The post was orginally written for the Huffington Post (10 March 2017) as part of the Women of the World event 2017 #WOWLON #WOW2017
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
For disabled women like me, one of the biggest barriers in life comes from public misconceptions about who we are, and how we live our lives.
As human beings we learn that life is full of lessons, which can make all the difference to our future. One of the most important lessons in life is to be able to distinguish between myths and facts so that we may move beyond creating erroneous beliefs that result in discriminatory and inhumane practices. So when we receive news reports about harm and the killing of disabled women through the purveying of myths and prejudice this should raise serious global concerns.
Another lesson learnt is that a myth comes from a story and often it’s the most erroneous and unrealistic stories that makes the biggest impact, and cause the most damage. It is through the elegance of the story teller and the proclamation made which shapes beliefs on individuals, and entire communities. Such myths, unfair reporting, and misrepresentation of disabled people in the media can become a manifestation of the story and the realisation for disabled women of the world. For example, when an individual is told that a disabled woman cannot make a good mother and should not procreate. It is not surprising to receive news reports about forced sterilisation of a disabled woman, or to learn that a baby is taken away from a mother because she is a disabled woman. This could also be the reason why maternity care during pregnancy, labour, birth and postnatal are inaccessible to many disabled women.
Throughout my life, I have come into contact with ludicrous, horrifying myths that can live on in the public conscience and be really damaging for the life chances, and social inclusion of disabled women. In such cases, fear and anxiety is created giving permission to inflict harm and abuse based on biased and unfounded stories which, sadly, are accepted as truth.
It was only a few days ago when someone said to me that, “I needed protecting, needed to be looked after, not let out and no man should love me”. This implies that disabled women (and men) should be hidden away from society but also to a make disabled women out to be needy, and childlike.
The most concerning issue about a myth is its ability to create a problem based on unknown facts which are usually biased against women. As I’ve just shown, this problem is further exasperated for disabled women and is increased by our different intersections.
So when an individual is told the myth that a disabled ‘woman is less of a woman', society finds itself indoctrinated into believing the myth as truth. As a result, disabled people suffer, can feel ostracised and alienated. Worringly, when the individual believes the myth as true the action of their behaviour is justified even when it dehumanises the disabled woman.
It’s clear that the power of a myth not only poisons people with lies, but renders many disabled women of the world to a life of misery and torture. It is time for people to rise up and challenge such myths, so we can live in an accepting, inclusive world.
Women of the world, you know that we can create postive action and conversation that motivates, empowers and supports disabled women to stop the harm and killing of disabled women through unfair, unfounded myths. Because our disabled sister’s such as Mary Prince and Harriet Tubman set the momentum for us to build on. It’s also worth reminding us of the stirring words of Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist. My sincere gratitude goes to her for being the hurricane force for fighting for women’s equality and human rights. This is what motivates and empowers me as a black disabled woman to produce a website to discuss such issues. Sojourner Truth has made mine and many other women of the world’s achievements possible. It is also the reason why the legacy of Sojourner Truth is so pertinent to disabled women of the world today, especially when she rightfully says “Ain’t I a women“.
Written in solidarity of disabled women of the world.
I will be speaking at the Disablity, women and taking action panel, 11 March, 1.15 – 2.15pm at Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World Festival, supported by Bloomberg.