A recent EU research publication, bringing together data from across seven EU countries, analysed the causes and possible solutions, for addressing the relative lack of employment opportunities or workplace discrimination, faced by disabled women.
It confirmed multiple discrimination (i.e. gender and disability) affecting the employment opportunities of these women. In addition, the study analysed whether and how the EU legislative and national policy frameworks address the multiple discrimination faced by women with disabilities, combining a gender mainstreaming approach (e.g. the internalisation of a gender perspective in all disability policies and legislation) with specific measures targeted to women with disabilities and clear indications on implementation and monitoring mechanisms.
The study collated comparable data from across Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. It reports that in the EU28 over 44 million people aged between 15 and 64 years have a basic activity difficulty, and almost 35 million registered a ‘disability in employment’. Women are the majority of people with disabilities and are more likely than men to report a basic activity difficulty. Considering the increase of the number of elderly people and female longer life expectancy, this number is expected to increase.
Key deficiencies in the data being collected by Eurostat, were found to be
- current data takes into account only 15_ year old disabled persons who live in private households, and total disregard of disabled persons living in institutions
- different definition of disabilities among member states
- gender disaggregated data prevents researchers from distinguishing between physical or mental disabilities and degree of disabilities
- the medical model: focuses on the individual’s health condition, which can potentially impact on her/his quality of life;
- the social model: focuses on socially-created barriers, both physical and social/cultural, that do not accommodate the variety of abilities of the population.
These two models take a different perspective of the interaction between the health condition of an individual and the environment we all live in. The social model is at the basis of the ‘evolving concept’ of disability adopted by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).
The study states that women with disabilities are not an homogeneous group, and their experience and needs depend on the type and severity of disability, the age and manner of disability onset, socio-economic and demographic characteristics, and biographical experiences. On the other hand, social norms contribute to the stigmatisation of women with disabilities as
undervalued, undesirable, asexual and dependent, and give thus rise to abuse.
Eurostat data do not show a gender disadvantage in the access to education and training. As for women without disabilities, on average, women with disabilities are more highly educated, more likely to participate in education and training and less likely to leave school early than men with disabilities; however, they have a lower education attainment, lower participation rates in education and training, and higher drop-out rates than women without disabilities.
On average in Europe, women with disabilities are more likely than both men with disabilities and women without to work part-time and to work from home. While disability and health issues are among the major reasons for leaving a job (especially for men), for women they are also among the main reasons for not seeking employment. This is conducive to worse income, poverty and living conditions for women with disability.
Women and people with low educational attainment are highly over-represented in the group of people with a mental disorder in all countries. Gender-specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender-based violence, socio-economic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank, and unremitting responsibility for the care of others.
The difficulties faced by women with disabilities have been rarely considered in international and national legislation and policies. There are gradual changes in legislation and policymaking taking place over the last decade, mainly driven by the entry into force of the2006 UN Convention of the Rightsof Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which recognises the discrimination on thebasis of gender and disability suffered by women (art. 6).
However, the European Union has still not mainstreamed a disability perspective in its gender policies and programmes, nor adopted a gender perspective in its disability strategies. Likewise, although attention to disability has increased in the 2014–2020EuropeanStructural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds), gender and disability-related issues when addressed are usually tackled separately. This perspective is also reflected at a National level. Notable exceptions among the selected case studies are Germany, Spain and Italy.
It concludes that, although the multiple discrimination faced by women with disabilities is increasingly recognised in the debate and policymaking, the steps taken are still too modest and austerity measures risk the impediment of further developments.
The study makes 20+ recommendations, geared towards the EU decision making bodies and national governments. It stresses the need for this issue be taken up by women and disability associations and in academic research, in order to increase the social and political awareness on the multiple discrimination faced by women with disabilities and the need for targeted measures.