Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Women and disability - the burden of double inequality

Today is International Women's Day 2011! The aim of IWD is to celebrate women's achievements, while also drawing attention to the inequalities that women still face.

The burden of disability varies, depending on your sex. Some disabilities are more likely to happen to men than to women, or vice versa. For instance, considerably more women than men develop MS - four times as many in 2000, and it is thought that the gender gap is still widening. The reason for this difference is not known, although it may be partly genetic.

Other disabilities are more common among men, a prime example being spinal cord injury. Again the ratio is 4:1, but this time it is four times as many men who are affected. In this case, the difference is thought to be mainly due to higher frequencies of  "risk-taking" behaviour among young men (typically, a spinal cord injury occurs when the individual is between 20 and 40). More than half of the injuries occur in road traffic collisions, with the remainder most often happening in falls, industrial accidents, sports, or (rarely) violence.

When an individual is disabled, they frequently encounter disadvantage. For instance, compared with a non-disabled, younger white man in a relationship, a disabled person in the UK has over 15% less chance of finding paid work. Similarly, a woman in a relationship and without children has nearly 10% less chance, and a mother of young children in a relationship over 35% less chance.

In 2006, 90 per cent of those with no "disadvantage" in the UK were in work, compared to 80 per cent of those with one "disadvantage" and around 50 per cent of those with two. Being a disabled woman is considerably more disadvantageous than being a disabled man (though both, of course, are disadvantaged compared to able-bodied men). It also seems that having two or more "disadvantages" may multiply the problems experienced: it's not just a case of adding them together.
The situation in the developing world is even more extreme. Women make up the three-quarters of the people with disabilities in developing countries. Current estimates are that:

  • Women with disabilities make up at least 10% of all women globally
  • Women in general are more likely than men to become disabled because of poorer working conditions, poor access to quality healthcare, and gender-based violence
  • Only 25% of women with disabilities are in the global workforce
  • Because of increased risk of gender-based violence and lack of access to reproductive health care services, women with disabilities face unique challenges in preventing HIV infection
  • Literacy rates for women with disabilities globally may be as low as 1%
  • Mortality rates amongst girls with disabilities are much higher than for boys with disabilities 
Much has been done in the fight to counter inequalities against both women and disabled people, but much more work remains to be done. Let's fight together for a future where all citizens of the world are equal, and have an equal chance in life!

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