Neglected by public policy, women with disabilities face double discrimination

"In the collective imagination, the disabled person who works is a man", said Isabelle Dumont, communication and association development officer at Femmes pour le Dire, Femmes pour Agir (FDFA). [Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock]

Being a woman with a disability often leads to double discrimination, particularly in France. EURACTIV France looks into an issue that continues to be largely unnoticed by policymakers.

Disability is a major cause of discrimination in France. Sexism is another. Although these two issues are widely acknowledged, the double discrimination suffered by many women with disabilities is much less known.

“Very often, when we talk about discrimination, we understand that there is only one criterion for discrimination, the one that is most visible,” explained Isabelle Dumont, an officer at Femmes pour le Dire, Femmes pour Agir (FDFA), an association that fights against the double discrimination against disabled women.

APF France Handicap, an association representing people with disabilities, said the specific problems of women with disabilities are continually neglected in French public policy, and issued a call to put an end to the discrimination and violence faced by women with disabilities.

This is partly due to the fact that the fight against disability-related discrimination does not focus on gender, but is done “on behalf of people”.

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Restricted access to employment

“In the collective imagination, a working disabled person is a man”, said Dumont, adding that the disabled man is seen as “autonomous and he must have his place in society – because he is a man.”

For women, “paid employment is considered an occupation rather than a need,” he added.

Furthermore, “women with disabilities are considered – even more so than women in general – to be more sensitive and vulnerable, less capable and less profitable”, according to APF France Handicap.

The inactivity rate among women with disabilities in France is 55% compared to 45% for disabled men, according to a report published by the Defender of Rights in 2016. For all women aged 15-64, the rate is 32%.

The gap persists although women with disabilities are generally more qualified than disabled men. However, the access rate for disabled women with university degrees is 22.8%, much lower than the rate for men in the same category – 66.8% according to the report.

Women with disabilities also face greater job insecurity, as about half the female workers with disabilities are hired part-time (47%), compared to just 16% of men.

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A phenomenon of ‘economic violence’

FDFA’s Dumont pointed to the existing gender pay gap, made worse by the impact of maternity and divorce on careers and income. “When disability is added to this, it makes the problems even worse”.

Although the situation is difficult for disabled people living alone, it is not necessarily better for those living in a couple. According to a survey conducted by APF France Handicap in 2019, only 15% of women with disabilities living in couples did not feel dependent upon their partner.

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Women with disabilities at increased risk of violence

The risk of being physically or sexually abused by a partner is much higher for disabled women than for able-bodied women.

In 2019, 34% of women with disabilities in France have suffered such violence, compared to the 19% without disabilities, according to the interministerial unit for protecting women against violence and for combating trafficking in human beings known as MIPROF.

Their dependence on relatives, the difficulties in defending themselves and their problems with mobility make them very vulnerable, according to APF France Handicap.

FDFA, which set up a hotline for disabled women subject to violence, said that at the end of the lockdown, “there was an explosion in the number of calls”. According to Dumont, this could be due to many women with disabilities being unable to “escape or isolate to make a call”.

“Now, during this second lockdown, we have more calls during our opening hours,” said Dumont. “Violent people, usually spouses, can leave home to go to work, which makes it easier for people in a difficult situation to call us,” she added.

Women with disabilities also find it difficult to make their voices heard in court, according to APF France Handicap. “In addition to the lack of accessibility of the premises and the absence of qualified staff such as a sign language interpreter, for example, they are often confronted with incomprehension on the part of the police and the courts, or even contempt,” according to the association.

This is violence on top of “the violence they have already suffered,” it added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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