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Disability: The Invisible within the Community

Photo: The Times of India

By Rekha Revathy

Generally women are more vulnerable to violence. They have less access to education, health care, and other economic resources and opportunities. It will be commonsensical to say that being a disabled woman makes us more disadvantaged in all regards. It is a fact that the Indian feminist movement is at its growing stage. But it is a matter of concern that disabled women are kept marginalized within their community.

Many thinkers, academicians, and others have stressed the fact that it is important to hear these still unheard voices within the community.  Many studies in developing countries like ours have proved that poverty, less access to education, health care facilities, and other such social and economic factors make disabled women more disadvantaged than other women. And the prevailing patriarchal system of property ownership and other entitlements make the condition of disabled women worse. Many studies proved that poverty creates double trouble for women with disabilities. The degree of deprivation due to poverty in the case of disabled women will be much higher than that of other women. Their chances of being sexually abused and victimized for other domestic violence are larger than that of other women.

Poverty and dependence perpetuate due to lack of access to education and it narrows the chances of getting good gainful employment. We get only a limited number of opportunities to gain power and reach the mainstream than other women. We also have very few chances to take part in or in influencing economic decisions. As has been pointed out by many, there are chances of aids reaching these incompetent sections in the situation of scarcity.

In the opinion of many disabled women and girls, only very few women activists are working to address these issues. We do have a few examples of disabled women activists who are contributing commendably to this field. I also suggest the need for some kind of positive discrimination in understanding the depth of the issues faced by us, compared to other women. Some known facts like the type of disability, percentage of disability, urban-rural differences, etc., differentiate the level of difficulties faced by disabled people and, specifically, disabled women in all fields.

According to data on disabled population in India, as per census 2011, the decadal growth in total number of disabled persons in the country 2001-2011 was 22.4%. And it is notable that this decadal growth in the disabled female population is twice than that of disabled male population, where the figure was 18.9% for male and 27.1% for female. The decadal growth of female disabled population on the basis of their residence is also higher than that of male. According to census 2011, the percentage of disabled female to total population residing in rural areas (2.01%) is more than in urban areas (1.98%). Although proportion of disabled population is higher among males, the decadal increase as said above is higher among females.

The fact that disabled women need more space in advocacy becomes stronger when we look into the figures of percentage of female with different types of disabilities. According to census 2011, 20.2% of total disabled women population are visually impaired or herein impaired, while it is 17.6% and 17.9% respectively in male population. Percentage of women – 8.1% – with multiple disabilities is also more than that of men, 7.8%. Another notable fact revealed by 2011 census is that people with multiple disabilities live more in rural areas.

These facts make us to think and stress again the need for more space for disabled women in feminist movements.

We need to undertake many things to create spaces for disabled women and girls in order to make them competent enough to partake of scares resources. Poverty alleviation programs that target women more have to be more sensitized, so as to accommodate disabled women and girls. This is because the benefits of such programs reach these sections only to a very small extent. There are ample reasons which call for the necessity of advocacy of feminist movements with regards to women and girls with disabilities, who suffer inner marginalization. It is a fact that disabled women face a lot of barriers in actively participating in feminist movements. These barriers are mainly due to difficulties in mobility, accessibility, etc. Many conferences and other such programs are not organized in such a manner that they can accommodate disabled women. Many disabled women face difficulty in accessing the related information.

These are some of the reasons why disabled women remain often invisible in feminist movements.

Rekha Revathy G
works at Indian Overseas Bank, Kerala.


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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.


Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Intersectional Identities: Disability and the Other Margins’, edited by Dr. Nandini Ghosh, IDSK and Dr. Shilpaa Anand, MANUU.

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