Disablement and Feminisation of Poverty. (Women with Disabilities)

By Barile, Maria | Women in Action, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Disablement and Feminisation of Poverty. (Women with Disabilities)


Barile, Maria, Women in Action


From the economic viewpoint, one can infer that poverty and disablement are synonymous with each other. What happens when poverty and disability are experienced at the same time? This article will look into the economic and social experiences of women with disability based on the Canadian experience.

According to 1991 statistics, women with disabilities between the ages 15-64 comprise 13 percent or 1,182,145 of the Canadian population. This figure is higher than the total population in the province of Manitoba at 1,091,942. Yet, the political attention given to this segment of the population is less than that paid to any other group in the country.

... Unemployment rate, among women with disabilities was 16 percent compared to 13.2 percent of men with disabilities and 9.9 percent for non-disabled women;

... Poverty among women with disabilities was 25.1 percent compared to 18 percent for men with disabilities and 21 percent for non-disabled women;

... Employment rate for women with disabilities was 48.4 percent compared to 64.2 percent for men with disabilities

... 65 percent of women with disabilities who worked 30 or more hours a week earned annual incomes of under CA$25.000 or US$16,198 (Fawcette 1996 *).

In a 1999 research project, conducted by Shirley Masuda for the Disabled Women's Network (DAWN) Canada, women with different types of disabilities, from each of the 10 provinces and territories shared stories of how cutbacks in transfer payments to their areas have affected their lives.

There were cutbacks given in at least three crucial areas: monthly payments from various welfare agencies, personal/home care services and job training possibilities.

According to the report, 60 percent of I women with all types of disabilities have relied on the welfare system either full-time or part-time. This underscores the systemic experience of poverty and fear lived by women with disabilities.

Bias Versus Women With Disabilities

The question of who determines what or for whom varies from group to group, but is always based on the "balance or imbalance of power." Within the women's movement, the `personal is political' has been a fundamental premise and has served as the basis for the emergence of other feminist views.

From the standpoint of women with disabilities, politics is an intruder in their personal lives. Masuda's study shows that women with disabilities from British Columbia, New Foundland and the territories share similar consequences from the same government action. The problem is not suffered on an individual scale.

It is policies that are based on bottom line "profit-making economies" that establish guidelines for services such as home care. These guide. lines have very personal outcomes for women with disabilities. They dictate, for instance, how many hours of personal attendant services she gets, which in turn determines how often she gets a bath and what time she gets up-in the morning or goes to bed at night.

These policies also affect one's choice of home or whether one can depend on welfare or one must work.

This is a form of social oppression that stems from systemic problems rooted in the present social and political system.

The 1999 Doe and Kimpson study on disability and old age pension reveals that the current system perpetuates income inequity for all women at different levels:

* Women who become disabled receive less disability pensions than men; Part-time work for those on disability pensions is more limited for women than men;

* Women receive less retirement pensions than men

Women with disabilities do not just deal with lower incomes but other aspects of "social poverty." They incur more expenses which are linked to impairments (e.g. dialyses, hearing aid batteries) and an environment that is not disabled-friendly. For instance, public transportation is generally inaccessible. …

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