Select To Be Incapacity Inclusive

Una Fonte, an advocate for disability and feminism


Every March we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day when women are celebrated but also to highlight the struggles and inequalities that still exist for women around the world. This year the chosen theme is “Vote to Challenge”.

The “choosing” aspect of the topic is particularly poignant, as in recent years more people than ever before have realized that the work of social justice cannot be passive or performative, but requires real commitment and an authentic commitment to action. It is also an important reminder for those of us who are able to make that choice. This is a privilege not available to many. It is all the more important that those who can take a stand do so.

The “challenge aspect” of the 2021 theme is a little more open to interpretation and undoubtedly means different things to different women. For me it is the greatest resonance in the context of challenging stereotypes and societal norms as it is so much about my work, but challenge could also mean facing discrimination or oppression, and it could mean challenging yourself.

With this IWD I would like to question the idea that women’s rights and disability rights are separate issues. It was through the work of Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw that the world came to know the term “intersectionality”. But how many of us have taken steps to really understand the intersections within the causes that matter to us, and to really examine our positions and potential prejudices? If you are a passionate feminist, it is your job to look after the skill, advocate for the causes of disabled women and amplify their voices. Disabled women are part of the norm, around 10% more precisely, that is nearly 17 million women in the UK alone. We’re not just a side issue to sympathize with, our rights and freedoms are tied to yours.

The intersection of disability and women’s rights

Within a marginalized group, you are likely to still find a hierarchy that reflects the prejudices of the world around them. Despite the best of intentions, we know that sexism still exists in the disabled community and that skill consciousness absolutely exists in the feminist movement. And we’re not just talking about a few bad apples, either. Outdated and harmful views about disability are ingrained and systematic. To address them, we need to be informed and wise about the problems. To give an example of the story here, I recently saw an excellent TEDx talk from Una Fonte who has albinism and is legally blind. She explained the importance of intersectional feminism and referred to the support of eugenics among some major feminist figures to encourage broader support for abortion rights and birth control. Yes that’s right. Mid-century feminists argued that disabled people could be exterminated if women were given the opportunity to control their pregnancies, and use skill awareness as a tool to advance an agenda that ignores the views or rights of disabled women. An ugly legacy and something that is seldom talked about. In fact, aspects of this misguided thinking still exist today.

Beyond the skeletons in the closet, women with disabilities are often wiped out when talking about gender-specific discrimination. For example, when we talk about the pay gap, we seldom mention that disabled women earn less than disabled men and disabled women. Did you know that in the UK “non-disabled male workers earn on average £ 2.15 more (£ 13.88) than disabled male workers who are paid £ 11.80 an hour and non-disabled female workers earn £ 1.53 more? 11.73) per hour compared to disabled workers who earn £ 10.20 per hour? “. That’s a huge difference of 36%.

And according to the UN, disabled men are twice as likely to work as disabled women.

Earn power

In an important report sponsored by The Female Lead, Terri Apter builds on her 1994 work Women Have No Women to find out why women are still not represented in top jobs despite changing social attitudes and narratives are the last 25 years. I quote:

“Gaining power over a partner was an important issue, as was the case in the 1994 study. Some women stated that it was appropriate for them to give their partner more time by doing more housework when they were Earning less than a partner’s chores themselves. The majority of women were determined to earn at least as much as a partner’s. ”

Until we have an equal income, individual nuclear families will always make the “rational choice” to prioritize a man’s work, creating a reinforcement loop that is difficult to break out of. The report delves into the psychological and social norms of the gender pay gap and the difficulties women face in feeling “entitled” to higher salaries. They refer to this as the “claim loophole”. One such loophole is a loop that worsens for disabled women who are trained to view our housing needs as “onerous” and to be “grateful” to have a job in the first place.

Employment is not the only area where we see this intersectional impact. Disabled women are gender-specifically disadvantaged in almost every category. They are more likely to be institutionalized, less likely to receive a diagnosis, as the criteria by default revolve around men, and they are often deprived of their autonomy and choice in medical institutions and with regard to reproductive rights.

If that’s not enough to get us going and ready to challenge, then I don’t know what it would be.

My challenges for you

All around you are disabled women, we are parents, business owners, neighbors and key workers. Most importantly, we are fully realized people of value. Our results should not be limited and decided for us by others. But we need allies. If able feminists do not join us to fight the discrimination that is specific to our disability, and disabled men do not join us to fight the discrimination that is specific to our gender, then we lack the verve and the voice necessary for progress.

On this International Women’s Day, I will unsubscribe with a few actions that fit the topic.

Challenge yourself to see disability as part of normal human diversity rather than as a side issue.

Challenge yourself to look at feminism through a disabled lens and review your positions.

Challenge yourself to engage with the disabled community and learn what topics are important to us.

Talk about topics beyond your personal experience and raise the voices of disabled women in your network.

Many thanks to Helen Doyle for her contribution to this article.

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