23 September 2020 | News/Stories

The intersection of gender, disability and economic empowerment

Influencing gender norms is crucial to challenging gendered perceptions, shifting mindsets and creating an environment that supports equal economic opportunities for both women and men. Such gendered perceptions that limit economic opportunities, however, are not isolated; they co-exist with other biases that exacerbate the detrimental impact of traditional gender norms. There is a need to address these biases, and the intersection of gender and disability is one area of great concern.

In support of its Influencing Gender Norms (IGN) partners in the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, Investing in Women conducted a series of online workshops to equip partners for employing an intersectional and inclusive approach to their IGN campaigns. The workshops were designed to supplement the partners’ knowledge on disability inclusion; expand partners’ awareness on the status of women with disabilities in their respective countries; and explore opportunities for the empowerment of women with disabilities.

The workshop for partners in Vietnam was held on 20 August. Mia Urbano, DFAT’s Senior Gender Equality and Social Development Adviser for Vietnam and Myanmar, provided opening remarks. Key representatives from CARE Vietnam, ECUE, WISE and the Vietnam Business Coalition for Women’s Empowerment  joined the workshop facilitated by Nguyen Thi Lan Anh, founder and director of Action to the Community Development Center, a leading disability inclusion NGO in Vietnam.

On 9 September, Investing in Women CEO Julia Newton-Howes welcomed participants and guests to the workshop for partners in the Philippines, and in doing so emphasised the partners’ role in amplifying IW’s IGN strategy , as well as the importance of employing an intersectional approach to their campaigns. This was followed by opening remarks from Sheona McKenna, Counsellor (Economic) at the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, who highlighted the commitment of the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to mainstream disability inclusion across all its development initiatives.

Representatives from Edukasyon, QBO, Witech, Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment, and the Male Champions of Change-Philippines joined the workshop, which was facilitated by Carmen Reyes Zubiaga, former Executive Director of the National Council on Disability Affairs.

The online workshop for partners in Indonesia was held on 17 September.  Daniel Rantzen, First Secretary (Economic) of the Australian Embassy, delivered opening remarks. Representatives from Rumah Kita Bersama, Magdalene, Yayasan Pulih and the Indonesia Business Coalition for Women’s Empowerment attended the workshop, which was facilitated by Dr Dina Afrianty, President of the Australia-Indonesia Disability Research and Advocacy Network; and Nurul Saadah Andriani, Director at the Center for Advocacy for Women, Disabilities and Children (SAPDA Foundation).

The workshops explored the diversity of disabilities, as well as various forms of barriers and discrimination experienced by persons with disabilities. Apart from enumerating policies safeguarding the rights of women and people with disabilities in their respective countries, facilitators also discussed key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with emphasis on Article 6, which focuses on women with disabilities and the need for measures to ensure they enjoy their rights equally.

Despite having laws and policies in place, many women with disabilities remain disadvantaged when it comes to accessing educational and economic opportunities. Workshop participants recognised the multiple challenges and double stigma faced by women with disabilities—for their disability and gender—and the need for disability inclusive development, which will allow them to participate in decision-making and equally benefit from projects and services.

“Inequalities based on gender and disability are similar in that they exist on two spheres: First, the basic concept or the physical body and second, the social constructs or the social body. The social body is more prone to stereotypes because of the assumptions of ‘normalcy’ that are used in assessing the social body using the male standard,” Rumah KitaB Executive Director Lies Marcoes said during the workshop.

Marcoes expounded on this insight in two opinion pieces published on the Rumah KitaB website after the workshop. “On these two issues—gender and disability—the interpreters are the dominant group who dictate their views based on what they know or their vested interests. In a patriarchy, the male culture becomes the source of interpretation of women. Likewise, persons without disability feel they know best about people with disabilities. Yet the interpreters for the two domains do not always have experience or knowledge of the subject of interpretation,” she said.

Partners also noted the negative portrayal of women and persons with disabilities in the media and other platforms, and how it leads to further discrimination and segregation, particularly in the workplace and in business. The workshop highlighted the need to elevate the perception of persons with disabilities and to empower them to engage in public conversations, including those around influencing gender norms. Creating empowering portrayals and increasing the visibility of persons with disabilities in IGN campaigns will help shift the paradigm and open more opportunities for both women and men with disabilities.

The workshop highlighted the value of employing an intersectional and inclusive approach to campaigns. “Whilst the campaigns will continue to focus on positively shifting gender norms that limit women’s economic empowerment, we hope that through workshops, partners will be more mindful of whether and how the issues they raise and the conversations they spark are inclusive of persons with disabilities. This helps ensure that as we take women and men along the journey of gender equality, we are leaving no one behind—we are recognising that we are all subject to a diversity of challenges, influences and experiences,” said Kim Patria, Partnerships Manager for Influencing Gender Norms at Investing in Women.

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