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INVISIBILITY OF WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES: A GENDER PERSPECTIVE OF DISABILITY

INTRODUCTION

Women with disabilities are victims of two-fold discrimination; as women and also as people with disabilities. These women of all ages are among the most marginalized and vulnerable in society. There are particularly serious consequences for these women and often their struggles are not even recognized by the concerned authorities. The isolation that surrounds a woman with disabilities is often more saddening for her as it lowers the woman’s self-esteem and prevents her from seeking extra care. They are too often denied basic access to education, rehabilitation, healthcare, vocational training, and employment. For this reason, women with disabilities are the last priority in a few countries like Afghanistan. A gender-blind approach should be used in the study of the disabled as the recognition of the specific needs of women with disabilities have not been met yet. The focus of this article is on the gender-based perspective of disability. It tries to focus on the factors responsible for the entrenched discrimination that is continued to be faced by women with disabilities in various spheres of life. It also throws light on the issues faced by women with disabilities such as child-rearing problems, increased sexual violence against these women, access to education and employment, and the very little attention these women get in fighting for their rights. The article concludes by analysing some measures taken by the government to improve the development of women with disabilities.

MARRIAGE, MOTHERHOOD AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS OF THE DISABLED WOMEN

The traditional roles of motherhood and homemakers are usually seen as inappropriate for women with disabilities. Disabled women are more likely to not get married or be divorced even if they are married. Some reasons which are noticed for the same are separation from their partners, non-disabled men, financial issues, the disabled woman refraining herself from relationships. The woman is likely to be divorced after marriage due to the behaviour changes of her husband and negative attitudes toward disabled people. In Ethiopia, a woman who is disabled is restricted from having sex and children outside marriage as it is not believed that men can have intimacy with these women. Since women with disabilities are seen as dependent beings, it is difficult for many to imagine how she would fulfil the role of a mother. It is also feared that these mothers would produce defective and deficient children. Women with disabilities in developing countries are more often vulnerable to socially constructed misconceptions. Many women are severely being discriminated against in terms of their reproductive rights. They often have to go through forced sterilization, forced abortion due to discriminatory attitudes, and due to the usual attitudes about their parenting abilities and as they are powerless to do anything in such situations, even though the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission stated their obligation to monitor the issue regarding the same. Most of the disabled mothers are single mothers as they often face unwanted pregnancy and are condemned for the same which forces them to hide. The health care system is often not supportive of disabled women. The awareness level of the doctors’ and the caregivers have to change. Article 23 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reinforces the rights of the people with disabilities to find and maintain a family and to retain fertility on an equal basis as other women. It was emphasized by the United Nations Special Rapporteur that the forced sterilization of women with disabilities is a crime against humanity as it is inhuman treatment. However, little is done to provide for these women.

CHALLENGES OF SEXUAL ABUSE WITH DISABLED WOMEN

Women with disabilities are at greater risk of being sexually assaulted than other women and particularly in the residential facilities as they are considered to be more vulnerable, marginalized, and dependent. Yet, this problem of abuse is ignored by many professionals. Sexual harassment of women with disabilities at the workplace is rarely a concern. Women with disabilities are considered asexual but they are generally more vulnerable to sexual harassment than able-bodied women. The sexual harassment committees at the workplace are not ready and are not even sensitive to meet the needs of issues of the disabled women as harassment around these women is not considered. Stigma related to their sexuality and disability worsens these challenges. The sexuality of women with disabilities is not given due care even in the disability rights movement. In India women with disabilities are treated worse than animals as they are forcefully institutionalized where they face physical and sexual violence and experience involuntary treatment. Also, they usually face abusive treatment at the hands of the physicians when they go for a health check-up as they do not understand the circumstances. Families may not show enthusiasm to send them to educational institutions as they are prone to sexual harassment at school and often left as invisible victims. These women face many barriers even in accessing the justice system as serious gaps remain in the implementation of the legal reforms adopted by the government.

The report of HRW expresses the various challenges that women tend to have to face throughout the justice system; reporting abuse to the police, getting adequate compensation, having complaints registered and investigated. The sensitivity of the judges also is needed in such cases. Disabled women do not know they have free legal aid and also the legal services authorities are not trained to handle cases relating to disabled women which increases the need for legal awareness among these women. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013 doesn’t give any directions as to how an ICC must act when the complainant is a disabled woman and also does not address the need of the disabled women specifically. National Mental Health Programme adopted by the Indian government to provide community-based services also had some serious flaws in its monitoring mechanisms and it had a limited reach. It must be ensured that these women are capable to make their own choices regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT: DISCRIMINATION AND DEROGATORY TREATMENT FACED BY DISABLED WOMEN

For people with disabilities, especially for women with disabilities, education remains to be a major problem. Less than 1% of all women with disabilities are said to have proper education. Studies have shown that boys and girls with the same disabilities are often provided different kinds of education. Women and girls with disabilities are being excluded from all the educational settings despite having the same right to education as their male counterparts due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This affects their participation in the workforce in the long run as indicated by the fact that only 25% of the disabled women are in the workforce worldwide. Women face additional barriers compared to their male counterparts. Greater obstacles might be encountered by them if they want to join in a male-dominated profession which results in women with disabilities not having opportunities in the careers that are highly valued and professional positions. Women face major inequalities even in hiring for jobs and getting equal wages as compared to men with disabilities.

Despite all these, the various educational barriers are not addressed properly by the existing laws, policies, and programs. The various reasons for the low participation of disable women may be the gender and disability-related stereotypes, physical or geographical barriers to attending school, failure to provide reasonable accommodations to these women, and inaccessibility to school facilities. Schools may often lack the resources or willingness to provide proper personal assistance with toileting to girls with disabilities. These women are often kept at home and may not even be registered due to the assumptions about their abilities or the embarrassment of their family. These women are frequently invisible to the education system as a result. For example, women with disabilities are often perceived to be unable to contribute to the financial success of the family. It should be ensured that these women must have equal access to both primary and secondary education. The general recommendation 18 of the CEDAW recommends the states to take up measures to address and guarantee equality of women in education and employment of women with disabilities and their participation in all spheres of life.

CONCLUSION

Women with disabilities experience a significant level of discrimination and marginalization due to various factors that are related to the composition of society, the negative attitude of the society towards them, the prevailing culture, and the service delivery structure. This dependence is further increased by their limited awareness, lack of resources, and lack of education and their dependency on others. Increased representation and deliberate inclusion have to be taken into consideration while making policies for disabled women. India had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and under this treaty, the right to the legal capacity of the disabled must be protected and respected by the government and forced institutionalization has been prohibited. The government has also introduced two bills in line with CRPD, in 2013, however, they do not guarantee the right to legal capacity and the right to independent living to the women with disabilities as it has been required by the treaty. Article- 8 and 6 of the CRPD mention that the state governments should implement measures to deal with the multiple discrimination and stereotypes that women with disabilities face in their day to day lives and to ensure that they have equal enjoyment of their fundamental rights as everyone else. The government should try to bring up more implementations that would help make women with disabilities more inclusive in their day to day lives and to see that they are not abused. The perspectives of the women must be included in all aspects of work for women’s empowerment and work on the gender perspective of disability. The goal of “nothing without us” cannot be achieved without their participation in the disability dialogue.


Title Image Source: UN Women


This article has been written by Devu Sai Ruchitha, a second year law student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhingar.

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