Before you read on, check out ‘Girl Power’ by the Haschak Sisters. As suggested by the song title, it is an anthem to girls; the power they have to change the world and to use their bodies however they choose.
The 11th of October 2022 is the International Day of the Girl Child. It is a day on which we give rise to issues that matter to girls and celebrate the diversity of opportunities for them to have their voices heard on the global stage and to be seen and appreciated as essential contributors in their communities.
Spend a few moments in the dizzying realms of pop-culture and social media and you will notice two things. Firstly, myriad adversities, barriers, stereotypes, exclusions, biases, boundaries, injustices and inequalities girls face every day, because…well, because they are girls. Secondly, countless images and anecdotes of fortitude, courage, bravery, resourcefulness, creativity, fearless determination and ubiquitous resilience girls display every day, because…well, because they are girls.
Today’s girls are the world’s future pathfinders; the industry leaders who will grow and secure our economy, the sustainability warriors who will confront and combat crippling environmental emergencies that are destroying our planet, and the entrepreneurs who will defend our freedoms in a world that is currently being rocked by a prolonged pandemic, political unrest and humanitarian crises. Girls are the bastions of strength who will build a stronger and more secure and productive world for everyone, regardless of gender.
They are also the world’s future mothers. Their potential for motherhood is part of their identify and they should be free, encouraged and supported should they choose to fulfil their most basic of human rights – to birth and grow future generations.
This, of course, includes girls with a disability. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2019) 5.7% of girls aged 0-14 have a disability and this increases to 9.5% in the 15-24 age bracket. Not surprisingly, disability prevalence increases with age, and it is estimated that 13% of women of childbearing age have a disability.
So, how can we, the elders, prepare our young Australians as they consider if motherhood is right for them and support them in their decision making and parenting journey?
We can reinforce old inequalities; bury our heads in the sand, pretend that people with disabilities are not sexual beings and assert that they should not have children. Or, as the culture-keepers, we can gather our collective wisdom and invest in a future that embraces the agency rightly deserved of girls, and empower, enable and recourse them as they drive progress, break boundaries and create their destinies.
It starts with education. All girls, regardless of ability, should be taught about sex, relationships, motherhood, and most importantly, bodily autonomy and internal authority as an organic continuum during the critical formative years. Formal sex education lessons in high school are often too irrelevant, too little and too late.
We should listen to girls and respect their points of view, plans and wishes. Put simply – Their body! Their rules! Their choice! Yes, depending on individual circumstances, capabilities and strengths, this presents its own set of challenges and conundrums, but having a disability should not dissolve a person’s right to explore their own capacity.
Preparation is key. Ostensibly, girls are busy doing girl stuff. Regardless of age and ability, should the time come that they seek advice and guidance around motherhood, we must be ready to step up. Every woman faces challenges, apprehension and even fear as she dances with the idea of, and transitions into, motherhood, and this can be amplified for those with a disability. Family, carers, NDIS supports, healthcare professionals and disability workers should offer collaborative, inclusive and individualised guidance in order to equip girls and women with the most appropriate decision-making tools.
Finally, ongoing support and advocacy. Whether or not motherhood eventualises, those of us who are fortunate to work with and support girls with disabilities need to avail ourselves to have important conversations, provide accurate information, and offer sincere advocacy and generous comfort as our future trailblazers choose their own adventure.
On the 11th October, take a moment to reflect on your attitudes towards girls, disabled and abled, and their human rights. Celebrate what they bring to the world, including the possibility of motherhood.
Author: Amanda Liddell (Lead Educator)
disAbility Maternity Care