Get-hooked June 8, 2020
Spotlight on gender & disability issues at Know Your Rights Webinar Series
Women with disabilities are doubly marginalised and discriminated against the world over and the Know Your Rights Webinar Series organised by the Javed Abidi Foundation, Disability Rights India Foundation and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative highlighted some of the challenges that face organisations working to support and empower disabled women.
Given the diverse types of disability and the diversity in gender, the links between gender and diversity can be hard to understand, especially for the youth.
This was the opening proposition of the Know Your Rights Webinar Series stated by student and Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF) volunteer Tanmay Srivastava to the speakers Shampa Sengupta, Joint Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) and Dr Anita Ghai, the well-known gender and disability rights activist.
Disabled women are doubly marginalised
Sengupta, who is also the founder of Sruti Disability Rights Centre, started the first support group for parents with children with intellectual disabilities in Kolkata. She has over 25 years’ experience working in the space of disability and gender. Gender, she said, is a “fluid concept”, “identity one chooses.”
Gender means more than men and women. It is a social and cultural difference, not just biological. In gender, we have a range of identities, it can be fluid as well. Nowadays, we think a person could belong to any gender. We did not have all this information when we started. It is not just men, women and transgender. It can be a range of identities. We are also social activists who are learning as we go along. The discussion was there to some extent, but understanding it now is easier as people are more vocal. Policy makers need to start recognising this fact. – Shampa Sengupta, Disability rights activist
Professor Ghai, who has authored many books on disability, talked about her early years in the disability rights movement. “Nobody looked at me as a woman because of my disability, and it bothered me. People would say “poor thing” and sympathise with me. Since we evolved, we have realised the third gender and LGBTQI group”.
The lockdown, added Ghai, brought home how dependant women with disabilities are.
Lockdown sees spike in domestic violence
“Sometimes you need close contact with others, for example to push your wheelchair. My maid stopped coming, I had to do all the household chores in my wheelchair, and I was going mad. It took one week for me to get my disability pass and to be allowed a caregiver. COVID-19 gave me an insight into how dependent women with disabilities really are and require care.”
The lockdown has also been linked to a disturbing escalation in domestic violence rates, she pointed out. “In such cases, women with disabilities can’t even leave the family as they are dependent on the family itself”, pointed out Ghai.
Section 4 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 specifically addresses women with disabilities. Shameer Rishad, Convenor, JAF, asked about the steps being taken to address domestic violence against disabled women.
Sexual violence, said Sengupta, is largely ignored. “Short stay homes have been developed to provide for a haven, but these are not disabled- friendly, so where will disabled women go? There are homes and orphanages for disabled men and women, but we don’t have any for disabled women who need short stays”. Even government helplines are not accessible for women with disabilities. “The guidelines given by the Ministry of Social Justice and Environment (MSJE) have completely neglected the gender aspect”, added Sengupta.
Mainstreaming gender and disability are a huge challenge as neither are part of the mainstream agenda now according to the speakers. “Every time I go to a disability meeting, the gender aspect is left. When I go to women/LGBTQI meetings, we ask why they’re not mentioning disability aspect. It is easy to forget the issue that is not visible, so they forget that.”, said Sengupta.
Highlighting the invisibility, Ghai advocated the need to fight it out, reject the charity model and engage with other groups.
“It is only the activists who are visible, and we are pushed back. The idea, which is important, especially for women, is the idea of resistance. I feel that talking to other groups is also important. It is very important to mix the issues within groups, like why shouldn’t disability groups be concerned about environment or why aren’t women groups not talking about disability?”.
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