What disability rights activists can learn from women’s rights activists

In 2019, I signed up for an online course on women’s health and rights by Anne Firth Murray, women’s rights activist and Stanford teacher. It was an impulsive decision; I’m not even sure it really interested me at the time.

While I considered myself a feminist, I was wary of women’s rights classes run by white American women. In my experience, courses with white American leadership tend to lack intersectionality and consideration for women of other marginalized identities.

I had no idea the scope of Murray’s work – or that she’s from New Zealand. But I was interested in getting a degree one day and wanted to know if I could handle college-level courses. The course was free, flexible and applicable to me as a girl in need of healthcare. Why not?

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The course ended up shaping most of my understanding of activism and advocacy today. Although the course was created by Murray and based on his book “From Outrage to Courage”, Murray’s voice was minimal. Instead, the course featured the voices of experts and women from communities around the world.

This is how, I thought, you teach people to be militants.

Measures of progress (and lack thereof)

I had two main takeaways from the course. The first was that health care should be holistic. While thorough general health checkups are important, external societal factors can influence our health, and these factors also need to be sorted out.

For example, trying to eradicate poverty and providing comprehensive, quality education for women is just as important as ensuring we have access to reproductive care. If society wants women to make better and healthier choices for our lives, we must have the resources and knowledge to do so.

My second main conclusion was that we need to show that our investments are paying off. It can be difficult to convince some people and organizations that it is worth investing in marginalized communities, simply because it is the right thing to do. However, that could change if we showed them that they could potentially win more than they lose.

One of the course materials the students received was the book ‘What Works in Girls’ Education’, which shares reports on numerous studies of intervention programs to keep girls in school around the world. entire. It was published in 2015 by Brookings Institution Press, the US-based nonprofit’s publishing arm, and can be easily downloaded from the institution’s website.

Remarkably, the results showed that by investing in different modes of intervention, from the provision of meals to cash transfers, young girls could not only earn higher wages in the future, but they could also escape child marriage. children and teenage pregnancies.

Having taken the course and now finding myself in disability rights advocacy years later, it is interesting to compare the fields of women’s rights activism and disability rights activism. The two overlap, but disability rights activism needs to go further in terms of methodology and results.

Healthcare professionals, governments and individuals barely recognize that caring for people with disabilities is a society-wide issue and that it should include creating access to all rights enjoyed by our peers not disabled. And although I did some intensive Googling for this column, I couldn’t find a single holistic report on the overall net benefit of integrating communities with disabilities into society.

I like to cite the gaming industry as being unique in focusing on the benefits of implementing access – specifically, more players, and therefore, more profits and people in the industry – but even there, there is a lack of solid feedback research.

Classes after classes

While writing an article on systemic ableism for Rice Media, a Singaporean publication, I was struck by how incredibly lucky I am to have a job where my disability is an asset. My disability is not seen as a burden; it’s not something that holds me back. It’s a part of me that people appreciate, that allows me to create value.

It’s a rather unusual circumstance, and I wish it were less unusual. But as rare as it is, isn’t my situation proof that this could be a norm, when it might have been unimaginable just a few decades ago? And despite all the chaos caused by COVID-19, hasn’t it shown us that societal access for people with disabilities is both necessary and possible? Remote work, for example, was a dream most couldn’t achieve two years ago; now it is increasingly implemented and debated.

A long road to progress does not mean that we will never arrive at our destination. If women’s rights activists like Murray didn’t believe this, gender equity would still be a dream, not a reality with tangible results in our hands. History is unfolding all around us, and for us, calling for change. We just have to be willing to learn from this and from each other.


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