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Gender matters in disability


Engender, Inclusion Scotland, disabled women, survey, discussion, eventsFinding which issues concern disabled women and how to address them.

Women’s issues are often overlooked by the disability movement – and disability issues are not at the centre of the women’s movement.

How then, do disabled women get their issues raised?

Engender and Inclusion Scotland have been working together and with other partners to identify the particular issues of concern to disabled women in Scotland and how these could be addressed.

Existing research said that disabled women experience multiple challenges which include: access to paid employment; poverty; stereotyping; reproductive rights; parenting; access to justice; and violence and abuse.

Disabled women and girls are, for example, more than twice as likely to experience violence during their lives as non-disabled women.

So Engender and Inclusion Scotland sent out a survey to ask disabled women which were the issues that concerned them the most.

The main ones were: self-confidence; being judged; fear of having children removed; unequal access to health and education; not being taken seriously; not being listened to; and their constant struggle to be heard and respected.

Engender and Inclusion Scotland then held events with disabled women and talked about the issues in more detail.

At these events disabled women said that the biggest challenges for disabled women in Scotland were: violence and abuse; discrimination in relation to reproduction and parenting; welfare reform; cuts to services; lack of accessible transport; barriers to employment; and isolation.

And at every event women said that they lived in fear of having their children taken into care because they are disabled.

Women said they were not getting the support they needed to be parents; instead they were being watched to see if they would make mistakes.

And women with a variety of conditions and impairments said that they had been criticised for becoming pregnant, and had been encouraged to have abortions.

The women said that they wanted: people to see disabled women as women; better support with parenting; to be allowed to make choices about reproduction free from judgement; more opportunities to meet up with other disabled women; services that understand and meet the needs of disabled women; and to be able to access the right support when they need it.

And at meetings with women’s organisations and disabled people’s organisations Engender and Inclusion Scotland asked what would help them to support disabled women.

Their answers included: opportunities for women’s organisations and disabled people’s organisations to work together; knowledge exchange between different organisations; mapping of what services exist for disabled women; mapping of where there are gaps in services for disabled women; more local services; greater awareness of discrimination against disabled women; disability equalities training for staff; and more research into disabled women’s experiences in Scotland

Disabled women were then asked what they wanted from service providers.

Their answers included: practical support, for example providing taxis to events; better communications, for example providing easy read or large-print information, or making videos; truly accessible events; disabled women to be visible in decision-making positions; greater awareness of the needs of disabled women; and better sex education.

What should happen next?

More research is needed to help us know more about disabled women’s experiences;

Women’s organisations and disabled people’s organisations need to have more opportunities to work together;

We need to know what services exist for disabled women, including mapping where there are gaps;

Disabled women need to have opportunities to get together and network;

Events and communications need to be truly accessible; and

Disabled women need to be visible in decision-making positions.

Engender and Inclusion Scotland will continue to work together to ensure that disabled women’s voices are heard, and that both disabled people’s organisations and women’s organisations know that Gender Matters in Disability.

Feel free to join in.

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