Category Archives: Disabled Women

Michelle Daley: Lived experience as a BME disabled woman


Presented at the ‘Let’s Get Personal’ Conference on Self-Directed Support and BME Communities in Edinburgh

on  Wednesday, 14th May 2014

Michelle Daley

Michelle Daley

Thank you for inviting me to speak at your ‘Let’s Get Personal Conference’. When I received the information and I read the title ‘Let’s Get Personal’ I said wow! How much information should I share because it could get REALLY personal! On a serious note in many ways the title is very pertinent and relevant to the whole issue around social care and continuing health in that the endless list of questions that need to be answered in order to satisfy rigid criteria’s, which are not geared at promoting or achieving real independent living.

The purpose of this presentation is to share with you my lived experience as a Black Disabled Woman using Self Directed Support. As my experience pertains to race, disability and gender identity the focus will look at my personal challenges in achieving real independent living from a personal and professional perspective.

We have seen throughout history, how both Black and White Disabled People have challenged (and even died in the struggle) against unfair treatment. It is because of the endless advocacy and campaigning that I can be here on the podium having this discussion with you today. Many years ago I would have been locked away in an institution with no rights and remained there until my days were over. I am very thankful for the progress made which I am fortunate to enjoy today, however, I continue to be reminded by the horrible stories reported globally in the media, that we still have much work to do to help the many Disabled People whose voices continue to go unheard.

Before I continue with my presentation, it is important that I define ‘Black Disabled People’. I am describing people from African, Caribbean and some Asian descent. With this in mind, I would like to set the scene by raising a few questions for you to consider such as:

- Do you think Black Disabled People have a different understanding of ‘Independent Living’?
– In what way can service provisions and the like address oppressive practices if we [Black Disabled People] are absent from the political debates?
– Do you think that Black Disabled People receive a better, worse or the same quality of social care service in comparison to their white counterparts?

I will attempt to address these questions throughout my presentation.

The issue of independent living continues to remain a problem for many Disabled People but if it is an issue for White Disabled People often it will be even more problematic for Black Disabled People.

One of the views I often hear is that Black Disabled People have a different understanding of ‘independent living’. This is a myth and I disagree with this view. This is because social-economic factors can affect how Black and White Disabled People achieve Independent Living and there will be a distinction between the experiences, attitudes and beliefs of people coming from different parts of the world. People coming from Developing Countries are less likely to be exposed to state involvement and structures. They are more likely to rely on natural support from family members and their social networks and their financial circumstances may mean that they are less likely to have access to good equipment, assistive technology and support systems.
I will refer to my post graduate dissertation where I looked at the experience of independent living between the North and South globally. My study found that there was “no fundamental difference in the way disabled people globally understood the concept of Independent Living and that it was consistent with the notions of the Independent Living Movement” (Daley, 2009, p.69). The difference I found was related to “the way Independent Living was achieved”. Some of the respondents from developing countries expressed concerns that the support which was offered to disabled people was “usually ineffective” (p.64). This implies that some of the success to Disabled People achieving Independent Living is “dependent on the role played by the Government in improving the life chances of disabled people” (Daley, 2009, p.69).

I will again refer to my dissertation from a comment made by a Jamaican respondent which shows that there is no difference in the understanding of Independent Living globally. They said:

“Independent Living to me means to be responsible for my own existence. I work, I earn my own money, I live where I want to, I eat when I want to. I have the family I want. I determine whether I have a family and stuff like that”

(Daley, 2009, p. 40).

In another example, when I travelled to Jamaica in December 2013 to visit my mother. On one of the many excursions during my trip I was directing a taxi driver on how to get to Kingston and the driver replied by saying “you know that you could be a tour guide”. I then thought, let me test his thinking… so I replied by saying “how because I cannot drive and I’d need too much physical help”. He replied by saying “why not? You could give the directions as you are doing now and someone would drive the car. Is that not what we are doing now?”. Here the thinking was consistent with Independent Living Movement principles and being self reliant. It showed how through my (and other Disabled People’s) participation in ordinary life can change attitudes about Disabled People in general.

Therefore, I do think it is dangerous to assume that Black Disabled People are not ‘clued-up’ on disability issues. Black Disabled People in the same way as White Disabled People want a chance to have access to services, be in control of their support and able to live an ordinary life.

Following on from this point I feel that Social Services and many of the services that support Disabled People are failing Black Disabled People because of the limited knowledge and understanding about our experiences.

One of the causes of this could be due to our absence from Disabled People Movement debates and other debates, which in turn does not help to address misconceptions and myths held about Black Disabled People. In the book Reflections’ written by Nasa Begum, Midrette Hill and Andy Stevens (1994) they elaborate further by looking at cause and effect. They are of the view that as Black Disabled People their experience:

“is at best mystified, at worst it is ignored as irrelevant rhetoric…Black Disabled People are perceived as being part of a problem which can only be resolved by empowered others” (1994, p.41).

I know that there have been various discussions about these issues raised above. One of the suggestions proposed is whether there is a need for a ‘Black Disabled Peoples’ Movement’? This is also something that Midrette Hill (Nasa Begum et al, 1994) has strong views on which she comments about the failures within the Disabled Peoples Movement to fully embrace Black Disabled People’s experience. What we learn from Mildrea Hill (Nasa Begum et al, 1994). It is necessary that Black Disabled People align themselves to people that share their experiences, who want more out of their lives, not happy with living life just as it is. Who recognise that if change is going to happen, then it is up to us, to demand our involvement within the debates, in order to address institutional racism and other forms of oppression.

I also feel there is a need for better advocacy support for both Black and White Disabled People, to create positive images of Black Disabled People (including Women), to increase the representation of Black Disabled People across the workforce but also to support Black Disabled People to become conscious about political issues affecting Black Disabled People. My colleague Jas Johal – Direct Payments Manager said

“I do not think that any of these schemes [Direct Payments] have knowledge around these issues, at the same time I do not think there is a need for separate schemes, but there is a need for dedicated workers.”

I know that many of the Disabled Peoples’ organisations do not have the skills to adequately support most Black Disabled People and often this amounts to discrimination. There is a growing need to address this issue and it is not as small as perceived.
Midrette Hill (Nasa Begum et al, 1994) also said there is a need for Black Disabled People to see the connection between race and disability. Well, that was me before I became involved in the Disabled Peoples Movement. I was disconnected from the experiences of Disabled People. I grew up with a non-disabled family and I had never met an adult Black Disabled Person as you can imagine it was very difficult for me to picture my life in any positive way.

It was a good friend of mine, Jaspal Dhani, who introduced me to the Disabled Peoples Movement. Jaspal Dhani had invited me out for a drink but little did I know that this meeting was to be one of the most significant moments in my life. At the time I had just finished university and was really struggling to find employment. The Disability Discrimination Act was not introduced as yet and companies were openly disabilist in their recruitment practices. There was no accessible transport, no Self Directed Support, no inclusive education, however, there were plenty day centres and other segregated provisions. Having just completed university I had dreams and I needed to work on them. There was no way I was going to waste myself in a segregated service. Jaspal Dhani informed me about the Social Model of Disability and informed me about the Disabled People’s Movement. I was so excited. I then became exposed to people who I would consider as prominent and influential Black Disabled People such as Dr Ossie Stuart, Saâdia Neilson and Nasa Begum. Sadly, Nasa Begum and Midrette Hill are no longer with us. It was through these encounters and reading their literature, I found comfort and it allowed me to better understand my experience as a Black Disabled Woman. One of the issues which I often struggled with was being made to feel I had to compromise my race, gender or impairment which suggested that these aspects of my identity are less important. I was not prepared to compartmentalise or prioritise certain aspects of my identity. It would imply that I do not acknowledge the different impacts of oppression – as I am a Black Disabled Woman!

There is also a need to explore the reason for the low take up of services by Black Disabled People. Often it is because the assessment process does not reflect their identity and diverse needs. In addressing this point I took the advantage of having a chat with an NHS Manager. They said “the questions are generally tailored for everyone…” A one size fits all approach, often not relevant and inappropriate. NHS Manager told me that “often you [assessor] would have to probe your client with supplementary questions and as an assessor you need to know how to ask the questions…” For me this showed the skills and ability of a good and committed assessor who supports and recognises the principles of Independent Living. In addition, it is also beneficial for the Disabled Person to have some knowledge about the different frameworks that they will be assessed on but for many Disabled People the information is often inaccessible to them.

I have seen that the attitudes and views of professionals can and do influence the way an assessment is conducted and the outcome being the services offered. I personally find the whole assessment process and questioning intrusive. You are made to feel worthless and a burden on the state. I also think Black Disabled People’s biggest fear is to be placed in a residential setting. These types of behaviours can act as a barrier which deters many Black People from accessing services, thus resulting in Black People approaching services at crisis point.

My experience echoes this point. In 2009 following surgery, my impairment had changed, my needs had hugely increased and I needed support to return home from hospital. I was told by the hospital Social Worker that my needs were too high for me to return home and they were looking to place me in a residential setting. I was not just dealing with recovering from major surgery. I was fighting to return home with support so I could continue to live my life as previously prior to my impairment changing. It was a difficult struggle. There were moments
when I would just stare at the ceiling, feeling out of control. After many hospital bedside meetings. I said – I am the author of my life. I was not going to let others determine and define my future. Even though the professionals had another view from me, but it was necessary for them to know that I would return home.

That experience was to be one of the worst moments in my life. I do not want to re-live. I felt powerless. I knew that my future was dependent on decisions made by professionals and all it took was at the stroke of a pen and an e-mail confirmation. I felt like I was going through a trial for a crime I had not committed. I was trying to fight my case, but with no advocate. I had to wait for the jury to conclude and I could only hope it was in my favour. I did return home, but I was to be assessed every two weeks for about 6 months. It was after about a year, that Social Services referred me to Continuing Health, so now my package, is a mixture of Social Services and Health.

In another one of my yearly Social Service Care reviews I was told by a Social Worker that “we cannot pay for you to dress like that – how long does it take to put those jeans on?”. This comment was insulting, offensive, highly rude and demeaning to me. I was being told that I should be denied the right to take pride in myself and not to have any choices pertaining to my life. I was not (and never will be) prepared to allow someone else’s opinion of me to become my reality.

With the austerity measures imposed by this Government, services have tightened their criteria, with many local authorities, health and other such services, making huge cuts to their budgets with Disabled People being the hardest hit. I have evidence to show how budgets are used as the focus for determining who is eligible for social care services. As Jas Johal says it is because the “senior managers’ main concerns are budgets and cutting services”. I have taken calls from Social Workers telling me that they have been told by their Manager to reduce costs of some clients care packages, but still expect the individuals to receive the same level of support. Most of the Direct Payments packages are inadequate and do not reflect the individual’s actual support needs.

While the essence of social care services is to provide extra help to children, families, disabled people, etc., it does not always appear to be attractive to everyone. Evidence has suggested that there is a low take up of services, particularly from Black People in general. In addition to the points, I raised it could also be due to:

- inaccessible information,
– services not of their interest,
– individuals made to fit into services agenda,
– services bureaucratic and regimented.

In many ways social care services approach reflects that of a Blueprint, a formalised plan which is used in International Development. A Blueprint is designed to stimulate development within developing countries. I think social care services and Blueprint share many values:

- bureaucratic and regimented,
– led by professionals,
– not participatory,
– views are inconsistent with receiver,
– difficult to make changes.

The whole thing about these systems is they do not want the receiver to be free and they continue to be dependent. I think Nelson Mandela articulates this point well. He says:

“… to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way the respects and enhances the freedom of others” (Mandela, 1994, p.544).

Because of the perceptions and these issues listed above, I believe that some Black People fears have been influenced from history where plans were used to exert power and gain dominance. For example transatlantic slave trade and British Raj and so on. In the ‘Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’ she talks about the struggle and challenges for Black African People when they were given their freedom in America. This moment was suppose to be about creating new beginnings and liberation for Black African People. Black African People did not have access to resources, employment or have any tools that would allow them to meet their basic needs. They were free in words, but were still at the mercy of their slave masters. Consistent with this point Harriet Tubman, who helped to free thousands of enslaved African People hasbeen noted as saying:
“I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.” (BrainyQuote, n.d)
I know that this is how most Black People feel about their situation, but it also influences how they view services. I also know my mother and many of her friends would not approach social services even if they required extra help. They are too aware of the rhetoric of freedom and its constraints.

It was following the horrific killing of Stephen Lawrence the Macpherson Report, which proposed a number of recommendations to address institutional racism and helped to address other oppressive practices. However, there continues to be huge, disparity within the workforce, with most of the middle management and lower grades being dominated by Black workers. The top senior management position held by White workers who are most likely to have limited understanding about the experiences of Black Disabled People. I know this to be a concern for many professionals as the NHS Manager says “senior managers often do not have any awareness about what happens on the field.” So when an assessor presents their client’s case to their manager requesting support for extra time above the agreed hours for a Black Disabled Woman to maintain her hair and skin care this is likely to be rejected because of the Managers lack of understanding about Afro textured hair and skin sensitivity and the experience of dryness. Is its refusal related to racism, sexism or both? And / or is it budget driven?

One of the key facets linked to Disabled People achieving Independent Living is through the help of a Personal Assistant. I recognise the important role they have played in my life. I employ a team of 7 Personal Assistants most of them are Black Women and some are newcomers to England. I have asked them what attracted you to this industry? One of my PA’s said “England is very discriminatory. When we come to England our qualifications are not recognised here. This is the easiest way to get work.” Hearing this might not be comfortable, but it is the reality for many newcomers to England. As a qualified person with over ten years of work experience I would not appreciate the fact that my background and skills are not recognised and have no value.

Evidence has shown that most of the low paid jobs are dominated by Black workers. It would also not sit comfortable with me knowing that I am forced into an industry that is not recognised and has no value. I am fully aware of the issues working in the Social Care field. While there is a National Minimum Wage there is an exemption within the law which allows employers to pay Care Workers below the minimum wage. Many of these workers are often trapped in low paid jobs, do not get paid annual leave, no career development initiatives, no access to pension, no sick pay, no contract of employment and the list goes on. This is appalling treatment, abuse and exploitation of cheap labour and something that does not sit comfortably with me, especially knowing it mostly affects women and Black People.

Last year I attended a Personal Assistant training session, which was delivered by a well known insurance company providing cover for Direct Payments Users. I was not just shocked, but very worried when the trainer told the participants that casual / irregular workers (also referred to as zero hour contract workers) are not entitled to holiday pay. This is incorrect. I referred the trainer to guidance which states what workers are entitled to holiday pay. It is this type of information which does not help to promote good practices within the industry.

I also wanted to know why my Personal Assistants chose to work with me? A few of them had said to me that they wanted to see what it would be like working with a Black Disabled Woman. I have since asked them if the experience of working with me is different to that of a White Disabled Person? Those that have had previous experience of working as Personal Assistants said many of the practical tasks remain the same but there is a difference. They have said that I can relate to their experience of settlement, social networks, contact, belonging and treatment which are integral parts to a person settlement here in the UK (or wherever a person chooses to live). My personal experience and academic studies has taught me that when these issues are addressed people are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and less likely to feel unfairly treated. I think this knowledge has helped me to successfully employ a team of highly experienced and professional Personal Assistant’s for over four years. We have mutual respect, we have a clear understanding about our roles and they recognise their role in supporting me to achieve independent living. When I recruit a new Personal Assistant I make it clear, that they are not my slave, maid, child minder or carer. I explain to them that it is their role to facilitate my independence and that we are mutually dependent on each other. As my mother would often tell me as a child that “no one is an island”.

Despite many of the negative points pertaining to working in this industry as a Personal Assistant, all of my Personal Assistants have told me that the flexibility of the job has enabled them to continue their academic studies, pursue other career opportunities and it fits into their personal and family lifestyle.

I echo the Jamaican motto “Out of Many, One People” it signifies the unity of the different groups of people living on the island and this is how I see my independence. It is through the unity of the different people involved in supporting me that has enabled me to achieve my desired outcome whatever it might be. This is independent living just getting on with living.
I might not have control over the allocated Direct Payments budget, but I do have control in ensuring I promote good practice and that my Personal Assistants are fairly treated. It is important that I apply these practices as it means, that I can have a positive team, I can retain staff, my needs will be appropriately met thus I achieve independence.

I wanted to represent the idea and possibility that we Disabled People can have dreams and can achieve them. That I define my values and purpose and do not let others determine my existence and reality. It is because of the Independent Living Movement, which was spearheaded by Disabled People that made the way for me and others to be that idea and possibility of Independent Living.

I am grateful that I am living the idea and possibility of Independent Living. It is Self Directed Support which has enabled me to be here today. Self Directed Support has enabled me to work, has enabled me to maintain and pursue relationships with my friends and family. Self Directed Support means I can employ the people I want to work with me and I am in control of how my Personal Assistants help me. Simply Self Directed Support means I can just get on with living and doing ordinary things just like others.

To conclude, we must remember that for the Independent Living Movement to progress further, Black Disabled People must be involved and have real representation on the leadership team and the debates of its future.

I will always be committed to advocating for real Independent Living and for it to be recognised as a Universal Human Right.
Thank you!

BrainyQuote (n.d). Harriet Tubman Quotes. Accessed from:
Daley, M (2009). Voices of Disabled People: A comparative study to explore the North and South experiences of Independent Living. MSc. London: University of East London
Nasa Begum (Editor); Mildrette Hill (Editor) and Andy Stevens (Editor) (1994). Reflections: Views of black disabled people on their lives and community care. Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, London
Mandela, N (1994). Long Walk to Freedom. Little Brown and Company (Canada) Limited, United States of America

Context is everything: why McDonald v UK is a stepping stone on the road to a dignified future for disabled people



As disabled women, we as Sisters of Frida have been ruminating about this case, it is good to read Steve Broach’s measured comments and how he has set it out to help us understand its complexity.  Steve is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and acted for Mrs McDonald in the domestic courts and the ECtHR.

For a disabled person’s perspective on McDonald v UK, see the blogpost by Jan Sutton at this link instead.

Originally posted on Authors of our lives:

By Steve Broach

The cliché that in law, context is everything is entirely true. So it is essential to examine the context for Elaine McDonald’s challenge to the decision to withdraw funding for her nighttime care, requiring her to wear incontinence pads although she is not in fact incontinent, before deciding whether the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in McDonald v UK (link to{“itemid”:["001-144115"]}) should be seen as a success or a failure. Some of the key points include:

  • All courts are reluctant to dictate how public funds should be spent. This means that where (as here) the state is expressly relying on cost justifications, the courts will not want to intervene if this can be avoided.
  • As an international court, the ECtHR is even more reluctant than domestic courts to interfere with national-level spending decisions.
  • The principle of subsidiarity, in short leaving compliance with the…

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Gender Based Violence: NAWO panel at the ESVIC Global Summit



The National Alliance of Womens Alliance (NAWO ) – Sisters of Frida is part of NAWO – Chair Annette Lawson  invited us to be part of their fringe event at the End Sexual Violence In Conflict Global Summit.


NAWO group at the Excel Centre, Annette Lawson, Sarah Priest, Elizabeth Gordon, Jane Kiraga and  Marai Larasi

It was an honour to be at the same panel with the likes of Jane Kiragu, African Women’s Leadership Network, Marai Larasi, Director, IMKAAN, black feminist anti-VAWG organisation and Elizabeth Gordon, Survivor, artist and campaigner, Non-State Torture. It was chaired by Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Minister for Women

here is Eleanor’s speech

Thank you, Nicky, Minister,  for the introduction.

At this Global Summit, we have heard how much violence there is against women in conflict and indeed are likely to encounter in everyday life, with domestic violence at home and harassment and sexual violence in the streets and workplace.

When it comes to disabled women,

“Violence against women with disabilities is a human rights violation resulting from the interaction of systemic gender-based discrimination against women and disability-based discrimination against people with disabilities. It includes family violence, sexual assault and disability-based violence. A range of behaviours are associated with these forms of violence, including emotional, verbal, social, economic, psychological, spiritual, physical and sexual abuses. These may be perpetrated against women with disabilities by multiple perpetrators, including intimate partners and other family members, and those providing personal and other care in the home or in institutional, public or service settings.”


(This is taken from Landmark Research: ‘voices Against Violence’ just published last month is Australia )

It sounds like its far from the war zones and disabled women seem so much better here than what women endure in the war zones in conflict? But those women become disabled – emotionally, socially, economically, psychologically, spiritually, physically and sexually deprived – and as disabled women we share the same gender based discrimination wherever we are globally. Research has shown that disabled women experience abuse at least twice as often as non-disabled women. Women who acquire disabilities then have to pick up their lives when they face discrimination not only for their gender but sometimes also from other women, from their own family members and shunted and the state will collude with putting us into institutions. We are seen scroungers, needy and we cant /do not fulfil our roles as lovers, wives and mothers. So disabled women are sterilized ( very often said to be a form of family planning and also because menstruation is such so messy ) and disabled women live in fear of having their children taken away because they are not seen as capable to be mothers. But then there is research that rape of vulnerable women, especially those with learning difficulties, has effectively been “decriminalised”, according to Professor Betsy Stanko a research academic employed by the Metropolitan Police.

According to Womens Aid, disabled women experience abuse at least twice as often as non-disabled women. Disabled women also experience disability hate crime where often rape can be part of the violence. Gemma Hayter, who had learning difficulties was taken to disused railway line where a bin bag was put over her head before she was stripped naked, strangled, kicked mercilessly in the face and then stabbed in the neck.

Last week I read about systematic abuse of disabled people in an institution in Romania

‘In a residential centre for disabled people, 10 women were sharing a squalid room reeking of urine. Two residents began crying. They said they’d been “punished” by staff, beaten because they’d refused to have their heads shaved.’

Officials when presented with the camera footage of the conditions said they believed that they ought to live in the community. In the UK which was a beacon for independent living, the Independent Living Fund ILF –used to support the most severely disabled is closing. They will probably end up in institutions – many of them are terrified for their lives – you only need to remember Winterbourne to understand that.

Austerity policies around welfare benefits and other support are disproportionately impacting on disabled women and and pushing disabled women into more poverty and insecurity.  Many disabled women have been made destitute and homeless as a result of government policy. A bill is being put up by Lord Falconer to make changes to the current law for assisted dying. Disabled people fear that the common perception of themselves as a burden, especially when support services are cut, may contribute to their decision making that they were better off dead. We believe that the focus should be on assisted/supported living not on assisted dying. Not to have a lingering existence where its just being personal care and fed by agency workers who come for 15 minutes every morning and evening.

‘The history of human rights is one of gradual rather than spectacular gains. History also tells us that rights are never just handed down from above, but have to be simultaneously claimed from below’. 

(from’ Women and armed conflict from victims to activists’ (pdf)

Disabled women should be afforded equality wherever they are as human rights – enshrined in UN Conventions, especially CEDAW and the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Disabled People). Our fight here for human rights as disabled women for Article 19, for Independent Living, is a fight for all disabled women so that we get included as women who has rights to be part of our communities, to be equal to non disabled men and women.

So when we campaign for human rights here for disabled women we are campaigning for all disabled women wherever they might be, globally, in solidarity.

Thank you.

This is Elizabeth’s speech

Thank you Annette and NAWO for giving me this space to speak today. I’d also like to thank Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald from Persons Against Non-State Torture in Canada. They have been campaigning for 21 years for the recognition of non-State torture as a crime and have been contacted by over 3000 girls and women from many countries around the world who have suffered non-State torture.
Non-State torture is a specific form of violence that is missing from the known continuum of violence against women and girls. The torture victimisation that women and girls suffer is invisibilised as it is not recognised as a crime in most countries.
Non-State torture is torture that is perpetrated by private individuals or groups like parents, family members, their friends, strangers, gangs, pedophiles, groups of traffickers, pimps and johns. It happens in places like homes, warehouses, churches, woods, boats, fields, streets and farm buildings.
Classic tortures include: physical, sexualised and psychological/conditioning tortures, chemical and spiritual and relational torture. There are socio-cultural tortures like
FGM, foot binding.
Commercial-based torture includes the world-wide trafficking, sexual exploitation and torture of girls and women for profit, a global industry fed by huge demand. Prostitution victimisation can begin with infants and little girls through to prostituted women who are subjected to torture by pimps and johns. There is an increasing demand for torture pornography. Trafficked children are subjected to torture ordeals
in infant and child crime scene pornography including snuff films and photos. Girls and women who are tortured in any ordeal may then be killed, or left to suffer and die of their injuries.
Here in the UK, the 2012 Children’s Commissioner Report on child sexual
exploitation in gangs and groups, confirms that the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK are predominately men of all ages and all backgrounds, and those they victimise are predominately girls in this report; from age 11 upwards, to young women.
There is also evidence that spillover domestic violence that can be torture occurs more in military families both during and after wars and conflicts and in the domestic setting is predominately suffered by women and girls.
In my personal her-story, my father’s family, “uncles” and other friends had mostly previously served in the military. Their private group torturing crimes were influenced by their war experiences and the cultural norms of a patriarchal society with misogynistic attitudes. They saw girls and women as their property and they acted with impunity.
My mother’s torture of me was directly linked to the sexualised violence she suffered as a girl in the second world war.
I grew up in a seemingly ordinary family in the UK..I went to school. The home-spun torture and trafficking I suffered was hidden in plain sight.
By the time I was 5 years old I had suffered many extreme life threatening torture ordeals. I had been beaten, repeatedly raped by several men. object raped and been suffocated with a pillow to near death. I’d had water thrown in my face while tied up. I had been electric shocked, drugged and caged. I had been imprisoned for very long periods in a freezing room with no toilet. I had been forced to stay awake through the night, tied to the bed while being screamed at and violently attacked.
One day when I was 5, I made a paper telephone. I went to plug my paper phone into the wall and just at that point by coincidence, like
magic, the house phone started ringing. The mother of a little girl called Johanna asked if I could come to play. This was one of the very rare occasions where I was let out to go to another child’s house.
Not long after this, one morning I was hung, tied by my arms from the bannisters in the hall while raw mince meat was thrown in my face and forced in my mouth. As I choked I was shouted at that I was was nothing and no one. ….This was my normal life. I thought everyone’s life was like this until I was a teenager.
Some while after this ordeal I made another paper telephone. I tried to plug it in the wall again wishing that Johanna’s mom would phone like she did before, but she didn’t call.
I was telling through my drawings and paper model making. I was reaching out, my paper phone was a cry for help.
At night sometimes, the men would come to the house in a black a car or a taxi with the light off. I was drugged and taken out of the house to their “torture parties” The “in home” captivity was 20 years. When I was not at school I was confined in my room for extensive periods. When I was little I was sometimes tied to the radiator.
When I was a teenager, I huddled next to the radiator in the corner of the room. If I moved or the floor boards creaked, the door to the room would fly open and extreme violence followed. Then the confinement period would start all over again. I couldn’t leave the room to go to the toilet. This caused me extreme physical and spiritual pain. Sometimes I used books in ways most people wouldn’t even think of; as
stepping stones, putting them on the floor where the floor boards didn’t creak to make a pathway to the window across the other side of the room so I could look out at the world.
Eventually I did escape, but then the problem I had for many years was finding support that named and recognised the harms I’d suffered as torture.
As Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald say:

“a global gender-based discrimination exists in reference to respecting the human right of women and girls not to be subjected to torture irrespective of who the torturers are–State or non-State…
If women and girls are to achieve gendered human right equality then torture whether perpetrated by State or non-State actors must both be acknowledged and placed on the continuum as specific and distinct forms of gender-based violence that occur in so-called public or private spaces.”

It is our human right as women and girls not to be subjected to torture. Non-State torture needs to be recognised as a specific crime otherwise it stays invisibilised, normalised and misnamed as abuse or assault and perpetrators continue to act with impunity and gender based inequality remains.
This is the poster I made in 2011 for a UN competition on the theme of

“Say No to VAWG” it says “Say No to non-State torture, it is her right to be free.

Say no to non state torture

Speaking for Disabled women at the ESVC Global summit at the Excel Centre Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM




Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM

Excel Centre, ESVC Summit, Room 1

Chair: Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Minister for Women

Key-note speaker: Jane Kiragu, African Women’s Leadership Network

Marai Larasi, Director, IMKAAN, black feminist anti-VAWG organisation

Elizabeth Gordon, Survivor, artist and campaigner, Non-State Torture

Eleanor Lisney, Sisters of Frida, a Disabled Women’s Co-operative



It is Gender Inequality that lies at the root of all gender-based violence – from sexual harassment on a bus to sexual violence in conflict. It is gender inequality that must be addressed to end sexual violence in conflict or rape anywhere, domestic violence, trafficking and prostitution. Essential, albeit not sufficient is a stand-alone transformative gender equality goal with a powerful VAWG element in the post-2015 Framework.

Contact:Annette Lawson,

National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

Registered Charity Number: 803701

Disabled women, feminism and other diverse communities

Michelle (in chair) with Martine (kneeling) and her son on Michelle's lap

Michelle with Martine and her son


Frances Ryan wrote a great article - “It’s not only steps that keep us out”: mainstream feminism must stop ignoring disabled women’ where she states that in matters of sex, sexuality and political campaigning, the resurgence of mainstream feminism overlooks disabled women.

Feminist and disability rights are born from a similar cloth. They are battles to acknowledge that oppression doesn’t come from a biological reality but a socially constructed inequality. They are concerned with idealised human bodies. They fight the structures and power that wish to control them; in sex, in work, in reproduction.

Its true that mainstream feminism do not often consider disabled women but we knew that - Jenny Morris has been writing and speaking about Feminism, Gender and Disability since the 1990’s.

Non-disabled feminists continue to treat disability as aside issue, an optional extra and in no way part of the so-called mainstream academic or political debates. The disabled people’s movement – while many and sometimes the majority of its activists are women – is still informed by political and theoretical debates which strangely sidelinewomen’s experiences and issues.

So  mainstream disability do not often recognise women’s issues neither. I spoke on intersectionality and disability at the Sisters of Frida’s gathering/party at WoW Festival at the South Bank

Disabled women who are discriminated against – from feminist communities, LGBT, faith communities because they insist on congregating in non accessible venues. And the segregation is also from the disabled people’s communities because they do not understand nor interested in other identities. Where do disabled women go to discuss about the roles of being disabled lovers, mothers if they were given the opportunity of being girlfriend, wife or mother. And there are those whose sexuality were being denied or even sterilised (often presumed to be for their  own good). And who knows how to support them when they are raped? A report by Professor Betsy Stanko, stated that the ‘rape of vulnerable women, especially those with learning difficulties, has effectively been “decriminalised”.

I guess I am speaking about the need for intersectionality also when we talk about disability – that we have more than one identity and we ought to acknowledge that – and that we should acknowledge we need a space for disabled women as disabled women, we need to listen to the different identities. And feminism needs to accommodate intersectionality too – speaking as a disabled woman of colour when I can be the only non white disabled at the table I feel a double disconnect. I m sure some of you here know what I m saying where you stop wanting to engage as a form of self protection.

Just this week we pointed to an event about campaigning black women that they had not included black disabled women in their program and offered to fill that gap. And they are responding positively so we might be the first to explore disability, gender and ethnicity/race in a workshop!

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women :UK report


As Sisters of Frida, we went to meet the Special Rapporteur at Leicester. She has given her report -

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women,  finalizes country mission to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and calls for urgent action to address the accountability deficit and also the adverse impacts of changes in funding and services’

Read the report at the  UN Human Rights website (

Rashida Manjoo wrote

It is important to recognize that the reduction in the number and quality of specialized services for women does impact health and safety needs of women and children, and further restricts them when considering leaving an abusive home, thus putting them at a heightened risk of re-victimization. Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.

Many of the front-line service providers that I met in all parts of the UK have told me that they face increasing demands for providing more services – including for men, while there are fewer funding opportunities. I was also informed of how additional duties undertaken by third sector organizations, such as in their involvement in Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC’s) is not accompanied by more government funding, and is thus being undertaken at their own cost.

Furthermore, it was made clear to me how women from black and minority ethnic communities, women belonging to the LGBTI community, and women with disabilities, are further affected by these cutbacks. These women are, for many reasons, often linked to entrenched discriminatory practices in the political, social and economic spheres, and are more likely to depend on benefits and on support from an increasingly under-resourced non-profit sector. Unfortunately, it is precisely the specialized services catering for these women, which are being mostly affected, even more so than the mainstream violence against women and girls services, in many instances.

Much of the report touched on issues that affect disabled women on an intersectional level especially when you consider that many incarcerated women have also serious mental health issues.

It is crucial to recognize that violence against women is rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and strongly linked to the social and economic situation of women. Therefore, the intersections between gender-based discrimination and other forms of discrimination that contributes to and exacerbates violence against women should also be taken into consideration when designing and implementing the State’s response.

Considering their higher rates of victimization, the specific experiences and needs of black and minority ethnic women and girls who have experienced violence, need to be acknowledged. Specific taskforces or working groups, with representation from these communities, should be set up to ensure effective policy and programming around violence against them.


Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town.

Learn more, visit:



Storying Disabled Women’s Sexual and Intimacy


This article by Kirsty Liddiard was first published on the Shameless Mag. 

Kirsty will be coming back back to the UK summer 2015 – we look forward to hearing more from her.

Storifying disabled women's sexual and intimate livesIllustration: Erin McPhee

In the dis/ableist cultures in which we live, disabled people’s(1) sexual selves are seldom acknowledged. We are, almost routinely, ascribed an asexual identity(2), where we are assumed to lack any sense of sexual feeling and desire. We are also deemed sexually inadequate because of the ways in which our distinctive sexual pleasures and practices, and Othered bodies and minds, contradict deep-seated sexual norms. Rather confusingly, some disabled people, typically those with the label of cognitive impairment, are considered to have sexualities that they can’t understand – a “hypersexuality” that they can’t control; and sexual desires that are somehow ‘deviant’ or dangerous to others. Further, where we are avowed a sexual identity, it is usually only within the realms of heterosexuality, leaving LGBTQQI2-S(3) disabled people further marginalized.

Within this, the sexual and intimate lives, selves and bodies of disabled women are further marked by patriarchy, sexism and misogyny (the hatred or dislike of women or girls). For clarity, I use the term patriarchy to refer the social hierarchy through which (cisgendered) males hold the greatest privileges in terms of social and sexual power. Intersecting with disability, patriarchy, sexism and misogyny mark disabled women’s lives in particular ways. For example, through our forced sterilization (taking away our ability to give birth); through our higher rates of sexual and intimate partner violence; through the broad denial of our sexual selves; through the chastising and punishing of our sexual desires within institutional spaces (like group homes) (particularly LGBTQQI2-S disabled people); through inhibiting our rights to love and be loved; through denying our rightful access to sexual support, information and education; through barriers within sexual and reproductive healthcare; and through the typical shaming of our sexual bodies, desires, and pleasures.

In this article, I write as both a disabled woman and a researcher. I discuss the sexual and intimate stories told by disabled women through my doctoral research which sought to explore the relationships between disability, sex, intimacy, and love. Crucially, I bring forward the voices of these women, applying their own words to embody the issues discussed. I do this not only because, politically, it’s important that my voice isn’t the only one (re)telling people’s stories, but because it offers the opportunity to identify, or relate to, the stories and words of others – regardless of disability status. Far from being “degendered” or stripped of gender, as disabled women often are in our culture, disabled women in my research told their stories first and foremost as women. While the women in my research identified as cis-women, I use the words ‘woman’ and ‘women’ in this article with a broad, inclusive and diverse understanding of “womanhood”; one which is inclusive of all cis, trans, and gender-queer women. While this is my personal anti-oppressive definition of woman and women, this study does not provide a trans-inclusive analysis of experiences with sex and disability, since participants identified as cis-gendered women. Therefore, my aim here is to (re)tell these intricate and intimate stories, drawing attention to the pleasures, fears, loves and uncertainties most prominent within disabled women’s stories about their own lives.

Secret Loves, Hidden Lives While the individual stories of both disabled men and women were marked in different ways by gender, race, class, nationality, age, religion, impairment type (e.g. sensory/physical) and the origins of impairment (whether acquired or congenital/from birth), disabled women’s collective sexual story was distinctly molded by heteronormativity, heterosexuality, and patriarchy. While heterosexuality is a sexual orientation, heteronormativity is the idea that heterosexuality – as a sexual preference, lifestyle, and societal institution – is the set norm from which all other sexual orientations and identities deviate. Noticeably, most women in the research tended to speak through a veil of (sexual) shame, embarrassed to articulate their pleasures and desires. It also wasn’t uncommon for whole chapters of women’s stories to be dedicated to their self-hatred and lack of body and sexual confidence, and there was an identifiable collective feeling of not embodying ableist and sexist ideals of womanhood “properly” or “appropriately” enough, for both themselves and their partners.

Sally(4): “Who would want to have sex with me when there are plenty of normal girls more than willing?”

Lucille: “I felt so bad about not wanting sex [after injury] that I kept telling him to have an affair”.

Jenny: [After a date] “His father came out to my car and told me to fuck off. He [boyfriend] didn’t have any disability… He said “fuck off you cripple and leave my son alone””.

This lack of confidence was further emphasised through women’s descriptions of their roles within their sexual and intimate relationships with others, and their own experiences of sexual pleasure and desire. While both men and women expressed great frustration at typically ableist (hetero)sexual norms – norms which dictate a fully-functioning, autonomous, mobile, “sexy”, strong and supple body for physical, penetrative, goal-orientated and genitally-focused activity – disabled men, for the most part, could negotiate a more empowering sexual role within their sexual lives and build a positive sexual identity.

For example, most men could often successfully negotiate dis/ableism(5), bodily impairment and constructions of masculinity (many of which are deeply oppressive for disabled men) to claim a gendered sexual self with which they were happy; one underpinned by body confidence and self-love, and through which they could experience sexual pleasure and desire without shame. Disabled men’s greater social and sexual power (afforded to them through patriarchy) also ensured greater practical sexual support from attendants, carers, and parents, which enabled better access to sex and sexuality than disabled women. In contrast, the majority of disabled women didn’t have the esteem or confidence to negotiate a desired role in sex; nor could they find a route to body confidence and self-love. Many women reported receiving little support within their sexual lives, saying that their desires were often overlooked by the people who provided their care. Most felt unfulfilled, inadequate and frustrated. All of these issues are compounded for LGBTQQI2-S disabled people (particularly disabled Trans people) whose identities often remain unrecognizable and Othered in the context of care and caring.

Rhona: “Although I knew that he adored me, I also always felt slightly as though I didn’t deserve him. I am a logical person, and I know that disability puts you further down the relationship league table.”

Jane: “I am unhappy [in the relationship] a lot. But I’m scared no one else would accept me. I just think people don’t accept people who are different.”

For some, a lack of self-love was compounded by experiences of violence. Disabled women experience higher rates of sexual violence than both disabled men and non-disabled (“able-bodied”) women (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2011). These experiences of violence are heightened by the lack of privacy which is endemic to the disabled experience, but also by the fact that there is very little service provision for disabled women to report or escape sexual, physical and emotional violence. For disabled women of colour, aboriginal women, immigrant and refugee women and Trans women this can be further exacerbated by racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and transphobia. Therefore, a lack of violence support services which are accessible, culturally-appropriate and knowledgeable about LGBTQQI2-S issues adds to the problem.

Grace : “He wanted (and got) sex at least twice a day every day. Sometimes we had sex more than twice a day – even up to five times a day. It didn’t matter if I had my period or if I felt unwell or was pregnant. He wanted sex. If I refused, he made my life a misery, sulking and getting angry and taunting me. It was easier to do as he wanted. I seldom ever enjoyed it. And there was my deafness. I had left school with no qualifications, no career [her education was inaccessible]. A dead end job and an early marriage and children meant I had hardly any skills outside the home. He isolated me from my friends. He could not cope with me being deaf; as my deafness increased, he found it harder. He did not want a deaf wife. He hit me a few times.”

For other women, the difficulty in claiming positive sexual selfhood was further ground in the loud silences which surround the (sexual) lives of heterosexual and LGBTQQI2-S disabled women in mainstream culture. Representations of our sexual lives, selves and bodies seldom feature anywhere within popular culture. Where they do – for example, in films and on television – we are usually depicted as sexless, burdensome and pitiful. Interestingly, disabled people’s own (rights) movements have historically echoed this silence; it is only relatively recently that sex and sexuality – disabled people’s sexual politics – have been loudly and proudly placed on disability rights and justice agendas.

Gemma: “And, he [doctor] was just totally embarrassed. I thought ‘how bizarre’, he just didn’t want to tackle it at all. He was totally…aghast…didn’t comment and carried on [laughs]… I think having a couple of lesbians discussing their orgasms was not what he had in mind […] I just think that’s quite telling, really.”

Helen: “When I was younger I remember this one guy at school said “Can you have sex?” I was like “Yeah!”… Getting people to see past the chair… it’s difficult.”

Cripping Sex: What is a sexy body? While many seldom recognised it – or had the resources to claim it – the stories of some women explicitly showed the sheer and utter sexiness of difference and disability. Bodies which are both classified and labeled as impaired, “non-normative”, or different can truly challenge society’s prescriptive ideas of what constitutes a sexy body. These unique bodies can also radically crip(6) – or disrupt – sexual norms, opening up new possibilities and potentialities for pleasure. For example, some people spoke of experiencing many different types of pleasure outside of the quantified, measured, and charted key stages within the human sexual experience of arousal, climax and orgasm – aspects of sexuality which are aggressively positioned as necessary, even compulsory, within sex. I quickly realised that our cripped and queered bodies can subvert and expand sex in spaces where, for non-impaired (“able”) bodies, the scope for transformation may be limited.

Rhona: “Sex was brilliant, and we both enjoyed each other immensely: Intimacy, proximity, sensations, comedy, lack of control, feeling desired, being treated roughly and not as though I might break. It is also one of the few examples of when my body allows me a ‘time-out’, and I feel liberated. Done right, it is all pleasure and no pain.”

To go a little further, it is our beautifully complex bodies and minds which offer a glimmer of how conventional bodily pleasures, only ever physical and bodily, can be cripped and queered, in order to expand “sex” to include our minds, senses, imagination and spirituality. For example, the imagination was a central form of eroticism for many of those who took part in the research. Many women said that their imagined erotic experiences were the times when they felt the sexiest and most turned on. Others, who had displaced erogenous zones (which can result from spinal injury), could orgasm through stroking arms or feet. For example, one disabled man who had found it difficult to orgasm in the conventional way discovered that he could orgasm through his partner stroking his shoulders. This inevitably led to many nights of shoulder stroking… and shows how disabled bodies can expand and envelope pleasure in new, exciting ways.

Hannah: “So that was an eye opener, that wow, an orgasm through touching above the injury… it’s amazing really…”

Others de-centred the orgasm or traditional gendered roles within their intimate practices all together, usually on the grounds that these rigid sexual norms just didn’t fit their embodiment (their experiences of their bodies). One couple decentered the orgasm because, they said, relentlessly ‘chasing’ it was becoming overwhelming. As such, they found that their closeness, intimacy and affection grew immeasurably once they had learned how to have a great sex life together without orgasm. Others explored how the spasticity of muscles (which can occur within any number of conditions, such as Cerebral Palsy and Spina Bifida) could enhance and their orgasms and enrich their experiences of pleasure.

Lucille: “I can’t feel any sensation that one would normally have but the way I feel does change in a way I can’t describe. Teamed with my imagination it can be very pleasant, makes me feel sexy.”

Others got great pleasure from being treated roughly, as a departure from the ways in which their bodies were (routinely) treated as though they were inherently breakable or fragile. Further, while many found that disability could mean a lack of spontaneity in sex (spontaneity, I add, which is depicted in every Hollywood sex scene ‘cos, apparently, sex needs zero discussion), they also said that planning made sex more enjoyable, and that it enabled the development of more elaborate and imaginative sex play.

For some, the presence of disability and bodily difference were a means to reject what disability scholar Tom Shakespeare (2000: 164) calls the ‘Cosmo conspiracy of great sex’. This is the (false) idea that all people are having incredible sex, all of the time – which just isn’t true. The sexual stories collected in my research showed that enjoyable sex isn’t natural, but takes work: open discussion with partners; understanding a partner’s likes and dislikes; lots of experimentation with sex and pleasure; and lots of work on the intimacy which can precede sex. While disability was the impetus for many of these intimate labours, these alternative sexual ways of being suggest that there is much to learn from disability when it comes to sex and intimacy.

To sum up a little, these experiences emphasize how crucial it is for disabled women – and all women and girls – to reclaim ‘sexy’ from the deeply oppressive ways in which it is proliferated and maintained in our cultures: a mode of sexuality that is considered “natural” but is, in reality, anything but, being routinely learned and relearned; taught, policed, and regulated throughout our lives.

Conclusions… I finish by asking, then, how can all of us strive to become shameless in our sexual lives? How can we rid ourselves of the shame that is often endemic to our experiences, lives and bodies, regardless of whether we – as women – live with disability, or not? The storied lives of disabled women in my research have shown this can only happen by sharing our stories, lives and experiences. Stories can – if voiced and heard – be productive, useful, and valuable. Stories can define a place and people. They offer a sense of collective experience; a means to claim space, foster a positive identities and experiences, and demand social and sexual justice. Collectively, telling and sharing our stories is how we can build sexual cultures and communities as we want them; ones which fit all of our bodies, pleasures and desires; ones which empower rather than oppress. So, what’s your sexual story?

Kirsty Liddiard PhD. is currently the Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow within the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, where she lectures and teaches on a range of disability issues. Kirsty considers herself a proud disabled woman and activist, critical disability theorist, and feminist. You can read her at

  1. This article uses the terms ‘disabled people’ and ‘disabled person’ rather than ‘people first’ terminology (‘people with disabilities’ or ‘person with a disability’). This reflects the position that disability, while part of identity, is not intrinsically embodied within the person, and is not individual or medical. Instead, disability is the sum of systemic, attitudinal, environmental, political, economic and cultural barriers within society.
  2. The asexual identity ascribed to disabled people is situated outside of the proud asexual identity chosen by the asexual community.
  3. LGBTQQI2-S: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Queer, Intersex and 2-Spirit (LGBTQQI2-S) communities.
  4. All names have been changed.
  5. The term “dis/ableism” refers to the dual processes of disablism and ableism. Disablism is a form of direct discrimination or prejudice on the grounds of disability; ableism is a broader network of cultural beliefs whereby the non-disabled/”able” body and mind are the norm against which the value of all other bodies and minds are determined.
  6. The term crip has been reclaimed by many disabled people from the derogatory term “cripple”. Through Crip theory and Crip politics, the meaning of crip has become synonymous with resistance, pride, and non-normativity as a means of strength. I use crip as a verb, to refer to the process by which disability can fundamentally undermine the oppressive ideology of the norm, as well as to expose how “able-bodiedness” is naturalized (considered natural) and established.


• Canadian Women’s Foundation (2011) The Facts About Violence Against Women. Online. [Accessed 09.11.2013]. Available online here.

• Shakespeare, T. (2000) ‘Disabled Sexuality: Toward Rights and Recognition’, Sexuality and Disability, 18: 3, 159-166

Meeting Rashida Manjoo, UN rapporteur on Violence against

Eleanor Lisney with Rashida Manjoo

Eleanor Lisney with Rashida Manjoo

Sisters of Frida was invited by Eiman to join other Muslim women NGOs to attend  the consultative meeting and  meet with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, at the Central Mosque in Leicester. We had prepared a pack and briefing paper with a short oral presentation.

There were about 20 different NGOs and we presented our concerns to her.

It was good to meet her and the other women, some of whom wanted to collaborate with us in the future!

Listen to Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur speak on violence against women, its causes and consequences at the public part of the first Joint Committee on Human Rights this morning at the House of Commons. (

A useful resource in connection would be the Rights of Women which have produced a number of information sheets on legal issues affecting women.


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!