Lucia Bellini’s speech for Million Women Rise 2015 at Trafalgar Square

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Lucia

Lucia Bellini

Sisters of Frida Steering group member, Lucia Bellini, spoke for disabled women against domestic violence and violence against women at Million Women Rise at Trafalgar Square. Lucia works for StaySafe East to tackle violence and abuse against disabled and Deaf people.

 

 

 

Lucia and Ruth Bashall from StaySafe East

Lucia and Ruth Bashall from StaySafe East

Eleanor Lisney: ‘when gender, race and disability collide’

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This was the speech by Eleanor at the WOW Festival on the Disability and Feminism panel.

Eleanor Lisney

Eleanor Lisney

The title of this session is ‘resurgence of mainstream feminism ignores the voices of disabled women and discuss what happens when gender, race and disability collide’ – I am going to start with saying that I am not sure we always allow ourselves to be ignored.

Sisters of Frida was started when we realised that there was a noticeable absence of the voices of disabled women. One of the first things we did was to join the UK CEDAW work goup and we went to Geneva so that we have a visible presence to challenge the government on their reforms with other women’s groups such as Southall Black Sisters. We were mostly self funded but we saw that 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. When it came to the turn of the shadow report for the CRPD, we realised we were the people with some experience as having been through the CEDAW shadow report process. And by the way the United Kingdom has become the first country to face a high-level inquiry by the United Nations committee responsible for oversight of disability rights into charges of “grave or systemic violations” of disabled people’s rights.

However in the discourse of feminism, disabled women are seldom included, it is true but even so, we are getting invited – we are here at WOW:) but seriously, disabled people are often seen as a ‘burden’ on the feminist from before birth to the older parent often portrayed as with dementia. The decision of aborting a disabled child is seen to be totally understandable, disabled people needs caring for – usually by low paid or unpaid carers where women sacrifice themselves as carers. Disabled women are also seen to be undateable. They are not deemed to be fit to be mothers, they worry about their children being taken into care, or not given custody of their children if there is a marital breakup with a non disabled partner.

There was rejoicing of the series of amendments to the Serious Crime Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, and is expected to be on the statute books this year where under the terms of the Bill a person convicted of coercive control could face up to 14-years in prison and there will be no statutory time limit for the offences, meaning abuse dating back years can be taken into account. Good news for feminists but not so much of a cry when it was found that disabled women would be exempted. Partners of disabled women could avoid domestic abuse prosecution even after ‘coercive control’ is criminalised, the government added an amendment to the proposed law which creates a defence against charges of coercive control by people who take care of disabled partners. If they can convincingly argue that the actions they took were both in the best interests of their partners and “in all the circumstances reasonable”, they will not be prosecuted. There was a consultation but no disabled women / people were asked.

I am sometimes asked: is there a gendered difference in disability campaigning, surely we re all in it together. The division does not help, they say, and even disabled women tell me that. We should look for commonalities. I am not able to respond to that coherently. I think I m more able to respond when it has to do with social justice and the question of race but maybe because nobody has said to me let’s look for commonalities white people and black people both suffer from social justice, why insist on the differences. Certainly no black person.

I would say because there are  differences and we need to speak for disabled sisters because if we don’t who will? Last year I was fortunate enough to speak in the NAWO panel at the Global Summit to end violence against women in conflict – addressing gender equality as the root of all gender-based violence. I am reminded that Women are raped, tortured and killed or left disabled because of their gender. If they survive many can’t go back into society because of the stigma of having been raped, on top of being disabled. There is a gender difference.

As an East Asian disabled woman I can feel the conflict and am pulled in different directions by the different identities. When I m in a disability environment, which is still very white dominated, I ask for black representation, with people of colour, I ask for access and inclusion for disabled people, with feminists, I ask for the same.

– Eleanor Lisney

Zara Todd: The problem with privilege

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Zara Todd

Zara Todd

As a young, white, heterosexual disabled woman, I have a pretty good idea of how privilege affects different people’s life chances. I have both privileges and experienced oppression and discrimination because of my identities.

I believe that both privilege and oppression should be recognised so that we can challenge discrimination and promote inclusion and equality I would like to hope that I am an ally all my friends, brothers and sisters who are oppressed in ways I am not. For me understanding what my privileges are and how they affect my experience and others experiences is crucial to understanding how I can be a better ally. However I have a problem with how privilege is often acknowledged and addressed.

Far too often, the process by which people identify privilege inadvertently perpetuates negative assumptions and hierarchies about identities. For example, I have seen a number of explorations of individual’s privilege which highlight somebody’s physical or mental health as being a privilege is massive. Now to me, this is problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly , in the case of identifying not being disabled .Many non-disabled people are yet again emphasising the biological basis of disability downplaying societal construction.

Then there is the issue that the concept of privilege itself is inaccessible and elitist, only really accessible to those who have some kind of privilege.

Acknowledging privilege also tends to continue place a value on certain identities and characteristics above others. When you are repeatedly being told your identity is a disadvantage, it can be demoralising. Frankly, can leave you wondering why you should keep fighting for equality when the world seems against you.

In addition, the act of acknowledging privilege on its own continues to place those with privilege in a position of power. There is not enough dialogue about how privilege can be addressed or how people can use their privileges in ways that promotes equality.

The process of identifying privilege does not celebrate what advantages coming from marginalised group gives a person. For me there are many brilliant things about being a young disabled woman that I would not change or trade for the world. Yet there are very few spaces where I am allowed to celebrate what is good about those identities and how they have positively enhanced my experience.

While we need to continue to acknowledge that not everybody is born equal nor does everybody have the same opportunities we need to find a way of doing this that is celebratory and empowering for those identities which are seen as a disadvantage.

– Zara Todd

 

 

Claire Cunningham: Is dance without disabled performers actually… a bit boring?

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Claire Cunningham started the discussion on Disability and Feminism at the WOW Festival with her speech below. Many many thanks to her for allowing us to publish it here.

Claire Cunningham

Claire Cunningham (photo from WOW website)

I am one of those individuals – whom perhaps some of the panel may despair of! I don’t know… That doesn’t really know what the identity of being a woman means for me. I think for me it has been quite eclipsed – in my dealings with others, but perhaps more so in my view of myself, with my identity of being a disabled person. And a disabled artist. And that is partly my own fault because of my fascination with what I have felt that disability that offers to my work. But that is also because I have went on a quite significant journey with that aspect of my identity, and I am not sure that I have gone on the same one yet with regard to being a woman.

Being here – and having been present at Women of the World festival in the last couple of years, definitely are part of that process for me, and of raising awareness in me that there are aspects of my being that I have quite purposely ignored and not dealt with. And like my shifting awareness around disability its a journey taken once you have found the people who shine a light on the subtle difficulties, and differences and behaviours that discrimination creates that you just have not noticed most of your life, because you didn’t know any other way.   I grew up just as blinkered about what it meant, or looked like, to be a woman, as I did about what it meant to be disabled.

I’m going to talk specifically about my journey regarding my perspective on disability, but I know it is just as applicable to viewing myself as a woman. But I just don’t think, if I’m honest, that I’ve convinced myself as much yet on that front. I think there is more de-programming I need to do on myself in that regard. Being here is part of that for me. Deprogramme old and imbedded notions of womanhood and soak up the endless possibilities of what it could mean…

I grew up not wanting to be disabled. I went to ‘mainstream’ schools and was the only child in those schools that had a visible impairment, a physical impairment related to Osteoporosis, that meant when I turned 14 I had to start using crutches. I kept thinking I would be off them in 6 weeks, next month, a few months, next year….its been 24 years….

I hated my crutches. With a passion. I became convinced – in those awful teenage years -that the crutches, and my physicality meant I was repulsive. I felt very ‘other’.

So I grew up with no role models – no disabled people to show me that it was ok to be disabled. Just the typical western media filled with images of bodies that were non-disabled. This was the ideal. This is how you are supposed to look. Portrayals I did see of disabled people – either they were objects of pity. To be helped. Or movie villains – people who had acquired an impairment and were so bitter about it they would therefore blow up the world as revenge, or alternatively kill themselves at the prospect of living as a disabled person.

So someone no-one wanted to be.

On being asked “Whats wrong with you?” I didn’t think twice to tell people what my medical diagnosis was. On being offered the prayers of strangers who wanted to pray that I would be healed… I didn’t question this. I was imbued from all sides with the idea – not consciously – that it would be preferable to not be in my state. That of course I would want to be ‘fixed’. That there was, naturally, something wrong with me. Or indeed, I was ‘unnatural’….

I did want to be fixed.

Then in 2005 I had an epiphany. My road to Damascus moment. I discovered dance. I didn’t mean to. It was an accident, I had never intended to dance. I had always thought dance was for-as I would have referred to them at that time – the ‘able-bodied’. Superfit people. People who could move really quickly, and jump and had straight pointy legs and straight pointy arms…clean lines. That’s not my body.

But what I began to see, was that the way my body had developed and evolved – through using the crutches meant it had great strength, and very specific strength. By that time I had been using the crutches for 14 years. My body had also grown certain skills and knowledge – it understood – without me thinking about it, how the crutches were weighted, how my weight was positioned on them, how to manipulate this skillfully, how to dance with them.

I discovered that giving my crutches to young, super-fit non-disabled professional dancers – they actually couldn’t do what I could do.

I began to accept that my use of crutches was offering me opportunity – as an artist, And in recognizing this I began to take on the identity of being a disabled person for myself, as opposed to being identified by others. I began to acknowledge that it shaped my work literally, but also that my lived experience of being disabled meant that I had a unique perspective on things and this was something I began to treasure.

Working in dance brought me into a world where the body is at the centre, its the tool of the artform, and it was now all about letting people see my body and how it moved. Therefore what also came with that was discussions around the aesthetics of bodies. Dance is, to me, the most body fascist of all arts and there is indeed the tradition that only young, superfit, non-disabled (and in this country still predominantly white) bodies are mostly what is seen onstage. Personally I just find this rather boring. My interest has been to push the notion that disabled bodies are not ‘wrong’ but rather different, therefore present more interesting, unexplored possibilities for movement. More colours on the palette you might say.

I told a leading national (non-disabled) dance company that I honestly wasn’t that interested in choreographing for them -‘You all kinda look the same to me…”, I told them. These young dancers were horrified… “but you cant say that! That’s discrimination!”

Yes. Yes it is discrimination. Of course I don’t truly mean it, but I am not choosing that quite controversial –and loaded- phrase by accident. It is fascinating to me to see the reaction it provokes. To suddenly see people who have assumed that they are in a better position than you, who think they would not want to be you, presented with the idea that perhaps I would not want to be them. Their bodies are not my ideal…

Now I’m not saying being disabled is a wonderful or easy thing. I don’t in any way mean to underplay or be flippant about the experience of those who have much more limiting or debilitating medical conditions than me, and who do face huge problems in terms of discrimination or lack of opportunity. But I do know many disabled people that have said openly to me that they would not want to be otherwise. Of course that is not true of everyone, but I feel that if we can start to shift the way disability is viewed, to a more acceptable, positive and valid experience, part of the diversity of humanity rather than a mistake, then it will only help everyone.

The natural progress of the human body as it ages is to develop impairments. Its a loss and therefore people grieve it….but it is natural. And as long as we treat disability as being something inferior, or shameful, we make it harder for everyone. This may seem a little flippant to some but -who doesn’t know a grandparent or ageing parent who is losing their hearing or developing difficulty walking but refuses to get a hearing aid, to get a walking stick…? I believe that the shame around disability is very much linked to this. The idea that the state of disability is inferior and undesirable reinforces this.

Disability, for me, is a state of existence, a way of being in the world. It is related to having a medical condition, and to how I am treated in the world, and the perspective that gives me- but it is not everything that defines me. I have and can have many identities -I’m a human being. I’m Scottish. I’m short. I’m white. I’m an artist. I’m a European. I’m an aunt. I’m single. I’m a homeowner. I’m a daughter. I’m a thirty-something. I’m a sister…. I’m a woman….

And I’m disabled. I would not want to not be disabled. I would not be the person I am. No offence to any of you out there who’s not disabled, I’m sure you’re great, I really wouldn’t want to be you….

I’m doing fine now….

Michelle Daley: Mainstream feminism ignores the voices of disabled women

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This is Michelle Daley’s speech at Disability and Feminism at the WOW Festival

Michelle Daley

Michelle Daley

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this years WOW event.
A lot has changed over the years for women. We now see a few women in leadership roles. And, yes a few women. But this is not equality! Now ask yourself these questions:
1. How many of these women in leadership positions are white disabled women?
2. How many of these women in leadership positions are black disabled women?**
We would struggle to answer the second question. I searched the internet and it did not generate the desired result. I did find information by black disabled women sharing their own personal stories. I can only think that this is their way to get attention out there about black disabled women’s experiences.
Through my engagement with disabled women they have told me that as a black disabled woman the way in which they interact with society is different to a white disabled woman and that their experiences are different. To demonstrate this point I will share an example from a speech I delivered in Scotland last year titled: Lived experience as a BME disabled person. I wrote “when an assessor presents their client’s case to their manager requesting support for extra time above the agreed hours for a Black Disabled Woman to maintain her hair and skin care this is likely to be rejected because of the Managers lack of understanding about Afro textured hair and skin sensitivity and the experience of dryness.”
Many disabled women are having to fight a lonely battle with no one to advocate their experiences and the situation is made worse if you are a black disabled woman.
Really, the situation should not be like this for our disabled women. I say this because, the purpose of the feminist movement is to remove barriers. But, this is not the view of some disabled women. They are of the view that mainstream feminism ignores the voices of disabled women – why?
– There is a lack of understanding about disabled women’s rights
– There is a lack of understanding about black disabled women’s experiences

By excluding the voices of all disabled women results in:
– Agendas failing to address disability issues
– Makes the feminist movement weaker
– Does not help to address discriminatory practices
– Does not help to address the abuse and violence experienced by many of the silent voices

I want to take you back to the opening question to show how through the lack of involvement of disabled women results in poor quality of services and in the worst cases exclusion from society. The feminist movement cannot continue to ignore some women’s voices. Every attempt must be made to address the barriers and bridge the gaps between theory and reality for all women and not just the few.

Thank you!

** I am describing black women as people from African, Caribbean and some Asian descent.

Sisters of Frida at the WOW Festival Sat 7th March, 12-1pm, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank

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A panel (Disability and Feminism) of campaigners will be asking at the WOW Festival whether the resurgence of mainstream feminism ignores the voices of disabled women and discuss what happens when gender, race and disability collide. Speakers include Becky Olaniyi and Michelle Daley of Sisters of Frida. Chaired by Eleanor Lisney.

The Woman of the World Festival is a festival of talks, workshops and performances celebrating women and girls held at the South Bank.

This follows the disabled performance artist and choreographer Claire Cunningham who offers a provocation on the widely held assumption that disability is a negative state in which to exist, and asks whether dance by only non-disabled people is actually… a bit boring?

Please do come and say hello! You do have to get a ticket but there are limited half price concessions for the day available.

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Becky Olaniyi: 18 Years In A Wheelchair

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Reblogged from Snatched XO with thanks!

Becky is a Sisters of Frida’s Steering Group member

18 Years In A Wheelchair

cartoon-right-wordsAfter 18 years in a wheelchair, I know what to expect when I’m leaving the house.

I was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain in childbirth. It left me with an inability to walk and a low tolerance for stupidity. This is put to the test as soon as I leave my house. People stare at me like a hanging head in a butcher’s window (and then smile. Like I’m some sort of ‘cute’ hanging head.) People ask me if my arms hurt. But the best of them all is when people offer help and then say ‘I’ve done a good deed today’.

I know what you’re thinking.

‘Maybe they think you’re deaf’. That would surely be the only explanation for such stupid behaviour.

You’re wrong. They don’t. This is a common occurrence. And it’s only the tip of the fully accessible disability iceberg.

Imagine if someone came and picked you up and carried you away. Naturally, you’d be incredibly alarmed. So why do I have to smile and nod and politely decline a potential kidnapping every day? I’m ‘rude’ if I refuse the offer of being treated like cargo by a complete stranger, but I’d much rather be rude than dead. And then there’s those people who don’t help at all. I could be sliding backwards down a ramp into a pit of hell and they would focus all of their attention on a passing cloud to avoid – God forbid - eye contact, let alone actually trying to help me. Maybe disability is catching. The awkwardness is palatable when I finally make it onto the bus and have to sit facing all of the people that somehow could not see me when I was wedged between the side of the bus and the edge of the pavement. I can’t decide whether they’re as bad as the people who ask me ‘What is your…er…problem?’ and then pat their legs for emphasis as if I think they’re talking about my glasses.

The bus is truly a disabled person’s paradise. It’s like some sort of government regulated punishment for being disabled, in which you have to battle with a person with a small child for transport. Have you ever seen a showdown between a person with a pram and a person in a wheelchair at a bus stop? Neither have I, because the person with the pram always gets on without a second thought. THAT IS AGAINST THE RULES OF TFL. I don’t say anything, and neither does anyone else. At least I have an excuse. What if they wanted to fight over it? I can’t exactly make a quick escape. As for all the other people, please refer to the ‘don’t help at all’ section above.

I was going out (to the gym, can you imagine) and I got on the bus. The woman who had a pram in the wheelchair space moved it out of the way to make space and I went in and continued minding my business, my default state when wanting to avoid pity talk. Pity talk, for those who don’t know, is what happens when the person sitting facing you in the wheelchair area feels so uncomfortable seeing you alone that they talk to you out of sheer sorrow. Sometimes, they even invite you to their church for a healing seminar. As I get off the bus, the woman moves her pram again to let me out. The man behind her must have assumed she was getting off, and the woman said ‘I’m not getting off, just moving to let the wheelchair off’. I wasn’t aware that I had gone out dressed as an empty chair, but you never know.

People interpret me as either being constantly lost, or as having a learning disability. I hear the words ‘Are you okay? Are you lost? Do you need help?’ at least thrice a day if I leave my house. The answer is always no, as these people seem to only appear when I’m perfectly fine, and disappear as soon as I’m about to push myself uphill. It gets tiresome after nearly 2 decades. A woman came up to me and screamed ‘I SAW YOU LOOKING AT THE MENU EARLIER, DID YOU GET SOMETHING TO EAT?’ Turns out she had been watching me in the restaurant and didn’t say anything, kind of like an inept guardian angel. I still don’t know why she shouted. I’m physically impaired, not hearing impaired. But I’ve learned that most people seem to be tact impaired.

Despite the comical tone of this article, being patronised, pitied, dehumanised and made fun of every day is horrible. Particularly for a young person struggling to find their own identity and be acknowledged as an equal by their peers. This is the reality of life for many disabled people, and it shouldn’t be this way. Next time you come into contact with a disabled person, treat them with respect and consideration. Don’t hound them with your questions comments and concerns, and try not to stare so openly.