International Women’s Day: The Plight of Women with a Learning Disability

Model: @kathleenhumberstone
Photographer in picture: Shelley Richmond

On International Women’s Day, let us not forget that all our little girls will become women.
May we raise them strong and give them the tools to form valuable, respectful relationships and the ability and rights to enjoy them.

But how much do you forget about them being a woman when they have a disability? Never mind a learning disability! An intersectionality that remains a long standing taboo that most people avoid like the plague due to its many pitfalls…

I mean, should Kathleen be described as a woman who happens to have Down syndrome or someone with Down syndrome who happens to be a woman? It’s not as straightforward an answer as you might think. Especially on IWD.

BTS of the shoot

On most days, just like on the day of that shoot, she’s definitely the former. But when it comes to having a voice, to fighting her corner, to processing the how’s and the why’s she might be shortchanged on the basis of her condition and/or her gender, well, she’s definitely the latter and that’s when I take over.

We all know normalisation comes through representation, which comes through diversity, which comes through inclusion, which comes through awareness. It’s a loop.

Model: @kathleenhumberstone
Photo credit: Shelley Richmond

When it comes to women in general, I feel incredibly grateful to previous generations of women for all the strides that have been painstakingly made in many countries, although very aware still many more need to be achieved. Also bearing in mind we must never take our eyes off the prize for fear it can all disappear again…

We went from solely seeing their gender while choosing to be blind to their abilities, to assessing their abilities according to their gender, to simply judging their abilities. The new generation is taking less and less notice of the gender, they’re finally more concerned about the individual and their abilities, as it should be..

Throw a disability, or a condition, or a difference, visible or not, in that delicate mix, and well, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. 

Model: @kathleenhumberstone
Photo credit: Shelley Richmond

Just like the sheer cloak of womanhood used to hide away women’s abilities and confine them to a well-defined code of conduct, the sheer cloak of disability seems to be stripping them of their womanhood.

Model: @kathleenhumberstone
Photo credit: Shelley Richmond

That’s why it is important to see women like Kathleen and the other models represented in such campaigns, so that they will remind or reveal to people that not only their condition or disability doesn’t make them any less of a woman, but that beyond it lies the full range of feelings, emotions and urges of any other mainstream woman, the joys and sorrows, the longing and the disappointments, the need for validation and fulfilment. And of course, RESPECT!

IWD has always been a great platform to expose some ginormous elephants in the room. This is one of them. So, let’s talk about it…

Full campaign here:



Photographer: Shelley Richmond

Art direction: Zoe Proctor

HMUA: Jen Edwards and Kelly Richardson

Useful links:

Puberty resources for young people with a learning disability, compiled by Karin Crimmins:

Kathleen’s social media handles:

Instagram :



TikTok and YouTube : Kathleen Humberstone

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