On International Day of Disabled People, we are delighted to be part of the UN’s 16 days of action against gender-based violence, by taking this opportunity to highlight the strength and tenacity of disabled women, who make up over 60% of our membership, 50% of our board and who have held leading roles driving forwards human rights for all disabled people, since the organisation was founded in 2001 – and long before that as well!
Much of the inequality faced by disabled people in Scotland is felt even more acutely by disabled women: lower rates of employment and pay; barriers to accessing education, transport, social security, healthcare; inaccessible housing, isolation, and unmet social care needs. All of these factors conspire to trap many disabled women, restricting their independence and life chances, and underpinning an even more repugnant reality:
That disabled women are at least twice as likely as non-disabled women to experience sexual violence and partner abuse (ONS).
In 2015, the Glasgow Disability Alliance worked with Wise Women on the Daisie Project; supporting 62 disabled Glaswegian women to share their views and experiences of gender-based violence. Every one of them had experienced some form of violence or abuse – 73% had experienced domestic abuse.
Barriers to independent living are a huge contributing factor here – but so too are attitudes in society. Young disabled people may not receive the same sex education as their peers, with the pervasive de-sexualisation and over-medicalisation of disabled people meaning many disabled women grow up feeling our bodies are not our own.
“For most of my youth I was treated like a piece of meat. My body wasn’t mine it belonged to the NHS. The only way to deal with it is to shut down. That played right into the hands of the man who sexually abused me”
The Daisie Report, Page 16
Indeed, Engender’s 2017 report, Disabled Women: our bodies, our rights found:
“.. some young disabled women report that the experience of stigma around disability makes them more likely to accept a partner who might mistreat them.”
Diabled Women: Our Bodies, Our Rights, Page 33
Lack of accessible housing is a huge factor that can leave disabled women trapped. Cuts to adult social care make many disabled parents fearful of having their children removed; and a 2018 BBC investigation found only 11% of women’s refuge spaces were fully accessible. One GDA member reported: “As a disabled woman fleeing violence, I was told ‘We are a homeless service, not a women’s service, or a disabled people’s service’”. It took her 7 years to access the support she needed to secure a safe home.
Many of these underlying issues have been exacerbated – first by austerity, and now by the pandemic. The pressures of shielding, home-schooling, losing work and income, losing access to healthcare for ongoing conditions, combined with drastic cuts to Social Care and mental health supports – has left disabled women even more isolated and at risk than before. Digital connections and the simple freedom of being able to go out for a walk and take a phone call – lifelines for many women are all that bit further out of reach for disabled women.
So it’s even more vital now than ever before that disabled women are empowered to support one another, to speak out against the barriers and attitudes that constrain us, and to have our voices heard in decisions that can break these barriers down.
Tressa Burke, our Chief Executive, has made sure disabled women’s voices have been built in to the First Minister’s Advisory Council on Women and Girls form day 1. To ensure disabled women can access peer support and opportunities to participate, speak out, and connect with vital services, during these challenging times, GDA have hosted 8 online meetings of our Disabled Women’s network– supported by our Digital Inclusion project distributing tablets, wifi and hours of coaching to help disabled people get connected.
GDA’s diverse disabled women will be helping shape our manifesto ahead of next year’s elections, as well as feeding into COVID-Recovery planning in Glasgow and Scotland-wide. To hear more about Glasgow’s disabled women’s vision for an safer, equal future – and help us drive actions that will take us there – keep in touch! Sign up for GDA’s ebulletin or follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, or go to our website.