Archive for September, 2012

Do Disabled Women Matter?

September 18, 2012

Do Disabled Women Matter?
I get quite excited when I hear that Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party are launching a series of events aimed at women members. The blurb says these events will “highlight political issues affecting women and why we need more women in the Labour Party.”. I make a mental note to contact other disabled women living in the borough who are Labour supporters. We can go together and create a real presence. And what better place than at the launch to raise the issue of disability equality?
I don’t know the venue but alarm bells begin to ring when I read that the event will take place in a “beautiful function room at the Victoria Stakes”.

“Hmmm, is that upstairs?” I ask a friend. She says she thinks so. I email the organiser who confirms that it is and that the venue doesn’t have a wheel chair accessible toilet either. So, a thoroughly inaccessible venue then.
It’s a good thing I decided to check the access before telling the disabled women I wanted to invite. How galling would it be to have to get back to them and say, “O, you know that Labour Women’s meeting I was telling you about? Sorry, you can’t come; It’s in an inaccessible venue, but do join the Labour party anyway”
I email back saying that I’m not coming and suggest that future events are held in accessible venues. To their credit, the organisers tell me how they deeply regret their oversight in organising an inaccessible event and say they’ve raised the issue with the Branch chair in relation to other Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party events in the future.
Whilst I appreciate this response, I am a little stunned that in 2012,with some of the most progressive Disability Equality legislation in place in the world, with disability issues in the headlines with the Paralympics and the extraordinary fight back disabled people are leading against terrible welfare benefit cuts, that the Party could make such a mistake. But of course, Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party are no different to thousands of progressive organisations across the country, many of whom regularly organise inaccessible events without a second thought.
I talk to other disabled Labour Party members across the country about disability equality and inclusion within the party. Even elected members tell me that the issue is hardly on the party’s radar unless raised by disabled members. I know from my own experience of standing as a candidate in the May 2012 GLA elections that the party has nothing in place to support disabled candidates. I also know that whilst we have an awareness of disability equality in respect to anti-discrimination out there in the world that we (like many other progressive organisations) still fail to join up the dots, when it comes to applying policy to how we actually organise. Disability equality and inclusion is still seen as a peripheral issue. It’s still mainly being raised by disabled members. I rage at being forced once again to have to raise the issues. I am aware that in doing so, I confirm some people’s belief that I can only talk about disability. This thought makes me spit!
I used to wear a badge way back in the dim and distant past which said (Labour Women make policy, not tea”. This was a response to the wall of sexism within the party that ignored women’s issues and failed to support women to become active. Women and men saw the injustice of excluding women and changed the way Labour worked.
At least 18% of the population is disabled. 25% have a family member or friend who is disabled. Government welfare benefit reforms are a swingeing attack on disabled people and their families. The “useless eater” rhetoric of the media has contributed to an increase in hate crimes against disabled people. Just a few reasons why the Party need to take disability rights seriously and that includes in how it organises.
So, in solidarity with my sisters who are excluded from the event, I’m not going to the launch of the women’s events in the borough tomorrow. So what’s new? I’ve been absenting myself for the last 30 years from women’s (and other) events because they exclude disabled people. I thought those days were over. How wrong was I?
I look forward to attending accessible events in the future. Why not dedicate one of the meetings to exploring disability equality in Labour’s agenda for women? Why not ask disabled women in the party to lead that event?
In the meantime, I’m going to root around in my badge tin to see if I can find the one that says “disabled women are women too!” I never thought I would have to get it out again .. But there you go; the revolution was not won in a day, was it?
Kirsten Hearn