Gender and disability – Is intersectionality possible?


Deniz Baskan


The session ‘Supporting rights and equality – Working together with the women and girls with disabilities’ organized by the Disability Thematic Network of EFC during the 2019 Annual Conference definitely opened up its participants’ horizons in many aspects. The foundation representatives in the room were mostly supporting initiatives either in gender or in disability area and puzzled with the fact that the challenges of the intersection of the two were rarely addressed.

The session addressed the issue in a wholistic manner; where it was underlined that the barriers faced by women and girls with disabilities could be eradicated through policy-making, rights advocacy and strategic support.

Discussions at the policy level revealed the fact that initiatives working for the advancement of the rights of women and girls with disabilities often lack the involvement of the women and girls with disabilities in the decision-making processes. In the session, it was stressed that women and girls with disabilities were represented in few countries at the national level and the international committees lacked the representation of right holders.  As the first woman with disabilities elected as a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Ana Peláez Narváez was the perfect name to talk about the representation dilemma.

From the rights-based point of view, the motto ‘nothing about us without us’ was voiced numerous times during the session. As an outstanding activist, Yetnebersh Nigussie’s powerful address reinforced the message where her speech was interrupted by applauses many times. The call was for women and girls with disabilities to be active agents in creating solutions and instead of letting others speak on behalf of them. As the holder of the Right Livelihood Award (the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’) in 2017 for her inspiring work promoting the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities, no one could approach the issue from the rights-based point of view in a better way.

Lastly, the session aimed to encourage the funders to support the rights of women and girls with disabilities through various initiatives, namely with grants. This was my first AGA and it did not take too long for me to realize that it was sharing experience, motivation and positive energy what made this gathering so unique. Grant stories shared by Nevgul Bilsel Safkan, General Manager of Sabanci Foundation encouraged the listeners that supporting the rights of women and girls with disabilities had incredible results and is certainly doable.

The session ended with the learning outcome of how small steps could be taken by the foundations to mainstream women and girls with disabilities in the policy. The ultimate aim of the session was to convey the message to the participants that how critical it was to approach the disability area with a gender lens and vice versa; and it definitely succeeded well. Now, it’s time to act for all of us!

Deniz Baskan is Grant Programs Coordinator at Sabanci Foundation.

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