by Michele Kumi Baer
“What do you think about women with disabilities?” asked Sarah, a Nigerian woman living with a visual disability.
I was confused, and she sensed it. So she asked another question: “You aren’t embarrassed or annoyed by having to meet with us?”
It was my second day at Mobility International USA’s Gender, Disability and Development Institute (GDDI) so wasn’t it obvious? I respect and admire these women. I want to learn from them. As someone working at a women’s rights organization, isn’t it clear that I am committed to supporting women with disabilities?
Unfortunately, these things are not obvious to Sarah and other women who came from all over the world to participate in the 6th International Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD). I learned there that oftentimes aid organizations give off the impression that they could care less about women with disabilities, hence Sarah’s question to me.
Watch reflections from MIUSA 2010
Sarah shared with me a story about a young woman in her community with a mental disability who was imprisoned as a sex slave by seven young men. When Sarah approached the authorities about the rapes, they were dismissive of the violence committed against this young woman and told Sarah that she was crazy to think that anyone would find such a woman desirable. Hearing this made my blood boil.
While the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) entered into force in 2008, there is still a long way to go to until we live in a world that is free and just for people with disabilities.
I look at my own community and know that those of us in the global women’s movement need to do a better job of including women with disabilities. For starters, we should employ more women with disabilities in senior leadership positions in our organizations and foundations and include the voices and images of women with disabilities in our publications. These are just a couple of my ideas. I know the WILD women and other sisters working on disability rights have many, many more.
If you answered “yes” to my three questions on inclusivity (see the "How Inclusive are You?" section to the left), you are on the right track to including people with disabilities in your work. But simply reading this blog and answering my questions is not enough. To understand the issues facing any group of marginalized people, you have to actually engage with them, learn from them, and allow them to lead.
One of my fellow GDDI participants predicted that the inclusion and participation of people with disabilities – and women especially – would be the “next frontier” in international development. Let’s make her prediction come true.
Michele Kumi Baer is the social media coordinator for Global Fund for Women and attended GDDI this August. Michele's work at the Global Fund is rooted in her strong belief in the power of online technologies to build communities and incite activism.