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Sexuality and Disability India

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A group of women sitting on the floor in a circle, intently discussing something

‘Women with disabilities are not meant to be seen or heard’

‘I got permission to come to this training because it is with fellow women with disabilities. But at a marriage there are able-bodied persons and I’m seen as a sore point. Plus everyone is dressed up and I’m not supposed to be.’

While articulating the discrimination she faced, Revathy* addressed the layers to the thought processes around her disability and her gender.

She was speaking at a training programme conducted by Point of View, in which around 20 women with different disabilities varying from vision impairment, to locomotor disability to intellectual disability participated.

Many of the women in the room had similar experiences and dealt with similar perceptions – for example, the idea that women with disabilities are not to be seen in public, and definitely not having fun.

The important point of discussion at this two-day long workshop was addressing the discrimination faced by them as persons with disabilities and coupling it with the biases they face as women.

One of the women said: ‘It is easier to resist when it is with outsiders than with your
family. Family has the ability to taunt and scare you into feeling helpless.’

This point is particularly important because often women with disabilities require care-giving and assistance which is provided by the family. The family then has the ability to isolate them, hold back care and sometimes even food when the women resist the way they are treated. Many of them stated that they do not tolerate being treated badly in local buses, or at the stores or even at workplaces.

‘We ask them to firmly get up from our seat or even challenge them when they are being aggressive or discriminatory in the public place. The same is not true at home. I am more adjusting because I think this is my family, they mean well,’ said Sulekha*.

They shared several experiences of fighting for their rights, together and individually, in public places. One of them raised the point that, ‘My mother says that I am not needed in that wedding or sometimes asks “Will that wedding not happen without you”.’ Others said their family said similar things or even, ‘I’ll feed you, no need for your friend to feed you’.

In this manner, we were able to observe through our conversations with women that most often recreation, relaxation and being part of public gatherings with non-disabled people is disapproved of by the families of women with disabilities. This is especially true of occasions where they might be the only disabled person in the room. In many ways, it demonstrated the manifestation of the idea that women with disabilities are not worthy of investment and hence isolating them from both engaging in social activity and from building their capacities and knowledge is justified.

One of the women in the group shared her experience of how she won a prize for her
singing in a school competition. ‘But when my brother found out he was hurt and he beat me for a long time. This was traumatic and I couldn’t sing ever again.’

Society through its ableist views forces women with disabilities into a corner. It attempts to ‘fix’ them and to control them. Our interactions with women with disabilities, however, shows that what they want most is to be seen and heard, both within their families and in society at large.

*names changed to protect identity

This blog is written from a workshop conducted in November 2017 by Kiran, Nidhi Goyal and Srinidhi Raghavan in Bangalore. The 20 women with disabilities who attended the workshop lived in villages of Chikkaballapur district.

Written by Srinidhi Raghavan