5 Questions with… profiles researchers at the University of Lethbridge. Dr. Malacrida was featured January 17, 2014.

5 Questions with Dr. Claudia Malacrida



Lethbridge Herald
December 28, 2013
By Katie May

How much has changed for disabled mothers since Alberta institutions stopped forcibly sterilizing vulnerable women?

A University of Lethbridge researcher is trying to find out.

Claudia Malacrida, chair of U of L’s sociology department, has embarked on a five-year study examining historical injustices under the province’s Sexual Sterilization Act and comparing them to barriers modern women with physical or mental disabilities face when juggling motherhood and relationships.

“I think we’ve changed a lot. I don’t think we’ve changed as much as we wish we had,” Malacrida said.

Her interest in the project began 15 years ago when Malacrida was researching the history of Red Deer’s Michener Centre. Former residents shared with her their stories of being sterilized without their consent under the law, repealed in 1972. With an upcoming book on the subject – “A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta’s Eugenic Years” – due out next year, Malacrida turned her attention to challenges women face today in expressing their sexuality and having children.

“Everybody’s got an opinion on what good mothering looks like . . . but women with disabilities have got some challenges in living up to those things, so I was doing some interviews with them, and as I listened to women’s stories about how they deal with those problems of family and having children and being in partnerships now, I started to get a sense there was a pretty strong connection between the historical stuff and the way things unfold today,” she said.

The $318,278 study, paid for by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and approved by the U of L, is looking for women aged 50 to 70 who experienced Alberta’s eugenics era as well as young disabled women to talk about their experiences in relationships and motherhood. Malacrida and her team have already talked to about 30 young women with intellectual disabilities and are interested in speaking to those with physical impairments as well.

“Women with disabilities have told me that if they’re receiving AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) for example, there’s no extra funding for children attached to that. Basically the assumption is that you are not going to have kids.”

“There are plenty of women with disabilities who do have kids and who manage in spite of the obstacles we put in their place. But my point is, those obstacles still exist and it’s not about the disability, it’s about the way that our culture accommodates disability,” she added.

Malacrida said she hopes her research will result in clear recommendations for government policies on income and family support.

“It’s really important that we understand that parenthood is not a privilege; it’s actually something that people do and are entitled to and that we can find ways to make it work,” she said.

To get involved in the study, contact research assistant Tiffany Boulton at 403-332-4489 or tiffany.boulton@uleth.ca.

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