Saturday the 8th of March is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, Angela Henderson from our policy and performance team blogs about women and learning disability…
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Inspiring change’. It recognises that there has been positive change towards equality for women but that there is still some way to go. It is a call for women’s advancement ‘everywhere in every way’.
What better day than this to reflect on the lives of women who remain the most excluded and marginalised within our society? Women with learning disabilities are mothers, friends, carers, lovers, wives, daughters, workers and citizens. But how far are these diverse roles and contributions recognised in the media, in policy and politics or in campaigns for social change?
Whilst it is widely acknowledged that there has been major progress globally for women and girls it is also recognised that we still have much further to go in addressing gender inequality. It is challenging if not impossible to find data about how gender inequality has been experienced by women with learning disabilities over time, from their perspective. By excluding women with learning disabilities from our analysis and discussion of gender based discrimination, are we saying that their experiences of inequality and discrimination are only defined by their disability?
The ‘global hub’ for International Women’s Day says there are opportunities for everyone to be an advocate inspiring change for women’s advancement. Yes, within our ‘specialist fields’ we can advocate for change alongside people with learning disabilities. But how does the ‘global feminist movement’ (OK so this isn’t really a thing) incorporate these most marginalised of voices into a broader analysis of gender inequality?
During the ‘second wave’ of feminism ‘third world’ feminists argued that western feminist discourses could not speak for them, and that race and class were just as important in defining their experiences as being a women. As we have progressed, new voices have demanded that their experiences, cultures and values are at the heart of our analysis of gender inequality. This has led to an enriched understanding of gender inequality and how it intersects with race, class, disability and sexuality. But the voices and experiences of women with learning disabilities are at best still on the periphery and at worst, remain invisible
The challenge for global feminists is to welcome women with learning disabilities into the heart of the conversation about gender equality. We need to start by asking if our campaigns for equality proactively include the voices and experiences of women with learning disabilities. To achieve this, we can do some practical things. We can make sure that women with learning disabilities are always present and we can make our conversations more accessible and jargon free. And we can enable women with learning disabilities to tell their stories and create spaces for those stories to be heard. We can revisit history and ask some different questions of it in order to truly understand their experiences.
As a society we have a duty to recognise collectively the experiences of people with learning disability if we are to address the stark inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities in Scotland today. And as advocates “inspiring change for women’s advancement” we need to ensure that the gendered nature of those inequalities in Scotland today is understood.
Happy International Women’s Day!