International Day of Persons with Disabilities: women fight for inclusion
December 3rd marks this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which has as its theme ‘nothing about us, without us.’ The annual event has been promoted by the United Nations since 1992, with the aim of highlighting the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities around the world.
More than one billion people currently live with a disability. According to Human Rights Watch, 10% of all women worldwide have a disability, and they represent 75% of all people with a disability in low and middle income countries. While they face similar human rights abuses, social isolation deepens these abuses and their consequences.
Women with disabilities face a double challenge
“To be a disabled woman is a double challenge. We can talk about intersectionality: the accumulation of oppressions,” Marie-Andrée Boivin, Canadian photographer, writer and film director told NADJA in January 2021. A tireless advocate for deaf people’s rights, she explains how a lack of accessible information can affect deaf women, especially when dealing with gender-based violence.
“If deaf women don’t have easy access to information and documentation, can they understand that they are victims of domestic violence? That the problem is not them but the system, that it’s a continuum?” she said.
Another difficulty lies in accessing services. “Is it possible to get satisfactory care when we go see a psychologist with an interpreter?” Boivin said. “We need to trust the psychologist, but also the interpreter who we probably saw before and will see again in the future. It can be difficult, despite the confidentiality and code of ethics they follow. Also, if the psychologist doesn’t know the deaf culture, they can miss cultural references.”
The right to knowledge
Djamila Touabet is the founder of Handitour, a travel agency based in Algeria for people with motor disabilities. She believes that access to knowledge is crucial for people with disabilities to be financially independent.
“People with disabilities cannot rely on the government, or organisations” she told us earlier this year. “I advocate for the right to knowledge and the right to work so they can be independent. The solution is to find projects and jobs that will enable them to work and become economically autonomous. Because whatever the amount of benefits they can get, it will never be enough to build a good life.”
Building a fair, inclusive future
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for people with disabilities – not only presenting greater health risks but also highlighting the need for accessible information.
The Women’s Budget Group, a British thinktank that scrutinises the government’s economic policy from a gender perspective, conducted a briefing in the UK in April 2020. They reported that a third of women with disabilities said they were not sure where to turn to for help as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. More than half reported finding social isolation difficult to cope with, and 53% reported high anxiety.
When the pandemic started, Boivin created a Facebook group to share information about COVID-19 because no information was accessible to deaf people.
“I spent more than 12 hours a day over three months on this project. With the help of contributors, I published hours of videos in Quebec Sign Language. We really helped to inform the deaf community and reduce their anxiety.”
She is outspoken about how long it takes systems to adapt, and that she was forced to take on the brunt of what should have been the responsibility of organisations funded to support the deaf community.
A year later, the UN’s Secretary General António Guterres has addressed that a disability-inclusive pandemic response and recovery should be guided by the people with disabilities themselves. Only this way will injustice and discrimination be tackled, with the aim of creating a more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-pandemic world.
“Realising the rights, agency, and leadership of persons with disabilities will advance our common future,” he wrote in his message for 2021’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. “Let us commit to build a sustainable, inclusive and just future for everyone, leaving no one behind.”
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Featured image: Vector by Vecteezy