When we talk of identifying the marginalized groups in the society, disabled population is always taken into consideration especially in underdeveloped and developing countries. But if we take a closer look within this section of the society, there is yet another subset which has to face the sting of being disabled to a greater extent and live a life of mediocrity. It is of disabled women. It’s really unfortunate and shocking to see a worse kind of gender bias within this group. There springs up a case of ‘double discrimination’…being disabled and being female, they are the worst suffers in every walk of life.
A disabled woman may be a victim of a paradoxical situation where poverty would to her increased disability and disability would increase her poverty. Lack of knowledge, awareness and literacy may further worsen the situation. Her potential to learn and develop as an independent entity takes a back seat, hindering the attainment of equal opportunities.
The countries where the notion of ‘son preference’ dominates culturally, girls with disabilities become a second rate citizen for the family as well as for the society. A disabled woman may confront two contradictory situations. On one side her health, her medical care and her basics needs are totally ignored by the care takers. Lack of positive stimulation often results in the stunted growth of personality and self esteem. On the other hand she may be overprotected due to that prevalent superstitions and ignorance that leads to her complete isolation from the society.
In one of the studies conducted by UNESCO, it has been estimated that only around 1-2% of disabled children in developing countries receive any kind of education, and out of this low percentage disabled boys attend schools much more frequently than disabled girls. The fact sheet prepared by Rehabilitation International and the World Institute on Disability for the UN 4th World Conference shows such heart rending results.
The phenomenon is present every where, in almost every country irrespective of economic development and culture. The difference is only in the magnitude.
The females with physical impairment are employed at lower rates than the disabled men. Disabled women have little access to education and employment. They are given less guidance about their career and future lives; receive less rehabilitation services and they just survive with almost no economic security. In yet another survey, it has been found that around 42% of men with disabilities are able to actively seek work as compared to 24% women.
She is definitely at a distinct disadvantageous position as compared to her male disabled counterparts and non disabled women. Whether it may be traditional or stereotype gender role or any non traditional role, she is considered “an absolute role less creature”. Disabled women can also be victims of violence, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. And shockingly it happens within the family as they remain under a kind of “house arrest” for most of the time.
There are also instances of involuntary sterilization so that they may not produced disabled children. The fear is totally baseless as most of the disabilities are not inherited. They are neither allowed to become biological mothers nor does the society give them the right to be foster mothers and adopt a child. There are no two opinions of the fact that disabled women may face extra difficulties during their pregnancy but it is myth that she cannot be a good mother and cannot take are of her baby. With her organizational skills and management qualities she can dexterously look after all the responsibilities, just like the non disabled females.
Disabled women do become mothers and that too very good ones contrary to presumptions of this non disabled world. Countless women have proven themselves that in spite of their physical limitations they can be wonderful home makers. With their emotional strength they can show the world that they are in no way less than the non disabled females.
She cannot be a mother, a wife, a homemaker, a lover, a nurturer! There is no one to trust her abilities as the main focus remains only on her disabilities and a deformed body! She is not loved and accepted as a partner by a non disabled man because he wants a perfect female for himself. If somehow somebody makes relation with her, she is given the impression that the person is doing a ‘noble duty’ or ‘some kind of favour is being bestowed upon her’. This ‘charity’ robs her of her dignity. Ironically she is neither liked nor loved by a disabled man. Due to his ‘own reasons’ he too wants an absolutely normal female for himself! Not only are the places, freedom, education, employment inaccessible to her but love, care and all the relationships also become inaccessible leaving her on a pedestal of a worst possible situation.
Neglected by the society, tormented by internal conflicts she can develop into a cynical being, quite prone to adopt self destructive strategies and can develop many mental problems. Being unloved, unwanted, unemployed and uncared for disabled females can become bitter, angry, frustrated and depressed. Social isolation and limited roles to perform can play havoc to their personalities.
We all need to work out a solution for this. Practical steps are needed to be taken rather than sitting, thinking, writing and reading about such problems. The pre-requisite requirement for changing the scenario is a revolutionary change in mindset of the people. The age old stigmas attached with the disability and gender bias have to uprooted and thrown away. The orthodox beliefs and the dogmatic thought processes need to be totally revamped. If not done in time, there is a strong possibility that the disabled women would soon perish off ...far off in the oblivion....with no identity and individuality of their own.