Balance for Better – The Neglect of Disabled Women.
As the world marks International Women’s Day, we wish to congratulate selfless women and men who are genuinely dedicated to the empowerment of women and have demonstrated effective involvement in ensuring gender equality. Over the years, the International Women’s Day celebration has not only given women a platform and voice but has also fuelled the conversation to attain gender parity. We are motivated by the fact that there is a radical global activism for the equal participation of women in society. What inspires this motivation is the verity that men are now actively involved in the campaign. It is evident that gender equality won’t take overnight to materialize but we are encouraged by the level of participation and impact globally. There is also an unprecedented wind of advocacy, activism, participation and support blowing across the globe. This is commendable. As we celebrate this year’s women’s day under the theme ‘Balance for Better’, it is a perfect time to query the participation of women with disabilities in global affairs especially in governance and leadership. Do women with disabilities have a fair representation in governance, leadership and politics? Is society balanced and friendly enough for women with disabilities? According to the World Health Organization, there are over 600 million persons with disability in the world. This figure represents about 10% of the world’s population and less than 20% 0f them can be found in developed countries whilst more than 80% is found in developing countries. Ghana as a country falls within the domain of developing countries. The Ministry of Health estimates that the disability population in Ghana is around 7 – 10% and according to them the number keeps increasing. Research has also shown that the situation with people with disabilities is marked by socio-economic and political inequalities when juxtaposed with the rest of the population. The Ghana Disability Act (Act 715) was passed in 2006 to provide a legal framework and protection for persons with disability. It is appropriate to also note that the 1992 constitution of Ghana, Articles 29 and 37(2) (b) also provides a legal framework to enable persons with disability exercise their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights on an equal basis with others. Globally, great strides have been made towards bolstering the position of persons with disabilities and integrating disability issues into the fabric of human rights mechanisms by grounding them in the principles of the United Nations Charter, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even though there are legal frameworks promoting the rights of PWDs, practically, not enough is done at the local, regional and international levels to implement it. This year’s campaign theme suggests that a balanced world is a better world. But it is appropriate to note that the world cannot forge a more gender-balanced world if women living with disabilities are continually relegated from world affairs. In Ghana, girls and women of all ages with any form of disability are amongst the most vulnerable and marginalized in society. We cannot limit balance and equal participation of women in society to only abled women when we have well trained and educated women with disabilities who can also play effective roles. Women living with disabilities face a lot of trauma and stigmatization. They are pressured to conform to impossible standards. They deal with high rates of sexual abuse and other physical assaults. They are continually told they are less than their abled and masculine compatriots. This means they have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition. Queer identity, race, and class affect how they are viewed and treated by society. On this premise, we advocate for special procedures at all levels to integrate disabled but capable women into mainstream leadership and development processes. There should be high level of empowerment and inclusiveness of all women irrespective of their disabilities and background. This can be initiated through advocacy and well structured policy interventions and programs to address their needs and concerns. Women and girls with disabilities have special skills and need to have equal participation in leadership and governance. How many women living with disabilities are involved in the advocacy for gender equality word-wide? How many women groups advocating for equality have disabled women as members or spearheading the campaign for inclusion and equality? It will be difficult to achieve equality if women living with disabilities are not involved and engaged in the process. There should not only be ‘Balance for Better’ between women and men, but also between abled women and women with disabilities. The voice of women living with disabilities is muted even amongst women groups and organizations promoting the rights of person living with disability. In most instances it is men who lead the disability advocacy process. People with disabilities in general face difficulties in entering the open labor market, but, seen from a gender perspective, men with disabilities are almost twice more likely to have jobs than women with disabilities. When women with disabilities work, they often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal access to training and retraining, unequal access to credit and other productive resources, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation, and they rarely participate in economic and political decision making. Equality between men and women can be fast achieved if there is equality between abled and disable women in society. In some societies across Africa, the rivalry between abled and disabled keeps deepening. Society has refused to recognize that women living with disabilities are exposed to injury, neglect, ill-treatment, abuse and exploitation especially when there is violence which is mostly fomented by abled persons in society. This article adds a voice on the need to empower disabled women and to trumpet their participation in social, economic and political processes both locally and internationally. A balanced society is a society made up of empowered men and women including persons living with disabilities. The peace of society is threatened by ruthless individuals with no respect for fundamental human rights. They engage in activities that does not only cause physical harm but also result in psychological harm to girls and women especially those living with disability. In order to effectively address the needs of the disabled, there is the need to deal with discrimination against them. Society subjects the disabled to all forms of discrimination; from work to school, from race to birth, from ethnicity to social origin, from sex to language and from religion to politics. In Ghana, persons with disability face a lot of challenges but women with disabilities suffer the more. Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. By empowering them it means they are been shaped and encouraged to participate and contribute in all aspects of society. In an interview with a woman living disability prior to this write-up, she disclosed that people around often regard her as unproductive and incapable of contributing anything productive and positive to society, but rather seen as a burden. This according to her makes her want to commit suicide. She lamented that at times even her family becomes fed-up with her presence and ignores her completely. As Ghana continues to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, it is more important to ensure the partaking of women with disabilities at all levels. This suggests that there is the need to empower all women and provide the occasion to tackle their needs and priorities especially those living with disabilities.
In conclusion, we call on all women groups and advocates to collaborate and raise awareness on issues affecting disabled women and girls. Just as political parties allocate quotas to women; it is appropriate for political parties, state institutions, organizations, religious bodies, etc, to replicate same for women with disabilities. We also suggest that policy makers ensure the implementation of formulated policies that will integrate women with disability more into governance, leadership and politics. The quest for equality and women’s participation in cultural, political, social and economic life at the local, national and international levels are equally applicable to women living with disabilities. As we campaign for a balanced and better world, we cannot overlook the fact that women with disabilities are marginalized in political participation and representation. We are hopeful that ‘Balance for Better’ campaign will create an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of public affairs without discrimination, hindrance and abuse.