“Render the invisible visible”: Using technology to empower women and girls living with disabilities in Tunisia
Cultural, traditional and family pressures exacerbate the general invisibility of women and girls living with disabilities in Tunisia. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women and girls living with disabilities faced increased risks of violence and were further marginalized as support services, including shelters, and reporting mechanisms became even harder to access.
Supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR), a women’s rights and women-led regional civil society organization, is running a project called “To render the invisible visible”. The project aims to improve the safety of women and girls living with disabilities and their access to quality, inclusive support services, and increase their opportunities for social and professional integration.
“The project’s ultimate goal is to empower women living with visual and hearing impairments [who are] survivors of violence,” explains Hedia Bel Haj Youssef, head of the Knowledge Management Department and Gender-Based Violence Coordinator at CAWTAR.
In this project, women and girls living with disabilities can voice their needs and co-create with CAWTAR tools that are inclusive and accessible. CAWTAR organized a focus group where women and girls shared their need to be better protected and informed about their human rights, in an inclusive and autonomous manner. CAWTAR subsequently introduced accessible, innovative technology-based tools, all of which were tested and approved by women and girls living with disabilities.
In response to the heightened risk of violence against women and girls living with disabilities – especially during the pandemic, and with their feedback, CAWTAR developed a mobile app “SafeNess” to increase their safety in public spaces, which has already been downloaded 5,000 times.
The SafeNess app was designed to meet the needs of women with visual, hearing and/or speech impairments, and is available in Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. It allows the user to share her whereabouts and route with up to five trusted people in her contact list, and to alert them or the authorities in the event of an assault while recording all relevant information such as the location, time and date of the incident.
In addition, an audiovisual newsletter, “Dima maa Baadhna” (Always Together), was developed in coordination with Ibsar, a local organization working with visually impaired and blind women. Dima maa Baadhna provides information on COVID-19 prevention as well as services and reporting mechanisms for survivors of violence. It also offers digital and legal literacy training. Since its launch in 2020 on YouTube, the newsletter has reached over 1,000 people living with disabilities. The organizationis also updating its website to be more accessible, including by integrating sign language and changing color palettes.
Developed with funding in the framework of the UN Trust Fund’s call for proposals aiming at ending violence against women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic, CAWTAR’s project has proved its profound impact well beyond emergency context. Fiona Dalmier, Portfolio Manager at the UN Trust Fund shared:
“We can confirm that donor’s support, guided by the needs of civil society and women’s rights organizations, will not only enable them to continue to act as first responders to survivors of violence, but also strengthen their organizational resilience with which they can adapt in protracted crises and in turn lead more inclusive and sustainable initiatives.”
Such projects show the importance of creating spaces for and amplifying the voices of civil society and women’s rights organizations who are closest to the realities and lived experiences of the most marginalized women and girls, and therefore will inform further programmatic, operational and funding decisions from donors, especially in times of crises.
 UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2011), Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 35 of the Convention: concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Tunisia.
 UNFPA and Women Enabled International (2021), The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Girls with Disabilities: A Global Assessment and Case Studies on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Gender-Based Violence, and Related Rights.