We are not disabled by our impairments, rather, we are disabled by our societies, due to exclusion and lack of accessibility provided by them. The difference between “disabled women” and “women with disabilities” is stark in light of this.
The societal barriers to disabled women are many. From childhood, it is largely taught that having a disability is negative, a lifelong limitation. With this mindset, many disabled women enter adulthood with a negative view of themselves, which can lead to abusive and violent relationships that are difficult to break away from. Concerning mental disabilities, many women in psychiatric institutions are not afforded basic rights when it comes to medication, as complete compliance is required. Those who request a change to medication are often labelled as angry, and in turn their medication is increased, leaving them powerless.
How can societies empower disabled women? The panelists described that independent living is a strong form of empowerment. This does not necessarily mean living alone in literal terms, rather independent living is having the power and control to do things in life that you prefer. There are policies in place, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which serve to support and protect disabled people at the policy level. In order to make these policies accessible, organizations such as Women Enabled International Inc work to translate these policies to local governments and civil society in order to uphold them. Another panelist described that peer services at the local level, which are led by disabled women who serve disabled women, are important for support and local empowerment. Sisters of Frida CIC is an organization which aims to create networks of disabled women to share experiences and build a collective voice.
To learn more about the members of the panel - their experiences and positions in their local contexts - please click here.