Women and Disabilities

My job is to give women, all women, a voice. When I got the assignment to write a blog, I knew exactly what I wanted to address: women with disabilities.  I wanted to address this topic because it affects me directly—I am a woman and I am a woman with a disability. Women with disabilities do not really have a voice, sadly not even in our own database. Only one variable directly addresses women with disabilities, and for this variable there is very little information. I’m writing my blog to ask “why?” Why are these particularly vulnerable women going unnoticed?
Women are largely discriminated against because of their gender and women with disabilities are discriminated as being both disabled and a woman. This two-fold discrimination makes life exceptionally hard to live. In many cultures, women with disabilities have a particularly acute social stigma. This can prevent her from receiving the kind of help that she needs not only to overcome her disability, but also to be able to function as a member of society. Generally, women with disabilities do not have access to education and training. According to a 1998 UNDP study, the global literacy rate for adult women with disabilities is 1 percent. As our database shows under the section “Differential Access to Health Care Based on Gender,”many women around the world cannot access health care; having a disability augments this disadvantage in healthcare access.
Fortunately, many developed countries have legislation prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities. For example the Americans With Disabilities Act prevents discrimination in employment, state and local government services, public transport and telecommunications. In the UK there is the Disability Discrimination Act and Germany and France both have their own similar laws. Even with these legal barriers in place, it is generally difficult for people with disabilities to obtain a job. Men with disabilities are twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities. When women with disabilities do work, they often “experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal access to training and retraining, unequal access to credit and other productive resources, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation, and they rarely participate in economic decision-making” (Arthur O’Reilly. “Employment Barriers for Women with Disabilities” in “The Right to Decent Work of Persons with Disabilities” IFP/Skills Working Paper No. 14. International Labour Organization 2003).
Naturally these statistics make me a bit concerned for my own future. It’s scary for me to think about what will happen to me when I leave BYU and enter the workforce. Sure I have the Americans with Disabilities Act and other pieces of legislation to theoretically be my advocate, but in all reality it is going to be extremely difficult not just because I am a woman or that I have a disability, but because I am a woman with a disability. I share my fears with millions of disabled women worldwide. What are we going to be able to do with our lives? We can be just as smart and capable as men with disabilities, or our more able bodied female counterparts, but we still may not be able to have the same opportunities as they do. All the while our plights are not investigated as the women’s rights movement doesn’t always address the issue of women with disabilities and the disability rights movement doesn’t focus on women. We’re left out.
So what do we do? Unfortunately right now I don’t know a good answer to that. I do know that I signed up for this job because I want to change how women are treated. Change comes from illumination and education, which is exactly what this project provides to the world. I have a good year left as a Woman Stats coder and with that time I hope to be able to expand this section of the database to provide education on women with disabilities. I know that through my efforts as a coder I can help provide the information needed to change the situation of women world wide. I sincerely hope that I can create change for this minority within a minority not just for my sake, but for the benefit of all the other women, who like me, face the world with a disability.

For additional information, see http://www.un.org/womenwatch/enable/

—by AB

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2 thoughts on “Women and Disabilities

  1. GoodReason says:

    Thanks so much for bringing this issue to our attention! I am glad that you are going to be part of the solution.

  2. SMS says:

    Fortunately the health care reform act that was just passed will at least begin to address some of these concerns. It is women, those with disabilities and minorities that all too often face huge personal and financial risks because they cannot receive adequate health care. This bill will at least attempt to address that problem and give you and others one less thing to worry about. Thanks for sharing!

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