Archive for the ‘ feminism ’ Category

At The Intersection: Down’s Syndrome & Abortion

Picture of a girl with Down’s Syndrome

There has been a lot said over the past 48 hours about Downs Syndrome, prenatal screening and abortion thanks in large part to some tweets sent out by Richard Dawkins:

Whilst many of us naturally baulk at such words we must remember that in the UK prenatal screening for Down’s Syndrome is common place. With an overwhelming majority of the people who are told they are pregnant with a foetus with Down’s Syndrome choosing to terminate and many will then go on to try again. This is something that is worthy of discussion. It doesn’t take much research to realise that many people with Down’s Syndrome live perfectly healthy & happy lives. So why do so many make the choice to terminate? Continue reading

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Disabled Women & Domestic Abuse Posters

I stumbled upon two extremely poignant posters created by Women’s Aid to highlight some of the issues surrounding domestic abuse and disabled people. You can click the links to download .pdf versions.
They are fantastic resources and free to anyone wishing to use them. You can find the originals here.

Disability & DV Poster 1

disDV1

Disability & DV Poster 2

disDV2

#FemSchool13 – A Quick Summary Of My Weekend

I spent this weekend at the annual UK Feminista Summer School. It’s a weekend where feminists/women’s rights activists come together to learn from each other, organise and get inspired. All in all I had a wonderful time. Contrary to the picture the media presented the weekend was not all about ending Page 3 and Lads Mags to the exclusion of all else. Rather it was a eclectic mix of intersectional workshops and talks covering subjects such as class, race, disability, sexuality, arts, campaigning, lobbying, the criminal justice system, economics and much more.

The main hall starting to fill up for the welcoming meeting.

I arrived on the Saturday morning to take part in the welcoming panel with Lara Bates from the Everyday Sexism project and Constance Nzeneu, Migrant & Refugee Woman of the Year winner. The panel was great fun, it was a bit odd to be sitting in front of all those people talking about my activism and why I campaign for change, but if it helped one other person realise that they could make a small difference I think it was worth it.

Myself & Laura Bates getting ready to sit on the panel.

My personal goal for the weekend was to try to get as many people as possible thinking about disability as both a part of feminism and a important civil rights movement on it’s own. I really do believe that the struggle for civil rights needs to be intersectional. We are all stronger if we work together while, of course, still respecting the need for our own spaces. After the welcoming panel I went to a Mental Health & Intersectionality workshop where we were urged to look at how various types of oppression can exacerbate and cause mental health problems.

I followed that up by going to a workshop I was personally interested in – Women in Prison – which looked at how the current system is not set up to deal effectively with women in the prison system or after release. We learned that the vast majority of female prisoners have mental health problems, many of them personality disorders, which stem from frequently traumatic/turbulent childhoods. We learned a bit about how the system can breed dependency as well as how there is little scope for meaningful rehabilitation without structured support outside of prisons. It was a fascinating session, one I’m really glad I went to.

Instead of going to a third workshop I offered to run a open space session* on disability and language entitled “That’s so lame!”. I chose that name because I wanted to take a word that is used everyday by people in all walks of life that has disableist connections and use it to challenge the audience. Over the last couple of years I’ve discovered that many people who use the word lame to mean rubbish often don’t realise that the word refers to someone who is physically disabled and has a impairment that effects the ability to walk or effects the use of a limb. So we discussed the institutional disableism that creates a language where words describing impairments become interchangeable with words like rubbish, pathetic, useless, defective, dull & stupid in the collective consciousness. We also talked about differences between US & UK ways of talking about disablism and more to boot. It was really enjoyable. I finished off the day by going to the disabled women’s safe space meeting.

On Sunday I was running (with the help of my friend, Jackie) a workshop on Disability, Feminism and Activism. Given how awesome the other workshops happening at the same time sounded I was really happy that we still got a decent sized group. We covered a lot in the hour we had; the basics of disability, the pro’s of intersectionality and a run down of the last 40 years worth of campaigning for disabled peoples rights. We did some group activities as well thinking about feminist areas of interest that strongly intersect with those of disabled people (like reproductive rights, abuse, education, body image, austerity etc..) and thinking about campaigns both movements could join together to in. The attendees were fantastic and I had a super morning chatting with them.

I had to leave after that point because I was a) almost out of spoons and b) had a family engagement that afternoon. It was a wonderful event and one that I’d recommend to anyone interested in meeting other feminists and/or learning some new skills and theory. I’m really sad that I didn’t get the chance to go to any of the workshops exploring other intersections like sexuality or race but hopefully I’ll get the chance next year.

*At open space sessions anyone can suggest a topic/plan they’d like to talk about and meet others who are interested in doing the same. 

An Intersectional Look At The Social Model

Today I want to look at the social model of disability and primarily how closely it intersects (overlaps) with feminist theory.

“In our view it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.” UPIAS (Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation) statement from 1975

The Social Model in a nut shell

The social model of disability states that people with impairments are disabled not by their impairments (as the medical model states) but that they are disabled by the directly & indirectly inaccessible world we live in. The key to understanding the social model is understanding how impairments are different from disability. Within the social model any medical condition is called an impairment – a chronic health condition, a amputation, a denigrative disease, a mental health disorder, being non-neurological, a genetic condition or anything else that causes a body &/or mind to deviate from the “norm”. A impairment can have a variety of effects on a person which take varying amounts of energy to cope with. Some may barely notice an impairment others may feel it’s presence constantly and often overwhelmingly.

As mentioned in the quote above, disability is something imposed on top of those impairments. It’s being given a wheelchair to use but not being able to get it into shops because of poor accessibility. It’s being looked over for a job because of societal stigma about mental health. It’s being expected to live below the poverty line and lie for 12 hours daily in your urine because society thinks you don’t deserve more.

How does that all intersect with feminism?

One of the ideas in the social model is that because people with impairments do not fit our societies idea of normality they are treated less favourably, oppressed and forced out by society. This is done by stigmatising people with impairments, institutionalising them, sterilising them, refusing to educate them, abusing them, euthanising them and perniciously by ignoring them.

A quote from Rosemarie Garland-Thompson will hopefully tie this up;

“Female, disabled and dark bodies are supposed to be dependant, incomplete, vulnerable, and incompetent bodies. Femininity and race are performances of disability. Women and the disabled are portrayed as helpless, dependant, weak, vulnerable and incapable bodies.”

Feminism has long argued that the world we live in is a Patriarchy where overwhelmingly the voices of people in power are male because societal norms, values and cultures are set up to favour them. Being “male” becomes the norm which “female” bodies deviate from. In this way the oppression women face (as well as that faced by black & minority ethnic/ people of colour and LGBTIQ people is) comes from a similar place. Whilst the effects obviously vary, we are oppressed by not meeting the hidden arbitrary societal norm.

There are lots of ways that both feminist and disability issues intersect and that arguments from both sides can be strengthened if they are looked at together. I’ll give a example now by looking at one way that medicalisation of “difference to the normal” has been used to as a tool of oppression.

We can see  the normal actions and behaviours of female bodies have been pathologised throughout history because they deviate from the masculine norm. They have been thought of as hysterical, over/under indulgent, intellectually impaired and a host of other things. Today feminist theory would argue that the unnecessary medicalisation of the normal effects of hormones for example has been used as a social (and physical) tool to oppress women. We see the same when we look at how people with bodily differences are labelled as defective, deficient, freaks, subnormal, pitiable, eternally child-like, incapable and so on. Disability rights activists argue that impairments are normal and natural things which shouldn’t be automatically associated with any of the words listed previously. The same way that feminists would rightly argue that calling a woman who is publicly experiencing emotions as defective (hysterical) is problematic the same can be said about those who label those who were born with one foot as defective (cripples).

By looking at these issues together, and going further to include racial, trans* and sexuality critiques we start moving towards the the root of the issue; the oppression of those who deviate from a hidden ideal of normality (commonly thought to be a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, non-disabled man). 

UK Disabled Women Talking To The UN

The UK is signed up to a UN human rights convention called CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). Every few years in the UK an independent organisation called The Women’s Resource Centre compiles a “Shadow Report” to highlight areas they believe the UK is either failing or succeeding in implementing CEDAW. Part of CEDAW is making sure that disabled women’s human rights are maintained.

Two representatives from the disabled women’s cooperative Sisters of Frida are in Geneva as I type to help deliver the Shadow Report and to present details to the UN. I’ve copied the information from their press release bellow if you’d like to know more.

” It is essential that disabled women are represented in processes like CEDAW reporting as too often our experience as disabled women is invisible, this is an opportunity to change this and show how the cuts and legal changes are affecting us”

says Zara Todd, Sisters of Frida steering group member.

For the first time, disabled women (Sisters of Frida) will take part with other women’s groups from the UK in Geneva to address the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) so as to highlight the problems impacting on women’s equality in the UK and what our Government must be examined on, and held to account over, by the UN. This is a unique opportunity for women to raise the key issues they are facing with the UN and the eyes of the world will be on the UK and their progress on women.

On July 17th the UK’s record on women’s rights will come under the spotlight internationally as the UK Government report to CEDAW on their progress. (They were last examined by the UN Committee in 2008. )

Women’s rights in the UK have come to a standstill and in fact some are being reversed. Government policies and austerity measures are disproportionately impacting on disabled women and the rights that were fought so hard by disabled people for are now being reduced. CEDAW is as an important instrument to disabled women as CRPD is important to disabled people and they are inter related.

The Women’s Resource Centre has coordinated a network of organisations across the UK who have produced a detailed shadow report which reflects on the Government’s report to CEDAW which was submitted in 2011. In October 2012 the CEDAW Working Group sent a list of key issues and suggested questions for the Committee to ask the Government to highlight the extent of discrimination against women in the UK which the Government gave a piecemeal response to in February 2013.

The shadow report – Women’s Equality in the UK: A health check – brings together issues impacting on the realisation of women’s rights under CEDAW in the UK in order to support the Government to make positive changes in the future.  These are the recommendations put forth in the shadow report on disabled women’s rights

  • Take into account the intersection of gender and disability and mainstream disabled women in all Government policies
  • Implement an effective data collection system which is disaggregated by sex, age, disability and region, which can inform the developmentof policies and programmes to promote equal opportunities forwomen and girls with disabilities
  • Specific strategies are needed to target disabled LBT women as they experience multiple discrimination through homophobia within disabled communities and services, and negative attitudes to disabled people in LGB&T communities and services

On health and social care

  • Take steps to address the poor health conditions of women withpsychosocial disabilities. Disabled women typically receive healthservices that are targeted at women in general or at disabled people in general, services need to be targeted specifically for them
  • Improving access to mental health services for disabled women must be accomplished by services that respect the right of disabled womento make their own choices, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Allocate more financial resources to Social Service Departments,requiring them to use the interpretations of the social model of disability when assessing disabled people’s support needs for a ‘care package’
  • Ensure women and girls with disabilities are educated about sexual and reproductive health, including Sexually Transmitted Infections and maternal services and adopt reforms to improve healthcare services and facilities, including in respect of sexual and reproductive health

Political and public life

  • Educate media about the discrimination disabled people experience, and encourage them to report the ‘real’ stories including monitoring the portrayal of women with disabilities in the media alongside industry self-regulation
  • The UK Government should offer extra support for disabled women who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials to tackle their under-representation in public policy

Economic and social benefits

  • Simplify the application process to the benefits system. Most importantly, the system should recognise that disabled people are experts on their needs and the difficulties they face. The benefits should allow for them to remove the barriers they experience on a daily basis

Disability hate crime and violence against disabled women

  • Ensure steps are taken to address the heightened risk for girls and women with disabilities of becoming victims of violence, abuse,exploitation and harmful practices, such as forced marriage, in thehome, community and institutions
  • Effective legislation and policies must be put in place, including Women – focused legislation and policies that include disability, to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against women with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted
  • Ensure that both services and information for victims are madeaccessible to women and girls with disabilities which guarantee their access to redress and protection, including training of police and others and increasing the number of accessible domestic abuse refuge services

Rural women

  • Increase accessibility in public transport, and train bus/train staff to assist disabled women travelers

“We believe that the way the UK Government is implementing welfare reform is having a significant and vastly disproportionate effect on disabled women. These policies on welfare reform are failing to ensure the rights of disabled women and impact assessments are not carried out properly resulting in erosion of the rights which they currently have. The regression of human rights being conducted against UK citizens in the name of welfare has a disproportionate and exponential impact on disabled people. The changes to legal aid means that disabled women have no recourse to support against the discriminations further compounded by gender, race, sexual orientation, the class system, and underlying social deprivation,”

says Eleanor Lisney, Co-ordinator of Sisters of Frida, together with the Glasgow Disability Alliance (who also submitted a report to CEDAW )

The Appendix 36: General Recommendation 18 – Disabled women is at http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Appendix-36_General-Recommendation-18_Disabled-women_FINAL2.pdf (PDF)

Word doc Appendix-36_General-Recommendation-18_Disabled-women_FINAL2

The full shadow report Women’s Equality in the UK: A health check is at http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/our-work/cedaw/cedaw-shadow-report/

For more information or interviews contact Zara Todd : zaraltodd@hotmail.com 0044 (0) 07952185958 and follow @FridasSisters (twitter), information about other groups from

Women Resource Centre Policy Officer Charlotte Gage,  charlotte@wrc.org.uk or charlotte.gage.uk@gmail.com 0044 (0) 7841508231 @womnsresource

Notes to editors

Sisters of Frida (sisofrida.org) is an experimental co operative of disabled and allied women seeking a new way of sharing experiences, mutual support and relationships with different networks.

The delegation to Geneva is made up of a variety of women’s organisations from around the UK who will be highlighting specific issues relevant to their work and the women they work with as well as bringing issues from organisations in the UK who are unable to attend.

Members of the delegation include:

Committee on the Administration of Justice (Northern Ireland)
Engender (Scotland)
National Alliance of Women’s Organisations
North East Women’s Network
Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform
Older Women’s Network Europe
Sisters of Frida
Southall Black Sisters
Wales Assembly of Women
Women’s Resource Centre

There are also representatives from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Scottish Human Rights Commission and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission attending to provide evidence in their roles as National Human Rights Institutions.

Chronic Illness, Diet & Food

TW: Talk of diets, potential weight loss and eating habbits


My BMI is over 30 for a couple of reasons;

  1. I am insulin resistant as a result of PCOS, it makes gaining weight really easy
  2. Because of issues with my digestive system I will frequently go a fortnight where I really struggle to keep any food down which puts my body into starvation mode and slows my metabolism  Then when I can eat again, even if it’s just a little, I put on loads of weight (usually more than I have lost) as a direct result. 
  3. I’m not naturally skinny, never have been and that’s fine by me
  4. I would rather be happy and “overweight” than subject myself to the misery making cycle of diets & self-loathing society keeps directing me towards
I’m pretty happy with my body and my weight. Possibly more so than a lot of people raised in our slender-obsessed society. Unfortunately practically every time I visit a health care professional I have to be weighed and then lectured about my BMI. Regardless of how good my waist to hip ratio is or any other indicators of health. It wasn’t so bad before I became disabled, I didn’t see doctors often enough to care. Now I do see doctors a lot. I think it’s safe to say I’ve had more NHS appointments in the last 4 years than in the first 25 years of my life. 
I’ve hit a point where I’m too tired to fight it any more. The crushing pressure has become too much and given my other health issues it’s just too much extra for me to keep battling on against. I have grudgingly agreed to see the local “Weight Management Services”. Not because I want to loose weight but because I don’t want to spend over half of every appointment I attend talking about my size. I’m sick of it now and I really don’t have the energy to keep fighting them. So as of today I begin a very restrictive 1000 calorie per day diet. Now at 6’2″ I’m told that I should need over 2000 calories just sitting still so I imagine this will have the desired effect. I needed to have a blood test first to check it was suitable for me so I wouldn’t try doing the same unless it’s prescribed. I’m really upset with myself for agreeing to do it. I just keep reminding myself that this is why feminism & fat acceptance are so badly needed.
To try and turn this negative in to a positive I’m going to try and think about body image, weight, normalised health & beauty standards, feminism, disablism and the intersections between them. I’m also going to try to look critically at how people react to the news that I’m starting a “diet” because I suspect that there will be a lot of societal re-enforcing with regards to the “virtues” of weight loss and I’m interested in seeing first hand what it’s like. I also want to see if it effects how doctors, other professionals and strangers view my disability.
I will not talk about how much (if any) weight I loose. I will not extol the virtues of weight loss in my writing, I thoroughly believe in the Health At Every Size approach. I will try to place warnings at the top of posts so that people that want to avoid this stuff can.
I’m talking about this because as we have known for years, Fat is a feminist issue and needs to stay a feminist issue. I think it’s time to talk about how this issue intersects with disability. Many of us have bodies that often already don’t fit the societal “gold standard” of normalised health & beauty, our limbs may look different, we may not be as symmetrical as society would like us to be, we may have higher or lower BMI’s than society says we should have, some of our bodies aren’t as “under-control” as others, we may just simply not look as “healthy” as many non-disabled people. As a result we frequently are made too feel unattractive,  undesirable, morally lax and sometimes just plain grotesque, you can read a bit more here and here. We are also a group of people who often engage heavily with health services which higher exposure to government initiatives to police/concern troll body size & choice on top of it all. There is a lot more to be said on this topic but I’m not able to do it today. I’d appreciate reading your thoughts in the comments or on twitter before I write another post on this subject.

What Is "Intersectional" Anyway?

I imagine that if you are reading this you identify either as a feminist, a disabled person* or as an ally of feminists and/or disabled people and you might have heard the term “intersectional” or “intersectionality” used when talking about peoples rights. It might sound a bit academic, but the principle is fairly simple and extremely important so I’m going to attempt to explain it in this post.

In a nutshell: 
People are oppressed for a variety of different reasons such as disability, gender, culture, sexuality & race. There is a lot of overlap between these oppressions; we call the areas of overlap intersections. Someone who campaigns for disabled peoples’ rights in an intersectional way is aware that there are lots of disabled people who are not heterosexual, cisgendered, white men and that they will probably be living with more than one kind of oppression. Many people, myself included, believe that it is very important to remember intersecting oppressions to make sure that our campaigning is as inclusive of everybody’s needs as possible.

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A very simple venn diagram showing some intersecting circles of oppression including gender, disability, sexuality, nationality & race.
In a bit more detail:

If you are a disabled person or an ally to disabled people I assume you will be no stranger to the idea that our society is, at it’s core, disablist. The majority of people in positions of power are non-disabled and this is in a large part because disabled people are still routinely silenced, dismissed, ignored or refused access to the necessary tools to be able to communicate meaningfully. They are frequently excluded from politics, from decision making and from society as a whole because of damaging and deep seated idea’s about what disability is or means. It results in a large gap in pay, employment prospects, education, access to health care and access to independent living between disabled and non-disabled people. The power gap between disabled and non-disabled people is frequently abused and results in disability related hate-crime, abuse & harassment whilst the successful prosecution of such crimes remains woefully low.

If you are a feminist or an ally to feminists then I assume you will be no stranger to the concept that our society is still very sexist. The majority of people in positions of power are male and they decide what media we consume, what policies we follow and how our laws are applied. Sexist stereotypes brand men as strong, powerful, aggressive, logical and confident and women as weak, passive, caring, guided by emotion and small and they have damaging effects on men & women alike who do not fit those very constraining moulds. There is a large gap in pay, caring expectations, attainment and employment & educational choices between women and men. The power gap between men and women is frequently abused and results in statistics like 1 in 4 women being domestically abused in their lifetime, 1 in 5 women being sexually assaulted or stalked whilst the chances of getting these crimes taken to court is still low.

I would hope that it doesn’t come as a shock when I now say that as well as people being discriminated against because of their gender/gender identity (or perceived gender) or because they are disabled (or perceived to be disabled) are also discriminated against in remarkably similar ways because of their race (or perceived race), age (or perceived age), sexuality (or perceived sexuality) and beliefs (or perceived beliefs).

We can also see that where there is an overlap of identities (or an intersection of identities) people face extra discrimination. I will take the example of disabled women quickly to illustrate this point. Disabled men get paid on average 11% less than similarly qualified non-disabled men doing the same job. Disabled women get paid 22% less than disabled men when doing the same job**. They effectively take one pay cut because of disability, then another because of gender. Disabled women are more than twice as likely to experience domestic/intimate abuse than non-disabled women.

When human/civil rights campaigners talk about taking an intersectional approach they are talking about remembering that there are other forms of oppression active and that these need to be taken into account. It is important to remember that when talking about women’s rights that many of those women will also be one or more of the following; disabled, working-class, black or minority ethnic (BME), lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ) and/or hold cultural & religious beliefs that differ to the ‘norm’. When women’s rights campaigning ignores those areas it is complicit in further marginalising these women on the basis of their other characteristics.

Intersectionality is not about who wins the “most oppressed” award, nor is it about derailing or silencing conversations. The joy of intersectionality is that it raises questions for everyone and widens the scope of conversation, debate and dialogue. It is a tool which can be used to improve campaigns, make for a far more inclusive environment and to remind people not to assume that everyone has an equal and shared background. I don’t know about you but I personally don’t want to see advances in feminism that set LGBTIQ people back in their fight for equality and nor do I want to see advances in disability rights that ignore the reality of sexism that the people it represents experience.

I’m going to stop there. Hopefully that has given a basic introduction to the concept and hopefully it will have made some sense.

* In this post when I talk about disability I am talking about people who have an impairment and are disabled by a society that oppresses them as a result. My definition of disability includes long term sickness/illness and conditions like HIV.
** See Longhi,S. and Platt, L. 2008, Pay and equalities areas. Research report 9. Equality and Human Rights Commission. Also covers pay gaps with regards to other protected characteristics.

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