Charlotte of the Women’s Resource Centre¬†asked me to write a blog about being a torch bearer for this year’s Olympics 2012. What does it mean to me? To be honest, I am not sure. It’s a great honour and I never expected to be chosen.
At the moment I am too busy to think about the event itself, but I think I can say I am curious by the fact that my nominee proclaimed me to be ‘humble and unassuming’, luckily she didnt say quiet. I do what I do because I am fired up by other people and a passion to highlight social injustice – such as domestic violence faced by disabled women and how it is more difficult for us to deal with it with the extra barriers and impairments with support needs. I spoke about this with my good friend, Michelle Daley at the Million Women Rise March in 2010 at Trafalgar Sq and as a member of the CEDAW working group at the Women’s Resource Centre.
It seems to me that it’s more important that I would be carrying the torch for honouring the organisations I am involved in locally and nationally. To represent disabled people/women play a part in the achievements of all that the Olympics stand for. According to my social networks at present, the Olympics is now morphed into a different event altogether as it looms closer with all the security measures and financial costs coming to light.
I think a part of me want to celebrate the incongruity of me, an emigrant of immigrant parents, being a torch bearer here in the UK. My parents do not understand any of the campaigning work I do, but they know what the Olympics stand for. They are proud of me, their disabled daughter. And I am glad that I can give them that by doing this. I was never able to attend PE lessons when I was at school. Though I am not a Paralympian, I still can be a¬†part of it somehow.
I’ve just had a little discussion tonight and a small throw away remark of not going for tokenism caught me on the quick. In everything I do, I am scrupulous about being inclusive and sometimes it means that you don’t belong truly to any specific group entirely. I put this question to the panel at the NUJ Black Members Council AGM last weekend: how do you interweave the different equality strands when they are present in your identity? It is difficult to present the complexity in having multiple identities. How do you represent each identity and identify yourself as such without losing the other? As a BME disabled woman, I want to carry the flame for the diversity in me.¬†
I was told that being a torch bearer is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope my being one here in Coventry will enable disabled BME women to feel included in this event!
– Eleanor Thoe Lisney
Today, I wrote an article about the appalling situation¬†Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson found herself in recently when she had to throw her wheelchair onto a rail station platform and crawl after it.
During the conversation, we touched on disability as a feminist issue, something I had already come across in a blog post written by s.e.smith. Smith talks about ‚Äėintersectionality –¬†the idea that overlapping and interconnecting systems of oppression are involved pretty much anywhere you feel like looking‚Äô:
‚ÄėThe short version of the reason that disability is a feminist issue is that some people with disabilities are women. I know, shocking! But I‚Äôm here to tell you that it‚Äôs true.‚Äô
This is something Philippa concurs with:
‚ÄėI think it is basically the fact that if it affects women it is a feminist issue.¬† Fundamentally, just like I think racism is a feminist issue because it affects women, feminism should be always advocating for people who are disadvantaged in one way or another.¬† It is about social justice really.‚Äô
Well, maybe not.
As Philippa says, although there are pockets of feminist spaces that try hard to be inclusive, there are also those that are not.¬† And this usually takes the form of a woman‚Äôs disability being seen as secondary:
‚ÄėSomething that I have come across when I have tried to talk about disability in a feminist context is that disability can be seen as a ‚Äúdiversion‚ÄĚ from proper feminist issues.
‚ÄėFor example, if a disabled woman is attacked, talking about the disability aspect of the attack should not be seen as a diversion ‚Äď it is a key part of what is happening.‚Äô
And, it seems, the biggest problem is also obvious ‚Äď access. As someone with a minor knee disability I am hyper-sensitive to non-accessible places ‚Äď lots of steps, long walks from public transport to venues and, as I get older, heavy doors that are difficult to open.
This also resonated with Philippa who said:
‚ÄėThe other aspect is that in practical terms lots of feminist groups meet in upstairs rooms and pubs and, while I fully appreciated that they use those spaces because they may be free, and accessible spaces often cost, I also think this is increasingly unacceptable.
‚ÄėI think a feminist group that does not take accessibility into account is not only NOT representing lots of women, it is physically not letting lots of women in.‚Äô
This is a theme that is echoed in the blogosphere. ¬†With this quote a Corkfeminista blogger with a disabled son, hits the nail firmly on the head:
‚ÄėI‚Äôd love to join everyone for an evening of story-sharing at the Metropole Hotel [to celebrate International Women’s Day] but I can‚Äôt, and why I can‚Äôt is part of my story‚Ä¶the story of disability as the Cinderella of feminism.‚Äô
Thinking that electronic communications could help address this for those who find it difficult to leave the house, I asked Philippa if, in her experience, e-comms were an adequate substitute for attending events in person:
‚ÄėDisabled people are doing some amazing campaign work online. What has been going on with Twitter in the disability community has been amazing: for example, it is really including people who might not be able to sit up in bed but can tweet.
‚ÄėThe creativity I have seen in the online activism is brilliant. Also, a lot of the feminist conferences will have a hash tag, live tweeting and video-links which is good.‚Äô
However, Philippa does not feel that e-comms can replace the actual attendance at an event:
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt think ‚Äúyou can‚Äôt come but you can watch‚ÄĚ is an acceptable compromise.‚Äô
And, for the Corkfeminista blogger, the pressures of disability caring means that there is ‚Äėprecious little time for online presence.‚Äô:
‚Äô80% of unpaid disability carers in Ireland who are women frequently remain isolated and unheard and the 20% who are men suffer the same fate for engaging in what State and society alike still consider to be low-status women‚Äôs work.‚Äô
So what can feminist groups do to address this?
Philippa suggests the following would be a place to start:
An example of a well-planned conference is Intersect in Bristol on 19th May.
Beginning with an open debate entitled ‚ÄėHow do we create a more inclusive feminism?‚Äô, the conference has been set up in response to feedback from groups who feel excluded from mainstream feminism.
And, in keeping with the theme of the conference, there is a dedicated accessibility page which outlines the following about the venue:
‚ÄėHamilton House is fully wheelchair-accessible, with a ramp to the front door and internal lift. We are aiming to provide British Sign Language interpreters throughout the conference.
‚ÄėThe conference will be live-streamed so that people who can‚Äôt attend may still watch and anyone watching online (or anyone at the conference who does not wish to speak publicly) may tweet questions to the speakers during the Q&A sessions.‚Äô
‚ÄėINTERSECT will be a safe space. This means it will be an event where everyone can feel welcome and respected.
‚ÄėNo form of discrimination will be tolerated and may result in your removal from the conference.
‚ÄėDo not use aggressive, disrespectful, oppressive or exclusionary language.
‚ÄėIf you disagree with someone‚Äôs ideas, do not attack them personally.
‚ÄėBe mindful of people‚Äôs personal and emotional boundaries.
‚ÄėBe aware of the privileges you possess and listen to people with other perspectives.‚Äô
Today I have written about only two issues in relation to disability and feminism, but there are many more.
As Philippa points out ‚Äď how much more difficult it must be to escape domestic violence if the abuser is also a carer and could withhold meds, and communicating with an outside agency is difficult due to deafness, for example.
Then there are refuges not being accessible, the impossibility of fighting back against rape if you are unable to move without pain, difficulties attending healthcare appointments, the list goes on and on.
But in essence ‚Äď how much more difficult just to be HEARD when you have a disability that makes accessing mainstream events and communications difficult.
Surely, as feminists, we owe it to our disabled sisters to make sure that not only are their voices heard, but that their physical presence is encouraged? ¬†Only then can we call ourselves a truly intersectional movement.
Thank the person who nominated you
7 things to share about us
1) we are a disabled and allied women’s cooperative
2) between us we speak a mixture of 10 – 11 languages
3) we are from different backgrounds – from Russia, Netherlands, S E Asia, Italy and of course England.
4) we are all passionate about disability/human rights and being inclusive.
5) we work from a social model of disability
6) we are pan disability
7) we are all short of time and energy!
Our 7 nominees
1)Pseudo living¬† http://pseudo-living.blogspot.com/ Emma who came marching with us in Million Women March
2)Darkest Angel 32 http://darkestangel32.wordpress.com Lorraine who also came marching with us at MWR- warrior mum
3)Incurable hippies musings and rants http://incurable-hippie.blogspot.co.uk/ Incomparable Philippa
4)Thaedis http://thaedis.net/ Debbie’s political views on disability issues
5)Maria’s In the Loop http://blog.wideaware.co.uk/ Maria’s personal views on the disability world
6) The Creative Crip http://thecreativecrip.com/ Lisa Ellwood’s awesone second life on Crip Island
7) Kirsten Hearn’s blog http://kirstenhearn.wordpress.com/ London Labour candidate, intrepid traveller and many other things….