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Dementia and feminism

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Rachel Thompson Is dementia a feminist issue?

Does even considering this, risk creating a separate agenda for women that could leave men feeling excluded?

I have always prided myself as being a feminist. Why? It's certainly not because I dislike men (no comments please!) Rather it's because feminism to me is not an exclusively female issue – it is a societal issue. It is one in which when injustice or imbalance occurs, we collectively have a duty to redress this.

Not only does acknowledging and working to resolve imbalance bring benefits for women but equally for men. Unless of course people personally benefit from the imbalance and work hard to maintain this – perhaps why we still don't have equality?!

I often find myself discussing the whole issue of feminism with my teenage sons who I have always hoped will grow up to understand and appreciate the importance of equality, including equality for women, There is arguably an illusion of equality in more recent times and certainly we have moved on from the time of the suffragettes. But have we really achieved it? When we examine facts about unequal pay which persists, when we look at who represents us in the government and when we look at how women are represented in the media, we clearly still have a long way to go. Time will tell as to how successful I have been with educating my sons!

But of course this debate could go on and has been articulated much more powerfully by others. So in the context of dementia why is it important? Well without the stating the obvious, we simply need to look at the number of women with dementia compared with men. We also need to look at the percentage of the paid workforce who provide care for people with dementia who are majoratively women often on low pay and the number of family carers who are women.

Of course there are plenty of men who provide care and support for people with dementia and do so incredibly well. But interestingly some studies have shown that male spouses providing care tend to receive a disproportionate amount of help compared with their female counterparts. So why is that?

I am aware that when we hear men talk about providing personal care somehow it seems much more powerful and perhaps we empathise more with the struggle that might bring. However I know plenty of female carers who struggle equally with providing personal care and with less help. They can even be more compromised when a difference in physical strength and size can make this more onerous!

Equally when I see the increased number of people with dementia speaking openly about their experience and campaigning about the rights and needs of people with dementia, the voice of men seems to be more prominent. Do women feel less able to share their views? Do they not feel their voice is as important?

Lastly having worked as a nurse in dementia care for many years I am acutely aware of the imbalance of decision making in care. Whilst there are an increasing number of women in positions of leadership, the numbers still do not reflect the workforce they represent.

So is dementia a feminist issue? I think the answer is fairly clear. Yes of course it is but the question is how do we helpfully address this without driving a wedge between the sexes?!

We may not be able to redress the societal imbalance of the workforce and the influence of women in decision making overnight, but by being conscious of it we can make a start.

We can actively support and encourage women to have their voice heard whether they are someone living with dementia, a family carer or a paid carer/ professional.

We can acknowledge the imbalance and positively discriminate so that women receive the same amount of care, support, services and recognition they deserve.

Without doing so the imbalance will not be re-dressed.

If there is a movement to support this – then count me in! (along with my husband and sons!)

Rachel Thompson

Tags: carers, feminism, workforce Written 2014-09-19

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