Aug 122017

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
Disability definitions reflect different models of disability and impairment, which also affect the strategies  adopted  for  meeting  the  needs  of  people  with  disabilities.  Two  main  models  of  disability are considered:
  • 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.

Percentage share of people aged 15 to 64 with basic activity difficulties or disability, categorised by gender and EU member stateEurostat  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.


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