logo

Bringing disabled women together, mobilising
and sharing through lived experiences

Subscribe To Newsletter

Sarah Rennie: Women’s Day Off?

Women's panel with one white woman speaking into the mic. $ other seated women, one wheelchair user and one woman in a headscarf.

Sarah Rennie on the WEP panel – photo by WEP Hackney&Islington

On Saturday, at Women of the World festival, I found myself on the panel for the planning meeting of ‘Women’s Day Off’.  This is being organised by the Women’s Equality Party for 2017 to coincide with the centenary of the Representation of the People Act and calls all women to not perform any paid or unpaid work for one day to raise awareness of gender inequality.

In my two minutes, I raised the issues of inclusion and shame.

Disabled women must be included in the organisation of the day and there needs to be a range of channels through which we can participate. We are providing paid and unpaid work and being exploited too. In fact we’re hit harder:

  • Disabled men experience a pay gap of 11% compared with non-disabled men, while the gap between disabled women and non-disabled women is double this at 22%.
  • The pay gap between disabled men and women in employment is 14% [Footnote: Disability in the UK 2016: Facts and Figures, Papworth Trust (2016)]

So whichever way you slice it (by gender or disability) we are disproportionately impacted

Events must be inclusive and, in my view, those who spoke out agreed with this objective. But this has to follow through to the realities of the day. It requires organisers (formally and informally) to critique any buildings, spaces and materials, to carefully plan all events so that meetings and rallies are inclusive and to provide ‘virtual’ participation channels for those that cannot participate physically. This leads me to support needs. How will I  participate if my support system breaks down for the day because my PA team have jumped on a coach to London and I’m lying in bed bursting for the loo?

Let’s face it, my PAs won’t leave me. So they won’t take the ‘day off’. This is a problem for the WEP campaign. My PAs are underpaid and undervalued by the State – they should be near the front of any rallies and marches but probably won’t be. Perhaps our solution will be that I inform my local authority that I have a credible belief my PAs will ‘strike’ that day and this will put them on notice that I will be in danger. A contingency plan will need to be put in place. Even if my PAs come to work that day, the time it will take to put this plan in place will cause disruption and inconvenience for local authorities and WEP’s objectives will be virtually met.

Now I turn to the second issue which concerns me: shame. The campaign organisers need to be very clear and firm with enthusiastic feminist activists to be careful about the language they use. Take, for example, the phrase “burden of care”. Firstly, I receive support, not care. Let’s not disempower disabled women. Secondly, we are not ‘a burden’ on the state or our support networks. Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse. Campaigners who major on the ‘burden of care’ risk adding to the emotional abuse we are already experiencing.

It is important that the campaign keeps us included in the planning process in order to allow disabled women to amplify the messages and add our protest. But it must also take responsibility for preventing attacks on our safety and dignity; we cannot be collateral damage in this day of action.

 

 

Sarah Rennie, a young looking blonde short haired wheelchair user with an Asian young looking woman next to her. behind them is a bright pink WOW sign in lights/

Sarah Rennie with friend, Natasha Hettihewa-Young

Sarah Rennie is a director of the Wisdom Factory CIC, a social enterprise in Birmingham. As a former solicitor, her day-to-day work is research and governance advice. However, Sarah delivers disability equality training nationwide and acts as a consultant for select clients on internal equality working groups. She is also vice-Chair of the city’s Access Committee. She is also on the Sisters of Frida Steering Group.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

TWITTER