Intersectional Conversations with Girls and Women with Disabilities 

Each year the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences holds a conference meeting that brings together over 70 different academic associations to the same location. It offers a great opportunity to meet other scholars, policy makers, and practitioners to learn about research happening in a variety of fields, including the Canadian Disability Studies Association, the Canadian Sociological Association, and the Sexuality Studies Association to name a few. A past undergraduate research assistant at the Centre had the pleasure of attending this conference and shared her experience with us. The student took the opportunity to ask them what living and working well means to them. 

One session the student attended was entitled, “Creating an inclusive space for intersectional conversations with girls and women with disabilities: What do we learn from inclusive research in the global South?”, held by the Canadian Disability Studies Association. The panel brought together project team members and research assistants from Vietnam and Canada who shared their experience in conducting research engaging women and girls with disabilities. The project, Transforming Disability Knowledge, Research, and Activism (TDKRA), explores the very little-known experiences of girls with disabilities in the Global South. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2016-2020), this project includes women and girls with disabilities residing in three disadvantaged communities; Hanoi, Thua Thien Hue, and Can Tho in Vietnam. The team worked together in participatory research in order to build local knowledge and develop activism in support of the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities. In a few words, participatory research is about planning and conducting research with participants, often community members and community-based organizations. They collaborate in a way that allows them to play a significant role in the research process. 

According to UN Women, in low and middle-income countries, women are estimated to comprise up to three-quarters of persons with disabilities. Yet, their experiences are hardly discussed in mainstream media and hence has not been a subject of public discussion. 

Women and girls with disabilities face multiple barriers to realizing their rights: environmental, physical and informational accessibility issues, including lack of resources and inadequate access to services, as well as widespread discrimination, stereotyping and social stigma – UN Women

The panelists talked about the different aspects of working in the research project.  Most importantly, it was emphasized that beginning with and learning from girls and women in Vietnam is a crucial place to start research on gender disabilities. Forms of inclusion and exclusion women and girls of disabilities face in society were also discussed. The panel hopes to build and support transnational relationships of solidarity between Vietnamese and Canadian women and girls with disabilities.    

Disability in the media is often portrayed as “miserable” or “extraordinary”. However, what happens if women and girls with disabilities could tell their own stories? In the documentary, Our Journey – Transforming Disability Knowledge, Research and Activism (TDKRA) project, we get to watch the process unfold as girls describe the difficulties and strengths associated with living with a disability. One way we are made aware of the difficulties and experiences of girls with disabilities is through cellphilm. This activity consists of drawing everyday activities and expressing dreams and hidden stories through art. The act of telling your own story empowers girls by showing them that they have a voice in society.  

I didn’t speak up in the past, but now I do the opposite. I have become stronger. - Female in the project 

The biggest barrier that faces girls with disabilities is the discrimination they have been subject to at school and in the community. In the video, the girls emphasize that they just want to fit in with able-bodied individuals and describe that their dreams and aspirations are not far from those dreamt by others. Addressing the problem of discrimination not only benefits those individuals affected, but also the community at large. It creates higher levels of cohesion and positivity in the community that people can take from and nourish into their own life, regardless of their status. 

Don’t think that you’re alone. Remember that sometimes things need to change, but they can only change when we work together -Dr. Deborah Stienstra

Watch the documentary “Our Journey” discussed above

Want to learn more? Here are a couple of resources for further reading:  
The Empowerment of Women and Girls with Disabilities Towards Full and Effective Participation And Gender Equality written by United Nations Women

“More than a Footnote: A Research Report on Women and Girls with Disabilities in Canada” written by DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada: 

Post written by Shreya Jadhav, former Undergraduate Research Assistant