Many thanks to Abia for sharing this about herself to us.
Abia Akram is studying for her Masters degree in England. Not an easy job in itself, especially when you are working 4000 miles away from your home in Pakistan.
But then Abia is used to travelling the world – not for a quick holiday or to see the sights – Abia has been attending conferences, meeting with international organisations, reviewing proposals, all to ensure that the voices of persons with disabilities, like herself, are heard and recognised, at school, work, and in the international arena.
Abia was born with the genetic form of rickets, a rare disease that causes the softening and weakening of bones, which left her physically disabled.
She began her education at an education centre for persons with disabilities before attending a mainstream school. But it was at her new school that the ‚Äúspecial‚ÄĚ dispensations her teachers afforded her because of her disability caused Abia to realise that teachers and students needed greater training on working with children with disabilities.
‚ÄúIt was difficult to work in the mainstream school system because of the attitude and behaviour of the teachers there,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúIf I did not complete my assignments they would say, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs okay, we can manage‚ÄĚ. At the time I was not a wheelchair user but they would discourage you from using one if you needed it as they believed they could cope with getting you to your classes. They would use the word ‚Äėspecial‚Äô for persons with disabilities.
‚ÄúBut persons with disabilities are not ‚Äėspecial‚Äô. They are human beings and need to be treated equally. Children with disabilities who need to use a wheelchair should be allowed to use it as it gives them their independence to make their own way. They considered persons with disabilities as ‚Äúchallenged‚ÄĚ but it‚Äôs just a different lifestyle.‚ÄĚ
Abia began talking to people at her school to change their attitudes, and thanks to the joint efforts of disabled people‚Äôs organisations and international organisations who trained teachers in schools, things have begun to change. But for Abia it highlighted the need for systematic training of teachers.
‚ÄúThe fear is that a child with a disability will not attend school because of the attitudes he/she will face there. Persons with disabilities do need extra facilities at schools to enable them to use the building, but they should not be considered ‚Äúspecial‚ÄĚ because of this, they are like everyone else.‚ÄĚ
After completing her education, Abia worked at several organisations including Handicap International, and started the Ageing and Disability Task Force –¬†a coalition of 12 different organisations¬†working to mainstream ageing and disability concerns across all humanitarian agencies. She is currently a Project Manager at Independent Living Centre in Pakistan; Chair of the National Forum of Women with Disabilities Pakistan; Women‚Äôs Co-ordinator at Disabled People International, Asia-Pacific; and member of the Commonwealth Young Disabled People‚Äôs Forum…as well as studying for her Masters in International Development and Gender.
Through her work she saw the stark contrast between her home life where her parents were encouraging and supportive, to those of other women with disabilities who are forced to stay in the home without social interaction.
‚ÄúIn the first place a woman in a developing country will already face a lot of challenges because of her gender. For women with disabilities they can face double, even triple the discrimination than men with disabilities are confronted with. For some there are no employment opportunities, they are not allowed to go out and contribute to society, to marry, to have families.
‚ÄúThey are hidden away and some families even spend huge amounts of money trying to ‚Äúcure‚ÄĚ the disability.
‚ÄúFrom my own experience I faced discrimination when I went to speak to people about persons with disabilities, because I am a woman, and because they did not see that the rights of women with disabilities were as important as the rights of men with disabilities.‚ÄĚ
Abia has been working to help women with disabilities to raise their voices by inviting them to peer-counselling ‚Äď meetings where they can share their own experiences with others – to empower them, to consolidate and expand peer support groups, and to sensitise people to the positive aspects of integrating women with disabilities into society. In some cases the meetings were also the first opportunity that women with disabilities had to leave their homes.
Abia has also been campaigning amongst international organisations and the private sector for persons with disabilities to be included as staff members, and for their perspectives, and especially that of women with disabilities, to be part of their agendas, policies and budgets.
‚ÄúPersons with disabilities need to be included in the decision-making process of these organisations and at the local decision making level, so they can give their input as equals and as events unfold, rather than at the final stages,‚ÄĚ she said.
‚ÄúConferences and international events take an important role. If you include the perspectives of women with disabilities in these agendas, then other international organisations and governments will take note.
‚ÄúAfter the earthquake in Pakistan in 2011 Handicap International, who I was working for at the time, reviewed all the proposals for funding coming in from organisations seeking to help. Persons with disabilities were not included in any of the proposals and we went back to the organisations to ask them to review their programmes from a disability perspective.‚ÄĚ
Abia said they are now working with organisations to produce guidelines to train their staff on how to include a persons with disabilities perspective into their agendas and proposals – from the planning stages to local implementation.
But the difficulty of including these perspectives in the agendas of governments and global organisations is exacerbated by the lack of data and information on persons with disabilities living around the world, she added.
That is where meetings, such as those organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat this week in London, bringing together 42 participants including young persons with disabilities from across the Commonwealth, can fill the information gaps, she said.
‚ÄúThis kind of conference is really very important because some countries are still struggling at the grass-roots level to plan and implement the changes that will make a difference to the lives of persons with disabilities. Through these conferences we can share the experiences of those working at the grass-roots level and decision-making bodies and can also work closely with young and dynamic persons with disabilities.‚ÄĚ
source: Commonwealth Secretariat
We would like to congratulate INWWD on the launch of their new website! http://inwwd.wordpress.com/
Also very pleased to be linked on it. Many good wishes for the new year and look forward to collaboration and help working with other disabled women.
We would like to thank Philippa ( incurable hippie) for allowing us to repost this brilliant article.
It started with a blog post, where David Gillon challenged 38 degrees about why, despite a disability benefit cuts campaign receiving lots of votes, it never reached the ‘call to action’ stage.
Then there was an article (now amended) which described an athlete’s move from Paralympic to Olympic competition as a “move up”.
I then read in Jezebel about a sex worker who is awesome because she works with disabled clients, which apparently makes her intriguing.
And I started to wonder, what do you think of us? Of me? In these three stages, the mainstream, and the left-wing, tell me that I am inferior, and I am other. So very, very other.
Then Lisa Egan wrote a post (trigger warning) about suicide, and her despair at the lack of support from even campaigning organisations, and I still, somehow, didn’t cry.
Then, finally, the article that did make me cry, in which I learned that 2/3 of people avoid disabled peoplebecause they don’t know how to act around us. In addition,
A third of those questioned demonstrated hardened negative attitudes towards the disabled. Reasons cited for this ranged from disabled people being seen as a burden on society (38%), ill feeling around the perceived extra support given to disabled people (28%), and the personal worries and sensitivities which rise to the fore during a recession (79%).
It went on,
Some 60% of Britons admit to staring at disabled people because they are different, with more than half of people (51%) admitting they feel uncomfortable when they meet a disabled person for the first time, with more men (54%) admitting to being uncomfortable compared to women (50%).
At a time when cuts are actually killing disabled people, we are also experiencing more negative attitudes, perceptions of being a burden, an additional cost, especially during a recession. How very inconsiderate of us to not wait to attain crippled status until the economy is fixed.
If you’re questioning whether this is a feminist issue, then the point is being missed. I am a woman who 38% of people polled consider to be a burden. I am a woman who 2/3 of people polled admit to avoiding for reasons of prejudice. I am a woman who 50% of women polled admitted to being uncomfortable to meet. I am a woman who is witnessing her friends become more and more afraid to leave the house, for fear of government- and Daily Mail-inspired abuse in the street. I’ve experienced it myself.
There are so many issues at the moment which are putting us all into a state of crisis. This is one of many: people are starting to frighten me. Is the person I’m talking to one of the 38%? Or the 50% Or the 65%?
Given that women are the hardest hit by spending cuts, and disabled people are the hardest hit by spending cuts, disabled women are being overlooked, avoided, resented, marginalised and othered. It takes non-disabled people, at this stage, to make some of the changes that need to happen.
[The image is a photograph of handmade print next to one of the stencils. They read “FEAR MORE HOPE LESS”. The photograph and artwork are by Ben Murphy and are used under a Creative Commons Licence]
Armineh is helping us to get evidence in disabled women and discrimination working with the Women Resource Centre CEDAW Working Group.
¬†Introduction of Armineh
Armineh Soorenian completed her PhD in Disability Studies in 2011.¬† She studied disabled international students‚Äô experiences in English universities with a view to create a more inclusive education setting.¬† She has promoted these ideas in national and international workshops and presentations.
Armineh has served on a number of local and national committees related to disability and education, including the British Council‚Äôs Disability Advisory Panel and National Students Forum.¬† She has also worked in disability arts organisations in Leeds.¬† Through all these involvements, Armineh has gained a great deal of experience about multiple barriers disabled people face in their daily lives and how these can be removed, through policy and practice.¬† This, reinforced by her firsthand experience of disability has infused her to work towards an equal and inclusive world for all.