Girls with Disabilities in the Global South

Rethinking the Politics of Engagement

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 York University xuanthuy.nguyen@carleton.ca

ABSTRACT

In this article I describe how participatory visual methodologies can be used to construct knowledge on inclusion and exclusion with girls with disabilities in Vietnam. I suggest that this approach can shape knowledge on inclusion in relation to disability and girlhood through its engagement with the voices of girls with disabilities. This case study represents a decolonizing approach for understanding the experiences of disabled girls in the Global South in ways that challenge the Western framing of disability and girlhood.

Introduction

In her critique of Western feminist scholarship, Chandra Mohanty argues that this scholarship tends to frame its epistemology about difference through its monolithic assumption about the “Third World Woman” (1988: 333). By assuming its superior authority in defining the category of “Woman” in the “Third World” as a homogeneous social grouping, Western feminist scholarship produces a singular category of difference through an unstated assumption of its authority and privilege. Mohanty argues that this mode of theorizing “discursively colonize[s] the material and historical heterogeneities of the lives of women in the Third World” (334).

The same theoretical observation can describe how the discourse of girls with disabilities has been constructed in the current global campaign for the human rights of girls and women with disabilities framed by international development agencies (for example, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 2012). Drawing on the work of Mohanty, I begin by problematizing the homogenized concept of girls with disabilities in human rights discourses and then suggest alternative methodologies as a way into understanding the experiences of these girls. To do this, I demonstrate how my research team engaged in the critical work of inclusion through the use of participatory visual methodologies (Mitchell 2011), such as photovoice and drawing, within the Monitoring Educational Rights of Girls with Disabilities project (see De Lange et al., this volume). Focusing on the context of Vietnam as part of the Global South,1 in this article I demonstrate how participatory visual methods could be used to help us to understand disability experiences in ways that challenge the homogenization of disability and girlhood framed by Western discourses.

In consultation with my research team—three of whom are women with disabilities—I use the term girls with disabilities since this was their preferred identifying term.2 I differentiate between girls and women given their self-identification, age, and their relationship to schooling. I use inclusion and exclusion not as opposing concepts, but, rather, as the analytical framework for understanding how the structuring of institutional norms can both include and exclude difference.3 At the same time, I seek to understand how the girls with disabilities in this project framed these concepts from their own standpoints. Foregrounding the voices of girls with disabilities is critical if we are to include their knowledge in ways that tackle institutional exclusion. While I am not suggesting that this approach can negate or reverse their exclusion from complex social, political, and educational arenas, I am arguing that participatory visual research does have the potential to engage girls with disabilities in the claiming of their inclusion through a more transformative approach to social justice. This politics of engagement—how the girls with disabilities engaged in constructing their knowledge and negotiating power through their production of visual artefacts—offers a standpoint for rethinking inclusion and exclusion in relation to disability and girlhood in the context of social change in the Global South.

Representations of Disability and Girlhood in the Literature

Girls with disabilities are invisible in most international and national frameworks (Nguyen and Mitchell 2014). Stienstra argues that “[w]e know little about the intersections of being a child, a girl, and disabled, let alone what it is like in the global South, being Indigenous, or coming from a racialized minority” (2015: 54). She further posits that while the global community has begun to recognize the invisible situations of girls with disabilities in the context of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations 2006), it has failed to address the intersection between disability and gender in constructing the lived experiences of these girls. Their barriers to inclusion include stigmatizing attitudes towards disability and gender; lack of access to education and disability services; unequal power relationships with their community and family members; unemployment; and financial instability. The intersections between and among class, age, gender, and disability result in multiple levels of discrimination against these girls (Morris-Wales et al. 2009; Ortoleva and Lewis 2012; see, also, Pearce et al., this volume).

Interestingly then, while the category of girls with disabilities has been largely absent from global and local frameworks on disability and girlhood (Rousso 2003), such girls are now constructed as a group under the universal category of victimhood in terms of human rights violations. As the United Nations thematic study on violence against women and girls with disabilities puts it,

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes that women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, and expresses concern about the difficult conditions faced by persons with disabilities who are subject to multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination

(2012: 4).

While an understanding of the forms of discrimination faced by girls and women with disabilities in all aspects of their lives is critical for the development of human rights interventions, this question must be addressed in relation to the social, historical, and political conditions shaping their experiences. This context illuminates the possibilities and challenges of human rights for shaping and/or transforming the material aspects of their lives. Yet, how can we understand the inclusion and exclusion of girls with disabilities in the Global South when, most tellingly, their situation tends to be articulated by the Global North? What methodologies do we use to enable girls with disabilities to construct their understanding of inclusion and exclusion from education and the public life? My use of methodologies here refers to a systematic framework for dealing with exclusion through both theoretical and methodological interventions.

Engaging Girls with Disabilities in Vietnam: Historical and Political Considerations

Girls with disabilities in Vietnam are situated within specific cultural and historical conditions. Similar to the treatment of disabled people in other conflict contexts, the government’s handling of public issues during and after the Vietnam War reflected dominant ideologies in maintaining the public order (Nguyen 2015). Emerging as a post-colonial country after nearly a century of warfare, Vietnam sought to represent itself as a country of rapid socio-economic reform. This politics of social change has permeated into its constructions of laws and social policy. Rydstrom (2010) observes that Vietnamese society went through a period of rapid social, political, and educational reform through the Doi Moi (renovation) policy in 1986. This policy adopted neo-liberal ideologies of privatization and decentralization, while at the same time maintaining the role of the state in governing the market and controlling the population, in cultural and social domains in particular.

The shift in the global and local ideologies through the reformulation of the legal and social systems has fostered a new politics of inclusion and exclusion. The Law on Persons with Disabilities in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam establishes three categories of disability, including “persons with exceptionally serious disabilities” [and] “persons with serious disabilities,” [along with] “persons with mild disabilities” (Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2010: 62). Noticeably, rather than shifting away from the medical model— a way of theorizing disability based on the assumption that disability is a problem located within the individual (Oliver 1990)—the law legalized this approach through its rights-based language. Being subsumed under the category of children with disabilities and children with difficult circumstances (Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2004), girls with disabilities are assumed to be linguistically deficient, possessing impairment in perceptive and cognitive skills, and having underdeveloped intellectual and cognitive abilities.

Tu Liem is an emerging socio-economic region located in the west of Hanoi. It has undergone rapid urbanization over the last few years. The process of urbanization has been associated with the technologies of population management constructed through, for instance, education restructuring, which entitles disabled children to participate in public education. With the migration of populations from other northern areas into this region, the citizens’ identities are now reconstituted along the axes of gender, sexuality, class, and disability as a response to new geo-political spaces (Gammeltoft 2001; Nguyen 2015; Nguyen-Vo Thu Huong 2008). Under the Law on Persons with Disabilities, for example, the girls in this study were identified as having physical, intellectual, visual, hearing, and what this law calls “other” types of disability (Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2010: 62). Some girls with intellectual and hearing impairments had some significant difficulties when expressing their ideas using verbal language while others appeared to encounter no challenges in their interaction with their peers and team members. Of the 21 girls who participated, the majority had some access to primary and secondary education. A small number of the participants, primarily girls with intellectual disabilities, had dropped out of primary school. Twelve girls had low socio-economic status while nine came from working class families. Two girls came from ethnic minorities. The diversity of girls with disabilities in this local context reflects the demographic shift in Tu Liem in the context of social change.

Methodologies

Rooted in non-positivist approaches, participatory visual methodologies could be described as a set of methods that has the potential to contribute to knowledge production in ways that address the power differential between the researched and researchers through, for example, the processes involved in creating, interpreting, and making the visual productions public (Mitchell 2011; Packard 2008; Pink 2001). The girls produced drawings, photos, policy posters, and analysis posters so as to construct their experiences of being included and excluded. These methods place the perspectives of the participants at the center of the research process; they seek to engage with, rather than for, girls with disabilities.

Historically, the visual was used in social research as a way of objectifying Third World bodies through such methods as colonial photography (Rose 2001). In contrast, approaches that engage communities offer an alternative approach so as to shift power from the researcher to the researched by using such tools as cameras or film processing (Packard 2008). Photovoice has been used in disability research with participants with limited verbal capacity (Aldridge 2007), physical and sensory disabilities (Cross et al. 2006), and intellectual disabilities (Povee et al. 2014). For instance, in their work in the south-west region of Western Australia, Povee and her colleagues used photovoice in order to understand particular viewpoints of people with intellectual disabilities. Through the activities conducted in the visual process such as making decisions about their exhibition, participants voiced their concerns collectively and individually. Booth and Booth carried out a similar photovoice project with a group of mothers with learning difficulties in the Supported Learning Project in England; they argue that photovoice can transfer power from “the powerful to the powerless” (2003: 432) through a decision-making process. By putting the cameras, for example, in the hands of the participants, the researchers enabled them to foster their decision-making through the consideration of particular themes and issues that were important to them.

The Participatory Process

The Monitoring Educational Rights for Girls with Disabilities project drew on a collaborative approach made up of researchers with and without disabilities, using participatory visual methods and in-depth interviews. Prior to the study, ten women with disabilities were trained to facilitate the research process with the girls. In order to access the participants, we organized an information meeting with the girls and their caretakers in each of the two vocational centers (in the case of girls who no longer attended school), and we sent a letter of information to the school districts to introduce the objectives of the study (for those girls who were in school). In addition to the girls’ consent, we obtained permission from their parents or caretakers for their participation in the study. In total, the data included 35 drawings, 68 photos, 7 policy posters, 7 participatory analysis posters, and 55 focused discussions inspired by the visual data that the girls generated.

Mitchell (2011) argues that a particular strength of participatory visual research is its potential to engage participants in a process of self and collective representation, in knowledge construction, and in activism. For the photovoice workshops, for instance, participants were shown a number of steps that demonstrated how they could use cameras to take pictures of, for example, gender-based violence. We used the images taken from other photovoice projects to illustrate these steps to the girls. In groups of three, the participants learned how to follow these steps to take photos based on prompts like “feeling included and feeling not included.”

All the girls were very interested in this process and they appeared to have few difficulties in learning how to use the cameras. For example, a girl who did not communicate verbally expressed her excitement when she was participating in different photovoice workshops. She photographed herself inside and outside of the school and in the public space as a way of making herself visible. Through participating in this visual process, she learned to negotiate, with her peers and facilitator, how to make decisions about taking images and how to request permission from the team to take ownership of her photographs.

In the workshop dedicated to drawing, we encouraged the girls to draw “me and my community” and “changes in my community.” These prompts were carefully selected by the team to enable the participants to think about their relationship with their communities. Bober (2011) suggests that drawing could be used as a powerful tool for representing refugees’ experiences of the humanitarian crisis of genocide in Rwanda, and she pointed out that in that particular context, drawing allowed the participants to challenge the discourses of global propaganda that defined them as victims of war. As part of the visual process, the girls in our workshop were given 30 minutes to work on their own drawing, give it a title, and write a caption.4 All the drawings were displayed later in the classroom or in a public space and these exhibitions included a walk-about process. The participants were encouraged to view one another’s images so as to understand their friends’ experiences and perspectives. We watched our participants becoming involved in what we think of as restructuring their self-representations and their voices, as it were, in opposition to the discourses that position them as the object of medical intervention in Vietnamese law as well as in international human rights propaganda.

We also realized that the design of the project in its focus on taking photos, creating drawings and writing captions, however, presented some level of inaccessibility to some participants with disabilities. For example, a girl with a hearing impairment preferred not to write a caption since she found it challenging to express her ideas in words. We ensured that her right to make a decision about this was respected in the research process.

In the case of group projects, the girls engaged in making decisions about, for instance, taking photos and writing a caption representing their collective messages. They decided how to present their posters to the bigger group. The girls then joined the research team in preparing work for the photo exhibitions in a primary school and in their community.

Working with Images: Understanding the Voices of Girls with Disabilities

The poignant images and captions produced by girls with disabilities demonstrate how they picture their hope of inclusion. For example, Do Thuy Hang,5 a girl with intellectual disabilities from a disadvantaged background pictured what she called “school and the sky.”

Figure 1
Figure 1

“School and the sky,” by 17-year-old Do Thuy Hang, in response to the prompt Changes in my community. Hanoi, 2015

Citation: Girlhood Studies 9, 1; 10.3167/ghs.2016.090105

This drawing is of an inclusive school. As can be seen, a number of girls, including those with disabilities, are playing in the school yard; a girl with a cane stands alongside her friend in a wheelchair. Around them, the sun shines on blossoming flowers. All this points to the drawer’s feeling of hope and optimism. Her caption illustrates this sense of inclusiveness: “I want a school for disabled and non-disabled people. I want everyone to love disabled people.” This girl then expressed her thoughts in an interview with the media6 during a community engagement event: “My drawing shows my dream of an inclusive school where all students with disabilities can participate. They will not be discriminated against, and they shouldn’t be considered … a burden to society.” Although Hang’s drawing does not reveal any sign of discrimination, we should look behind the scenes to understand the implications of her image. The intersection between her family’s socio-economic status, her disability status, and her exclusion is reflected in her interview. As she said,

[T]he most difficult thing is that my house is very far away from the school. At the beginning, my mother was busy picking me from my house to the school and vice versa. It was very hard. … . At the old school, my classmates said that ‘I don’t want to play with slow ones!’ Only Binh helped me in studying but he did not play much with me. [Then] I retook grade one. At that time, all my new classmates did not play with me, [because] they had known that I was underdeveloped. Then the school excluded me.

It appears clear that her image of the inclusive school was drawn from her experiences with different forms of exclusion and discrimination, both of which were embedded in her different stories.

The girls and women with disabilities then engaged with one another’s stories and experiences, drawing from their photographs and/or drawings, to make policy posters. The poster shown here, created by a group of girls who called for action from their community to listen to their voices, demonstrates this engagement.

Figure 2
Figure 2

“Please care about us,” a policy poster created by a group of girls with disabilities. Hanoi 2014

Citation: Girlhood Studies 9, 1; 10.3167/ghs.2016.090105

The girls created policy posters that included recommendations to their schools, community, or policymakers. This poster includes two photographs. The top photograph illustrates the connections between and among the teacher and students in a classroom, while the bottom one depicts the marginalization of one girl who is being left out. This poster suggests that these girls viewed their social relationships as central to their constructions of inclusion. The following conversation, which took place among the girls and their facilitator about this poster, demonstrates their interest in discussing strategies for inclusion.
Facilitator:People with disabilities have policies in their favor, but the policies are not implemented … . We should give opinions about the things that we need.
Nga:Broadcast it!
Facilitator:So that everyone can listen by speaking out, right? But it does not mean that everyone will respond. If you want to directly change your school, the people who can help you are the principals, the school boards and teachers.
Chi:This is the school for us.
This dialogue suggests that the girls and their facilitator shared similar observations about the marginalization of disabled people and that they agreed that more action needed to be taken. In saying that “[t]his is a school for us!” Chi affirmed that inclusion and solidarity could reverse exclusion in schools. In this case, the engagement between the facilitator and the girls enabled them to support one another’s perspectives, and in so doing, building their collective ideas and proposed actions. With strategies such as broadcasting their voices, the girls seemed to show that they could develop ways in which to advocate for their rights more publicly.
Figure 3
Figure 3

Photograph produced by 18-year-old Ly Thi Thanh, in response to the prompt Where can women and girls with disabilities participate? Hanoi, 2015

Citation: Girlhood Studies 9, 1; 10.3167/ghs.2016.090105

This poster, made by a girl who wished “to become a teacher to teach people with disabilities” (a translation of the caption on the left), was creatively and thoughtfully produced. In showing her picture of a girl with disabilities pushing the garbage vehicle during a social activity in school, she suggests her full potential to participate in such activities. The photograph on the left shows her as a teacher. It proposes that she could participate in the public space through taking on such a role. Here, her disability and her girlhood are embodied in her participation through the act of “protect[ing] the environment” (the caption on the right) and teaching. The composite image reflects her desire to transform the disabling environment through her actions.

As Mitchell (2011) has pointed out, of particular importance is the potential of such productions to go beyond becoming part of traditional data collections and to reach audiences through, for example, curated exhibitions so we arranged three such events through which the girls’ visual work could become central in helping them to engage with the public. While we did not negotiate the choice of the exhibition spaces with the girls because of the shortage of time and resources, the girls did choose whether or not they wanted to display their pictures. One girl chose not to display her drawing but allowed us to show her photographs. The girls then presented their productions at the guest house of the National Assembly, at a primary school, and to their community, thus targeting specific audiences. Thuong, an educational administrator shared her thoughts about one of the photo exhibitions.7

The girls with disabilities not only showed how well they could draw and take photos, but also expressed their stories and opinions through these visual works. This workshop and exhibition helped me listen [to them] and understand more about the girls’ dreams, needs and feelings. It’s a great chance for me to observe and exchange more closely with them.

Re-visiting Inclusion and Exclusion through Participatory Visual Methods

This approach engaged the girls in raising their voices and interrogating their relationships through a more transformative approach than would have been the case had more traditional research methods been used. It constructed an inclusive space for the depictions of the girls’ experiences. Nevertheless, rather than claiming that visual approaches can transform all forms of exclusion, we need to address the challenges of visual approaches critically to understand the extent to which methods such as drawing and photovoice can address inclusion and exclusion.

Decolonizing Methodologies

Indigenous scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith argues that “[r]esearch is one way in which the underlying code of imperialism and colonialism is both regulated and realized” (1999: 7). The process of interventions into non-Western colonized territories has reconfigured the world’s power, nations, cultures, and how human subject is viewed. The work of decolonizing methodologies, according to Smith, must be done through a critical reflection on the multiple forms of oppression that have continued to reinforce domination on indigenous peoples through, for instance, the process of knowledge production; such knowledge tends to be dominated by Western theory and knowledge. To decolonize the consequences of historical domination, we need to engage critically with particular forms of knowledge that were rendered absent by the colonial forces. One way to challenge colonizing ways of representing difference is to search for alternative representations from the standpoint of those colonized.

This case study shows that girls with disabilities wanted to represent themselves as individuals and collective groups with the potential to contribute fully to different aspects of life. This kind of representation disrupts the individualist assumption that disability is a medical problem through, for instance, the legal constructions of disability in the law as a bio-medical subject (Jones and Basser 1999), and the ways mainstream media depicts disabled people as essentialized and vulnerable bodies (Kim 2011). Thus, although the discourses constructed within the Law on Persons with Disabilities (2010) are based on a medical interpretation of disability, the girls chose a different way of representing disability through depicting relationships with their friends, parents, and teachers as they unveiled the challenges they face in their schools and community. Their understanding of inclusion tended to be specific, including participating in a schooling activity, playing with disabled and non-disabled peers, and studying in the classroom. By contrast, they pictured exclusion through, for instance, the image of being locked out of the classroom (Nguyen et al. 2015). Still we need to avoid romanticizing the participants’ voices because, in so doing, we risk reproducing positivist universalism as an approach to understanding the individual’s stories and perspectives (MacEntee and Mitchell 2011). Positivist universalism assumes that all human beings share similar experiences and that such experiences can be generalized across contexts. By taking for granted the stories being constructed in such images as truth, positivism ignores the social, historical, and political specificities that construct their standpoints and representations. In contrast, this “decolonizing and democratizing approach” (Nguyen and Mitchell 2014, 11) made the discrete, albeit sometimes shared, experiences of individual disabled girls visible and thus enabled us to understand inclusion and exclusion from the disabled girls’ perspectives.

Through triangulating visual images with different sets of data, such as interviews, the images, and the discussions in relation to the images, we can explore the stories behind the images more critically through what Jarman calls radical vulnerability (see, too, Erevelles and Nguyen, this volume). As Jarman writes, “[T]he ‘radical vulnerability’ of disabled bodies has potential to be read across two directions—across the surface of the image into reflected desires and motivations behind the broader hegemonic project” (2005: 115). In contrast to the hegemonic discourses, the findings from Hang’s interview and images (see Figure 2), for example, illuminate complex stories about her vulnerable situation—a girl with intellectual disabilities who has experienced many challenges in school and in her family because of her poverty and exclusion, as well the stigma attached to her impairment. At the same time, her desire to represent disability as embodied in the material aspects of her participation provides “a counter-narrative” (Jarman 2005: 115) to the discourse of victimhood taken for granted in the transnational politics of human rights, thus enabling her to shape her own stories in ways that challenge institutional exclusion.

Methodology as a Way of Challenging Power

Goodley and Runswick-Cole (2010) observe that disabled children are often regarded as being necessarily excluded from normalized activities because of the commonly held assumption about their difference being a problem. In their counter narrative, the girls in this study used visual methods as a way of responding to institutional norms. In picturing a girl participating in clearing the school grounds with her classmates, Ly Thi Thanh, a participant with physical disabilities, as pointed out earlier, used a picture to challenge the ableist assumption that girls with disabilities cannot participate in schooling activities. As she wrote in her caption: “Disability? No problem. I can still confidently participate in extra educational activities.” She used her picture and caption as a way of advocating for change in discriminatory attitudes towards disability. While the participants did not choose this approach from the outset, the outcomes of this work show that visual methods offered a different way of communicating their ideas, and, therefore, could be used as a radical approach for rethinking difference through its “transformative potential” (Erevelles 2011: 17). In her work, Erevelles addresses the ways in which disability is historically produced under global and local conditions. She argues that “a historical-materialist analysis [of disability] can expose its structural violence embedded within the fleshy body, thereby impacting its transformative potential” (17). While this understanding of the structural dimensions of disability is critical for theorizing disability in global contexts, visual approaches can engage girls with disabilities in using the material and symbolic representations of their bodies as a way of retheorizing disability and difference, thus demonstrating its potential to disrupt the silence and invisibility of disabled girls in the Global South.

Clearly, visual methods require participants to draw on some particular vision in order to draw, take pictures, and construct their meanings. A focus on the visual may offer more restrictive access to participants with visual impairments, and to blind people because their access to visual images tends to be restricted by the sighted world, thus preventing them from engaging with the meanings constructed within the images (see Anand, this volume). While tactile cameras could be used to make the methodology more accessible,8 the extent to which this approach has been successfully implemented remains undocumented. Additionally, while the inclusion of captions in photovoice and drawing could be useful for the majority of participants because these added another layer of meaning to the pictures, thus making the images more accessible to various audiences, the challenges of caption-writing for participants with learning and intellectual disabilities require researchers to consider the needs of all participants and adapt their methods accordingly throughout the research process.

In short, while we need to reflect critically on the challenges of the participatory process, including the availability of time and resources, as well as negotiating the political conditions including the local authorities’ support for this type of research in the Global South, this approach can create a space for girls with disabilities to construct their knowledge in the face of institutional exclusion. As an audience member commented on her interpretation of the pictures, the power of the visual enabled viewers to disrupt the assumption that disabled people cannot participate in the social world because of their impairments. Participatory visual methods as an approach, thus offers a possible way of countering the ways in which disability is normally constructed and theorized.

Retheorizing the Ways Disability Is Perceived

Grech (2012) writes that disability in the Global South is highly contested because of the lingering impact of colonial and neo-colonial power. Neo-colonial ideologies assume that disability is an individual and medical problem and oppression tends to be universalized across contexts. Yet, the lingering consequences of colonialism and imperialism in the Global South require a critical understanding of the complex structural conditions that construct such experiences of vulnerability. As Meekosha and Soldatic (2011) argue, we need to account for the ways in which colonialism constructed impairment in the Global South through its violence (see, also, Erevelles 2011; Grech 2012). By reflecting on the historical contexts in which disability in the Global South is produced through warfare, disaster, exploitation, and violence, we can begin to retheorize disability and girlhood by enabling disabled girls to shape their knowledge about their difference in global and local contexts.

As Mohanty (1988) argues, the universal assumption about the “Third World Woman” objectifies their differences. This article offers a different theoretical and methodological model through which girls with disabilities might reposition themselves through their visual productions, thus disrupting the ways in which disability and girlhood have been represented, historically, in the Global South. This work is critical for girlhood studies because, as Gonick argues, this approach can “brea[k] apart old certainties and generat[e] new ways of writing, new forms, and new images that open up previously unimagined possibilities” (2014: 199).

Clearly, we must question if and how this approach might construct modes of objectification, thus reproducing the Western gaze of power as unveiled in Mohanty’s critique. In international development discourses, disability and girlhood are constructed through an uncritical appraisal of institutional norms. For example, there is a lack of critical consideration of the politics of voice: the universal discourse of girls with disabilities has failed to consider whose voices have been heard and whose voices remain unheard. In contrast, I argue that voice itself must be placed at the center of the research process in order to reconstruct knowledge, because it sheds light on the dimensions of power in socio-political frameworks. Participatory visual methodologies such as photovoice and drawing, when applied with critical awareness, have the potential to engage in this counter-hegemonic approach so as to “re-imagin[e] disability” (Titchkosky 2011: 54) by reconnecting the experiences of girls with disabilities to their social and historical contexts. The girls with disabilities in this study reconstructed their meaning of disability through a more transformative approach that engages with the material aspects of their bodies that include their voices, their experiences with inclusion and exclusion, and, consequently, foster their desire for change. This approach offers one way of decolonizing the knowledge about girls with disabilities that has been represented for so long as universal. It challenges us to think more critically about the social constructions of disability and girlhood in the Global South through alternative forms of representation. As Smith puts it in relation to the politics of hope in decolonizing research, “The past, our stories local and global, the present, our communities, cultures, languages and social practices—all may be spaces for marginalization, but they have also become spaces for resistance and hope” (1999: 4).

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Claudia Mitchell, Nirmala Erevelles, and Fiona Cheuk for providing their very thoughtful comments and suggestions towards the improvement of this article.

Notes
1

The term Global South refers to the geographic location of less economically developed countries that emerged out of colonialism and imperialism. While this concept is highly contested (Connell 2007), I use this term to signify the differential relations of power between the Northern metropole and its periphery while at the same time recognizing the complexities within the periphery itself.

2

See Erevelles and Nguyen (this volume) regarding the use of the terms “girls with disabilities” and “disabled girls” from a different conceptual approach in disability studies.

3

While the concept of hòa nhâ․p (inclusion) has emerged through, for instance, the formulations of Vietnamese policy and law (for example, Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2010), exclusion has always been embedded in the government’s socio-political agendas (Nguyen 2015).

4

The captions were written in Vietnamese originally and were translated into English by two researcher assistants of the MRGD project. In the translating process we attempted to maintain the original meanings of the captions as a way of maintaining the voices of the girls with disabilities in this project.

5

I have used pseudonyms throughout to ensure the anonymity of these girls.

6

This interview was conducted by Vietnam Television, channel 4, as a part of the media involvement in this community event.

7

This was held on 6 August 2015 at the Headquarter of Bac Tu Liem’s People’s Committee, Hanoi.

8

See Sensory photography: Photography for blind and visually impaired people (n.d.). http://www.photovoice.org/html/pvmethodology/method_04/report.pdf (accessed 5 September 2014).

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  • Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. 1988. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Feminist Review 30: 6188.

  • Morris-Wales, Janalee, Olga Krassioukova-Enns, and Laura Rempel. 2009. Partnership for Research on Ugandan Women with Disabilities (PROUWD): A Research Partnership between NUWODU and CCDS - Phase I. Final Technical Report. Winnipeg: Canadian Centre on Disability Studies.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nguyen, Xuan Thuy. 2015. The Journey to Inclusion. Rotterdam: Sense.

  • Nguyen, Xuan Thuy, and Claudia Mitchell. 2014. “Inclusion in Vietnam: An Intersectionality Perspective on Girls with Disabilities and Education.” Childhood 21, no. 3: 324338.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nguyen, Xuan Thuy, Claudia Mitchell, Naydene de Lange, and Kelly Fritsch. 2015. “Engaging Girls with Disabilities in Vietnam: Making Their Voices Count.” Disability & Society 30, no. 5: 773787.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nguyen-Vo, Thu Huong. 2008. The Ironies of Freedom: Sex, Culture, and Neoliberal Governance in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oliver, Michael. 1990. The Politics of Disablement. London: Macmillan.

  • Ortoleva, Stephanie, and Hope Lewis. 2012. Forgotten Sisters—A Report on Violence against Women with Disabilities: An Overview of Its Nature, Scope, Causes and Consequences. Boston, MA: Northeastern University School of Law.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Packard, Josh. 2008. “‘I’m Gonna Show You What It’s Really Like out Here’: The Power and Limitation of Participatory Visual Methods.”Visual Studies 23, no. 1: 6377.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pink, Sarah. 2001. Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media, and Representation in Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Povee, Kate, Brian J Bishop, and Lynne D Roberts. 2014. “The Use of Photovoice with People with Intellectual Disabilities: Reflections, Challenges and Opportunities.” Disability & Society 29, no. 6: 893907.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rose, Gillian. 2001. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Rousso, Harilyn. 2003. “Education for All: A Gender and Disability Perspective.” Background Paper Prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2003/4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rydstrom, Helle. 2010. “Having ‘Learning Difficulties’: The Inclusive Education of Disabled Girls and Boys in Vietnam.” Improving Schools 13, no. 1: 8198.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed books.

  • Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). 2004. Law on Child Protection, Care and Education (No. 25/2004/QH11). Hanoi: National Assembly.

  • Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). 2010. Law on Persons with Disabilities (51/2010/QH12). Hanoi: Labour and Society Publishers.

  • Stienstra, Deborah. 2015. “Trumping All? Disability and Girlhood Studies.”Girlhood Studies 8, no. 2: 5470.

  • Titchkosky, Tanya. 2011. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • United Nations. 2006. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml (accessed 10 April 2012).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • United Nations. 2012. Thematic study on the Issue of Violence against Women and Girls and Disability: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Disability/ThematicStudyViolenceAgainstWomenGirls.pdf (accessed 12 September 2015).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Xuan Thuy Nguyen is an adjunct professor in the Critical Disability Studies program at York University and the Faculty of Education at Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada. She is the author of The Journey to Inclusion (2015) and is the Principal Investigator of the project, Monitoring Educational Rights for Girls with Disabilities in Vietnam.

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • View in gallery

    “School and the sky,” by 17-year-old Do Thuy Hang, in response to the prompt Changes in my community. Hanoi, 2015

  • View in gallery

    “Please care about us,” a policy poster created by a group of girls with disabilities. Hanoi 2014

  • View in gallery

    Photograph produced by 18-year-old Ly Thi Thanh, in response to the prompt Where can women and girls with disabilities participate? Hanoi, 2015

  • Aldridge, Jo. 2007. “Picture This: The Use of Participatory Photographic Research Methods with People with Learning Disabilities.” Disability & Society 22, no. 1: 117.

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    • Export Citation
  • Bober, Lara. 2011. “Picturing Research. Drawing as Visual Methodology.” Pp. 6376 in Visualising Justice: The Politics of Working with Children’s Drawings, ed. Claudia Mitchell, Linda Theron, Ann Smith and Jean Stuart. Rotterdam: Sense.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Booth, Tim, and Wendy Booth. 2003. “In the Frame: Photovoice and Mothers with Learning Difficulties.” Disability & Society 18, no. 4: 431442.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cross, Katherine, Allison Kabel, and Cathy Lysack. 2006. “Images of Self and Spinal Cord Injury: Exploring Drawing as a Visual Method in Disability Research.”Visual Studies 21, no. 2: 183193.

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Erevelles, Nirmala. 2011. Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Enabling a Transformative Body Politic: Palgrave: Macmillan.

  • Gammeltoft, Tine. 2001. “”Faithful, Heroic, Resourceful”: Changing Images of Women in Vietnam.” Pp. 265280 in Vietnamese Society in Transition, ed. John Kleine. Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis.

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    • Export Citation
  • Goodley, Dan, and Katherine Runswick-Cole. 2010. “Emancipating Play: Dis/abled Children, Development and Deconstruction.” Disability & Society 25, no. 4: 499512.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grech, Shaun. 2012. “Disability and the Majority World: A Neocolonial Approach.” Pp. 5269 in Disability and Social Theory: New Developments and Directions, ed. Dan Goodley, Bill Hughes and Lennard Davis. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
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  • Jones, Melinda, and Lee Ann Basser Marks. 1999. “Law and the Social Construction of Disability.” Pp. 3-24 in Disability, Divers-ability and Legal Change, ed. Melinda Jones and Lee Ann Basser Marks. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

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    • Export Citation
  • MacEntee, Katie, and Claudia Mitchell. 2011. “Lost and Found in Translation: Participatory Analysis and Working with Collections of Drawings.” Pp. 89102 in Picturing Research. Drawing as Visual Methodology, ed. Linda Theron, Claudia Mitchell, Ann Smith and Jean Stuart. Rotterdam: Sense.

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    • Export Citation
  • Meekosha, Helen, and Karen Soldatic. 2011. “Human Rights and the Global South: The Case of Disability.” Third World Quarterly 32, no. 8: 1383–1397.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, Claudia. 2011. Doing Visual Research. London: Sage.

  • Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. 1988. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Feminist Review 30: 6188.

  • Morris-Wales, Janalee, Olga Krassioukova-Enns, and Laura Rempel. 2009. Partnership for Research on Ugandan Women with Disabilities (PROUWD): A Research Partnership between NUWODU and CCDS - Phase I. Final Technical Report. Winnipeg: Canadian Centre on Disability Studies.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nguyen, Xuan Thuy. 2015. The Journey to Inclusion. Rotterdam: Sense.

  • Nguyen, Xuan Thuy, and Claudia Mitchell. 2014. “Inclusion in Vietnam: An Intersectionality Perspective on Girls with Disabilities and Education.” Childhood 21, no. 3: 324338.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nguyen, Xuan Thuy, Claudia Mitchell, Naydene de Lange, and Kelly Fritsch. 2015. “Engaging Girls with Disabilities in Vietnam: Making Their Voices Count.” Disability & Society 30, no. 5: 773787.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nguyen-Vo, Thu Huong. 2008. The Ironies of Freedom: Sex, Culture, and Neoliberal Governance in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oliver, Michael. 1990. The Politics of Disablement. London: Macmillan.

  • Ortoleva, Stephanie, and Hope Lewis. 2012. Forgotten Sisters—A Report on Violence against Women with Disabilities: An Overview of Its Nature, Scope, Causes and Consequences. Boston, MA: Northeastern University School of Law.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Packard, Josh. 2008. “‘I’m Gonna Show You What It’s Really Like out Here’: The Power and Limitation of Participatory Visual Methods.”Visual Studies 23, no. 1: 6377.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pink, Sarah. 2001. Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media, and Representation in Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Povee, Kate, Brian J Bishop, and Lynne D Roberts. 2014. “The Use of Photovoice with People with Intellectual Disabilities: Reflections, Challenges and Opportunities.” Disability & Society 29, no. 6: 893907.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rose, Gillian. 2001. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Rousso, Harilyn. 2003. “Education for All: A Gender and Disability Perspective.” Background Paper Prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2003/4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • http://afri-can.org/CBR%20Information/Education%20for%20All-%20a%20gender%20and%20disability.pdf (accessed 5 September 2012).

  • Rydstrom, Helle. 2010. “Having ‘Learning Difficulties’: The Inclusive Education of Disabled Girls and Boys in Vietnam.” Improving Schools 13, no. 1: 8198.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed books.

  • Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). 2004. Law on Child Protection, Care and Education (No. 25/2004/QH11). Hanoi: National Assembly.

  • Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). 2010. Law on Persons with Disabilities (51/2010/QH12). Hanoi: Labour and Society Publishers.

  • Stienstra, Deborah. 2015. “Trumping All? Disability and Girlhood Studies.”Girlhood Studies 8, no. 2: 5470.

  • Titchkosky, Tanya. 2011. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • United Nations. 2006. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml (accessed 10 April 2012).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • United Nations. 2012. Thematic study on the Issue of Violence against Women and Girls and Disability: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Disability/ThematicStudyViolenceAgainstWomenGirls.pdf (accessed 12 September 2015).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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