We launched this e zine last year in October, 2021. We decided against calling it a newsletter because it’s not just about our news but the voices of disabled women and non binary people, showing opinions, reflections and creative pieces.
We had members who wanted the possibility of sharing some of individual pieces so we’ re posting here for easy retrieval later.
We need you here
From Fleur Perry Fleur is a law student and disabled people’s activist living in the South West. Her main interests are accessible housing and Equality Act breaches.
Fighting for your needs and your rights can be draining in every way. You push and push against a sea of eyebrows slightly raised in amused disbelief, or bent into a sharp frown of âHow dare you?â or receive the same flat emails carefully constructed to make âGo awayâ sound like good business. If that seems familiar, you are not alone. You don’t need to fight this alone. Every member of the SoF community has met a barrier that needs smashing. As disabled women and non-binary disabled people, we know the impact it has, what it feels like, and have words for feels that non-disabled people have never had to know. We share those experiences, the bad and the good. We share knowledge and resources and music and poetry, building context and learning from each other. Judgement and shame, intrusive questions and gossip are for somewhere else – not here. Mutual solidarity, inclusion, and making space are key principles. We want you here. We want your opinions. We want your voice. Got something to say that no one’s ever said before? Say it here. Know something that you don’t think will make sense to anyone else? Try us! We want to understand. You will be heard. You will be believed. You will be valued. We think this is the first step to change. If we want to try to do something to make our world a better place to live, it has to work for everyone, and that’s means we need everyone. If we don’t have you, we’re missing out. I think the community is the most valuable part of SoF. The reports and opportunities to campaign on some of the biggest issues in the UK today are all built from the experiences of individuals, and the time and energy they each give to making sure that knowledge isn’t lost, but unleashed. What do you want to say?
âDisability justice is the art and the practice of honouring the bodyâ An interview with Lydia X.Z. Brown
In this interview with Lani Parker of Sideways Times, Lydia X.Z Brown talks about disability justice as a praxis which honours the body and the whole person. Disability justice is a radical framework which requires understanding the interconnected nature of oppression and that we must tackle all forms of oppression in order to change the system we live in. We also talk about differences in language, tensions within disability movements and the importance of using a variety of tactics amongst other thingsâŚ
Read or listen to it at Sideways Times. Thank you, Lani and Lydia for the podcast.
Sarahis 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.
I owe a great deal to Sisters of Frida.
Years ago, I was asked me to join the steering group and I experienced a major case of imposter syndrome. Looking back – Iâm not going to lie – I did have a lot to learn. I was in my late 20s and feeling pretty unsure about my identity. In fact, I would sometimes feel uncomfortable around disabled people due to what I now realise is a classic case of internalised ableism. I was a feminist, a solicitor-turned-access-consultant, a feminist and had started attending disability rights protests. Sheepishly, alone and stood at the back.
Within Sisters of Frida, I saw myself as the boring but useful person who could help with governance and report writing. In a space with such incredible and talented disabled women, I was just in awe. I listened a lot and absorbed their ideas and critiques like a sponge. Whilst I battled my insecurities, I was made nothing but welcomed and treated as one of the gang.
After helping out where I could, one of the first projects I really got my teeth into was the Serious Crime Act and the defence to the crime of coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. I represented Sisters of Frida at the UN in Geneva, along with other DDPOs, to present evidence of violations on disabled peopleâs rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People. This was one of the greatest honours of my life.
Over the years, my confidence grew but so did my personal self-esteem. I finally felt comfortable in my own skin and proud to be a disabled woman. Whenever anyone asks why, I always credit the experiences I had and friendships I made through Sisters of Frida.
But my newfound confidence in activism was bitter sweet. In 2019, I was about to face a pretty tough challenge: the block of flats I live in is wrapped in cladding like that of Grenfell Tower and riddled with fire safety defects. I knew that disabled people were facing additional financial and safety issues, such as lack of savings or means of escape, so I co-founded Claddag, a disability action group, with another disabled woman. Sadly for me, I knew I couldnât run the campaign and fulfil my commitment to Sisters of Frida so I had to resign from the latter. As expected, the team understood completely and have given me loads of emotional and practical help with Claddag.
If our fight for justice in the building safety crisis is successful, then my first task will be to knock on Sisters of Fridaâs door and ask if theyâll take me back to support with the work. As they are a group of compassionate, inclusive, uplifting and strong warriors and I have no reason to think they wonât welcome me home.
A unique voice: why Sisters of Frida Matters
by Bethany Young
Bethany is actively involved in with Third Sector organisations, promoting equality and advocating for disability rights. She is a SOF steering group member.
People often ask me why I joined Sisters of Frida. Why do you need it? In the past, I have asked the same question.. For years, I had soaked up the idea that my barriers came from having Cerebral Palsy. It was my job to overcome these. My experience of being both Disabled and a girl, then a woman, led to more isolation, and more hurdles that others didnât see. If I could not clear them or ignore them myself I was a failure. It was all my fault.
Looking back, these beliefs I was taught about myself made no sense. I was putting loads of effort and skill into every area of my life â from employment and Independent Living to family relationships and managing my CP. Nothing changed, in fact the barriers got worse. After reaching out for help, I asked myself â maybe the problem isnât me? I realised that so many of my experiences came from the strings attached to me. My CP is mine. My body and my mind are mine. These barriers are not. I felt relieved because my struggles made sense without shame or guilt. Everything I thought I knew about Disability shattered. Such a big realisation gave me a sense of hope and freedom, but also fear. I was starting again. Now I had asked the right questions, I needed answers.
I looked for mentors in the Disabled community to get peer support and find out more. I wanted an active community working for social change. Before long, I found Sisters of Frida â a disability organisation truly led by diverse Disabled women. Their inclusive vision and values, creativity and collaborative way of working all made me want to get involved.
Since joining Sisters of Frida, I have worked on lots of wonderful opportunities. Iâve written quotes for press releases, helped plan events, write reports and advocate for Independent Living. Planning for our future is exciting. We are unique because we recognise people donât exist in clinical, clear-cut tick boxes. Real life diversity is social, human and multi-layered. This idea drives Sisters of Fridaâs work and partnerships. We build relationships to connect with other womenâs organisations. We bring our lived experience, and knowledge to new audiences. I have amplified the voices of diverse Disabled women on current struggles, like Social Care or Covid-19. Our perspectives donât need to stay in an isolated bubble. Together, as Sisters of Frida, we spark better, bolder conversations to create change.
I am proud of all I have learned and achieved so far whilst working with everyone in Sisters of Frida. I am a better communicator, collaborator and activist. Working with these women shifted how I saw myself. I know my worth. I found my voice by listening to them. I found answers by learning from them. I am not alone, because together we are Sisters of Frida.
Disability History Month and International Day of Disabled People: The intersection of being Disabled and a person of Colour
We are collaborating with Culture Access to interview some people on intercessions: being people of colour and disabled and more. Does Disability History include our disabled voices/stories? It is good that DPOs have had events for Black History Month and impact for Disabled Black people but there are many other stories in solidarity.
See what Nila Gopal has to say on this topic
Eleanor Lisney spoke on the complexity of being intersectional – including of being a disabled woman of South /East Asian origin.
Sarifa Patel spoke on being a disabled Asian mother of colour
There are more people to interview. We think its also good for the International day of Disabled people on the 3rd December. And to beyond those dates really to continue the voices of Disabled people of colour.
Queer Theory has provided a really useful lens for examining the
marginalising effects of existing in ways that deviate from societal
norms. As a Queer Crip I found that it not only helped me find new ways
to understand my sexuality and gender, but that it helped me think
differently about how disablement impacted my life, both personally and
systemically. I started noticing that the boundaries between my
experience as a queer person and a disabled person were blurry to say
the least; sure homophobia feels different to disablism, but the root
cause, that deviation from what our society expects a person to be
(non-disabled, straight, cisgendered, often white & male too), was
Itâs one of the reasons I feel so hurt by the amount of casual and systemic disablism
I experience from the LGBTIQ+ community. One of the ways that this
community has learned to validate itself is to set itself in opposition
to disability; âIâm not crazy, itâs who I am!â, âIâm not deluded, this
is my genderâ, âI donât have a mental health conditionâ said with a
sneer, âIâm normal, not broken like themâ, âMy needs require radical
social solutions. Disabled people just need fixingâ. The often
visceral rejection of disability, of other people with bodies and minds,
feelings & desires that either function or are structured in a way
that doesnât meet societal norms, seems strange at best, and cruel at
worst. Itâs especially hard when you are a disabled queer, expected to
denigrate part of your being (being a disabled person) to validate
another (being queer).
Before we dive in, I should say that yes, I am well aware that these
issues are just expressions of disablism in the wider world, none are
completely exclusive to the LGBTIQ+ community (heck, I could write the
same about some neurodivergent activists that wish to no longer be seen
as disabled because they arenât broken us crips). LGBTIQ+ spaces are one
of the few places I feel like I can be my queer self, and therefore I
have a massively vested interest in wanting to do my bit to challenge
the way casual and systemic disablism is an accepted part of the way we
fight for LGBTIQ+ liberation.
A Quick History
Why is it like this? Well a lot of it has to do with the history of
campaigning around queer issues. Iâm going to have to do this in a
nutshell, because queer history is as vast a topic as the history of
humanity. Historically homosexuality was seen as being intrinsically
linked with sin; the church condemned such âsodomitesâ as immoral and
unnatural. You see similar in the history of disablism with the notion
that we were cursed, possessed, or otherwise deviant beings, suffering
in some way for moral failings. Then came the move to understand and
naturalise homosexuality, by suggesting it is a biological reality. We
were âborn this wayâ, we canât help who we are, God made us this way. No
longer is it the dominant narrative that sin is responsible, itâs now
an âindividual tragedyâ of genetics. Of course, this led to LGBTIQ+
people being increasingly seen in a very similar way to how most see
disabled people; as objects of pity that it is morally right for a
compassionate society to âfixâ. Like it or not, itâs for their own good.
Homosexuality & being transgender became psychological &
and intersex bodies became âchoicesâ for parents. Medical attempts at
conversion and treatment began, rather than allowing for queer
liberation. This had very real, very harmful implications. A friend
reminded me that an example of this was clearly seen during the AIDS
crisis, when a lot of funding was seen going to organisations that
wanted to âcureâ homosexuality instead of the disease. From the start of
the process of medicalisation, demands grew for society to be the thing
that changed, accepting the community, rather than converting the
individual. Some groups under the umbrella achieved âofficialâ
demedicalisation faster than others; homosexuality was removed from the
DSM in 1973, while the World Medical Organisation (WHO) waited until
1990 to remove it from the ICD. The WHO only removed âTransexualismâ
from the ICD in 2018, and gender dysphoria is still a DSM classification
while writing this in 2020.
Because these fights for demedicalisation are very recent (and in the case of things like the gender dysphoria in DSM, and the forced assignment of binary genders to intersex children are still ongoing), the language of those campaigns is still firmly embedded in the community. Given how many still see queer bodies as inherently immoral, it should come as no surprise, given the history, that there remain people who think queer folks have a âtreatableâ disease no matter what the WHO might say. The issue is not that we LGBTIQ+ people want social support and acceptance and an end to unnecessary and harmful medical interventions, it is that a lot of the language used to argue for this is disablist, and reinforces disablist narratives.
Iâm going to look at two of those narratives in a bit more detail now.
Medical Conditions are insults
âBeing gay isnât like being mad, being gay is normal because it doesnât hurt anyoneâ
This feels very obvious to me, but I feel I should start with the
most basic point: There will never be liberation for the LGBTIQ+
community while its disabled members are still oppressed. Its disabled
members will continue to be oppressed while anyone in society, including
LGBTIQ+ people, denigrate disabled people because they are still
pathologised and medicalised. As a mad crippled queer, the knowledge
that many of my queer sibs see the idea of being compared to me as some
dire insult is at once infuriating and deeply upsetting. Especially
coming from a community that was once seen as being like me until
society changed its mind. Instead of showing solidarity with those of us
still left behind, contempt is shown instead.
To reinforce the idea that there are âacceptableâ bodies and minds is
not helpful to either community. It is crucial to challenge the norms
which say some bodies/minds arenât acceptable. The LGBTIQ+ community is
still actively trying to challenge this with regards to LGBTIQ+ people,
but will keep being held back while it still reinforces this norm by
affirming that there are people (some of whom are queer
themselves) that should still be deemed unworthy of acceptance. As long
as there are socially acceptable ways of calling the functioning of some
bodies and minds âwrongâ, the LGBTIQ+ community will always be skating
on thin ice with regards to their own liberation.
Reinforcing these ideas is a harmful thing.
Social models for us, not you
âWeâre not crazy or sick, LGBTIQ+ need social support & acceptance, not to be medically labeledâ
Here we look at the notion that LGBTIQ+ marginalisation comes from
society not accepting them and making it hard to get things like the
appropriate medical support they need, while disabled peopleâs
marginalisation stems from their inherent wrongness.
There is a pervasive notion that, while LGBTIQ+ people wonât be truly
liberated until there is wholesale social change so people can accept
and affirm the nigh infinite ways an individualâs gender, attraction,
and sexuality present (or donât), disabled people just need âfixingâ.
This simplistic approach does no one any favours. Of course there are
disabled people out there that would like relief from undesirable impairment symptoms
(pain, fatigue, frightening visions, high stress etcâŚ), but even if you
magically got rid of those, the majority of us would still be seen as
impaired. People would still develop impairments and become disabled. We
would still require aids and adaptations and access to medical care
(which is a social issue in and of itself). The negative stereotypes
about disability would still exist. We would still be marginalised, weâd
just be in less pain while it happened. Much like LGBTIQ+ people, us
crips also need widespread social change to be liberated. I get very
frustrated listening to LGBTIQ+ people try to argue that their
marginalisation comes from society not accepting them and making it hard
to get things like the medical support they need, while disabled
peopleâs marginalisation stems from their inherent wrongness. Disabled
people that need medical interventions to help manage impairments are
apparent proof of this, while LGBTIQ+ folks that need them to help live
their lives are somehow different. Iâve tried to pick into the reasons
that one should be considered impaired and the other not; that one
should be considered disabled and the other not; and I draw a blank. I
struggle to see how the LGBTIQ+ community can suggest that there is a
need for a social model of difference/queerness/impairment for a
dysphoric trans person undergoing a medical transition to manage a body
that causes a degree of emotional/physical suffering & additional
marginalisation, but not for a disabled person taking medication, or
having prosthesis fit to manage a body that causes a degree of
emotional/physical suffering & additional marginalisation. Where is
the difference? What answers are there that donât drip with disablist
tropes where we are broken, subhuman, suffering, wrong, unnatural, dull
& ugly? If you have one Iâd like to know because this genuinely gets
to me as a queer (and genderqueer) crip.
In saying all this I want to stress that I do not seek to undo the
progress of the Trans community by pointing out the similarities in
aspects of our struggles. More I seek to point out that there isnât a
distinct line that can be drawn between our struggles. Iâm not trying to
deny transphobia and homophobia existing, or argue that they should be
re-medicalised. I am suggesting that LGBTIQ+ and disabled peoplesâ
transgression of societal norms around mental & bodily
structure/function/feelings/desire are very similar, and both require
those norms to be thoroughly challenged. That disabled people also
require social interventions, especially when they have had any medical
interventions they personally want to have to help manage/alleviate any
symptoms they might find undesirable, and are now simply trying to live
their lives as disabled people.
I want to leave this piece by talking a bit about some of the core
disablism that is reproduced by talking about disabled people and queer
liberation like this.
That disabled LGBTIQ+ people arenât a part/ arenât an important part of the LGBTIQ+ community.
to exist with an impairment, as a disabled person, is so widely
understood to be a negative thing that to suggest it to someone is to
Disabled Peopleâs bodies/minds are in some way
unnatural and abnormal, even though impairments are extremely common,
often part of evolution, something that generally develops in us all as
we age and so on.
To be disabled is to be an aberration that
needs either correcting through doctors or spiritual interventions, or
if that fails, some sort of tragedy that dooms the individual to the
lowest class of existence. Immediately othering and marginalising
To no longer be seen as a disabled person, to
no longer be seen as impaired, to be seen as ânormalâ is a goal that
should be held by all people that are classified as having impairments.
disabled people can be liberated by medicine making them ânormalâ
(where normal is the current capitalist construction of how an ideal
worker/commodityâs body should be structured, think and function) or as
close to ânormalâ as possible. Something queer theory explicitly argues
That this should go beyond helping those who wish to
alleviate pain or other individually undesirable symptoms of their
impairment, and that medical interventions to make them ânormalâ should
be imposed on all.
This never mentions how the people that canât
be medically ânormalisedâ enough to fit within societyâs norms then
canât be liberated, leaving them as a perpetual underclass.
Iâve not dedicated any space to talking about disablism in the form of frequently inaccessible spaces, and the additional pressures in many parts of the community to conform to specific bodily standards that are unattainable for many disabled people. This is in part because I think they are a symptom of underlying disablism and living in a neoliberal society. Itâs also in part because this post has gotten long and I think itâs time to stop
To try and summarise all of this, I believe that disablism is still rife in LGBTIQ+ spaces & communities. I think one of the ways we can help combat this is to challenge the idea that there is a clear and distinct boundary between disablist oppression and homophobia & transphobia. There is at least a partial overlap because of a common root; both groups are seen to deviate from societal norms around bodily form and function, and expression of thoughts and feelings. As a result both groups experience moral & spiritual judgement for their difference, both experience a conflict between wanting access to any chosen medical interventions and not wanting to have medical interventions forced upon them, both want social change and to challenge norms, both have to deal with difficult stereotypes about their sexuality and attraction. Another way is to ensure that compassion, respect and solidarity arealso built where differences lie. We are stronger together, compassion is punk AF and smashing social norms is revolutionary
pseudodeviant West Midlands, UK A queer crip navigating the world
Mainly Iâm pondering the question, how cleverly it wasnât directly answered, and why.
Itâs occurred to me that many people may not realise that many
transgender children are not socialised in the exact same way as our non
transgender peers. Therefore to assume we were raised the same way as
people assigned the same sex as us, is a mistake. As the above article
says, beautifully, we *fail* the gendered socialisation.
I cannot speak for anyone else, especially not transgender women. I
can say that, anecdotally, my experience seems not that dissimilar to
others in terms of the fact that our childhood socialisation is often
different to that of our non transgender peers and siblings.
I am not an academic, so this will not be a peer reviewed piece
linking evidence. This is a personal anecdote about my experience. No
doubt there are proper evidential things within the plethora of gender
I do not usually discuss my personal life, hence choosing a faceless blog.
Content note for short references to sexualisation and to parental bullying and violence.
As soon as I realised sex existed and gendered ways of doing things, it was clear to me I was a wrong girl.
It was clear because my mother made it very clear that I kept doing it wrong.
Toys are not gender, but pay attention to the behaviour.
The first Christmas I remember, I wanted a football. I was nearly 4. We didnât own one.
Instead I got a kitchen unit and a tea set. I think a lot of parents
arenât so gendered about toys now, and thatâs great. Girls can play with
My mum explained that Santa brought it, because Iâm a little girl, my
brother is a little boy. So, it was obvious to me that Santa didnât
realise Iâm a wrong girlâŚ That secretly Iâm a boy and nobody has
Itâs the first time I remember thinking it, as I donât
remember it starting. I remember because I thought Santa knew, as he
even knows things our parents donât. I felt surprised, and a bit sad.
I tried so hard that day to be a good girl, I made so much
water tea until they made me stop and told me off. I got the message
that I still wasnt getting it right. I felt so anxious and guilty, as I
dont want them to know Iâm not a girl.
After this, I start trying to pretend to be a girl. When I can remember.
get told off, and sometimes hit, for a number of gendered
misbehaviours not excluding sitting wrong, standing wrong, being to
brash, being too loud, talking too much, being too intelligent, not
having enough common sense, asking too many questions, being too
opinionated, walking wrong, falling over too much, getting too dirty,
playing with nature, playing marbles, climbing trees, damaging my
clothes, not playing with girls, the list is endless and many of you can
list it yourselves.
Did you think, gosh being a girl is pants? Did you think, is a boy
being better? Did you think, this is just how it is for girls? Did you
ever wonder what being a boy is like? What did you think, as Iâm sure I
donât know. Please reply if you like :-).
I just kept thinking, âIâm not a girl and Iâm in deep shit when they
realiseâ. I feared being thrown away, as they were clearly angry enough
at me, just for being a âwrong girlâ.
I started to fear puberty. I was convinced that one day I would begin
to grow a beard that wouldnât stop and I didnât know how to get a razor
because I was only 6. Then they would all know.
Maybe some girls do think this, Iâd love to know.
Then I had a little sister and she was perfect. A âreal girlâ. Soon she was a great comparison for our mum.
When you keep getting your gendered behaviour wrong, the training
gets more often and tougher. They try to hyper gender you, or give up,
or a bit of both.
My little sister got it right from the beginning somehow, and I wondered about it. How did she know?
Any butches (butch women and trans butches) reading will no doubt be
familiar with âhaving to wear a dressâ for family / special event /
function / school / etc, and I share that horrible experience.
At the same time, sometimes I wanted beautiful sparkly clothes and
things, but I would be told I canât have them, because I would just
spoil them. I climbed a tree once in my favourite dress, I got in a lot
of trouble. I secretly kept it, and still own it. Canât win for losing.
Proper girls like my sister have those nice things, but not me.
My interest in all kinds of clothes remains
As you get older, if you are still getting your gendered behaviour wrong, it can get worse.
I have a much hated photograph of myself at 12 years old, still
actually trying to âbe a girlâ so hard that I look ridiculous. I still
feel humiliated, just seeing it.
Some of us trans folk may be pushed towards early sexualisation, with
whoever people think our âcorrectâ sex, or gender is. I wonât discuss
that here, as the consequences are well known to feminism, and extend to
most transgender people too (of all backgrounds). In our case just add
in a little âItâs to straighten you outâ. Like other LGBTQ+ people.
By the time I realised I wasnât going to grow into a man, I was just
in time to dread my actual puberty â and hate that with all the passion
of many other transgender people (also well well documented, not going
into that here). I seem to have similar dysmorphic view of my body as
many other trans folk, although I donât want to change it. I have a
whole different body in my head, so I donât care.
Around then, puberty, I remember just wanting to tell people to call
me âA personâ. Wanting all of sex and gender just to leave me the hell
And there I stay.
All of the common ground above we have, but one thing is very different, surely.
I did not experience sex and gender socialisation as a girl. As soon as I was given it, I knew it wasnât mine. I experienced it knowing I wasnât a girl. Right from go. Or rather â believing I was other, wrong, and very confused about it all.
I didnât experience my childhood gender training as a girl. I
experienced it as other. Instead of thinking why are girls treated this
way, I thought, âI shouldnât be treated this way because Iâm not a
This means our experiences will differ in important ways. Especially around my ability to understand womenâs issues.
I cannot tell you all the differences, only you can tell me, in a
way, but maybe if we talk together kindly in a space without judgement,
we can find out.
And while weâre doing so, we could consider whether itâs at all fair
to assume that any transgender people are raised like other same-sex
children, or gender socialised like other children, and especially
whether we experience it the same way non transgender people do.
I think this is the basis of many wrong assumptions, which make it
hard to even ask the right questions about what is going wrong between
In solidarity: Black Disabled Lives Matter
Sisters of Frida stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement globally and in the UK. We cannot do that without including Disabled Black Lives.
Racism and ableism are intertwined.
From deaths in custody to the hostile environment, from the school exclusions to austerity policies, Black lives and, in particular, Black Disabled lives are devalued by systemic and structural racism and ableism. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare health inequalities in the UK: Black people are four times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white people and deaths of people learning difficulties have gone up by 134% during the pandemic.
We fight for a world where Black Disabled women are valued, cherished and can thrive in our communities.
Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us
The UN Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) published its concluding observations following its first review of the UK governmentâs compliance with the Convention. We contributed to the report and went to Geneva, as volunteers, to ensure that violations of disabled womenâs rights were given attention. The Committee highlighted many areas of concerns which explicitly or indirectly affect disabled women, but weâve highlighted three key themes below.
1) Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us
We share the Committeeâs concern that disabled women and girlsâ rights âhave not been systematically mainstreamed into both the gender equality and disability agendaâ and support its specific recommendation to âadopt inclusive and targeted measures, including disaggregated dataâ to prevent the multiple and intersectional discrimination we face.
Mainstreaming our rights, requires our involvement. We therefore also welcome the Committeeâs recommendation to allocate âfinancial resources to support organisations representing [disabled women]â and develop mechanisms to ensure our involvement in planning and implementing law which affects our lives. For example, we were not consulted on the drafting of the coercive abuse offence in the Serious Crime Act. If we had, we would have been able to show how the âbest interestsâ defence for carers dangerously undermines the rights and safety of disabled women and people with learning disabilities.
Strategies need to be measured, financed and monitored. We therefore welcome the Committeeâs recommendation for mechanisms to support our involvement in the design of strategies to implement the Convention through âmeasurable, financed and monitored strategic plans of actionâ. Measurability requires the collection of disaggregated data and this has been repeatedly called for by UN rapporteurs. Gaps in data mask the multiple discrimination faced by disabled women.
2) Multiple and Intersectional Discrimination
Disabled women experience sexism and dis/ableism in our everyday lives, along with many other forms of oppression (eg. based on age, sexual orientation, economic status and migrant status). Hereâs an example to illustrate. A visually impaired woman cannot access information on an NHS website due to inaccessibility. This is disability discrimination, but is gender-neutral. However, lack of access to family planning services is clearly gender and disability discrimination. If she is actually a teenage girl living in a remote indigenous community, clearly intersections of multiple aspects of her identity operate to exacerbate the disadvantages she faces.
This is why the Convention specifically addresses the rights of disabled women in Article 6. It requires the Government to recognize that disabled women and girls face multiple discrimination. Itâs therefore crucial that the Government implement the Committeeâs recommendation to explicitly incorporate protection from âmultiple and intersectional discriminationâ in national legislation. Whether itâs routine GP appointments, cervical testing or maternity care, disabled women constantly struggle to access medical services, so we strongly support the Committeeâs recommendation to develop âtargeted measurable and financedâ strategies to eliminate barriers in access to health care and services and to measure their progress.â
3) Access to Justice
Our rights are worthless if they are unenforceable or ignored. The barriers with the justice system are procedural, financial and accessibility-related and stop us from bringing claims to enforce our civil rights, count against us in proceedings (eg divorce and family matters) and prevent us from reporting criminal abuse against us.
We therefore strongly support the Committeeâs recommendations:
to develop training for the judiciary and law enforcement personnel. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has already noted concerns about âwomen being deemed unfit mothers for having âfailed to protectâ their children from an abusive parentâ. Ignorant, counterproductive and damaging comments and actions by judges and police must end.
to provide âfree or affordable legal aidâ for disabled people in all areas of law. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has specifically noted concern about the evidential requirements to apply for legal aid and the consequences for family law problems.
The many other areas of concern noted by the Committee can be read here
We were disappointed by the lack of media attention given to the 17-page catalogue of shame but the disabled community, including the DPOs, continue to valiantly highlight the UNâs findings.
Whilst we welcome the Committeeâs recommendation for the UK Government to produce annual reports on its progress, we fear it will be another exercise of denial and lack data, evidence or understanding of intersectional discrimination.
We, Sisters of Frida, are preparing for CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and working with other womenâs organisations on this. In the meantime, we are joining theENIL Freedom March in Brussels and will raise it with our MEPs as to how they will be responding to protecting disabled women on VAWG as the Istanbul Convention is being ratified by the UK government.
“The last time Sisters of Frida went with the UK CEDAW Working Group to Geneva, we noted in our oral statement that women of all ages and backgrounds in the UK are facing threats to their rights but this does not have to be the case if government policies are created in partnership with womenâs NGOs and include a gendered perspective. This will ensure that there is not a long-term legacy of discrimination against women, and will also impact on the future economy.
In 2017, Sisters of Frida note that disabled women are acknowledged as still facing the same level of discrimination in the UNCRPD Concluding Observations. We call upon the UK government to honour its commitment to womenâs rights and work with us to establish a clear and inclusive mechanism in order to bring womenâs voices into the heart of government.â
âWe know that disabled women have been hit particularly badly by austerity policies over the last seven years. Disabled women have lost income through cuts to both specific disability benefits but also to housing benefit, tax credits and benefits for children. Cuts to public services including social care, health, education and transport budgets have all disproportionately affected disabled women.
The Public Sector Equality Duty, contained in the 2010 Equality Act, places a positive obligation on all public authorities to have due regard to the impact of their policies and practices on equality. Despite this the government have failed to publish meaningful assessments of the cumulative impact of austerity on equality.
We call on the government to meet both their obligations under both domestic and international law to ensure that their policies meet the needs of disabled womenâ
“It is known that disabled women are disproportionately subjected to sexual and domestic violence by perpetrators of these crimes, and that disabled women face additional barriers to escaping and staying safe, and even in being believed.
“International human rights treaties require our Government to ensure that disabled women’s needs are specifically considered and addressed when implementing policy on policing and preventing violence. Following the UN CRDP inquiry into the UK’s performance in this area, we need to hear assurances from the UK Government that disabled women’s needs are known and are made part of policy and practice in relation to ending and preventing abuse.”
âLeave no woman behindâ is an important development and human rights goal that is central to achieving gender equality and one to which the UK government claims to be committed. But in the UK this goal remains largely rhetorical as the most vulnerable women – those with disabilities and multiple needs – are rendered marginalised and invisible by increasingly harsh economic and social welfare measures. Disabled womenâs needs and rights are being gravely and systematically violated by the UK government. Why else do we see such an appalling lack of access to emergency shelters, secure housing and welfare rights, education, work, health and counselling facilities for disabled women who are also fleeing domestic violence? If the UK wants to be recognised as a leader in disability and human rights, it must develop laws, policies and strategies that enhance the rights of all women. This means understanding and addressing the overlapping and intersecting forms of discrimination such as race, gender and disability that create additional vulnerabilities and barriers for women. Sadly this government is unlikely to turn its rhetoric on achieving a âfairerâ society into reality but we are ready to stand with our disabled sisters to shame the government into action.
âDisabled women who have experienced sexual violence make up a quarter of Rape Crisis service users – which is an indication of how disproportionately disabled women are impacted by sexual violence, often by their own carers. The voice and engagement of specialist organisations run by and for disabled women, like Sisters of Frida and Stay Safe East, is essential to the CEDAW process in raising awareness of sexual violence to the Committee.â
‘Disabled womenÂ face multiple disadvantage in being able to participate as fully as they wish in all aspects of their lives â social, as well as political and economic .Â The CEDAW Committee made recommendations in their concluding observations to their last report that would improve the capacity of women in the UK to access health care and justice but little has been achieved and austerity policies combined with a lack of specific attention to the issues faced by disabled women, make these more not less distant goals.Â Indeed, disabled women â especially those with learning disabilities who are also likely to experience mental ill-health – continue to face the loss of their babies at birth.
We strongly support NAWO members, Sisters of Frida, in their campaign for focused attention by the UK Government on the needs and concerns of disabled women and girls.’
We would be happy to hear from others, individuals and/or organisations, who would like to join us in our campaign for disabled women’s rights in issues mentioned here. Please comment below or write to firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet @sisofrida
Note: Stay Safe East is a unique user-led organisation run by disabled people, providing specialist and holistic advocacy and support services to disabled people from diverse communities in East London (currently Waltham Forest and Newham) who are victims/survivors of domestic or sexual violence, hate crime, harassment and other forms of abuse.
Disabled Women: Facts and Stats
We often get asked why we campaign for the rights of disabled women. Here are a few reasons.
Employment and Pay
35% of disabled women (and 30% of disabled men) are paid below the National Living Wage in the UK.
Disabled men face a pay gap of 11%, while disabled women faced a gap twice as large at 22%.
Despite qualifications, disabled women have lower participation rates in higher skilled jobs and work fewer hours than both non-disabled women and disabled men.
27% of disabled women are economically inactive compared with 16% disabled men.
Lone parenthood reduces female employment generally by 15%. However, disabled female lone parents are more than half as likely to work than non-disabled female lone parents.
Violence and Abuse
Disabled people experience more domestic abuse than non-disabled people. Disabled women are significantly more likely to experience domestic abuse than disabled men. In fact, one in ten experienced domestic abuse in 2012-13.
Abuse is also more severe, more frequent and more enduring.
Deaf women are twice as likely as hearing women to suffer domestic abuse.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 made âcoercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationshipâ a criminal offence (s.76). The Act provides that it is a defence for a perpetrator to show that they believed themselves to be acting in the victimâs âbest interestsâ. This was intended to cover carers. We believe this defence risks preventing disabled women and people with learning disabilities from seeing their abusers brought to justice.
Health and Medical Care
UK maternity care does not meet the needs of disabled women. A 2016 study revealed that only â19% of disabled women said reasonable adjustments had been made for them.â
The CEDAW Committee is concerned that âDisabled, older, asylum seeking and Traveller women face obstacles in accessing medical health care and that Disabled women have limited access to pre-natal care and reproductive health servicesâ.
Disabled women, particularly with learning difficulties, are at risk of forced sterilisation in the UK or are encouraged to consent to sterilisation as a form of âmenstruation managementâ rather than be presented with a range of options available to other women.
Disabled women with a mental health problem die on average 13 years earlier than the general UK population.
Nearly half of female prisoners in the UK have been identified as having anxiety and depression. This is double the rate of male prisoners. Whatâs more, nearly half female prisoners (more than double the rate for men) report attempting suicide.
The CEDAW Committee is concerned that ethnic minority and disabled women are particularly poorly represented in Parliament, the legal system and on public sector.
Solidarity message from grassroots Disabled People’s Organisations in the UK for people in #charlottesville
Intersectionality is a core consideration in everything we do at Sisters of Frida. In this case, we are very glad that other DPOs agreed to join us in this statement of solidarity to the people involved at #Charlottesville and in the light of what we see happening in the streets of the USA right now.
A statement of solidarity agreed by grassroots Disabled People’s Organisations in the UK for the people of #charlottesville
We, as grassroots disabled people’s organisations in the UK, are horrified by the violence we see in your cities and the racism and fascism that motivated it, and we are extremely concerned by the failure of the authorities to protect the people on your streets.
We have racism and fascism here in the UK too and we send you our absolute solidarity.
As disabled people, we seeÂ people of colour, people of ethnic minorities and immigrants,Â many of whom are also disabled-Â being systematically abused andÂ oppressedÂ in our countryÂ by our own government, and itsÂ associatedÂ corporations and media.
In solidarity with the victims, their families and the city of Charlottesville (and other cities affected), we declare that racism and fascism, like misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, disableism and religious bigotry, should not be tolerated anywhere in the world.