International Women’s Day is an annual event that celebrates the achievements of women throughout history but also highlights the social injustices that women all over the world still face today. Although the progress we’ve made is undeniable, it’s also clear that the liberties women enjoy in 2017 are only a reality in certain parts of the world.
In the west, the majority of women benefit from equal access to education and healthcare, offering them optimal social conditions in which they can attain their career aspirations and live an independent life uninhibited by gendered societal constraints. In India, women exist in an intensely patriarchal society and face educational, health and career-related disadvantages everyday.
For Indian women suffering from disability, mental health issues and physical conditions, its a life of intensified disadvantages. Delimited by political corruption, patriarchy, stereotypes and stigma, Indian women affected by conditions like mental illness, HIV, leprosy and cancer face extreme neglect and injustice, begging the question: how much has women’s status actually improved in India over the past 20 years?
Not enough. Mahatma Gandhi said that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. When it comes to the treatment of women with mental health issues and disabilities, India is lagging far behind other countries in the world.
In the arena of economic empowerment, having a disability accentuates the already huge gender gaps in Indian society as any hopes for financial independence are eliminated by the stigma attached to disability. Limited access to competent education means that attitudes to disabilities are closed minded and grounded in assumption rather than fact: people assume that women with disabilities won’t marry and are thus seen as a financial burden on their parents. They are also highly vulnerable to sexual violence and assault as perpetrators exploit the fact that victims often can’t verbalise their abuse.
For women who are sufferers of mental health problems the situation is frustratingly similar. Invisible and silent because of their inability to comprehend or express the complex condition of their interiority, women with mental health problems are either institutionalised without their consent or live a life full of mistreatment and inadequate support. It’s a life plagued by suffering, injustice and discrimination for reasons that aren’t their fault. Powerless because of patriarchy and powerless because of mental health issues, these women are victims of both oppressive social conditions and indeterminate factors that cause the development of psychotic symptoms. Tragically, it’s so often the case that these oppressive social conditions are what catalyse mental health problems. When they fail to meet parental expectations or fail to live a life in accordance with the prescribed Indian values of how women should be, women internalise what’s projected onto them.
Although Indian women with disabilities and mental health problems face a complex web of disadvantages and setbacks, the commonality is that neglect and abandonment is inevitable for so many of them. We believe we have a moral obligation to use our privilege to help our Indian sisters. So much needs to be done and International Women's Day is an opportune time to begin taking action.
WOMEN IN NEED Celebrating the Festival of Colour, “Holi”
March 23, 2016
Discrimination Against People Living with HIV and AIDS Programme
March 16, 2016
Hospitaller Chev Paul Warren Receives the Manohar Diwan Award