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Mothers with disabilities: The forgotten margin in the feminist struggle

By Admin

Added 16th October 2019 11:26 AM

More recently, a few scholars have begun exploring the intersection of sex and disability, highlighting the unique obstacles facing women with disabilities.

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Karim Ssebuggwawo. Photo/File

More recently, a few scholars have begun exploring the intersection of sex and disability, highlighting the unique obstacles facing women with disabilities.

By Karim Ssebuggwawo

For the past several decades, feminist theorists have focused on the intersection of sex and other identities: race primarily, but also religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity.

More recently, a few scholars have begun exploring the intersection of sex and disability, highlighting the unique obstacles facing women with disabilities. I will, therefore, advance the intersectionality literature by exposing and exploring the marginalization experienced by mothers with disabilities.

Specifically, this article explores how the stereotypes that apply to women, mothers, and individuals with disabilities, intersect to produce a particularly precarious position for mothers with disabilities in the workplace (employment law) and in the areas of marriage, reproduction, divorce, and custody (family law).

Mothers with disabilities are doubly marginalized in the workplace—they are marginalized because they have disabilities, and because they very likely have caregiving responsibilities for their children.

Some of this marginalization is based on the stereotypes attributed to these various identities, other parts of it stem from the fact that workplaces are structured around an able-bodied, masculine norm. This makes it difficult for mothers with disabilities to manage their disabilities, their workplace responsibilities, and their caregiving obligations.

Stereotypes also cause difficulties for mothers with disabilities in the areas of marriage, reproduction, divorce, and custody. Women with disabilities are less likely to get married or be in a long-term committed relationship than their nondisabled counterparts. Women who become disabled after marriage are also more likely to get divorced. Upon divorce, mothers with disabilities are more likely to experience difficulty maintaining custody of their children.

Employment law and family law intersect for mothers with disabilities in especially tricky ways. Women (in some workplaces), mothers (in most workplaces), and individuals with disabilities (in virtually all workplaces) experience bias in the workplace.

This bias is compounded for mothers with disabilities. Because gender norms and the Ugandan culture dictate that women take on the primary caregiving responsibilities, a mother with a disability might be forced to seek accommodations for both her disability and her caregiving responsibilities.

Having to do so may cause these mothers with disabilities to experience workplace marginalization in the form of reduced opportunities for advancement and lower pay.

This economic marginalization, in turn, may cause a mother with a disability to stay in an unhealthy or abusive relationship for fear of being unable to support herself and her kids financially without her spouse.

If a mother with a disability and her spouse get divorced, her reduced earning potential, along with negative assumptions made about a disabled mother’s ability to properly care for her children, may impair her ability to maintain custody of her children.

Finally, a single mother with a disability will find managing work, her disability, and her childcare responsibilities even more difficult. Balancing her many responsibilities could cause her to lose her job, likely leading to greater economic instability, potentially resulting in the loss of custody of her children or even the termination of her parental rights.

While all mothers with disabilities do not experience some or all of these challenges, the unique difficulties experienced by this group of women deserve a closer look.

The government of Uganda has an obligation to respect the rights of persons with disabilities under international and regional laws, the national constitution, and other domestic legislation.

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Ugandan government should ensure that women with disabilities enjoy all human rights on an equal basis with others. In practice, the government of Uganda needs to do more to implement its laws to protect women with disabilities.

The writer is a social scientist 

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