Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Dialogue of Empowered Disabled Women: impairment does not make us disabled but rather the accessibility of society

Of the many CSW sessions I observed, I found the Dialogue of Survivors in a Disabling Environment powerful, disturbing, yet inspiring. The panel was moderated by Eleanor Lisney, a founding member of the Sisters of Frida. The Sisters of Frida is an experimental collaborative group that allows disabled women a space to share experiences, provide mutual support, and foster relationships with different networks.

Speakers at this panel included Alexia Manombe-Ncube, the Deputy Minister of Disability Affairs in the office of Vice President, Namibia. She described the obstacles of growing up with disabilities in a village in rural Namibia where she was never taken seriously, viewed as an object to be swept aside because of her limitations, and how she personally experience intense gender-specific turmoil at an early age. Another speaker, who was extremely passionate, was Lucia Bellini. Lucia is an advocate for disabled women and domestic violence. She believes that disabled women deserve the right to make choices and that societally constructed limitation toward disabled women internalize a negative view of each individual which oppress disabled women both physically and emotionally. The third speaker was Suzannah Phillips, a legal advisor to Women Enabled International. She passionately stated that the rights of persons with disabilities is a human right and that the UN must promote policies that reflect these specific need. Also, that the UN must provide accessible information to women with disabilities avoiding complex jargon because it further limits their individual circumstances. Lastly, Michelle Baharier, the final speaker, founded a disabled lead arts organisation that promotes a different perspective of disabled women within mainstream society. Being a disabled activist artist, she discussed the victimization of disabled women in psychiatric wards and how forced medication can cause long-lasting emotional and physical abuse.

A few of the main points touched on during the panel discussion had to do with identity and empowerment. For example, Michelle professed the need for women to accept their disabilities and work together to support one another. Lucia Bellini explained how disabled women still see themselves as sexual beings. As a result, they oftentimes fall victim to sexual violence because they rely so much on their partners because they view themselves as unworthy of finding someone else. Another notion of identity discussed had to do with intersectionality. Eleanor, in response to a question asked by an audience member, described the concept of intersectionality and how overlapping identities can cause gender/racial-specific obstacles. These tragic yet empowering stories described by these women left a lasting impression on my overall experience of CSW and my perspective of women empowerment as a whole.    

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