2018 was a landmark year for the rights of women with disabilities – March 7th last year saw the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and on 25th May, the people of Ireland voted to remove the 8th amendment from the Constitution, thus removing a law that disproportionately affected individuals with disabilities.
These are most welcome developments but much more is needed. Women with disabilities have often been invisible in discourse on gender equality. There has been little attention paid to the intersection of gender and disability or to addressing the specific concerns of women with disabilities.
Where the needs of women with disabilities have been highlighted, it is usually in the context of health issues. This reinforces a medicalised approach, seeing women with disabilities as primarily having health needs rather than an emphasis on their right to participate in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of their communities.
Women with disabilities experience the same inequalities as non-disabled women. However, their situations can be exacerbated by social and cultural attitudes to disability as well as environmental barriers. We know that women with disabilities:
- Face additional barriers to their participation in political and public life
- Have a lower uptake of health promotion and health screening
- Are more likely to experience sexual violence
- Are more likely to experience barriers to parenting
- Are more likely than men to experiences loneliness and social isolation as they age
- And older disabled women are disproportionately affected by the extra costs that people with disabilities face.
Positive steps towards gender-proofing government policy have been made over the past couple of years. The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides an opportunity to review law and policy in Ireland through the lens of disability rights as well.
As we mark International Women’s Day 2019 on 8th March, it’s time for a renewed effort by the state to ensure law and policy supports and upholds the rights of all women, including women with disabilities.
Take a look back at our submission to the Department of Justice and Equality on the National Women's Strategy 2017-2020 at this link