International Women’s Day: The realities of being a disabled woman in politics

Being a disabled woman politician wasn’t something I planned for.  It just came about naturally as a offshoot of my Trade Union Activities.  Not only was I contending with being a woman and the worsening of my disability, I am also an immigrant.  All these factors have impacted on the things I wanted to do for a career either individually or together.

I have lived here in Britain for 18 and ½ years.  So the first few years were spent learning what it was like to live “overseas”.  It wasn’t very difficult to get a job as I had computer skills.  I was lucky enough to get a job in the banking industry.  That was the easy part.  I was a woman working in a stockbroking firm, where arguments were settled in a loud toe to toe manner.  I had to forget about the male chauvinistic behaviour of the stockbrokers and basically had to show that I could hold my own in the IT department. You couldn’t be shy, quiet or you would be left behind.  Luckily I didn’t have those problems.

I decided at one point that commuting to London wasn’t the way forward for me.  I got a job locally, got in touch with the local union and renewed my Trade Union Membership in this country.  I found that life here in Suffolk was challenging. I found that men were still getting more promotions and their salaries were higher.  Luckily working for Local Government, the UNION has helped try and bridge the pay gap.  As I got more involved in Trade Union activities at a regional and national level both as a steward and as a disabled person I found that I could not stop myself from speaking out.

I think being a woman was something I was used to. Becoming disabled and a woman just made things that much harder.  To say that the playing field is uneven is an understatement.  You have to fight for recognition, basic human rights and to be heard.  I hadn’t realised that there was so much inequality.  I think I find that people are more dismissive of me because of my disability even though I consider myself intelligent and articulate.  That doesn’t stop people from making assumptions about me and my abilities much more so with the wheelchair and the assistance dog. If I tell you it is no joke that I have had someone address my assistance dog rather than me and give him directions, I am sure you wouldn’t believe me.

I got into politics to speak out, because I can and because I still have the fight to do so, more for others than myself. As a result of supporting other people, I have inadvertently learned to manoeuvre the shady world of social services and welfare benefits.  I am not so upbeat as I once was. The road isn’t getting any easier.  I hope that playing my part, it will become better for those who follow me.

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