Women with disabilities: a feminist statement. We are women too!

Women with disabilities: a feminist statement. We are women too!

On this 8th March, just like every year, we raise our voices to condemn the multiple and intersectional discriminations we as women continue to endure, and to demand that society and public powers adopt an inclusive agenda that embraces the diversity of women without exception.

Since we began to organise ourselves more than two decades ago, we women with disabilities have had to proclaim repeatedly each 8th March something that is self-evident but systematically overlooked; we are women too! We are 19.2% of all women and 60% of all people with disabilities but, regardless, for decades we have been hidden away under the catch-all ‘people with disabilities’, an expression that mistakenly appeared to cover and address all issues but has ultimately rendered our struggle invisible.

Moreover, for a long time now we have been excluded from the feminist agenda because, it seems, our grievances did not fit easily into overly homogeneous and monolithic demands which could not be influenced by other considerations from outside feminism itself.

We have organised ourselves in no-person’s land, taking over spaces on both sides and raising awareness about the reality faced by millions of women who are discriminated by a male-dominated society which, let us not forget, is also ableist.

Nobody knows better than us how revolutionary – and essential – it is to claim our place as women in a struggle whose ultimate wish is precisely that this claim will one day become irrelevant.

For these reasons, over the past years we have called for all public policies promoting gender equality to consider other variables such as, for instance, disability. In the same way and following a twin-track approach, all policies to drive disability rights must mainstream a women-based approach on the grounds of gender.

The cornerstones on which our demands rest are the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, in which the aspirations of all women worldwide are acknowledged and our diversity and varying functions and circumstances are noted, respecting and appreciating the full diversity of the different situations and conditions in which we find ourselves and recognising that some of us, furthermore, face specific barriers that impede our full and equal participation in society.

Similarly, the Sustainable Development Goals, and more specifically SDG 5 focussing on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls specifically and in a cross-cutting fashion in other goals, must be interpreted taking into account the situation faced by groups who are subjected to multiple discrimination and who have hitherto remained invisible, such as women and girls with disabilities.

Furthermore, the mandates of the United Nations Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence must be implemented and interpreted in the light of the diversity which characterises us as women.

For all of the above reasons, today, 8th March, we women with disabilities demand:

  • Guarantees of equal access to healthcare services, including sexual and reproductive health services, for women and girls with disabilities, without forgetting survivors of violence and the fact that, at times of crisis such as that brought about by COVOD-19, health services must not falter in attending to women and girls with disabilities, thus violating their right to decent healthcare.
  • That the European Union ratify the Istanbul Convention and that all measures needed for its effective implementation are taken at EU and national level, while ensuring these measures are properly funded in all aspects related to raising awareness; enhanced institutional response, incorporating universal design and accessibility in all reporting, assistance and support mechanisms for women and girls who are victims of violence; refinement of the assistance, support and protection provided to women victims of gender-based violence and their sons and daughters; upgraded assistance and protection for minors; enhanced training programmes to ensure the best possible care response; improvements in knowledge as an indispensable complement to contribute efficiently to the fight to combat all types of violence against women, including in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, offering more reliable, complete and detailed data on all forms, incidences, causes and consequences, visualisation and response to types of violence against women outside the context of the partner or former partner.
  • The design and implementation of public employment policies, both at EU and national level, that include equality for women on the grounds of gender and disability, adopting a twin-track approach. All policies and programmes aimed at promoting employment and community-based vocational training must consider the specific situation of women with disabilities, as well as the multiple discrimination they face as a result of intersections with other factors such as age, sexual orientation, rurality, immigrant status, ethnic minorities, victims of gender-based violence, risk of poverty, etc.
  • Efforts to make visible and quantify all non-monetised contributions made by us, women from this segment of the population, in the area of reproduction of life, which are essential for the economic system, as it is currently designed, to continue to operate. The wealth of the European Union and its Member States is not only produced in the ‘market’ and there are other areas where traditionally overlooked services are generated, and responsibility for these services continues to rest on us women.
  • The introduction of policies to foster personal autonomy and care for persons with high support needs. Within the framework of a care policy conceived from a human rights perspective, these policies must consider the reality faced by women with disabilities not only as receivers of care but also as care providers, a fact which is often systematically overlooked.
  • That the European Union commit to eradicating forced sterilisation, encourage Member States to publicly acknowledge the human rights violations suffered throughout the European Union by thousands of girls and women with disabilities who were and are being sterilised in the past and present without giving their consent, and urge them to adopt measures to make amends for the harm caused by these practises which are contrary to human rights.
  • That partnerships be forged among women to enable us to detect and put an end to any type of oppression affecting us, while being aware that the patriarchy is versatile and its control mechanisms vary depending on the oppressed group. No woman should be left behind.

Because we are women too!
8th March 2021
European Disability Forum

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More information:
Statement (Italian version)