Patriarchal patterns and prejudices at the root of violence against women with disabilities

December 1, 2023


Podgorica, 1 December, 2023 – In Montenegro, women with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination. Society predominantly views them through the lens of disability, neglecting their needs as women and leaving them to fight personal battles. The human capital of women with disabilities, encompassing their educational, professional, activist, artistic, political, economic, and all other potentials, often remains invisible.

Montenegrin society, still characterized by patriarchal patterns, numerous social prejudices, and inadequate institutional mechanisms, fails to create an adequate environment for the dignified and fulfilling lives of women with disabilities. The absence of a systematic approach and social dialogue at all levels further complicates issues, making women with disabilities more vulnerable to various forms of violence – from institutional to structural, economic, psychological, and physical, sometimes leading to complete isolation.

This was emphasized at the second event within the Gender Equality Talks, organized by UNDP in Montenegro on November 30, at the Museums and Galleries Podgorica, as part of the global campaign “16 days of activism against violence against women”, under the theme “Together for inclusion: violence against women with disabilities”. This year’s Gender Equality Talks provide an opportunity to advance the gender equality agenda and discuss patriarchal patterns that continue to shape society.

Globally, one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence at least once in her lifetime, and UN data shows that women with disabilities are at significantly higher risk of experiencing sexual violence.

During the panel, it was highlighted that women with disabilities face gender stereotypes and prejudices about disability that limit their freedom and lead to violations of basic human rights. Emancipation of society as a whole through education, affirmation of human rights and gender equality, public discourse, and institutional approaches is needed for change at all levels.


Lana Nikolić, activist and journalist, emphasized the importance of giving space to less visible groups during the event to encourage them to express themselves and openly discuss their multi-layered identity. “I would have loved to have had role models as a girl and the opportunity to hear the experiences of other women with disabilities. Disability is just one component of my identity, and I am truly fighting with all my strength not to be represented in society as a woman with a disability but as a journalist, a media worker. We haven’t earned our doctorate in disability just because we happen to be in a situation of having a disability. People with disabilities are not asking for anything more from society than the opportunity to contribute, but society denies us that opportunity, even though it is poorer without us and our experience”, Nikolić conveyed.

Marina Vujačić, a longtime human rights activist and executive director of the Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro (UMHCG), believes that the role of women in Montenegro is still defined by tradition, mentality, and expectations, which also affect women with disabilities. “Women in Montenegro are still expected to be good wives and mothers, and if they don’t fulfil these roles, whatever else they achieve is not considered enough. On the other hand, women with disabilities are expected to do the opposite – not to fulfil these roles because they are perceived as less capable. Therefore, the attitude towards women with disabilities is doubly challenging, as they have to convince society that they are entitled to all basic rights and fight for them. These pressures are sometimes open and direct, and often subtle, and therefore dangerous because they lead women with disabilities to a position of disempowerment, violence, and guilt”, she stated, adding that society does not support even those who are empowered because it believes they don't need any support.

Marijana Goranović, a double shot-put vice-champion and three-time participant in the Paralympic Games, speaking about her early involvement in a sport predominantly considered “male”, highlighted that she did not allow her disability to prevent her from pursuing sports professionally. “Who knows where I would be today and what I would be doing if I didn't have a disability. Today, I am very happy to be involved in this and, I hope, have encouraged many women and girls to engage in sports, to ignore societal expectations, and to strive for their goals. My involvement in this sport is associated with the current Resource Center and started with innocently throwing pebbles into the water. Until then, I didn’t even know that people with disabilities could engage in sports”, she shared.

As emphasized, violence against women with disabilities is not limited to family relationships or the private sphere. Women face violence in public life, the workplace, educational institutions, and other social environments.

Key issues regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, measures being taken or needed to improve their social status, and the importance of engaging culture and art in this direction were discussed by: Bane Žugić, journalist at Public Service, Milica Nikolić, gender equality expert at UNDP, Jovana Radifković from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Milica Nikolić from the Human Resources Administration, photographer Duško Miljanić, ethnomusicologist Nikola Zekić, student Sofija Ivanović, disability rights expert Aleksandra Popović, and many other esteemed participants who contributed to the discussion through an open conversation on this topic.