Part 1: Gender and Disability | Women and disability

March 28, 2017 by dccinc

As a woman with a disability I am, of course, interested in the intersection of gender, politics and disability. In this 3-part series, the following topics will be explored:

  1. Women and disability
  2. Pride and disability – The LGBTQ community of people with disabilities
  3. Men and disability

It is a fact of research that more women than men are declared to be a ‘person with a disability’. The question for this article and this series, how and why does gender intersect with the discourse on disability? The research also indicates women are less likely to have access to key services such as rehabilitation, more likely to be poor, and less likely to have paid employment. Another serious issue is that women with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic violence/abuse.

There is ample evidence that women with disabilities experience major psycho-social problems that remain largely neglected including depression, stress, lowered self-esteem, and social isolation (Nosek and Hughes 2003).

A 2015 report published by the U.N. recognized that women and girls with disabilities are “[…] invisible, both to the advocates of women’s rights and of disability rights, and this has increased their vulnerability.”  The report also acknowledged that women with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse, violence and marginalization. As our populations age (especially in North America), but life expectancy increases, the likelihood of people experiencing some form of disability also increases. Just as all women face the spectre of gender discrimination, women with disabilities face this at even higher rates. We are less likely to be employed, financially stable, participate widely in social activities, enjoy overall good health, and have a strong support network. These factors, in turn, lead to higher degrees of vulnerability and psychological stress.

Thus, while it is also true that the international community has begun to address the issue of violence against women, generally, the specific issue of violence against women and girls with disabilities, in particular, needs more responses and specific attention. Read more

In the fight for empowerment for girls and women, those with disabilities must not only be physically included but consulted at the highest level. The needs of girls and women with disabilities are, in many ways, similar to their peers, but there are also specific needs such as accessibility in all its aspects that must be considered. We also belong in the fight for equality, recognition, and empowerment.

On the issue of reproductive rights, girls and women face some of the same, yet uniquely different needs. There have been centuries of forced sterilization of girls and women with disabilities, and those with intellectual disabilities are especially at risk.

Many of us seek an intersectional approach whereby women with disabilities assume leadership roles in the development of the agendas of world-wide feminist action and networking. The women’s movement must own the diversity of its constituents and this is finally beginning to happen. Groups such as the Gender and Development Network @GAD_Network are involved with the challenging task of vocalizing the issues related to gender and disability. A long-time Canadian group, D.A.W.N. @DAWNRAFHCanada has been an icon in the activist movement for the rights of women with disabilities.  This seminal action-oriented group formed in 1985 and two of its founding members, Joanne Doucette and Pat Israel are women I greatly admire.

Women with disabilities

In developing countries face considerable barriers and challenges. These have been linked to issues such as the male dominated world of sport, class, culture, body image and dress in addition to religious, traditional and cultural beliefs regarding the role of women. In 2015, Handicap International @HI_UnitedStates published the following report – Making it Work initiative on gender and disability inclusion: Advancing equity for women and girls with disabilities.

Unfortunately, in the world, little attention is given to the situation of more than a half billion women and girls with disabilities, this despite evidence indicating that they are more likely to experience violence than their peers without disabilities. Read more

There has been an increase of attention on the serious matter of domestic violence and gender-based abuse. In this area, there is a definite need for increased policies and programming targeted directly for girls and women with disabilities. The programs and safeguards set up for girls and women are not necessarily at all suited to the needs of those with disabilities. Thus, shelters, hospital programs, women’s services, Internet sites, and the police must ensure they have information available in print, Braille, large print, audio cassette and Sign Language Interpreters available to potential clients. Without these, the barriers remain in place and girls and women are prevented from seeking and attaining the help and support they need.

In my own previous article on Trafficking of People with Disabilities, the research acknowledges that girls with disabilities are far more vulnerable to human trafficking in developing countries. Human trafficking is also gaining more attention and young girl are the primary target for these heinous criminals, although young boys are abducted and sold as well. These young girls often have a target placed on them by their own families who have decided a girl with a disability is unworthy of their time, energy, and resources, and most of all their love and protection.

Further, with respect to the notion of disability itself, it is time all of society understands ‘disability’ does not mean impairment but refers to the disabling barriers of prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion.

The British Council of Disabled People recently adopted the following definitions: ‘Disability is the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a society which takes little or no account of people who have impairments and thus excludes them from mainstream activity. (Therefore, disability, like racism or sexism, is discrimination and social oppression).

This must become a universal definition. Society must no longer locate the idea or the construct of disability inside a person’s body, but rather in and of society itself. The importance of this new paradigm or social construct (which has been gathering momentum since the 1990 ) cannot be over-stated. Author Fiona Strahan highlights the history of disability as the source of the marginalization that continues today:

The marginalization of people with disabilities derives from the period of the industrial revolution, when they began to be regarded as useless for generating productivity and hence profits, like broken machines. This is compounded by the exaggerated individualism of modern western society where it is almost a crime not to be self-sufficient and independent.

This article allows for only a brief review of this complex topic which is deserving of greater global attention.


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