Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Creating Alternative and Demedicalized Spaces: Testimonial Narrative on Disability, Culture, and Racialization

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Creating Alternative and Demedicalized Spaces: Testimonial Narrative on Disability, Culture, and Racialization

Article excerpt


The literature on disability, gender and "race" has benefited from the political economy perspective. With its emphasis on unmasking the workings of power, this perspective has brought into relief the systemic, institutionalized and spatial oppression of disabled persons, compounded in the case of gender and "race." This narrative of deconstruction, however, remains incomplete in the absence of voice and subjectivity of persons with disabilities. Using narrative moments, recounted by an immigrant woman with two "disabled" children, this paper makes a case for an integrated framework for a study of racialized persons with disabilities. Here, the margins (2) are not out there in other spaces; they form part of the centre whose existence is brought into question by alternative and demedicalized spaces. The data are drawn from a larger study of health and well being of South Asian East African women in metropolitan Vancouver, Canada.

Keywords: Racialized women, disability, voice, narrative moments, citizenship and entitlements.


In her work on Feminism and Anthropology, Moore (1988) (3) calls for a dialogue between the two disciplines to correct the analytical omission of gender in ethnographic works. She notes that anthropologists can learn from feminist perspectives on gender as an axis of social inequality and feminists can draw upon anthropological insights on difference. We can then generate theoretical constructs on "how racial difference is constructed through gender, how racism divides gender identity and experience, and how class is shaped by gender and race" (ibid, 11). Over the last two decades, this paradigm has been expanded to include other markers of difference, such as "disability" and age. Its value in unmasking multiple systems of oppression in particular contexts has been noted (Jiwani 2006, Lee and Lutz 2005). Equal emphasis is placed on the paradigm's capacity to reveal multiple subject positions that has helped to bridge the divide between structural processes and lived realities of people (Bannerji 1995, Dossa 2004)

In this paper, I draw insights from the intersectionality paradigm to show how racialized women with disabilities negotiate and claim multiple cultural and social identities while critiquing the system for perpetuating the deficiency discourse on "disability," and racialization. I focus on the story of one woman (Tamiza) from a larger study on health and well being of South Asian Canadian Muslim women from East Africa. There are two reasons for presenting one narrative. First, I wanted to recognize women as "authors" of their stories without overlooking the power dynamics in research. (3) Second, disenfranchised people tell a collective story owing to their shared experience of oppression. This point was brought home to me when women repeatedly informed me that one woman's story is everyone's story. Underpinning their stories were two questions: What is it like to have a racialized body in a disabling world? How can one create alternative spaces that bridge the divide between structure (the social model of disability) and agency (the cultural model of disability)? Theoretically, personal narratives reveal the embodiment of ideologies and norms, the articulation of which can lead to progressive change.


It was during the course of my field work on the health and well being of South Asian Muslim women from East Africa (1991-2001) that I met eight women, socially designated as "disabled." One woman had two children with disabilities. All the women were between the ages of 35 and 50. The women had lived in Vancouver, Canada from 11 to 30 years.

I met my first research participant at the South Asian Muslim Disability Issues Committee where I volunteered for six months. Further contacts were established through a snowball sampling technique. All the participants expressed surprise that I was interested in their lives. …

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