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When I began writing this piece to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, my daughter Isobel, who is just 8 years old, asked me what I was writing about.
I explained to her for the first time what International Women’s Day was.
“But mum, why would we need a day just for women?” she asked.
For a moment, I didn’t know how to answer.
How do I explain to an 8 year old girl that women in 2023 — especially disabled women:
- are still not paid as much as men
- are often not seen as equal
- are under-represented in the workplace, in the media and in leadership positions across the country?
After a long pause, I decided to tell her the truth.
I explained how it’s a day to celebrate women, and draw attention to what needs to change.
She looked puzzled for a moment and then said, “Women are so incredible, aren’t they mum?”
The women who made me who I am
When I reflect on the women who have shaped my life, I am flooded with memories of my own mother.
Her laugh, how hardworking she was and still is, her determination, grit and the fire in her belly.
She had a very hard childhood at times. Yet, she became a successful drama teacher, and taught for over 30 years. I used to watch the rehearsals she led for the school plays. This ignited my love for performing, and I am now a musical artist.
I have a condition called ‘Charcot Marie Tooth’. It’s a physical disability. It means I walk with a different gait, fall over regularly and have low muscle tone.
Growing up, I held onto a lot of internalised ableism. I hated feeling so inadequate and different.
I remember not seeing any disabled women on TV, in films, or hearing them on the radio. There was such a lack of representation, it made me want to hide. Now in my 30s, I accept my disability. In fact, I am proudly disabled.
My mum has been a big part of me accepting my disability. She enabled me to believe that anything was possible, and that our differences are what makes us unique.
The women who make us proud
For me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating women for their contribution to our communities. When I think about women in the disability community, I am filled with pride.
Hannah Diviney, the writer, actress and disability and women’s rights advocate. Most recently, she called out two of the world’s biggest musicians, Lizzo and Beyoncé, to change their ableist lyrics. She also became the first disabled actor to have a sex scene on Australian television.
Chloé Hayden, who recently made history as the first autistic actor on Australian television in Heartbreak High.
Carly Findlay, who tirelessly advocates for disabled people.
Nas Campanella, who continues to highlight issues faced by disabled women, through her work with the ABC. Nas has also been speaking openly about her own experiences as a disabled mother.
I also think about the disabled women who are there for me on the end of the phone line whenever I need to talk, like my friend, filmmaker Lizzie Cooper. Lizzie has the same disability as me, and as women holding other women up, we rise together.
This year, the UN theme for International Women’s Day is Cracking the Code. The theme talks about the role of transformative ideas, inclusive innovation and accessible education can play in fighting gender discrimination. Disability advocate El Gibbs is doing so much in this space. I feel proud to be part of such a fierce group of disabled women.
The future for women with disability
In Australia, 17.8% of women have a disability.
Yet, we are still greatly under-represented in the media, on TV, on the radio.
We are underemployed and underpaid.
We often face the double discrimination of ableism and sexism, making it harder to achieve equality.
In a survey by the Disabled People’s Organisation Australia, where most of the participants were women, only 27% believe they have the same education opportunities as non-disabled people.
As of 2021, there are 180,709 female NDIS participants, from a total of 484,700 NDIS participants.
There is still so much that needs to change for disabled women. They need and deserve:
- Fairer and more inclusive healthcare
- More support for disabled mothers instead of setting them up for failure
- Better access to employment opportunities
- Investment in inclusive education
- Pathways to careers in leadership, sports, arts and technology to ensure equal participation
I want to live in a world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination based on disability or gender.
I want to live in a world in which we celebrate diversity, raise each other up as women and celebrate our achievements.
I want a world that is fair for disabled women. That is the world I want my daughter to grow up in.
And what better time than now to celebrate the many disabled women who are changing the way the world sees disability?
Note: You can also read our interview with Julie Charlton for International Women’s Day.
Eliza Hull is an award-winning musician, writer and disability advocate. Eliza is the editor and creator of the book We’ve Got This, essays by disabled parents, which features parents who identify as disabled, Deaf or chronically ill.
Mable is committed to sharing the voices and stories of all our community. We support our contributors to express their opinions which don’t necessarily reflect the views or positions of Mable.