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Disability is a feminist issue!

This article was heavily researched. Prepare for your mind to be blown.

Peeps, I have learnt a new word! That word is called: intersectionality. I briefly touched on this concept in the opening post of this month, and we’re talking about intersectionality in the context of feminism. By definition:

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, [disability] and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Intersectionality also recognises that the effects of gendered oppression are compounded for those living with a disability. That is why when we are talking about feminist or women’s issues, its imperative that we don’t forget about the voices and stats of women with a disability.

By the way, just a little side note, notice how in the above definition I added ‘disability’ in brackets because it didn’t actually use that example in the definition I found. I know these are just someexamples in onedefinition. However, I’ve often noticed that whenever people list off examples of social categories, disability is rarely mentioned. I think that’s rather interesting.

Intersectionality does include disability when we talk about women’s issues and unfortunately feminism doesn’t always leave room at the table for women with a disability to be heard. First of all, all women are women. Women with a disability are still women. The same way women of colour are still women. Disabled women experience the same issues discussed in feminism as able-bodied women – albeit, a lot worse, but I’ll get to that later. Issues like unequal pay, violence and sexual abuse, discrimination, reproductive rights, are all issues faced by women with a disability. It’s very difficult to isolate women’s issues from disability issues because by doing so, disabled women are lumped in with disabled men whom we might share some similarities with but often don’t.

When I first discovered the word intersectionality and began my research, I came across a panel discussion on YouTube where a feminism and disability rights activist – Samantha Connor – shared an anecdote of when she was helping hold a memorial for disabled women who had passed, and the organisers had asked if they could align that event with disability issues not feminist issues. “Feminists are not the foot soldiers for your cause”. This is just one of the many examples I’ve heard about disabled women being excluded from feminist discussions or association.

In her book “Say Hello”, Carly has a whole chapter called “How to be a good non-disabled feminist”. She details her experiences with being kicked out of feminist Facebook groups for being too outspoken about disabled women’s issues within feminism. Other ways women with disability have been excluded from the discussions and activism are when accessibility is not thought about when groups plan events such as women’s marches, conferences and workshops or if when holding events such as panel discussions or speeches on feminist issues, and no disabled people are invited to speak and represent their part of the women’s community.

I think one of the reasons disabled women are excluded from the feminist movement so often is because they tend to represent vulnerability and lack of control. Identities that feminists have typically tried to avoid. But mainly I think it is to do with a lack of education. For example: if you follow or are aware of the work of the late Stella Young, you’ll probably know that she subscribed to the social model of disability. According to People with Disability Australia:

The social model [of disability] sees ‘disability’ is the result of the interaction between people living with impairments and an environment filled with physical, attitudinal, communication and social barriers. It therefore carries the implication that the physical, attitudinal, communication and social environment must change to enable people living with impairments to participate in society on an equal basis with others.

Basically, for people with a disability, our environment and social barriers are more disabling than our bodies. If you call yourself a good feminist, then you must be able to understand, consider and discuss all groups within the women’s movement; including disabled women. It’s imperative that you remove barriers and open up discussions about feminism to people with a disability. When you exclude a minority group from the feminism discussion its actually doing more harm than good because you divide your group even further therefore the movement becomes weaker, allowing for the patriarchy to continue thriving.

Women’s issues intersect with disability issues and like I said earlier, discrimination and disadvantage are often much worse for disabled women. The gender pay gap between men and women in Australia is around 20%. But women with disabilities also earn less than their male counterparts; with 51% of disabled women earning less than $200 per week compared to 36% of disabled men and only 16% of disabled women earning over $400 per week, compared to 33% of disabled men.

We know that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted or threatened and on average, 1 woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner in Australia. But did you know that 90% of women with an intellectual disability have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, and one third of women with physical disability had experienced sexual abuse at some stage in their life.

While there are very little statistics on physical violence against disabled women in Australia, studies such as those conducted in Canada have found that 33% of women with disabilities were assaulted mostly by their spouses compared with 22% of non-disabled women, and an estimated 85% of women with disabilities are victims of domestic violence in comparison with 25% to 50% of the general population. we like to ramble off statistics like the leading cause of death for women in Australia is domestic violence, yet we forget that disabled women are included in that statistic. Do we ever see those incidences in the news? Nope! But that doesn’t mean its not happening. We cannot keep ignoring a whole group of women just because… oh jee why are we again?

I am only just learning about intersectionality and why we need to be demonstrating it within the feminist movement. I am barely comprehending, barely scratching the surface of everything in relation to disability and women’s issues. But if this is what I’ve been able to uncover with a few simple google and YouTube searches, JUST IMAGINE what else is out there!

I have always been super passionate about feminism and now that I’ve found out about its link to disability, it’s got me even more pumped up and curious. This certainly is not the last article I will write on the issue. My goal is to hopefully spread the word about intersectionality so that all feminists can put this into practice for ALL groups within the women’s movement. I hope that when I attend future feminist or women’s events, that disability will be represented and fought for as much as everyone else is. That able-bodied feminists will actively recruit and enable their disabled women allies in all of their activism endeavours.

Sources:

Articles

The conversation – http://theconversation.com/destroy-the-joint-sure-but-feminism-must-include-disability-politics-51119

Women with Disabilities Australia – http://wwda.org.au/issues/viol/viol2001/odds/

People with Disability Australia – https://pwd.org.au/resources/social-model-of-disability/

Youtube clips

Disability and intersectional feminism | all about women 2018 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ia0Z-GfodBo

Image

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