International Women’s Day (IWD) is held annually on March 8th. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. The first IWD took place in 1911 and was celebrated by over a million people; today IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. You can find out more on the United Nations Women Page.

Greater Challenges for Disabled Women

For disabled women, inequality is even greater and even more so for disabled women of colour. 10% of the world’s population has a disability which in the UK is 14.1 million. In most of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, women have higher rates of disability than men. Disabled women have a much more challenging time accessing healthcare, education and employment. According to the United Nations “Men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities. When women with disabilities work, they often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal access to training and retraining, unequal access to credit and other productive resources, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation, and they rarely participate in economic decision making.”

A knotted rope in the background, with portraits of the 3 heroines featured across the front
Left to right: Kate Stanforth, Myra Ali, Eiko Kimura

This IWD 2021 I’d like to celebrate those women with significant disabilities who not only work, but who excel in what they do. Their achievements are not only inspirational because they’re winning on a grossly uneven playing field; they do so whilst suffering chronic pain, exhaustion and other symptoms, as well as the financial burden which disability brings. Here, 3 amazing women are featured: Kate Stanforth a disabled dancer who runs an inclusive dance academy, Myra Ali a disabled journalist and woman of the year runner up, and Eiko Kimura a disabled politician in the Japanese Parliament. I did a Q&A with UK-based Kate and Myra, and researched a profile for Eiko as I don’t have access to a Japanese translator.

a black and white photograph of Kate dancing in her wheelchair in the arabesque positiontended, her other leg is bent at the knee
Credit: Hannah Todd photography

Profile: Kate Stanforth

Disabled dancer, teacher, choreographer and inclusive dance academy owner

Hello Kate, can you tell me a bit about your journey?

I’m Kate, 26, from Northumberland. I was training to be a professional ballerina when I suddenly became ill at the age of 14. After spending years extremely unwell, I was able to get back into the dance studio in my wheelchair and started small amounts of teaching. From then on, I was determined to make the dance industry more accessible as I came across many barriers and now have opened my own inclusive dance academy.

What has helped you come to terms with, and adapt to, life with disability?

Time. For the first 6 years I hated my wheelchair and could not come to terms with the fact I was disabled. It was a grieving process and one which will always be difficult. Now, I am a much more confident wheelchair user but I do, as everyone does, still have my days where my disability just is that little bit too hard.

What do you wish you’d have known/been told at the start of your journey?

I wish I had known where I’d be now! I thought my dance journey was over, not that I’d be flown to Miami to dance for George ASDA, dance for brands such as Kappa and open my own dance school. Also, I wish I knew that I would eventually adapt and make a career out of helping others with disabilities and still pursue my dream in the dance world.

What gets you through the tough days now?

My assistance dog, Spencer. I got him around 3 years ago from Canine Partners charity and I really mean it when I say I probably wouldn’t be here without him. He helps me so much, both physically and emotionally, I really love that dog!

What advice or encouragement would you give to people struggling with disability or chronic health problems?

Take your time. It’s ok to not know where your ’new’ life is taking you. It’s ok to grieve the life you had before. Just take time to process things and ‘run your own race’ as I say. It’s easy to compare your journey to someone else’s but make it your own. You’ve got this.

How has lockdown made things more challenging than usual?

Lockdown has been difficult because I’ve been shielding on and off for nearly a year now. I haven’t seen many of my friends in a year, or taught students in a dance studio, or just continued with my usual routine. I’ve felt very isolated which means my mood and anxiety has suffered, so I’d just love my mental health especially to get back to being more stable.

Anything else you’d like to add?

A shout out to all the chronically ill women on IWD – you are fighting so many battles people don’t know about and I just want to say I appreciate you all.

You can find out more about Kate and her work on she’s on twitter @katestanforth and also instagram @katestanforth @katestanforthdance

Profile: Myra Ali

a black and white photograph of Myra Ali standing by a railing, she has dressings and bandages on her shoulders and armssings and
Credit: Myra Ali instagram

Disabled Entertainment Journalist and advocate of disabled women of colour in the UK. Credits include New York Post, Marie Claire, Stylist, UK GQ and Cosmo. Woman of the Year runner-up (2019)

Hello Myra, can you tell me a bit about your journey?

I was born with the most severe form of Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). Constant pain and scarring has caused my hands to mitten; when I was younger my fingers were open and I had a lot of dexterity, but with increased scarring the fingers have closed into fists. I work as a freelance celebrity journalist writing articles and interviewing celebrities at press junkets and red carpet events. At the same time, I live with family and I have nurses who come to the house to do my dressings.

What has helped you come to terms with, and adapt to, life with disability?

I’ve accepted it is a difficult condition I have but it could be a lot worse and it’s important to remember the struggles of others too – I try to keep positive about it I’m a believer in if you think positive you’ll attract positivity.

What do you wish you’d have known/been told at the start of your journey?

That believe in yourself and not to listen to people around you who try to put you down or put their beliefs on you. Amazing things can happen if you have faith and believe in yourself. And always aim high in every aspect of life.

What gets you through the tough days now?

My faith and belief that everything will be ok and a struggle is just a test – being positive can help get you through the worst times.

What advice or encouragement would you give to people struggling with disability or chronic health problems

Make sure you have a strong support system around you – family , medical professionals and friends , never be worried about talking about your struggles. Always remember your life and journey is unique and you will get through this – try to find something in your life you really enjoy this will make you feel better- your condition doesn’t define you at all.

How has lockdown made things more challenging than usual?

Being fearful of going to the Drs. etc because of covid that’s all.

You can follow Myra on instagram and twitter. I highly recommend her article: Women of colour with disabilities are always left out of the conversation about diversity.

Profile: Eiko Kimura

Eiko Kimura became disabled at 8 months old. She spent most of her childhood in a nursing home and school for disabled children. She suffers from cerebral palsy and tetraplegia. At 19 she decided she wanted to live in the community and not in an institution. At the time, this was a rare and ground breaking move for a severely disabled person in Japan. Eiko moved from Yokohama to Tokyo, married and had a son. In her 30’s she began advocating for disability rights and founded an organization that helps the disabled to live independently.

In 2019, she made headlines around the world when she was elected to the National Diet (the Japanese Parliament) alongside Yasuhiko Funago who is also severely disabled. Whilst not the first wheelchair users at the Senate, they are the first to be severely disabled. So, modifications were made to accommodate their reclining wheelchairs. They are also given dispensation for their carers to attend with them. You can read more about Eiko’s election in this BBC article. Both Eiko Kimura and Yasuhiko Funago are members of the small leftist opposition party named Reiwa Shinsengumi. It is founded by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto. The party advocates for a society that does not cut anyone off, especially those usually overlooked. You can read more about Eiko’s life and political journey in this excellent post on the disability visibility project.

Eiko Kimura arriving for her first day at Parliament, she is outside in her wheelchair surrounded by dozens of reportser with microphones and cameras crowding her
Credit: EPA, BBC News

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