Multiple oppressions keep women with disabilities ?invisible?

Date: January 1, 1970
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Addressing a workshop of the Namibian Women’s Manifesto Network in May, Alexia Ncube points out the multiple levels at which discrimination against women with disabilities operates. She argues that structural injustices, traditional beliefs, prejudices and practices combine to adversely affect women with disabilities.

What is the present reality facing differently abled women with regard to participation in general? Are women with disability visible? If they are, where are they visible? What pre­vents their visibility? Do you see them in the family? Do you see them participating actively in the commu­nity? Are they visible in meaningful positions in the disability move­ment? I will not even ask the ques­tion in relation to their participation in the political mainstream.

We need to understand the factors that make it difficult for differently abled women to engage actively. We need to recognise the double, even multiple sources of invisibility of certain categories of women and girls. Depending on economic status, ethnicity, tribe, (dis)ability, colour, caste, HIV status, and age, some women and girls may suffer multi­ple forms of discrimination, thus making their functioning in civil so­ciety particularly difficult.

We are discriminated against by our fellow women. We are discrimi­nated against as we grow up in our families, because we are regarded as not valuable. This discrimination af­fects our educational opportunities. A boy with disabilities is more likely to be sent to school than a girl, as he will be expected to make a living for himself as an adult. And his family will always be able to find a woman to marry and take care of him. But for a girl with disability it’s differ­ent. Why would she need an educa­tion? And what would she be good for as a wife? We are further dis­criminated if we become HIV posi­tive – as people wonder ‘how can she have a sex life?’

We are even discriminated against by men with disabilities in our own movement. The dominance of men in leadership at different levels in our society is mirrored in the disability movement. The point I am making is that the playing field is not level. The same structural injustices (tra­ditional beliefs, prejudices and prac­tices) that exist in our society and cultures affect women with disabili­ties in particular, as they do women in general. Unless we understand this, we will not know how to level the playing field. The stakes are heavily loaded against women with disabilities.

There is no doubt as to the crucial importance of political participation of women with disabilities at all lev­els of our society, but we need to see this happening in the context of a process. In other words, political participation is not a single event but can only be achieved through a proc­ess that utilises a variety of means, among which the following are in­cluded:

-We should build effective groups and organisations of women with disabilities as part of a strategy of capacity building. Our own struc­tures give us the space and confi­dence to build our political skills, among other things.

– The self-representative structures of women with disabilities have a primary responsibility of creating awareness in the  community about the situation facing women with dis­abilities.

– Through their organisations women with disabilities need to en­gage effectively with the national disability movement and challenge it in terms of the issues of gender equity, power and leadership.

– Again through their organisa­tions, women with disabilities need to engage in the broader women’s movement so as to ensure the inclu­sion of their particular point of view on issues of political participation.

– Political parties must be chal­lenged concerning the extent to which they. accommodate women with disabilities and their issues.
In conclusion, women with dis­abilities’ views, needs and interests must shape the agenda for develop­ment with the same weight as men’s issues, to ensure that the develop­ment agenda supports the achieve­ment of more equal relations be­tween women and men. It should be recognised that every development initiative affects women and men differently. Perspectives need to be interrogated and given equal weight in the programme responses of our different organisations.

Alexia Ncube was appointed as one of the six new members of the Namibian National Assembly in April this year. This article was first published in Sister Namibia Vol 16 No 4 in May 2005.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information. 

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