“Misconceptions and barriers mean that women with disabilities experience a threefold daily challenge: they are women, they are people with disabilities, and they are women with disabilities.” (Source: “Bold women can tackle the workplace challenge of disability”, World Economic Forum)
There are a few themes on the table this International Women’s Day (IWD), coming up on 8 March. UN Women’s global theme is ‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change’, UN Women National Committee Australia‘s focal theme is ‘More Powerful Together’, and the independent international theme is #BalanceforBetter, which aims for better gender balance to drive a better working world. Whichever theme is chosen and however your workplace chooses to celebrate the day, women with disability must have a seat at the table.
Over two million women and girls with disability live in Australia – that’s one in every five females. They are mothers, colleagues, daughters, wives, girlfriends, friends. Some were born with disability, others acquired theirs. And while every woman with disability has the same rights as everyone else, there’s a way to go before true equality is realised.
Disability advocate and Our Watch ambassador Sue Salthouse recently described this imbalance in an article for SBS.
“One of the consequences of inequality is the creation of a power imbalance between those with disabilities and the non-disabled and this leads to a range of discriminations we experience. Into this power vacuum flood behaviours which exploit people with disabilities in a myriad of ways. Women with disabilities are particularly affected because of the intersection of gender inequality and disability discrimination,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the unconscious bias concerning people with disability is stronger than that measured for gender and ethnic diversity. In the workplace, women with disabilities find it harder to get jobs than their male counterparts or non-disabled women. Home ownership is low and assumptions about our abilities, coupled with the prejudice of landlords, make it harder to find a house to rent. These two factors combine to relegate women with disabilities to high levels of economic insecurity and poverty. The associated worry can lead to mental illness and depression.”
In relation to employment, the Women with Disabilities Australia Human Rights Toolkit for Women and Girls with Disability reported that working-age women with disability in the labour force are half as likely to find full-time employment (20%) as men with disability (42%); twice as likely to be in part-time employment (24%) as men with disability (12%); and regardless of full-time or part-time status, are likely to be in lower-paid jobs than men with disability.
If we are to strive for #BalanceforBetter, women with disability must be part of our conversations, celebrations and aspirations. To be #MorePowerfulTogether, all women must unite to ensure no woman is left behind.
The UN’s target is to achieve gender equality in little more than a decade – Planet 50:50 by 2030. Nearly every country in the world has also signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals – ground-breaking pledges covering key areas like gender equality, health, work and reducing inequality – which also come with a delivery date of 2030.
In the words of Sightsavers’ Global Advocacy Advisor Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame:
“The needs and rights of women with disabilities must be placed centre stage if these ambitious challenges are to have any chance of succeeding.”
We’re living in a Disability Inclusion Revolution. How will you ensure a seat at the table for women with disability this International Women’s Day?
Further reading: “Speakers, organisers & attendees: Here’s how to make IWD events more diverse” by Cathy Ngo for Women’s Agenda