“The strength to leave”: Women with disabilities navigating violent relationships and occupational identities

Janet Njelesani, Gail Teachman, Ibrahim Richard Bangura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Being in an intimate relationship is a desired occupation for many people, in particular for women living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where relationships can provide material support, intimacy, and social integration and increase chances of survival. Objective: To explore accounts of navigating intimate relationships from women with disabilities in Sierra Leone. Design: A qualitative study was conducted, guided by a critical occupational approach and informed by feminist disability scholarship. Data were generated through interviews and analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis. Setting: Community-based across four districts of Sierra Leone. Participants: Thirteen women with disabilities were recruited by means of snowball and purposive sampling. Results: Four themes were generated that illuminated the women’s experiences of intimate relationships as viewed through the lens of gender and disability dimensions. The overarching theme, “violence in intimate relationships,” describes the incidences of violence and abuse they experienced. “Becoming a wife” explores the women’s occupational identity wishes. “Leaving as an occupational rupture” illuminates the actions the women took to end the relationship. “Mothering as an occupational identity and resource” focuses on the women’s role as mothers and transitions in their occupations. Conclusions and Relevance: Taking their unique narratives into account draws attention to how the women have met their occupational needs and resisted occupational injustices, enabled by social and structural supports, including their children, disability social benefits, and their engagement in the disability rights movement. Implications are directed at socially committed occupational therapists to address systemic issues of disability- and gender-based violence. What This Article Adds: This study adds much-needed knowledge in an area in which there is a paucity of research: the experiences of women with disabilities being in an intimate relationship as a social occupation in an LMIC. The results illuminate the importance of considering the systemic issues that affect the social occupations of women with disabilities, particularly in light of the shift within occupational therapy practice toward developing a socially transformative focus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7504180040
JournalAmerican Journal of Occupational Therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Occupational Therapy


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