Achieving equality for people with disabilities depends on an empowered civil society that actively demands rights, transparency, and accountability from the government. For Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPOs) to be most effective in their advocacy, they must include the diversity of the disability community, and tap into the power of disabled women leaders.
Gender considerations should not be treated as separate or an afterthought, but should be built into disability organizations’ general way of thinking and working. It makes the organization stronger to add more perspectives and uplift all together. By addressing exclusion within our organizations, we gain knowledge of how to tackle other exclusions beyond.
- Make gender equality an integral part of your mission and strategic plans.
Consider what your organization aims to achieve on behalf of men and women, respectively, and what are the various practical needs, strategic interests, and political rights of each gender that you can address. If necessary, create an organizational policy specifically on gender, and mainstream gender into your organization’s other policies.
- Collect sex-disaggregated data.
There is a lack of gender sensitive data on the situation of people with disabilities. Being able to provide accurate data on the situation is important for developing appropriate policies and budgets that meet the needs of both men and women with disabilities. This information is not only useful for DPO interventions but also necessary for making your case to donors, policymakers, and government agencies. DPOs should also encourage government census agencies to collect gender and disability sensitive data.
- Ensure DPO membership represents the diversity of the disability community.
Encourage participation of both men and women and ensure recruitment of members takes into account gender balance. If necessary, take steps to ensure the inclusion of different categories of members (e.g. age, social position, geographical location, different types of disabilities).
- Encourage women with disabilities to take leadership positions.
By having both men and women in leadership positions as well as in the membership, the interests of both genders are more likely to be pursued. For example, the gender of the chairperson could differ from that of the vice-chair, or your organization can implement a quota system to ensure a minimum number of women are serving on the board and/or executive committee. The position of chairperson, secretary or treasurer could rotate between a man and a woman with certain intervals. Female leadership can also help to boost the courage of women in general, by creating role models for young girls with disabilities.
- Plan meetings with input from both genders.
Contributions from both genders should be ensured when setting the agenda and distributing information. Ensure timing of meetings is convenient for both men and women, including fathers and mothers.
- Establish a women’s wing or committee.
Creating a women’s wing is a great way to build a stronger voice for disabled women’s issues. However, women with disabilities should be encouraged to participate in all aspects of the organization, not just specifically on women’s issues. In addition, DPOs will need to consider how creation of a separate wing may affect women’s opportunities for policy influence and agenda setting within your organization as a whole.
- Provide training specifically for women with disabilities.
There may be times when issues of women and girls with disabilities need to be addressed separately from men with disabilities. Provide a space to discuss these issues, build confidence, and develop skills when necessary.
- Advocate for gender and disability mainstreaming together.
Gender and disability are two sides of the same coin. Encourage coordination between gender and disability initiatives in community and national development processes and when formulating and implementing equality policies. In the long run, combining gender and disability advocacy is more cost and time efficient.