Monday, December 1, 2008

Woman Power in U.S. Disability Rights

You are the feminist disability rights movement.

To me, it doesn't matter whether you're actually female. Maybe you're a guy. Maybe you're trans or intersex or don't identify as a man or a woman. Maybe you do or don't have a disability. You, reading this, are exactly where the feminist disability rights movement starts---just a person thinking about what feminism is and how that works in disability rights. Let's talk about some questions.

Question: What do feminism and independent living have in common?

Answer: Both feminism and independent living are fundamentally about being able to make our own choices for ourselves. However normally neither acknowledge this fundamental relationship with the other. Within disability rights work, the feminist viewpoint is not often lifted to full view, whereas with feminist work, application of disability rights situations is not often brought up. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by meaningful work that combines feminism and disability rights with an independent living/disability-led focus. NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US. That is a saying not only for every person with a disability but for every woman too.

Question: Why get caught up in talking about just women with disabilities? All people with disabilities have to struggle for equality anyway.

Answer: Why not use every tool we've got to advocate for a decent life for everyone, including the power we summon when women say, "As a woman with a disability, I am concerned about X, Y and Z"? Half of the human race knows what being a woman means. Why not use our status as women with disabilities to reach out to women policy makers and power holders? And then there are the services and supports we need that men will not pay attention to, things like access to ob/gyn services, and protection against forced sterilization, and self-esteem programs. Very few but we ourselves will fight for those things. Last of all, why hide or deny what we are? We must affirm ourselves as women and as people with disabilities, and feminist advocacy is a way to do that.

Question: Lots of women work in disability rights related jobs. Isn't that enough to cover women's concerns?

Answer: No way. NO. NO. NO. If it really were enough, right now we'd have accessible examining tables and videophones and ASL interpreters at every hospital. We'd have a bias towards supporting community choice rather than institutions. Every shelter for battered women would be accessible. Every new home built in the US would be at least visitable. Every girl and woman with a disability would feel beautiful and sexy and wanted. Every woman with a disability who wanted to work would have a meaningful and well-paying job. Every woman with a disability who wanted an abortion could have one, and every woman who wanted to keep her child could do so. And every woman and girl with a disability would have access to safe, harassment-free transportation options.

Question: What issues affect women with disabilities?

Answer: Violence. Access to every kind of service imaginable. Caregiving and institutionalization. Transportation. Health care. Parenting. Employment. Housing. Overprotection. Isolation. In every one of these issues, women with disabilities face greater inequities and deeper injustice because to be a woman is to be less and to have a disability is to be least (and forget about it if you're poor and a woman of color besides!).

Question: What's the best way to organize work on issues affecting women with disabilities?

Answer: Organize everywhere! At all levels! National, regional, state, local. Systems change and individual empowerment. Community events and lobbying. All of it, everything you can think of. Just remember to share work and thank your friends. We have the whole world of change ideas at our feet and nothing (MORALLY) to lose.

Question: How are women with disabilities in the US different than, say, South Korea or Australia?

Answer: We don't know what the heck we all are doing. There is great work happening all around the country, but nobody knows everyone, and least of all do we have a women with disabilities policy agenda. I want to see women with disabilities be able to come forward and say in two minutes, "As a woman with a disability, the issue of _________ concerns me and this is how I want to see that change happen." Not only do we need to unite our fragmentation, but we need to empower each other to be powerful storytellers and smart change makers. We need networks, as they have in Australia, and we need community, as they are building in Seoul. However we do have a terrifically diverse disability rights community, with advocates working in all sorts of ways, and we can draw on these shared skills and knowledge sets---if only we take the time to do so.

The question now is, what are you going to do to further the feminist disability rights movement? No better time than the present, wherever you are, reading this. Fill in the blank: "As a woman with a disability (or a feminist ally), I want to _________________."


hymes said...

"As a woman with a disability (or a feminist ally), I want to lobby for legislation that gives every woman the right to same gender caretakers and living situations if that is her choice whether in a state hospital, a group home, a nursing home or in her own home.

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