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Women, disability and feminism-thinking across Global North and Global South contexts. Dr Rebecca Lawthom, Reader in Community Practice, Manchester Metropolitan.

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Presentation on theme: "Women, disability and feminism-thinking across Global North and Global South contexts. Dr Rebecca Lawthom, Reader in Community Practice, Manchester Metropolitan."— Presentation transcript:

1 Women, disability and feminism-thinking across Global North and Global South contexts. Dr Rebecca Lawthom, Reader in Community Practice, Manchester Metropolitan University

2 Talk pivots around 4 things The importance of place to disability The importance of place to gender The importance of gender and contribution of feminism to disability thinking The possibility of disability thinking and feminism converging

3 Disability and place The knowledge and data we have about disability differs across different countries and contexts. Global North contexts, disability theorists within the disability movement are often advocating for rights in places where welfare and neoliberalism co-exist. Global North contexts import knowledge into South- power of disability language

4 Disability defined and imposed The charity model: disabled people are to be pitied and helped through handouts Who has the power to define? Where do these definitions emerge from? Global North or ‘developed’ countries active makers of meaning around definitions and aid/help The social model: disability is a function of a disabling society- but whose definition?

5 Disability lingo exported Grech (2010) points out construct is Western, meaning depends upon hybrid socio-cultural, political, religious/spiritual and historical contexts in which disability is placed “the meaning of impairment must be understood in terms of cosmology and values and purposes of social life’ (Whyte and Ingstad, 1995:10) ‘we can deal scientifically and practically with disability only if we are sensitive to the cultural, social and psychological structures in which it is embedded. Every culture poses a challenge to preconceived notions and forces us to ask anew how disability is understood, conceptualised and dealt with (Nicolaisen, 1995:39)

6 How does Disability and place relate and matter? 10% of global population disabled (c.650 million people)- expected to rise to 800 million by 2015 (Peters et al, 2008) Currently 150 million of these are children (Grech, 2008) and estimated that 365 million of world’s working age population are disabled (Disabled World, 2009) Place matters: 88% live in the world’s poorest countries and 90% of those in rural areas (Marks 1999a) Ghai (2002) points out that India has a 1 billion population and approximately 70 million are disabled

7 How and why does gender matter? In most of the OECD countries females have higher rates of disability than males. Whilst there are more disabled people in the Southern hemisphere (Stone 1999) the picture lacks a gender focus (c.f. Ghai, 2002) Whatever the focus we know that having a disability places an individual in the world’s largest minority group - in an already crowded theatre of multi-culturalism (Davis 1995)

8 Disability, gender and geography Gazing upon women less than 3% of impairment is acquired congenitally meaning that rest is acquired through health and violence (domestic, war and conflict) Position of women in different contexts further marginalised by development programmes, health prevention, sexual ignorance, access to education and representation

9 What can a profoundly feminist lens offer to this global issue? I propose some problems, resources and theoretical mappings which allow a rather different positioning of girls and women A need to unpack disability and disablement (challenging ableism) Shift the focus away from purely structural and minority world understandings of disability

10 Gender and feminism added to disability studies If disability studies is a transdisciplinary space (Goodley, 2010) a need to explore how disability, race, sexuality and gender intersect? Feminism has engaged with class and race (why?) but rather less so with disability (exceptions here are Morris, 1996: Ghai, 2002, 2006) Place is also key here and ‘Global North/ Metropole/minority world’ thinking has given way to other postcolonial voices - ‘Global South/Majority world’

11 Positioning disabled women Meekosha (2004) notes that disabled women are: More likely to be poor than disabled men Less likely to access rehabilitation and employment More likely to experience public space as threatening More likely to live in parental home and experience sexual abuse More likely to remain in abusive relationships due to reliance on partners for support and child custody (Olkin, 2003)

12 Problem 1: Gender blind, asexual assumptions Assumed asexuality of disabled people, particularly women and even more so those with learning difficulties Little provision for sex education and services for antenatal care (Cheung, 2009) Roets et al 2009 write of wo/men with learning difficulties’ to give readers options to read the terms inclusively as well as exclusively

13 Problem 2: ‘care’ and disabled mothers Prilleltensky (2004) disabled mothers face discrimination and prejudice during their antenatal care Booth and Booth (2002) find parents with learning difficulties over scrutinised and under-supported Theorists voice the real concern that children of disabled mothers are taken away from them Notions of ‘care’ here problematized as interdependence - this sits uneasily with care and disabled people. Disabled people’ cannot be independent)

14 Problem 3: un/easy set of relationships between feminist agenda and disability studies Goodley (2010) notes that non-disabled feminist have called for freedom of termination rights and been concerned with subjugation of women into caring role Paradoxically disability and feminism have shared an over reliance on bodies constructed as mad, bad and ill - where women’s bodies categorised through PMT, hysteria, depression and Munchausen's syndrome by proxy

15 The possibility of enmeshing feminism and critical disability studies Thompson (2005) notes that disability studies and feminism merge around 3 key practices: retrievals, reimaginings and rethinkings Retrievals involves finding women’s writings that have the power for ‘narrative recuperation’ Reimaginings strives to rewrite oppressive social scripts Rethinkings opens disabled feminists to other theories such as phenomenological, postructuralism etc

16 Rethinking: raced gendered bodies Disabling and colonising practices have historically had similar outcomes Disability is compounded by nationhood and colonialism Estimates that 113 primary school children are not attending school. In India 23 million (Gabel and Chandler), Africa 80 million (Ngcobo and Mehuskriska, 2008) Women and children who are disabled are denied equal access to education- literacy rate of under 5% (DPI)

17 Rethinking requires Understanding and seeing liminality (the failure to fit social categories) Queering settings and practices Seeing relationality (especially in the Global South) as very different Miles (2006) critiques the transplanting of ideas from the ‘metropole’ around ‘rights’, ‘independence’ and individualism

18 A more urgent set of concerns Ghai (2006) notes 35 million women in India who suffer discrimination and familial rejection Property structures are patriarchal in nature and disability often viewed as a curse (dowry traditions) Up to 10 million girls may have been terminated due to gender selection Girls cost more than boys(colonialist agenda brings consequences) Disabled people cost more than non-disabled in this context

19 Retrievals- different narratives ‘I am not just an ‘impairment’, nor a label, nor just a woman, nor simply an activist. I am also all of these but never for long. I am cyber-babe, theory chick, unsettled and unsettling’ from Goodley and Roets, 2008

20 Titchkosky’s recuperative narratives Disability here presented as implicit interactions which can challenge and locate disability as a cultural phenomenon- the experience of between-ness’. She reminds us to ‘watch our watchings, read our readings’ She also advocates that we listen to stories ‘ as that is all we are’ Critical feminist open up possibilities for exploring new ways of doing theory, ways that use embodiment as a theoretical resource for a corporeal epistemology (Roets et al 2008: )

21 Towards a culturally sensitive disability studies: Interconnections of disability studies in and across Malaysia and UK itywww.rihsc.mmu.ac.uk/malaysiaukdisabil ity A strand exploring indigenous knowledges and ways in which care need cultural understanding Care and kinship require indigenous knowledge

22 Re-imaginings Writing back is a key tenet of postcolonial theory and decolonising methodologies (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999) Goodley (2010) notes that ‘writing back invites subjugated voices to re-enter cultural and political critique’ citing the spoof website of the Institute for the study of the neurologically typical (http:/isnt.autistics.org)

23 The 3 Rs in developing a critical feminist disability studies Reimaginings Retrievals Rethinkings In UK 3Rs associated with education but we need also to change the world The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it


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