Women with disabilities are doubly oppressed — being a woman and being disabled in an able-bodied, male-dominated world
Since 1992, December 3 has been observed as the International Day of the Disabled. This day unites civil societies, public sector, educational institutions, hospitals and even the government to collaborate and promote an understanding of persons with disabilities-their needs, their aspirations, their ambitions and celebrate their experiences and expertise.
United Nations has designated this year’s theme to be “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all”. One can’t help thinking of the most marginalized, the victims of cultural stereotypes -women with disabilities!
In a society where female feoticide and infanticide are rampant, the birth of a disabled girl is a source of shame and burden. Being both disabled and a woman is a double disadvantage — women with disabilities have to struggle with the oppression of being a woman in a male-dominated society, as well as the oppression of being disabled. In our society, a woman’s role is that of a primary care giver in the family. Her duties include child-care, spouse-care, cooking, feeding, nurturing a relationship and patching up tiffs within the family. A disabled woman is perceived to be weak, passive and dependent on others. She is considered as unable to fulfil the role of a home-maker, wife and mother. The stereotypical thinking is that she is neither able to provide this kind of nurturance nor is she able to satisfy his sexual and emotional needs. As marriage and motherhood are considered virtually unthinkable options for a disabled woman, she is regarded as a major burden.
Traditionally women are only required to look beautiful. Disabled women go unnoticed because their bodies are different. If a woman has a “perfect” body, the message she gets from society is that since she looks alright, she is in fact alright. It’s again a stereotypical that women in any case are not supposed to be at a high level intellectually. They have some value in society as long as they are physically attractive. Sometimes, their parents hide their disability as it is not visible, and try to find a groom for their daughter.
It is assumed that it is enough to include people with disabilities in the mainstream but assumes they should not have sexual urges. Society looks upon them as asexual beings!
I can vouch that the issue of sexuality is real. There are young and not so young women who wonder, “Would there be a man in my life”? “Would a man see beyond my body”? “Would anyone put his arms around me and hold me close?” “Would I ever be needed by a man emotionally or would I always be regarded as a burden for someone to take care of? It is sad but true that they yearn for all that is normal despite their disabled body. I would like to share an excerpt from a book authored by a severely disabled but an intelligent, qualified, wheelchair bound, 46-year-old woman.
I desire sex and relationship. I crave to be held in the arms of a man. I want to have a child of my own. But alas it will remain a distant dream because most men look out my disabled body and reject me. They do not bother to look for the ‘woman’ hidden within the disabled and deformed body. No one notices my personal attributes! This is an echo of all women, disabled or not.
Electronic media has a powerful impact on prevailing societal values. The audience picks these up as cues for social behaviour. Rarely do we see disabled on screen, except as objects of pity. One does not recall seeing a commercial showing a woman with any disability. It reinforces the impression that there is no place for disabled women in our society.
Because the mass media plays such a powerful role in impacting public opinion, there is an urgent need to take up awareness campaigns on issues related to women with disabilities. This article is a small step towards ensuring that women with disabilities have access to an Inclusive Society for All.