and violence are being exercised against them. As a whole, respondents agree that people with disabilities are easier victims of violence because they are more vulnerable. They cannot protect themselves, cannot escape, they are dependent on those who exercise violence. They live in greater isolation, have little information and support, they are victims of prejudice and mistrust. As barriers are mentioned hesitation, shame. In one of the cases, as a big obstacle are specified the gender stereotypes, sexism and demonization of people with mental disabilities.

  • As positive practices are suggested the crisis centers and centers for rehabilitation and social integration. In one of the cases is emphasized the rapid and adequate intervention of the court and the fast court proceedings. Coordination between institutions in support of victims of violence who have disabilities is "not very good".
  • With regard to judicial protection: Practically from all seven victims, two have received judicial protection, one decided not to seek protection, but two were not able to seek it due to the severity of their condition after being out of trafficking. Access to justice is not available. One of the victims of domestic violence with physical disabilities, repeatedly emphasizes the seriousness of the process of obtaining support. For her, the barrier was that a lot of forms must be signed, and the fact that it is needed to share personal data.
    In terms of accessible environment, only one of the victims shares about accessible architectural environment. The rest either do not comment on the matter or share that there was not an accessible environment available.
  • Social services are provided for the victims mainly in the crisis centers (with the exception of the woman under guardianship for whom such service is unthinkable because of total dependence of guardian and complete isolation). A woman with intellectual disabilities was placed in a protected home /for persons with disabilities/ where there are no trained professionals for the so needed long-term support for the recovery of the victim. A woman with a physical disability, suffering from long-term abuse by her mother, except in a crisis center, she was placed in an institution - a home for adults with physical disabilities and after that she was returned to the home environment at the insistence of the violent mother.
  • In conclusion, there are no clear mechanisms for the use of services by women with disabilities, victims of violence, they are "treated" or as victims of violence or as persons with disability. The is no complex service, corresponding to all the problems. Experience shows that after a stay in the crisis center, which is up to six months, they are directed to an institution for people with disabilities, and not returned to the family environment and with the purposes of taking action to end violence.
  • Prevention: In the context of prevention awareness is being discussed and the respondents confirm that the level of awareness is low. Victims of violence do not know neither about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, nor about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
  • Professionals: There were 9 interviews with professionals of which: 2 with attorneys-at-law, 5 - consultants in NGOs to protect victims of violence, one president of the Center for Rehabilitation and Social Integration (CSRI) and one social worker in the Child pedagogic unit.

All professionals say they have little or no experience with people with disabilities, victims of gender-based violence who have sought protection and as reasons they indicate the following: lack of information about available forms of protection and support; accessible architectural environment; fear and shame, national psychology; non- recognition of violence as such; helplessness; disability itself, as creating a barrier in communication; lack of good laws; lack of trained people; lack of interpreters in district courts. The Convention of the rights of people with disabilities is not known.

As a conclusion of the interviews, both with victims and professionals, it is clear that the issue of gender-based violence against people with disabilities is not known. Issues as violence against people with mental disorders and intellectual disabilities in institutions outside the community are totally missing in the interviews, although in the media and reports by human rights organizations the theme is present, though not always through a gender perspective.

There is a lack of sensitivity towards the indirect discrimination that people with disabilities face.

There are gaps in knowledge of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, lack of specific training in the NGO sector and in public administration.

- Identification of the main structural problems which make obstacle for the realization of the rights of women and girls with disabilities, and for their access to justice.

- There is lack of data from state institutions and social services and courts about the number of victims of violence with disabilities with the exception of 3 court cases from courts from Pleven and Karnobat.

- There is no access to state institutions and no courts especially for people with disabilities in Bulgaria with the exception of five of the surveyed courts

- Lack of information for accessible environment in social services for the people with disabilities

- Lack of information from social services about cases with women with disabilities – the reason is lack of statistics about this kind of issues

- The state institutions do not recognize this problem as a complex issue explicitly- as the problem of a disabled person who has a problem of violence. Institutions address these problems individually and administered separately and legislation, namely the Law on Integration of People with Disabilities and the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, and therefore statistics do not exist that summarize the issues.

- 8% from total number of253 are women-victims who are people with disabilities that have reached justice through women’s organizations– members of the Alliance

- According to non-governmental organizations data and Alliance members - the women victims of gender-based violence with disability constitute 5% (253 victims) of the total number of victims of 5053 women.

- 8% of women with disabilities victims of violence have reached justice, out of the total number of 253 such women who sought help in the organization of Alliance

- 12% of women with disabilities, victims of violence have used the services of accommodation in Crisis Center and others have benefited from counseling services over the total number of such women /253/

- 70% of the persons victims have mental disabilities such as depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic disorder, schizophrenia, etc., 27% are with physical disabilities and 7% with intellectual disabilities.

- The issue of gender-based violence is not well known, neither the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

- The following main results can be identified from the second phase of the project/ 2016- mid- 2018/:

- Advanced analysis and basis for legislative and policy changes was prepared in favour of women victims of violence and specifically women with disabilities victims of violence- both in terms of research and concrete suggestions for legislative changes

- Good knowledge was gained by representatives of NGOs, including women’s NGOs and NGOs with persons with disabilities through the 3 seminars under the project and the follow- up communication and cooperation

- Reliable knowledge was gained by representatives of institutions, and namely by the judiciary during the seminars, on possible improvements of legislation and practice

- The cooperation with experts from the UK on special mechanisms for ensuring access to justice for persons with disabilities was enhanced with good perspectives for the future

- The practice was developed and gathered by the Alliance members through services provided and legal cases of women with disabilities victims of violence

As a whole, it all brought to initiating changes in attitudes of representatives of various institutions and organizations who took part in the events on the project and would like to be more socially engaged with this issue in the future. The problem of access to justice for women with disabilities was raised clearly and suggestions for positive solutions in Bulgarian law and practice were made.

Since the end of 2017 and in the first 6 months of 2018, the situation concerning legislation and policy on violence against women changed quickly and is characterized by dynamics and instability.

The Istanbul Convention was at a very advanced stage for ratification by the National Assembly. The government approved it on 3rd of January 2018 and it is a success and achievement of the Alliance and BGRF from their efforts in the previous three years mainly. Around the date of approval by the Council of Ministers, fierce opposition began to appear and spread through the media and was guided by some nationalistic conservative circles in government and parliament. The Orthodox church and other religious denominations also showed opposition to the decision. The hostile environment was spread very quickly/ in less than two months/ and included also anti- gender, anti- feminist, anti- rights attitudes and attacks, also to our NGOs and the NGO partners on this project. The hate and toxic speech, and even attacks at our offices became a rule and we could hardly implement our usual tasks in these two months.

In the meantime, human rights NGOs united and the Alliance is part of this ad- hoc coalition and startedorganizing to counteract but also act, in the first place, for the ratification of the Convention by the parliament, as first step in our fight for rights more in general. Obviously, the attacks on rights and feminist movement from other countries were organized in Bulgaria, also from outside, from foreign extreme right forces.

The fact that all major NGOs are united around the cause and that it can make the basis for further cooperation is very positive. But the results for the ratification were not achieved due to the extremely strong opposition also by major political forces, including, paradoxically, the Bulgarian socialist party lead by a woman! In March 2018 the ruling party in parliament submitted the Convention to the Constitutional Court for assessing its compliance with Bulgarian Constitution, prior to its consideration by the respective parliamentary committees. The Alliance and the BGRF presented a request to the Constitutional Court for presenting as an interested NGO a professional opinion to the case. We were invited to present our opinion and we presented a detailed one in the end of April 2018. It stated clearly that there is no doubt about constitutionality of the Istanbul Convention and that it regulates relations and principles whichare in accordance with our Constitution and laws.

Nevertheless and despite other positive opinions, on 27 July the Constitutional court ruled that the IC was internally contradictory and did not correspond to our Constitution as a whole as it contradicted to the basic principle of legal certainty and to our legal order!!!! The Court said that there are only two biologically defined sexes and that the IC introduced a social construct of sex which was incompatible with our legal order and which opened the door for same- sex marriages and third, fourth and so on genders. Briefly, gender equality and gender relations were subsumed under gender ideology by the Constitutional court itself.

This situation will reflect negatively also on the status and the protection of women with disabilities from all forms of violence.

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