What if more crash test dummies were female? How we need to tackle gender inequality

Author:Rachel Aston
Posted on: Friday, 8th March, 2019

International observance days provide a great opportunity to celebrate, raise awareness, and lobby for change. In her blog for International Women’s Day, Kirsty Smith celebrates three women who are, through their work with CBM, making a difference to eye health and vision in Rwanda. You can watch their stories here.

Kirsty also highlights the fact that women in low and middle income countries (LMICs) are more likely to experience blindness than men – a gender bias reflected with other disabilities. In many parts of the world, women’s risk of blinding conditions such as trachoma is linked to their social role, for example in caring for children who often carry the infection; or linked to their status in society or the home, which can limit their access to both the preventative measures and treatment.  

As we see a world that is predominantly shaped by and for people without disabilities, so the world is, in many respects, shaped by and for men. A recent article in The Guardian highlights how the ‘average’ male body is used as the default in design across a range of products, including crash test dummies, safety harnesses and stab vests, rendering them less likely to protect the lives of women; as well as smart phone sizes, voice recognition technology and assistive devices built for men. As technology becomes increasingly accessible in low-income settings, it is essential a universal design approach takes into account both disability and gender.

Much also remains to be done to address inequalities in access to education, employment, social protection, healthcare, water and sanitation, and to tackle disability and gender based violence, as well as abuse of rights such as sexual and reproductive rights. International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), such as CBM, that have good access to the UK Department for International Development (DFID) can lend support by lobbying the government to create a global environment where women and girls with disabilities no longer face such inequalities and discrimination – ensuring that we listen to the voice women and girls with disabilities and their representative organisations (and we still need to improve on this).

It is as important for governments to address the structural causes of these inequalities as to provide financing for practical measures, and CBM has been calling on the UK Government over the past year to take the following approaches:

  1. Understand the intersection of disability and gender in terms of unequal power relations – and challenge them. Fundamental to any change is a mindset and underpinning values that transform power dynamics. DFID is already committed to doing so through its Disability Inclusive Development Strategy, as we highlighted last week. In doing so, it is also essential to recognise the capacity and agency of women and girls with disabilities.
  2. Commit to and build upon existing national and international policy frameworks on disability and women and girls. In particular, there is scope for the Government to ensure that its commitment to spend half of DFID’s budget on fragile states and regions, and the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, include a focus on women and girls with disabilities.
  3. Address inequalities faced by women and girls with disabilities through aid and development assistance. As one of the few countries that spends 0.7% of its gross national income on overseas aid, the UK has considerable opportunity to reach women and girls with disabilities through practical means, and in doing so should consult with local women and girls with disabilities on the inception and design of programmes – not just those specifically addressing gender and disability, but across the board.
  4. Use international advocacy and influencing opportunities. The UK can also use its soft power, through diplomacy and international policy fora, such as the United Nations, to advocate for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls with disabilities. For instance, at this month’s UN Commission on the Status of Women, the UK has the opportunity to ensure strong agreements on social protection systems, public services and infrastructure that are inclusive and accessible.
  5. Build capacity across government departments. Other government departments (OGDs) are spending an increasing proportion of aid and development money, but do not yet have the same expected standards as DFID in relation to gender and disability. It is therefore essential that there are sensitisation and training opportunities for leaders and staff in other government in OGDs on disability and gender.
  6. Build data and evidence. For government policy and practice relating to women and girls with disabilities to be well informed and effective, it should be based on evidence, and much of this is generated through detailed data. There is of course debate on data collection methods and what constitutes ‘good evidence’, but certainly policy and practice cannot be developed in an information vacuum. Importantly, greater efforts are needed to ensure that older women are included in data collection as they are largely ignored, yet make up a significant proportion of people with disabilities.

Alongside this, women’s DPOs need access to funding and resources from a range of sources, which many currently find difficult to secure, to help ensure representation and participation in decision making and other processes

It is all too easy to write the same blog each International Women’s Day, highlighting ongoing injustices and woeful progress on equality; but there are doubtlessly positive developments since last March, including the focus on women and girls at the Global Disability Summit and in DFID’s Disability Strategy. CBM’s challenge is to ensure that next year’s blog reflects further change because of our own increased commitment to women and girls with disabilities, through all of our work. 



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