"We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave - to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential. Malala Yousafzai
I was born in Belgium in 1996. My name is Nina. Being born here is not so bad! They say I will have the same rights and duties as the boys.
At least, that is what is written in the law.
Today, March 8, 2022, is world women's rights day. We could almost think that this does not apply to Belgium. And yet, even as a child, I took awareness of inequalities related to my gender and my particular situation.
Oh yes, I forgot to tell you something, an important detail: I am disabled. A disability that cannot be seen: I am mentally disabled.
And yes, it makes a difference, one too many when it comes to our often forgotten rights as women with disabilities.
As a child, I didn't notice any difference between my rights as a little girl and those of my classmates.
But adolescence marks a turning point. Like all women, I was subjected to sexual remarks from rough men. If for all women these remarks are hurtful, humiliating, they really scare me. Because even if my mum and my twin help me to face them, I am not armed. My girlfriends, who like me have a disability, we don't know how to react. If some girls dare to answer, we are afraid and it is visible. It is then a flood of insults, mockery, hurtful words and gestures. My headphones, which I've been wearing ever since, don't prevent me from hearing. I just hear a little less.
I have the right to go to school, but public transport is so scary that I don't dare to go anymore. Yet school is a key to my independence and a future. I'm scared to death but I go because there are friends at school. And then I discover how lucky I am to have the family I have. A lot of my friends are not as lucky as I am.
They tell me about their daily life: the beatings, the humiliations because they are clumsy, slow, "stupid".
They also tell me about the incest because they won't be believed anyway, because they won't say anything for fear of being alone, without a home, without a family. They don't have a choice because they have to be good for something because they are useless.
I talk to my psychologist who confirms that this is often the case for disabled girls. Yes, we are in Belgium, in the 21st century.
Today is March 8, World Women's Rights Day.
I leave school. My first steps into the professional world. And then I realise that I don't have the same rights as the disabled boys. Oh, I'm not jealous of them. I just see it! When you're mentally disabled, you'd better be a guy to get a job. Because the jobs available very often require physical strength. There is a lot of training available if you have strength. But I don't have any. No luck, I like animals, reading and writing, culture, art, expressing myself and sharing.
It is March 8 2022, World Women's Rights Day.
For a year now, I have been independent and I live alone. I am lucky because my parents trust me and let me go. I live at the 8thst day", an association offering a shared, supervised flat where I can live in total autonomy. But I am the only girl in the house because many parents don't dare to let their disabled daughter live alone.
I can understand them because, if the risks as a woman are everywhere, as a disabled woman it is even worse. The statistics are here. I am telling you this because I have experienced this violence too. I had to prove my disability so that my abuser would be punished accordingly.
In Belgium, these statistics do not exist. However, Belgium has signed the Istanbul Convention which aims to "to protect women against all forms of violence, and to prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women (...)" .
How many disabled women would like to live alone, but are not allowed to?
It is March 8 2022, World Women's Rights Day.
I have had a lover for 8 years. I'm lucky, my parents never forbade me to love. I have a fulfilling love life. But how many disabled women cannot have one because they are forbidden to do so? Yet it is a right, isn't it?
I would like to live with my lover, but legal and material realities mean that this is not (yet) possible.
It is 8 March 2022 and if I stand in solidarity with my sisters, I will be able to make a difference, I would like to put my sisters with disabilities in the spotlight, because OUR rights are not respected and when decisions are made for women in general, we are never consulted or taken into account! Today is March 8 2022, World Women's Rights Day for ALL women.
Nina De Smet, her mother Hedwige D'Hoine and the ASBL Happycurien.