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Disabled women's struggle against injustice

Aug 26, 2011

The Seeds of a Movement—Disabled Women and their Struggle to Organise is an attempt to map out some of the challenges that disabled women worldwide have confronted in their struggle to fight discrimination and build their own movements.

The Seeds of a Movement—Disabled Women and their Struggle to Organise

Published by: Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) 2011

Whilst the notion of discrimination against women is fairly widespread, the recognition of disability discrimination is completely the opposite. The popular view of disabled people in many countries is that they are 'charity cases', marked by fate, damned by god, and without recourse to rights. 


This report is an attempt to map out some of the challenges that disabled women have confronted in their struggle to fight discrimination and build their own movements.

Disabled women's awareness of the oppression they face, and their attempts to organise themselves, date back at least to the days of "second wave" feminism in the nineteen seventies. 

Since the 1970s, disabled peoples in differing global locations have increasingly realised that their interests and needs were not being served—that projects were not being designed in ways that they would have chosen and that ultimately, they were not in control of their lives.

This led to the creation of self-help and single-issue disabled people's organisations (DPOs) run by and for disabled people, addressing needs identified by their members.

The creation of such groups and of networking between their members marked the beginnings of the disability movement.


Disabled women have in general been silenced within society, denied their rights and equal economic and social opportunities due to prejudice, stigma and poverty. They face a pattern of discrimination that repeats itself globally, in differing forms, in rich countries as well as poor. 

The fear, anxiety, vulnerability and ignorance people experience on encountering disability are translated into societal restrictions on disabled women's access to educational opportunities and to health care, and limits to their employment options, where they tend to be restricted to poorly paid and low-status jobs. Disabled women are commonly perceived as asexual, which means that the majority of them are denied the possibility of close relationships or marriage. 

Viewed as incapable of handling the maternal role and as carriers of malfunctioning genes, they are derided as mothers and denied children, too often through forced sterilisation. They are subject to physical, mental and sexual violence and abuse, both in the domestic and the public arena, and in the institutions to which some disabled women are committed. 

The negative perceptions of disabled women and the prejudice and oppression they face lead to low self-image for many. And when and if they challenge all this, they are met with incomprehension and, despite the new UN Convention, a marked lack of social and legal rights.


What will build a strong movement of disabled women is their recognition of and combined political response to the discrimination and prejudice they collectively face, which is constituted not just through their similarities but through their multiple differences in terms of sexualities, ethnicities, classes, religions etc., says the report.

Campaigning by disabled people has led to the establishment of the most rapidly-negotiated and agreed International Convention that the UN has produced so far – viz., the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — and helped pull disabled people together in what could be termed a transnational disabled people's movement.

Building on discussion with politically active disabled and non-disabled women from across the globe, the report tries to draw out some of the issues that disabled women face in trying to build Disabled Women's Movements. There is already a substantial and highly organised group of disabled women who have influenced the structure and form of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), ensuring that  women were included and their rights addressed in a clear and comprehensive manner. 

This task has been vital for establishing disabled women's rights. Yet, disabled women's movements cannot depend only upon links to major international bodies like the UN. Any disabled women's movement has to grow from its base, from their diversity as women,from the variety and creativity of their widely differing lives, through the embodied changes they face and from the responses and reactions of both those who work with them and those who resist the changes they seek. 

The constituencies on which they build, and the coalitions they form will be vital to their movements' futures as will be our politics, in guiding the choices they make.

Source : AWID
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