Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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Opening the doors: Debt, domestic violence, power relations and an eviction notice



“Sarah (not her real name) must have thought her life was on a more even keel when she finally worked up the courage to escape the violence in her family home. She had moved back in again in 2008 when she struggled to find a job after leaving university. It wasn’t a good time to be graduating. The economy had just tanked. She was also battling a serious mental health issue – borderline personality disorder (BPD). Once home, she says she found herself ‘scapegoated’ for not having a job and once again the target of a relative’s abuse and violence.

Now she faces the reality of being evicted (see letter below) from the shared house run by a housing trust in Greenwich – the borough she came to for help.”

Originally posted on Ann McGauran:

Sarah, a single woman of 28 and a law graduate, came in on Friday and kindly shared her account of why she needed help. Before I pass on her story I’d like to remind readers that I don’t speak for those who run this London food bank, although they’ve allowed me to interview their clients. Any opinions expressed on this site from time to time are my own. I don’t represent the food banks in the borough of Greenwich. Neither do I represent the views of the Trussell Trust, which partners with churches in this area to run the food banks.

Sarah (not her real name) must have thought her life was on a more even keel when she finally worked up the courage to escape the violence in her family home. She had moved back in again in 2008 when she struggled to find a job after leaving…

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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.

Sisters of Frida are holding a party at the RFH, Southbank


WOW logoWe were lucky enough to be one of the chosen 8 women organisations for a space at the WoW Parties at the Royal Festival Hall

WOW Parties celebrate the work of charities and organisations supporting women in the UK and internationally.

We would like you to join us in this opportunity to network and celebrate the lives of disabled women on the 5th March from 6pm.
Please send an email to if you would like to come – there are limited places and we have to give the list of guests to the South Bank, so if you would like to come please let us know asap.

The other organisations are

Womankind Worldwide

Sphinx Theatre

Raw Material

Black Feminists

End FGM Campaign

Migrant and Refugee Woman of the Year Awards

Gap Salon/So-So Arts and Female Arts
Fun Palaces

we will be celebrating the lives of disabled women and hope to have an installation in time to share with you.
Please RSVP because there is a limit on space and the Southbank would like to know who s coming,

Winvisible (Women with Visible and Invisible disabilities) will be joining us and many thanks to UK Disability History Month for offering the refreshments.

Dr Armineh Soorenian: Disabled International Students in British Higher Education Experiences and Expectations

Disabled International Students in British Higher Education Experiences and Expectations (2013)

Disabled International Students in British Higher Education
Experiences and Expectations (2013)



Dr Armineh Soorenian  says

I am pleased to share with you all details of my newly published book, Disabled International Students in British Higher Education: Experiences and Expectations, which has been published by Sense Publishers as part of their Studies in Inclusive Education series. The book is a development of the research and thesis I did as part of my PhD at University of Leeds. The attached flyer gives details of the book and purchasing information, which is in both US dollars and Euros. For those based in the UK, the book can also be bought from Amazon and I understand it can be found on other international Amazon sites as well.

Please pass the information on to anyone you know who may be interested in this area. As this has been several years work in the making, I am keen for it to be used as a resource recognising issues for disabled international students and working towards improving their experiences. I hope this is of interest to you and that you can help

Disabled International Students in British Higher Education
Experiences and Expectations (2013)

Research discussion list:

International Day of the Girl: Focus on Education – Missing Stories in the Blogs


This article is by Stephanie Ortoleva, President, Women Enabled, Inc.

The United Nations has designated October 11 as International Day of the Girl, with a focus on Education.  But as I read many well-written and strong feminist posts on this issue, the concerns of millions of girls with disabilities are missing from the dialog.  Who are the missing girls?  The deaf girl in India who attends a school for deaf children and who was raped by her teachers.  The blind girl in the United States who wants to be a scientist, but is not permitted to take the classes and who is told a blind person can’t be a scientist, especially not a blind girl.  The girl with a disability in Pakistan whose parents keep her at home and will not even let her attend school because they are ashamed.  These are only a few of the untold stories.  But The statistics about education of girls with disabilities tells us even more starkly.


Estimates of the percentage of children with disabilities not attending school are extremely variable.  However, in general, children with disabilities are less likely to start school and have lower rates of staying and being promoted in school than their peers without disabilities.  The correlation between low educational outcomes and having a disability is often stronger than the correlations between low educational outcomes and other characteristics such as gender, rural residence or poverty.  The limited statistics that are available indicate that although the literacy rate for adults with disabilities is 3%, only 1% of women with disabilities are literate, based on comprehensive research completed by Harilyn Rousso for UNESCO.  These percentages are significantly lower than those for women in general.  The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reports:  “In 2008, 796 million adults worldwide (15 years and older) reported not being able to read and write and two-thirds of them (64%) were women.  The global adult literacy rate was 83%, with a male literacy rate of 88% and a female literacy rate of 79%.

In 2010, According to a journal article by Francis  Huebler, this statistic improved marginally to a male literacy rate of 89% and a female literacy rate of 80%, with the percent differential between the genders remaining the same.


The World Bank and World Health Organization Report states that out of the 51 countries included in the analysis, “50.6% of males with disability have completed primary school, compared with 61.3% of males without disability. Females with disability report 41.7% primary school completion compared with 52.9% of females without disability, a  difference of 8.9% between  males and females with disabilities.”


There is a direct correlation between poverty, being a child with disabilities and low education participation, with the girls with disabilities from lower socio-

economic backgrounds rarely attending school.


Girls with disabilities have the lowest education participation rates of all groups and they have few opportunities for vocational training, all of which further contributes to their low employment rates.


Under international law our participation is our human right.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in its Article 7 onChildren with Disabilities and its Article 24 on Education focus on the girl child with a disability and her right to education.

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in its Articles 10, guarantee to all women and girls the right to education.  Furthermore, in several of its General Recommendations, the CEDAW Committee has specifically addressed the rights of women and girls with disabilities and the Final Conclusions from the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which focused on women and education and employment in the STEM fields, specifically incorporated these rights for women and girls with disabilities.  Thus, the synergy between the CRPD and the CEDAW is a vital tool for advancing our rights in this area.


Barriers to the participation of women and girls with disabilities in education are based on culture, family structures, societal attitudes and stereotypes, institutional systems, law and legal processes, economic realities, patriarchy and paternalism.  Specific barriers include:

  • Cultural bias – Often, women are denied education because it is believed that they will become wives and mothers and such resources are provided to male children.  But for women with disabilities, are often seen as unlikely to assume such roles, and thus are the last to receive family resources.
  • Double discrimination – Women and girls with disabilities face double or intersectional discrimination based on both gender and disability (as well as other identities) and stereotypical attitudes based thereon further limit our opportunities.
  • Invisibility – Girls with disabilities are often kept in the home and their births may not be registered, making them invisible to the education system, either because of assumptions about our abilities or embarrassment on the part of our families.  Additionally, misconceptions about our abilities may make us invisible to teachers even if we attend school.
  • Violence against women and girls with disabilities – Women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience gender-based violence than their non-disabled sisters, sometimes because we are erroneously perceived as sick, helpless, asexual, and powerless, or on the other hand, we are seen as hypersexual or just lucky to have sexual experiences at all wherever we can because we are undesirable.  Additionally, women and girls with disabilities living in residential facilities or schools are even more likely to experience such abuse.
  • Pregnancy, HIV-infection and other results of sexual assault and rape – As a result of sexual violence and rape, women and girls with disabilities may become pregnant or contract sexually transmitted diseases from the abuser.
  • Bullying and teasing – Disabled girls are sometimes subjected to bullying and teasing by their peers based on both our gender and our disability, negatively impacting our emotional and cognitive development, as well as causing low self esteem
  • Economic resources for Education – Male education is prioritized as it is believed that a male child can contribute financially to the family, and women and girls with disabilities are not viewed as worthy of an education since many assume their disabilities will preclude success.
  • Schools in inaccessible locations and/or lack of transportation – Schools that provide special education and/or education for children with disabilities in integrated settings are often located in cities and families are reluctant to send daughters to the city or there is no accessible transport to such schools.  Boys are often seen as more independent and permitted to travel to urban locations.
  • Access to assistive technology and rehabilitation – Men and boys have greater access to such services.
  • Accessibility of school facilities – Often the school buildings and facilities themselves are inaccessible, posing yet another barrier.
  •  Accessible toileting facilities and assistance in toileting – Provision of toileting assistance places a particular burden on women and girls with disabilities, especially with respect to menstruation which is often a taboo topic and access to appropriate hygiene products is non-existent or in very short supply resulting in increased isolation for women and girls with disabilities and further impairs their ability to attend school or work.
  • Availability of special education – Girls with disabilities are less likely to receive special education, in some instances because teachers expect more from boys than girls and sometimes because girls, who may be less likely to act out due to cultural control pressures, are not referred for services based on a learning or other disability.  And even if a girl receives special education services she may be tracked toward pursuing traditional gender-identified career paths.
  • Competitive classroom climate and teaching strategies – Competitive educational approaches are challenging to some girls with disabilities.  Mainly for the same reasons discussed earlier, like bullying, being outnumbered by males in the classroom, and low self-esteem.  In addition, many teachers are trained to teach more life skills to students with disabilities rather than focus on competitive subjects.
  • Digital divide – Women and girls with disabilities are at the bottom of the digital divide and the least likely to have access to technology.
  • Belief that girls do not do math and science – We are presumed not to have aptitude in these subjects and are steered into gender stereotypical subjects, as well as the “talent myth” which is based on the erroneous assumption that skills in STEM fields are an innate aptitude and cannot be learned.
  • Counselling based on stereotypical roles for women and girls – Counsellors often steer girls with disabilities toward gender-stereotyped jobs and generally they are less likely to afford girls with disabilities vocational education and many counsellors hold the incorrect societal perception that girls with disabilities have limited aptitude or interest in STEM and other challenging subjects.
  • Girls with and without disabilities have limited interaction – Both groups would benefit from such interactions, as they contribute to networking and peer support, and reduction of fear and stigma.
  • Absence of women with disabilities as role models – The invisibility of women with disabilities in educational materials, as educators, in the workplace and in the media creates a dearth of positive role models for women and girls with disabilities.
  • Shortage of women with disabilities as mentors – Having a responsive and supportive mentor makes the world of difference for academic and professional success and increased self-esteem.

Let’s spread the facts and then, let’s change them!

Available also as PDF

For more information, see Stephanie Ortoleva’s chapter on this subject in the forthcoming book: Asha Hans, Editor, “Women and Girls with Disabilities – Global Perspectives,” Sage Publications, 2014 (ordering information will be on the Women enabled, Inc.  website in the Reading and Listening room.), Also see the Women Enabled, Inc. website in the “Education and Employment in Science, Technology, engineering and Math” section and the Publications Section for several other articles on women and girls with disabilities.