Understanding and tackling intersectional stigma experienced by women and girls with disabilities
By Katrina Scior, on 3 December 2022
This blog post was jointly written with UNDP and UN Women and published in parallel by UNDP.
Across large parts of the world, girls and women of all ages with any form of disability face multiple forms of discrimination and inequalities, driven by multiple attitudinal barriers, prejudice and stereotypes. As a result, they are often excluded from the social and economic dividends of progress. They are at more likely to be illiterate, to be unemployed, living in poverty and hunger, and frequently are the targets of gender-based and sexual violence.
The impact of stigma and discrimination on people with disabilities – especially women – has long been recognized, but a strong understanding of disability stigma and how it affects opportunities and wellbeing has been hampered by the lack of robust data and internationally-recognised tools and methodologies. A lack of understanding of the underlying determinants that perpetuate stigma and discrimination has meant that we’ve sought to address these issues predominantly through social awareness campaigns.
The project Addressing stigma, discrimination and violence for empowering women with disabilities, jointly led by the UN Development Programme and UN Women, with funding from the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has been working with researchers and partners in Moldova, Pakistan, Palestine, and Samoa. These countries act as pilot sites in seeking to develop a comprehensive understanding of stigmatising experiences of women and girls with disabilities and how to tackle them effectively. Women with diverse disabilities have been closely involved in the work in the four countries.
A new tool, developed in partnership between researchers from the UCL Unit for Stigma Research and partners in the four pilot countries, promises to improve our understanding of the range of stigmatising experiences faced by women with diverse disabilities and the role of intersecting sources of inequalities.
From Moldova to Samoa women with disabilities report widespread stigma, ranging from their families to wider structural discrimination. In Palestine, women recount being told to stay at home when everyone else set out for a family wedding, fired by their employer following a move to less accessible premises, or hit by a brother, frustrated that his deaf sister wasn’t responding to his (verbal) requests.
Watch Melissa’s interview to hear how helpless and frustrated she felt when she was unable to communicate with her doctor, having to rely on her husband and her son to translate her sign language at the hospital. Or Shumaila being confronted with severe prejudice against female wheelchair users during a visit to a hair salon.
Women involved in the project have spoken of their sense of empowerment arising from the opportunity to tell their stories and work towards change. Emma Matreniuc, founder of the Moldova NGO Vivere said, “Women with disabilities have always been among the most vulnerable. This project will help us to realise, understand and raise up our voices”.
The project is also piloting and evaluating a range of interventions that seek to increase the inclusion of women with disabilities in society and reduce stigma and discrimination.
The ultimate aim of this project is to design new tools and interventions that target stigma and discrimination at multiple levels to ensure better lives for women with disabilities, and protection from discrimination arising from the intersection of their disabilities and their gender.