Gender and Disability: A Review of Available Literature

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Gendered experiences of disability are sparse especially in higher education. Although there is a long history of disability activism, disability studies in Southern Africa is an emerging field. There is also very little on gender and disability within Africa and the developing World. Although various articles have been published on the experiences of women with disabilities in violence research has been silent on the comparative experiences of women with disability in the larger community. Thus women with disabilities tend to internalise the limiting social stigmatising discourses. 

Gender and disability are aspects that are situated in a cultural matrix not divorced from socio-economic and historical contexts. From these contexts, people with disabilities’ capabilities are either expanded or limited as power dynamics come into play. This paper argues that while men and women experience disability, the experience of disability is heightened by gender. While it is easy for a disabled man to be tolerated and to be married the situation is different for disabled women and girls who are seen as a drain on already stretched resources. The paper notes that specific research focusing on experiences of disability in higher education is very limited. It is even worse when specific gendered analysis of disabilities is of concern. In an attempt to fit into that research gap, this paper focus on how the existing literature has treated the gender dimension of disability. The conceptual paper is guided by the capabilities theory. This theory or approach is a broad normative framework for the evaluation of individual well-being and social arrangements, the design of policies and proposals about social change in society. Its argument is based on two claims: the freedom to achieve well-being is of primary moral importance; and that freedom to achieve well-being is to be understood in terms of people's real opportunities to do and be what they have reason to value. Policies must enable people to convert resources into functionings. 

In Southern Africa the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) carried out a research project on disability in 2010. This was done in partnership with Open Society Foundation Disability Rights Initiative (Kotze 2012). The research focused on a number of issues which included focus on the lives of people with Disabilities in Southern Africa, Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs) and also universities, law schools and disability rights (Kotze 2012). Observations from this study indicated real people living with disabilities are the most marginalized people in the region where life is already difficult due to severe poverty, lack of development and high unemployment. A number of challenges that PWD(s) focus in university set up were identified but generally women with disabilities were given as worse off. Their disadvantages were exacerbated by impunity associated with sexual violence of which WWD are prone to experience (Kotze, 2010). 

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