Women With Disability: Overcoming Dual Discrimintation From Society

international day of persons with disabilities ,women with disability, tasneem fatima
Women’s Day is around the corner and women with disabilities is an important narrative to be explored as they face double discrimination, taking their gender into account. The intersectionality makes these women more vulnerable to hatred and ostracisation, as two cases from the recent past, involving public places like a restaurant and a movie theatre have proved.

The 2011 Census says that over 21 million persons in India live with a disability, out of these, 9.3 million are women. From reproductive rights to their right to attaining education and employment, every step is a struggle for these women. But if you think it is their disability that acts as a hindrance in their participation and representation, you are wrong. The biggest barrier they face comes from our society which barely makes an effort to create disabled-friendly spaces.

From schools to workplaces and recreational spaces like restaurants, disability is seen as an inconvenience by society, and specially-abled people are made to feel unwanted- a burden no one cares to carry. This unjust attitude creates a hostile environment which only makes life more difficult for those dealing with a disability.

Suggested Reading: Why Integrating Women With Disabilities Into The Mainstream Is Important: Report

Women with disabilities, especially from rural areas, are often left out of family interactions, important decisions, and community activities. In addition, they are exposed to social stigma and stereotyping within society. The unfair and unjust treatment often leads them to feel devalued, isolated, and ashamed.

As the World Health Organisation notes, “Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.”

Recently, Kavya Mukhija,  a wheelchair-bound woman, went to a PVR Cinema with her family which claimed to be wheelchair accessible. However, on reaching the theatre, she was made to sit near the doors of the cinema hall and not next to her family. When Mukhija took to social media to narrate her ordeal, she received a lot of empathy. But did is spark in societal or infrastructural change, which would ensure that no other woman would have to face the same? Barely, and Mukhija wasn’t the only woman with a disability who was treated callously this year.

Srishti Pandey recalled in a viral thread earlier this year how the staff at a pub in Gurugram allegedly told her that the other customers will “get disturbed” if she was given access to indoor seating. The pub’s management claimed in a statement that they had asked Pandey to opt for outdoor seating for the sake of her own “safety”. That a public space would rather make a disabled woman sit outside than create a disabled-friendly infrastructure sums up our attitude towards specially-abled individuals. It is always the disabled individuals who must compromise because we are too busy making excuses.

Suggested Reading: How The Pandemic Made The World More Unequal For Women With Disability

The pandemic made the conditions worse for these women, especially in India. In 2020, Renu Adlakha, disability and gender researcher with Centre for Women’s Development Studies in Delhi, narrated her pandemic experience in a panel and said “I have access to mobility, an independent source of income, live in a big city, in a community of middle-class households. And yet, I felt so deprived during the pandemic.” The pandemic has been particularly cruel to these women and made them more vulnerable.

Of course, there have been numerous stories of women who have taken these social challenges head-on, living their life to the fullest. Take Payal Kapoor, for instance, who lost her vision at the age of 22 due to an irreversible medical condition. Recounting her experience with disability, she told SheThePeople, “Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. People turned their backs on me. I remember I was at a conference once & coffee break happened. Before I could turn to anyone for help, the room was empty. It was a humiliating experience. I was also rejected from jobs for how I looked.”

Kapoor didn’t let society’s attitude towards her disability stop her. “I reached a point when I got fed up of sitting around-‘That’s it! I have to go out there & live again.’ A friend connected me to an NGO that taught me essential skills I would need every day. I also learnt braille & what a feeling it was to read again!”

Despite such inspirational stories, the fact remains that India needs to take concrete steps on both policy and societal levels to raise awareness about the cause make public spaces accessible. In the past, we have seen numerous cases where disabled women have been subjected to gruesome sexual crimes, proving that we have failed to guarantee even safety to individuals of are so vulnerable to mistreatment.

This Women’s Day, let us not celebrate womanhood but focus on finding solutions that can provide immediate relief to women with disability.