Monthly Archives: March 2014

Disabled women in discussion


(subtitles to come later)

(from right) Rahel Gaffen, Michelle Daley, Zara Todd, Lucia Bellini, Kirsten Hearn, Eleanor Lisney and Ciara Doyle.

Filmed with thanks to Disability Action in Islington by Felix Gonzalez for the WOW party installation at the Southbank, London

Disabled and Proud Women


speakers : Michelle Daley, Zara Todd, Lucia Bellini, Kirsten Hearn, Eleanor Lisney and Ciara Doyle.

Filmed with thanks to Disability Action in Islington by Felix Gonzalez for the WOW party installation at the Southbank, London


Michelle Daley

Ok my names Michelle Daley and I’m a member of Sisters of Frida and I’ve been involved in the Disabled People’s movement since early 2000

I think it’s important for us to kind of think about why is it as disabled women we have to keep justifying our existence

Why do we have to justify who we are?

Why do we have to say make a statement about yes I’m attractive?

I can be err attracted to others

I’m a woman and I’m the same as any other woman

I also think it’s important that we recognise the people that came before us err who fought for women rights

But also there are many important disabled women who fought for our rights as well

and I think that’s what makes me proud of who I am as a disabled woman knowing that there was someone before me who started that journey

And I think it’s for me to continue that and to say yes I am proud to be a disabled black woman

Thank you!

Zara Todd

So I’m Zara, I’m 28 and a proud disabled young woman um yeah that’s me!

Is that all you’d like to say about today?

Err my brains a bit frazzled!

I think that it’s really interesting bringing together a group of disabled women

because yes we have a lot of shared experiences but we also have a lot of things

that are very unique to us

And I think often it’s easy to get caught up in labels

And while we need spaces to explore our identity we don’t necessarily need to come

to the same conclusions

And what I think today’s been quite good at

What I think the event will be quite good at is getting a space where we can

acknowledge who we are

All of who we are and just go yeah fine


Lucia Bellini

My name’s Lucia Bellini and I’m part of Sisters of Frida

I’m really happy to be able to say that I’m a disabled woman

That I’m very proud to be a disabled woman

I’m independent, I work, I am able to challenge stereotypes

Um and I’m able to fight for equality of opportunity in society for disabled people in


I’m um I think that there needs to be a lot more publicity or disabled women need to be portrayed in a much more positive light in the media

Um we were talking earlier about disabled women doing the catwalk but made to look non disabled

And I think we should be proud of our identities, we should be proud to look different if we choose to

Err if we want to conform and wear make-up and err and we should also be allowed to choose to do that too

Err err I’m a bit fed up of people telling me asking me why I want to wear make-up

Why I’m interested in how I look if I’m blind

Err I also think that it’s time disabled women are seen as women and not different err

you know we heard about the fact that err women don’t understand that we want to go out on dates just like everybody else

That we can also have children if we choose to

That we can be in a relationship if we choose to

That we’re no different because we’re disabled

That we just have the extra challenges that we have to overcome

You have to overcome extra discrimination, discrimination because we’re female and

discrimination because we’re disabled as well as all the additional barriers we have and in physical access

So I think that um more that it would be really good if more women, disabled women, would be proud of being who they are

Of coming out as a disabled woman and um being angry enough to challenge the discrimination that they receive in our society

Kirsten Hearn

My name’s Kirsten

Um I wrote a song about the plight of disabled women and I’d like to share the lyrics

with you

“Think of a mag, yes any old mag

What’s on the cover?

What do you see?

Pretty young women posing and grinning

Slender and sexy but nothing like me

Indoctrination, objectification

Is this the way it’s supposed to be?

No one with blubber gets on the cover

No one who hasn’t got symmetry

SAS Sisters against Symmetry

SAS Sisters against Body Bigotry

They say that prosthetics don’t make good aesthetics

Our surgical corset should never be seen

With bits of us missing there’s no good us wishing

To grace the front cover of Vogue magazine

Indoctrination, objectification this is the way it has always been

You’ve got to be bold break out of the mould

We shape our image let’s learn to be mean

SAS Sisters against Symmetry

SAS Sisters against Body Bigotry

Cherish those humps, those nodules and bumps

Those wrinkles and bulges and bubbly bits

Nurture your spots, your baggy old bots, your stretch marks and scars and saggy old

Indoctrination, objectification

Symmetricality is the pits

Take it or leave it we don’t care one bit

Our bodies are ours including our clits!

SAS Sisters against Body Bigotry

SAS Sisters against Symmetry”

Ok right that’s better!

Um the key thing that I need to say about being a disabled woman and my

experience in the world is it’s a joyous thing

It’s an absolutely joyous thing to be a disabled woman

I am different in many ways

I have different ways of appreciating the world

And I’m not being Polyandrous about it

It actually is true that we live in a world that assumes that everybody is non-disabled

That everybody can hear, see, speak, walk, talk all the whole lot

And our world is designed in such a way just to allow those to be members of that

privileged club

And I feel really strongly that if we want a diverse community we have to embrace

and celebrate, support and glorify all those people who are different in that kind of


And so I do a lot of writing, a lot of speaking about the difference that is me as a disabled woman

And by celebrating those things that other people might find ugly or frightening and at the end of the day that’s where I want us to be as disabled women

But I don’t want us to lose the feeling of anger

We can embrace our pride

We can embrace our anger

And send it outwards to make changes in the world and at the end of the day

I believe that sanity comes to us in terms of being able to cope with the world if we

can also hope that what we do makes a difference

And I really hope that what we’re doing today is making that difference

Eleanor Lisney

I’m Eleanor Lisney

I’m a disabled woman and I’m proud of it

It took me a long time err to come out as a disabled woman even though I’ve had my impairment for a long time

I think for most of my youth I was in denial err about it and I wanted to be a normal person just like everybody else

However I am very happy to be with other women who

I find joy in having found other disabled women

Err it’s a sort of relief and a joy and um celebration to be able to talk with other

women about things that I’ve thought of for a long time and have been quiet about

And now it’s no longer time, it’s no longer time to be quiet

It’s time to um have a voice

Ciara Doyle

I’m Ciara, I am an academic and err a mother, a career woman and a disabled woman

Err I think today was really really powerful and important

Err the err the reason sorry I’m completely frazzled!

Ok err I think that today was extremely important err

I think that it doesn’t happen nearly enough

And needs to happen much more

That the feminist agenda comes to disability politics

And that disability politics is brought to the feminist agenda

Because I really think they need to work far more closely together

And I think that there are areas within feminism or disability where disabled women need to be in the lead

I think that we as women in particular in this society

We are judged very very much within our bodies and how our bodies function

Err within quite strictly set gender norms

And I think that disabled women in particular are living on the knife edge of this

because it’s not just men the Patriarchal system in general

But the Patriarchal system through the medical profession as its Police Force

That chooses to pathologies or identify when women’s bodies, emotions or minds

are working within what are perceived to be acceptable levels of normality

Or outside of those acceptable levels of normality which are then pathologised

Which then creates disability because women are told that they are abnormal

And must either accept a victimhood status

Or work hard to normalise themselves

Instead of being able to celebrate who we are and what we are

And so this why I believe these are very much gender issues as well as being very very much disabled issues

And it is of no surprise that the majority of people who develop disabilities are women

Err and that it is two issues that need to come together and spend far more time and

dialogue with each other

Which is exactly what we were doing today

Making a start on that

Thank you!

Nancy Maguire: Perspective from pioneer to advocate for inclusion


Nancy Maguire was one of the speakers at the WOW party. She agreed to share her journey here with us.


Nancy Maquire

I was born in London in 1986 and have a condition called osteogenesis  imperfecta, commonly  known as brittle  bones. Many children with brittle bones grow up protected – overprotected, some might say – from any possibility of hurting themselves. My parents wanted me to be safe, but they also wanted me to have the opportunity to play, make friends and lead as normal a childhood as possible.

In the 1980s, inclusive education was still a fairly new concept. Like most parents of a disabled child, mine were advised to send me to a special school. My mother is a teacher, and after visiting the recommended school she was convinced that it would provide a substandard education.  My parents have always used my older sister Katy, who did not have a disability, to gauge what is acceptable for me: If they thought something wasn’t good enough for Katy, then it wasn’t good enough for me.

I was the first child with a disability to attend my primary school, and in many ways I felt like a guinea pig for inclusion. For example, despite having a positive attitude towards including me in all aspects of school life, my teachers lacked experience in how to adapt physical education so that I could get involved in a meaningful way.

Like most childhoods, mine wasn’t always easy. I spent a lot of time in hospital, and even within an ‘inclusive’ mainstream education system, there were times when I was excluded. For example, I wasn’t allowed to go to my nursery Christmas party because the teachers were worried I would break a bone.

Also, at high school they had a separate table in the canteen for children with disabilities and the teachers could not understand why I refused to sit at it. Despite setbacks and obstacles, however, I managed to flourish both educationally and socially.

I was always encouraged to try new things. My extracurricular activities included swimming, ballet, wheelchair tennis, drama and singing.  In many of these, I was also the only child with a disability. Interestingly, I often found these groups more inclusive than school in terms of how much I could participate and contribute. I felt wanted and people found creative ways for me to get involved. Nonetheless, there were many things I found difficult to do because of my limited mobility. I would sometimes feel upset because I couldn’t do things as well as the other children, and as I grew older and more self-conscious, I became reluctant to put myself in situations where my difficulties were on show.

In my teenage years a lot of my friends went through phases of being a ‘goth’ or a ‘rude girl’, which involved dressing or behaving in ways designed to attract attention. Whilst they were doing everything they could to stand out and be different, I was desperate to be ‘normal’ and fit in. Growing up with a disability, I received a lot of attention. People in the street would often stare at me, make comments and ask my parents, “What’s wrong with her?” I had days when I was able to brush it off, but no amount of resilience or family support can stop that from affecting you.

I developed extremely low self- esteem and poor body image, made worse because I was significantly overweight. I found exercise difficult, and like many girls my age, I ate to comfort myself. I had also internalized the medical terminology that was used to describe me – in particular the word ‘deformed’ (I had a curvature of the spine, since corrected). When I was 14, I developed  an eating disorder, partly  because I wanted to lose weight  – but also because my weight  felt like one aspect of my physical appearance that I could actually  control.

Although I had incredibly supportive family and friends, being disabled were never something I viewed as a positive thing. I thought I had to overcome it, like adversity.  I became obsessed with being as ‘undisabled’ as possible, and I was convinced that if I could walk, my life would be a lot better. Ironically, although I no longer use a wheelchair, in many ways I feel more aware of my disability than ever. People still make comments about me because I have small stature, and make assumptions about my life and ability; I always have to prove myself, particularly in the workplace. Though I am not defined by my disability, it has been pivotal in shaping who I am and what I have achieved. Having a disability is now something I embrace: I no longer see it as a negative thing or something I should be embarrassed about. In many ways being disabled has worked to my advantage and created opportunities that might never have been available to me – like writing this article.

Every child’s experience is different. I come from a lower- middle-class family in the United Kingdom, where I had access to free health care and a good education.  But I strongly believe that the issues of belonging, self-esteem and aspiration transcend such distinctions as gender, class and nationality. To develop a greater sense of self-worth, children with disabilities need the opportunity to participate and contribute in all aspects of their lives.

People with disabilities are becoming more visible in many walks of life – in politics and the media, for example. This is instrumental in improving children’s perceptions of what they can achieve. When I was growing up, the only role model I had was Stevie Wonder. I admired him because he was a successful and respected musician despite being blind. However, it would have helped me to see people with disabilities doing everyday jobs – as teachers, doctors or shopkeepers. I think that would also have helped my parents. My mum said that when I was a child, she tried not to think about my future because it made her scared. She knew that I was capable but feared that my options would be limited.

As it turns out, my disability has not prevented me from achieving any of the important things. I am a qualified social worker, passed my driving test when I was 16, left home when I was 19 and have lived and worked in Asia and Africa. In the future I hope to be an advocate for children with disabilities on an international level, as I passionately believe in the inalienable human rights and untapped potential of these children.

First published at UNICEF

No to allowing sterilization of disabled minors in Columbia


Sisters of Frida has signed in support.

Press Release

Organizations in several countries reject decision of the Colombian Constitutional Court allowing for sterilization of minors with disabilities without their consent.
Bogota, Colombia, March 18, 2014.

On March 11th, the Colombian Constitutional Court validated the practice of surgical sterilization of minors with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities after considering a constitutional challenge to article 7 of Law 1412 of 2010, which prohibited the practice of surgical sterilization for contraceptive purposes on minors in all cases. (Decision C-133/14 – Press Release No. 08)

Although the Constitutional Court declared article 7 constitutional, it stated that “when it comes to minors with disabilities for whom there is a proven impossibility to give consent in the future to undergo sterilization procedures, the parents, or in any case, the legal guardian, must request judicial authorization to allow surgical sterilization. In that sense, previous case law has considered that a person that does not have the capacity to understand what sterilization is or its consequences, as it is the case of mental disabilities, she or he will hardly be in a place to understand the responsibility attached to the exercise of maternity or paternity and therefore, the implications of being able to or not to procreate”. The Court added: “The decision to undergo surgical sterilization ensures more dignified living conditions for those who cannot make decisions related to the exercise of their reproductive freedom and that may be exposed to forced pregnancies in detriment of their dignity and personal integrity.” Justices Luis Guillermo Guerrero and Luis Ernesto Vargas will draft concurring opinions because they consider that such interpretation goes against applicable international human rights standards.

Various national and international organizations firmly rejected the statements of the Constitutional Court. “Sterilization does not protect anybody from sexual violence and in fact it is a risk factor. With this decision the Court disregarded its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, ratified by Colombia. The Convention requires that States recognize people with disabilities’ full legal capacity to make their own decisions and that they provide the necessary supports to do so”, said Andrea Parra, Director of the Action Program for Equality and Social Inclusion (PAIIS) of the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. “The Convention specifically protects people with disabilities’ right to maintain their fertility, which historically has been controlled and denied.The Convention recognizes that all the people, regardless of their disability, have will and preferences and the State must recognize and respect them. Validating a third party signature of the consent form to the procedure is forced sterilization”, Parra added.

Organizations from Australia, Argentina, Canada, the United States, India, Mexico, Peru and the United Kingdom, as well as international organizations rejected the decision. According to the report

“Sterilization of Women and Girls with Disabilities” by the Campaign to Stop Torture in Health Care, “Systemic prejudice and discrimination against women and girls with
disabilities continues to result in widespread denial of their right to experience their sexuality, to have sexual relationships, and to found and maintain families. Forced sterilization is an act of violence, a form of social control, and a violation of the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The International Federation of Gynechology and Obstretics (FIGO) in its guidelines on female sterilization states that

“Only women themselves can give ethically valid consent to their own sterilization. Family members including husbands, parents, legal guardians, medical practitioners and, for instance, government or other public officers, cannot consent on any woman’s or girl’s behalf.”

Doctor Claudia Malacrida, sociologist and professor at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, expert in eugenic practices said:

“Involuntary sterilization is not the solution for disabled people’s sexuality. Rather, education, support and opportunities to engage and learn, facilitate disabled people’s emotional, sexual and reproductive lives. Involuntary sterilization can also often have the effect of hiding the outcomes of sexual abuse; it is NOT a way of protecting disabled people from abuse or unwanted sexual contact, but in fact can make them more vulnerable”.

Stephanie Ortoleva, from international NGO Women Enabled, Inc. states:

“Forced non-consensual sterilization of women and girls with disabilities cannot be tolerated as it not only violates our core human rights, but also our physical and mental health. Empowering others to make such decisions for women and girls with disabilities is an unacceptable form of violence and control”.

Erich Kofmel from Autistic Minority International added:

“What is particularly troubling to us is the uncertain scope of the court’s decision. Many persons with so-called mental disabilities, for example those on the autism spectrum, may be falsely thought of as incapable of exercising their sexual and reproductive rights, now or in the future, and unjustly judged due to a lack of knowledge about their condition.”

The decision not only disregards the UN Disability Convention, it also ignores the recommendations made to Colombia by the Committee to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which specifically told Colombia to amend its regulatory framework to guarantee that sterilization is conducted with the free and informed consent of women with disabilities.

This and other aspects related to violations of sexual and reproductive rights of people with disabilities in Colombia will be presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights during the upcoming thematic hearing on the issue, which will take place on March 24th in Washington, D.C., United States.

Colombia has the international obligation to adjust its laws, judicial decisions, policies and practices to the mandates of the UN Convention on Disability and to guarantee the autonomy and legal capacity of all people with disabilities as recognized by Law 1618 of 2013.

Signatory Organizations:


Action Program for Equality and Social Inclusion (PAIIS), Universidad de los Andes
Asociación Colombiana de Síndrome de Down (ASDOWN)
Liga Colombiana de Autismo (LICA)
Fundamental Colombia
Corporación Transición es Crecer

Other countries:

ARROW – Asian Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women (Regional)
Autistic Minority International (International)
Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University (United States)
Canadian Association of the Deaf (Canada)
Eugenics and Newgenics Research Project, Universidad de Lethbridge (Canada)
Center for Reproductive Rights (International)
Centro Estratégico de Impacto Social – CEIS (Mexico)
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales – CELS (Argentina)
Clínica Jurídica de Acciones de Interés Público, sección Discapacidad de la Pontificia
Universidad Católica del Peru. (Peru)
Clínica Jurídica del Programa Universitario de Derechos Humanos de la UNAM (Mexico)
Disability Rights International –DRI (International)
Documenta, análisis y acción para la justicia social a.c. (Mexico)
Impact Litigation Project, American University (United States)
International Disability Alliance (International)
International Network of Women with Disabilities (International)
Open Society Foundations (International)
Proyecto de Litigio de Alto Impacto, American University (Estados Unidos)
Respectful Interfaces (Estados Unidos)
School of Health, Policy and Management, Critical Disability Studies, York University (Canada)
Sisters of Frida (United Kingdom)
Sociedad y Discapacidad (Peru)
Women Enabled, Inc. (International)
Women’s Link Worldwide (International)
Women with Disabilities Australia (Australia)
Women with Disabilities India Network (India)

For more information contact:
Andrea Parra
Programa de Acción por la Igualdad y la Inclusión Social (PAIIS) Universidad de los Andes.

Ph: +5713394949 ext 3157 – +573136726231


Constitutional Court of Colombia – Press Release No. 08 – March 11, 2014:

UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities:

Recommendations to Colombia by the CEDAW Committee, October 2013, par. 30(e):

International Federation on Gynechology and Obstetrics. Guidelines on Female Sterilization, 2011:

Campain to Stop Torture in Health Care. Briefing Paper:

Comunicado de Prensa esterilización Colombia VERSION FINAL 20140319 (Spanish version pdf)

Comunicado de Prensa esterilización Colombia VERSION FINAL 20140319(Spanish version Word doc)

Press Release Sterilization Colombia FINAL VERSION 20140319 (Word doc)
Press Release Sterilization Colombia FINAL VERSION 20140319-2 (pdf version)

At WOW Festival 2014 | Feminism & Privilege


Does mainstream feminism only speak to white, straight, able-bodied, middle class women? This panel unpicks the debate about feminism and identity politics, what it means to be a good ally and whether you can ever leave your privilege at the door. Speakers include Nan Sloane, director of the Centre for Women and Democracy, Reni Eddo-Lodge, writer and contributing editor at Feminist Times and Eleanor Lisney of Sisters of Frida and Mercia McMahon. Chaired by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

At WOW Festival 2014: Austerity – Who Benefits?


Why are cuts and austerity politics still disproportionately affecting women? Leading anti-cuts campaigners including Rosie Rogers from UK Uncut, poet, artist and activist Zita Holbourne and Eleanor Lisney from Sisters of Frida lay out today’s cuts landscape and consider what challenges the next round of cuts will bring. Chaired by Guardian journalist Kira Cochrane.

Photos : WOW Party at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank