Archive for July, 2013

An Intersectional Look At The Social Model

Today I want to look at the social model of disability and primarily how closely it intersects (overlaps) with feminist theory.

“In our view it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.” UPIAS (Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation) statement from 1975

The Social Model in a nut shell

The social model of disability states that people with impairments are disabled not by their impairments (as the medical model states) but that they are disabled by the directly & indirectly inaccessible world we live in. The key to understanding the social model is understanding how impairments are different from disability. Within the social model any medical condition is called an impairment – a chronic health condition, a amputation, a denigrative disease, a mental health disorder, being non-neurological, a genetic condition or anything else that causes a body &/or mind to deviate from the “norm”. A impairment can have a variety of effects on a person which take varying amounts of energy to cope with. Some may barely notice an impairment others may feel it’s presence constantly and often overwhelmingly.

As mentioned in the quote above, disability is something imposed on top of those impairments. It’s being given a wheelchair to use but not being able to get it into shops because of poor accessibility. It’s being looked over for a job because of societal stigma about mental health. It’s being expected to live below the poverty line and lie for 12 hours daily in your urine because society thinks you don’t deserve more.

How does that all intersect with feminism?

One of the ideas in the social model is that because people with impairments do not fit our societies idea of normality they are treated less favourably, oppressed and forced out by society. This is done by stigmatising people with impairments, institutionalising them, sterilising them, refusing to educate them, abusing them, euthanising them and perniciously by ignoring them.

A quote from Rosemarie Garland-Thompson will hopefully tie this up;

“Female, disabled and dark bodies are supposed to be dependant, incomplete, vulnerable, and incompetent bodies. Femininity and race are performances of disability. Women and the disabled are portrayed as helpless, dependant, weak, vulnerable and incapable bodies.”

Feminism has long argued that the world we live in is a Patriarchy where overwhelmingly the voices of people in power are male because societal norms, values and cultures are set up to favour them. Being “male” becomes the norm which “female” bodies deviate from. In this way the oppression women face (as well as that faced by black & minority ethnic/ people of colour and LGBTIQ people is) comes from a similar place. Whilst the effects obviously vary, we are oppressed by not meeting the hidden arbitrary societal norm.

There are lots of ways that both feminist and disability issues intersect and that arguments from both sides can be strengthened if they are looked at together. I’ll give a example now by looking at one way that medicalisation of “difference to the normal” has been used to as a tool of oppression.

We can see  the normal actions and behaviours of female bodies have been pathologised throughout history because they deviate from the masculine norm. They have been thought of as hysterical, over/under indulgent, intellectually impaired and a host of other things. Today feminist theory would argue that the unnecessary medicalisation of the normal effects of hormones for example has been used as a social (and physical) tool to oppress women. We see the same when we look at how people with bodily differences are labelled as defective, deficient, freaks, subnormal, pitiable, eternally child-like, incapable and so on. Disability rights activists argue that impairments are normal and natural things which shouldn’t be automatically associated with any of the words listed previously. The same way that feminists would rightly argue that calling a woman who is publicly experiencing emotions as defective (hysterical) is problematic the same can be said about those who label those who were born with one foot as defective (cripples).

By looking at these issues together, and going further to include racial, trans* and sexuality critiques we start moving towards the the root of the issue; the oppression of those who deviate from a hidden ideal of normality (commonly thought to be a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, non-disabled man). 

UK Disabled Women Talking To The UN

The UK is signed up to a UN human rights convention called CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). Every few years in the UK an independent organisation called The Women’s Resource Centre compiles a “Shadow Report” to highlight areas they believe the UK is either failing or succeeding in implementing CEDAW. Part of CEDAW is making sure that disabled women’s human rights are maintained.

Two representatives from the disabled women’s cooperative Sisters of Frida are in Geneva as I type to help deliver the Shadow Report and to present details to the UN. I’ve copied the information from their press release bellow if you’d like to know more.

” It is essential that disabled women are represented in processes like CEDAW reporting as too often our experience as disabled women is invisible, this is an opportunity to change this and show how the cuts and legal changes are affecting us”

says Zara Todd, Sisters of Frida steering group member.

For the first time, disabled women (Sisters of Frida) will take part with other women’s groups from the UK in Geneva to address the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) so as to highlight the problems impacting on women’s equality in the UK and what our Government must be examined on, and held to account over, by the UN. This is a unique opportunity for women to raise the key issues they are facing with the UN and the eyes of the world will be on the UK and their progress on women.

On July 17th the UK’s record on women’s rights will come under the spotlight internationally as the UK Government report to CEDAW on their progress. (They were last examined by the UN Committee in 2008. )

Women’s rights in the UK have come to a standstill and in fact some are being reversed. Government policies and austerity measures are disproportionately impacting on disabled women and the rights that were fought so hard by disabled people for are now being reduced. CEDAW is as an important instrument to disabled women as CRPD is important to disabled people and they are inter related.

The Women’s Resource Centre has coordinated a network of organisations across the UK who have produced a detailed shadow report which reflects on the Government’s report to CEDAW which was submitted in 2011. In October 2012 the CEDAW Working Group sent a list of key issues and suggested questions for the Committee to ask the Government to highlight the extent of discrimination against women in the UK which the Government gave a piecemeal response to in February 2013.

The shadow report – Women’s Equality in the UK: A health check – brings together issues impacting on the realisation of women’s rights under CEDAW in the UK in order to support the Government to make positive changes in the future.  These are the recommendations put forth in the shadow report on disabled women’s rights

  • Take into account the intersection of gender and disability and mainstream disabled women in all Government policies
  • Implement an effective data collection system which is disaggregated by sex, age, disability and region, which can inform the developmentof policies and programmes to promote equal opportunities forwomen and girls with disabilities
  • Specific strategies are needed to target disabled LBT women as they experience multiple discrimination through homophobia within disabled communities and services, and negative attitudes to disabled people in LGB&T communities and services

On health and social care

  • Take steps to address the poor health conditions of women withpsychosocial disabilities. Disabled women typically receive healthservices that are targeted at women in general or at disabled people in general, services need to be targeted specifically for them
  • Improving access to mental health services for disabled women must be accomplished by services that respect the right of disabled womento make their own choices, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Allocate more financial resources to Social Service Departments,requiring them to use the interpretations of the social model of disability when assessing disabled people’s support needs for a ‘care package’
  • Ensure women and girls with disabilities are educated about sexual and reproductive health, including Sexually Transmitted Infections and maternal services and adopt reforms to improve healthcare services and facilities, including in respect of sexual and reproductive health

Political and public life

  • Educate media about the discrimination disabled people experience, and encourage them to report the ‘real’ stories including monitoring the portrayal of women with disabilities in the media alongside industry self-regulation
  • The UK Government should offer extra support for disabled women who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials to tackle their under-representation in public policy

Economic and social benefits

  • Simplify the application process to the benefits system. Most importantly, the system should recognise that disabled people are experts on their needs and the difficulties they face. The benefits should allow for them to remove the barriers they experience on a daily basis

Disability hate crime and violence against disabled women

  • Ensure steps are taken to address the heightened risk for girls and women with disabilities of becoming victims of violence, abuse,exploitation and harmful practices, such as forced marriage, in thehome, community and institutions
  • Effective legislation and policies must be put in place, including Women – focused legislation and policies that include disability, to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against women with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted
  • Ensure that both services and information for victims are madeaccessible to women and girls with disabilities which guarantee their access to redress and protection, including training of police and others and increasing the number of accessible domestic abuse refuge services

Rural women

  • Increase accessibility in public transport, and train bus/train staff to assist disabled women travelers

“We believe that the way the UK Government is implementing welfare reform is having a significant and vastly disproportionate effect on disabled women. These policies on welfare reform are failing to ensure the rights of disabled women and impact assessments are not carried out properly resulting in erosion of the rights which they currently have. The regression of human rights being conducted against UK citizens in the name of welfare has a disproportionate and exponential impact on disabled people. The changes to legal aid means that disabled women have no recourse to support against the discriminations further compounded by gender, race, sexual orientation, the class system, and underlying social deprivation,”

says Eleanor Lisney, Co-ordinator of Sisters of Frida, together with the Glasgow Disability Alliance (who also submitted a report to CEDAW )

The Appendix 36: General Recommendation 18 – Disabled women is at http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Appendix-36_General-Recommendation-18_Disabled-women_FINAL2.pdf (PDF)

Word doc Appendix-36_General-Recommendation-18_Disabled-women_FINAL2

The full shadow report Women’s Equality in the UK: A health check is at http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/our-work/cedaw/cedaw-shadow-report/

For more information or interviews contact Zara Todd : zaraltodd@hotmail.com 0044 (0) 07952185958 and follow @FridasSisters (twitter), information about other groups from

Women Resource Centre Policy Officer Charlotte Gage,  charlotte@wrc.org.uk or charlotte.gage.uk@gmail.com 0044 (0) 7841508231 @womnsresource

Notes to editors

Sisters of Frida (sisofrida.org) is an experimental co operative of disabled and allied women seeking a new way of sharing experiences, mutual support and relationships with different networks.

The delegation to Geneva is made up of a variety of women’s organisations from around the UK who will be highlighting specific issues relevant to their work and the women they work with as well as bringing issues from organisations in the UK who are unable to attend.

Members of the delegation include:

Committee on the Administration of Justice (Northern Ireland)
Engender (Scotland)
National Alliance of Women’s Organisations
North East Women’s Network
Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform
Older Women’s Network Europe
Sisters of Frida
Southall Black Sisters
Wales Assembly of Women
Women’s Resource Centre

There are also representatives from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Scottish Human Rights Commission and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission attending to provide evidence in their roles as National Human Rights Institutions.

Diet Post 4: In Which I Discover The Obvious

I’ve hardly done anything over the last couple of months. That includes things as simple as keeping up with folks on Twitter and writing for this blog. I’ve spent some time of late navel gazing trying to work out what’s wrong. Is it campaigner burnout? Have I got a bug? Has my condition changed? Am I messing up my pacing? Is it a mental health flare up? Yet none of the above seemed to cover it. Then it hit me; the malaise started at about the same as this new highly restrictive dietary regime.

Newsflash: YOU NEED CALORIES TO BURN FOR ENERGY. YOU NEED ENERGY TO DO STUFF LIKE THINKING, TALKING AND STAYING AWAKE.
Every human body needs calories to survive. Even if you were just to lie in bed all day you use calories to power your organs and everything else that keeps them going. It varies from person to person depending on height and weight but there is a minimum amount of calories the body requires just to do the basics (often between 1600 and 2200). The value is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Therefore, even if you sleep all day if you don’t meet the requirements for your BMR you will feel; tired, weak, your appetite vanishes and apparently your metabolism slows down. Most dieters work out how much their BMR is + the average amount they burn through exercise then subtract 500 from it. 
My BMR is pretty high because I am a giant of a human and this diet is leaving me about 1000 calories down on that figure everyday. It was leaving me 1200 calories down on it but I kept falling asleep in the middle of conversations so they gave me an extra 200 to play with. I’m still exhausted by everything and I feel like my limbs are made of overcooked spaghetti. I’m also starting to have some extra issues with my joints. 
Is it worth it? At the moment I tell you it doesn’t feel like it is. I went out the other weekend and ate food and felt so full of energy and life it was like I had been spiked with hardcore stimulants. Seriously. I was alert, attentive, happy and better able to manage my conditions.
I have a appointment tomorrow and I plan to chat to the dietician about it. If they want me to loose weight to see if that magically fixes me/improves my quality of life then that’s cool for them, but I can’t keep doing it like this.
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