Feature from Ivy Sircus - Friday, 25 November 2011 @ 9:00am
Do women spoil men's fun? Ivy SIrcus discusses how she applies her feminism in everyday life.
Feature from Emma Davidson - Saturday, 03 December 2011 @ 2:37pm
A report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers released this week shows that Australia lags behind the rest of the OECD in employment for people with disabilities, and ranks worst in the OECD on poverty for people with a disability. Christina Ryan, from Advocacy for Inclusion and a member of Women With Disabilities Australia, said on ABC radio that extreme social isolation and the "grinding, lifetime poverty" experienced by people with disabilities means most of us are not aware of the enormity of the problem within our community.
Listening to Christina, I realised how little I actually know about what life is like for women with disabilities. I expect that most of the informal carers in our community, as well as paid disability care workers, are women. But I needed to know more. So I did some research, and found startling facts about the extent of the problems faced by women with disabilities. All I had to do was pick up Australia's Welfare 2011 In Brief from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, released last week.
Almost one in five Australians - 18.5% of the population - has a disability. This includes mental health, intellectual, and behavioural disorders. Looking around at my office, my children's school, and among my social circle, I can't see that one in every five of those people with whom I have regular daily contact have a disability. This means that many people with disabilities are not participating in mainstream education, employment, and social community; or they're keeping quiet about their disability. Either way, there is a big problem with social inclusion.
Much is made of women's longer life expectancy compared to men. It is true that women live longer. But women also spend more years living with a profound disability than men. The number of years living with profound disability is expected to be 5.5 years for boys born in 2009 or 7.5 years for girls. The average Australian girl born in 2009 can expect to live 83.9 years, of which 64.3 years are disability-free. It worries me to think that our newest generation of women could expect to live almost 20 years with disability, of which 7.5 years could be profound disability. Even more so when women have less in retirement thanks to lower superannuation balances.
People living outside major cities are more likely to have a disability than people living in major cities, even after population age structure is taken into account. This means that women living in regional areas are even more likely to be living with disability and with less access to local services that make life more manageable.
People with a disability are more likely to be unemployed, and less likely to be participating in the labour force (looking for work or in paid work) than the general Australian population. And without employment, it is not possible to accrue superannuation, to save for capital expenses such as accessibility improvements to your house or car, or to enjoy many of the little things that make life's difficulties more tolerable such as a nice dinner out or a holiday. Welfare payments are intended to be a support for those who have no other option, but for those on long-term pensions it just isn't enough. Over 60% of social housing allocated in 2009 was for "special needs households", of which disability was the most common type of special need. The statistics show that Christina Ryan's remark about lifetime poverty is true for too many people with disabilities.
Over two-thirds of all primary carers - people who care for the disabled or ageing informally rather than in paid employment - are female. 93% of residential aged care and 91% of community aged care workers are female, but only 17% of residential aged care and 14% of community aged care workers have a university degree. Aged care is the most feminised area within community service employment, with the lowest levels of higher education. One in four unpaid carers are aged 65 or older, an increase on the one in five in 1998. Almost one third of unpaid primary carers aged 15 or over had been in the caring role for more than ten years. What this means is that our carers are mostly women on low or no pay, working to care for others for many years, and they are getting older and closer to needing care themselves. And they have less superannuation or paid employment or city-based services to ensure access to the care they need.
Social inclusion is not just something we talk about for one week a year (Social Inclusion Week is the last week in November each year). It is something we need to live every day, by finding and including all Australians in education, employment, and social activity. Inclusion is what builds communities, and ensures everyone has opportunities to the life they want to build for themselves. The more we know about the lack of inclusion for women with disabilities in Australia, the better equipped we are to seek out solutions.
Emma Davidson writes for Equality Rights Alliance, Australia's largest network of organisations advocating women's equality, women's leadership, and recognition of women's diversity. Equality Rights Alliance is managed by YWCA Australia.
Photograph of woman in wheelchair taken from The Voice of Eye's flickr account under creative commons licence