Northcott’s CEO Kerry Stubbs talks gender parity for women with disability and female carers

By Luisa Bustos, 27 February 2018 , Comments

From demanding pay equality as a teenager while working in retail, to being involved in the first women’s refuge, contributing to women’s journal Refractory Girl, and working in women’s issues throughout her career, Northcott’s CEO, Kerry Stubbs is a believer in feminism, social justice and human rights.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with Kerry to talk about gender parity in the disability sector and equality for women with disability and female carers.

International Women’s Day is about promoting equal opportunities for women. How should we think about gender parity in the disability sector?

I think we are a long way behind in disability when it comes to thinking about gender – because disability is the main focus. We don’t tend to think beyond disability to what particular strategies we might need for women with disability as opposed to women like me.

Women with disability face a number of disadvantages or lack of opportunities as a result of their gender. For example, there’s a much higher incidence of sexual abuse of women with disability – there’s higher incidences of sexual abuse of women in general– but women with disability have an even higher incidence. In terms of the workplace, it’s hard enough in the workplace for women, particularly unskilled women. Women with disability are more likely not to necessarily be skilled or to have the opportunity to get jobs they might want to get.

Additionally, the majority of carers of people with disability are women, so that’s another gender issue. Quite often mothers, grandmothers, wives, give up all their aspirations to look after the person with disability, which means they end up poor, with no superannuation and all those related issues and disadvantages.

The 2018 International Women’s Day Campaign is calling for individuals and communities to think, act and be more gender inclusive. How can we apply this to the disability sector?

I think one of the big issues for us in the sector is to think more creatively about how women with disability can be given opportunities for independence and for work. For example, we need different strategies for women with disability than we do for men with disability.

There is a tendency in the disability service industry generally to be quite conservative about gender differences so I think young women with disability are often steered towards very stereotypical gender roles without thinking about what the individual might actually want. Just because a woman has a disability doesn’t mean that all she is interested in is cooking or having her nails done. Maybe she wants to learn mechanics. We’ve fought so hard to open up opportunities for women to do non-traditional female work or activities, why should it be any different for women with disability?

In general, we need to think about what people with disability and particularly women with disability want more openly and broadly.

Of Australia’s 2.7 million unpaid carers, it’s estimated that two thirds are female. What sort of gender issues do carers face?

The assumption is that carer’s work is a woman’s work and that mothers, grandmothers and wives should be happy to spend their lives caring for their child or partner with disability. While they may well be happy doing this, that shouldn’t mean that they suffer the depravation of not being able to have decent retirement incomes or decent incomes to live on.

There are so many other issues as well – not just pay equality. Gender parity is about attitudes, judgement, and people’s life opportunities.

While we think about disability as the last bastion of inequality, we need to not forget there’s a whole lot of other disadvantage and inequality that is part of that.

What is your message to women with disability and female carers of people with disability?

My message to our female customers is: Don’t be apologetic or held back from striving for things you want just because you are a woman with disability. Think about what it is you want and how to get there. It might take hard work and perseverance, but you have every right to try for it and being a woman or a woman with disability shouldn’t stop you.

For female carers and mothers: Just because you are woman doesn’t mean you are any less important. You are no less important than the people you care for. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

For everyone, I think we need to think carefully about what the word feminism means. It doesn’t mean anything except equality of opportunity. You shouldn’t treat anyone any differently purely on the basis of their gender. Give everyone the same opportunities regardless of their gender. Northcott’s phrase ‘Unleash Your Potential’ is what we should be aiming for with each individual.

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Chloe is a young woman with disability who has the world at her feet. Read how she has grown her independence and gone after what she wants with Northcott’s support.

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