Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Before coming into my Masters course, my head was full of old-style woman-versus-man feminism (known in academic circles as the Woman in Development or WID paradigm). The short experience I had in Morocco made me realise that ethnicity and class played a part, because it was upper-class urban woman who worked in the association to successfully help the women of the Soulaliyate tribe claim payments for privatisation of their land (which had been previously given only to men, who were assumed to be the heads of their families).

Then I read Mohanty and the concept of the Third World Woman - another case for specifying the woman (or man) one is talking about when promoting or discouraging rights. Basically, Third World Women do not all face the same problems by virtue of being poor(er) and in developing countries - they are not all oppressed by their men, or religion, or cultural norms. At the same time, bigger processes like globalisation affect them negatively, albeit in different ways.

This concept called intersectionality calls for specifying the kind of woman or man one is talking about, and not generalising. Race, class/urbanity, ethnicity, religion, age all have to be considered. For example, women's movements in Singapore are small and tend to be divided along class and racial lines. An association and movement by richer, expatriate women has different aspirations (e.g. friendship, networking) from that by Malay or Muslim women (e.g. education, piety).

After spending much time observing and interacting (but not living the life of ) many athletes with physical and/or intellectual disabilities (e.g. muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy) disabilities at two major sports events - Boccia World Championships 2010 and Boccia World Cup 2011 - I see an even bigger need to add dis/ability when considering intersectionality.

At these competitions, the richer countries, like those from Europe and the USA, have the funding to construct fancy and high-tech assistive devices such as ramps and helmets. They can also afford motorised wheelchairs with extensive and expensive modifications (I met one guy who can drive his chair with the help of sensors around his head!), and communicative devices if they can't speak clearly or at all.

Those from the South such as Latin America have more basic ramps which are not as easy or efficient for the athlete to use. They may also only have manual wheelchairs, and not have any communicative devices (although Facebook can work wonders: I can communicate with a Colombian boy in Spanish by typing since he can't speak); they have to rely on their own sign language which is usually understood only by a few people close to them.

This is not to say that all wealthier countries can afford these devices - those from the poorer classes of these societies may find it difficult to access them. They rely a lot on the compassion of those who are abled around them to help them communicate. In cases where their family may not speak the main language or navigate the welfare provisions of their country well, or not have enough time to dedicate to ensuring a life equivalent to an abled person because they have to work, the disabled person could very well not obtain the maximum potential benefits available in their own country.

Some may also feel more strongly patriotic (since this is an international event!) and so have a stronger spirit of sisterhood with their own citizens. But for some who have not met anyone else with their (sometimes a rare type) condition, they may feel more connected even though they are of different gender, age, class or nationality.


Dwi said...

The term of disability (disable ability) should be changed with difability (different ability) because they are not totally disable. They have many abilities but they achieved it in a different way compared to common people.

Sya said...

Oh wow, I haven't heard of 'difability' yet - interesting!


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