Sisters of Frida would like to give huge congratulations to Zara Todd for her new post as the incoming director of ENIL.
She will be taking over from Jamie Bolling, who has been a great supporter of Sisters of Frida. We give her our best wishes for her next plans and some of us hope to see her at this years Freedom Dive in Brussels.
We’re happy that Zara will continue as one of the Sisters of Frida’s directors.
Activist, educator, campaigner, feminist and disabled woman, all these terms are used to describe meÂ and I have been known use them to describe myself. Of course they are only a snapshot of the many identities and labels I have and they will continue to evolve over time. However of my identities, two identities tend to dominate people’s perception of what I should expect in life: disabled and woman.
I am, with all my being political (although I am decidedly non-partisan when it comes party politics) and I pride myself on being present and active in my world. Yet every day I get aÂ question or comment normally edged with surprise or admiration at the life I lead. Society doesn’t know what to do with me because I don’t conform to the boxes that have been created by society to understand the experience for disabled people. People expect my life to be less interesting than my non disabled peers and are shocked when it is as or more interesting than others my age. I enjoy my life and try and live it to the full but I experience many barriers in doing so and face exclusion frequently.
Despite the challenge my life and my achievements present to people’s perceptions, there is still a prevailing undercurrent in many of my interactions that I should settle for less or tolerate discrimination and inequality because I’m disabled.
I remember when I graduated from university a neighbour asked when was I getting a job at the local supermarket (I presume because that was the only place they’d seen disabled people employed). I don’t know whether I should just be grateful that they thought I could work or outraged that their expectations of me were so limited. There is nothing wrong with not working or working in a supermarket but there is something wrong with making assumptions about someone’s life choices without having a conversation with them.
I feel that as a disabled woman the expectation to settle is magnified because I am expected to settle as a woman as well as a disabled person. Traditionally society has framedÂ both women and disabled people as passive, this means that disabled women are often seen as the epitome of passive. Although we are rapidly challenging this on both grounds, I often get the feeling that I’m expected to be a bystander in life and not an actor and the barriers I experience accessing society are born out of this. For example I speak at conferences quite often and it is not unusual for me to have to speak from the conference floor or be lifted on to the stage. Although people normally apologise profusely, it leaves me feeling like I don’t belong there or that I should remember my place.
Frequently there is expectation that I should be grateful to settle and it’s not unknown for people get angry or put out when disabled people ask for more wheelchair spaces on buses are a great example. It’s almost like you can be here as long as it doesn’t affect me.
This leads me to wonder if this expected gratitude is driven by the unconscious belief that I and other disabled people have been allowed/tolerated in the mainstream party and we should fit in or shut up and accept whatever access we’ve been given. However it often leaves me feeling frustrated like I’m at a concert where I’ve discover most of the audience have access all areas passes and I’ve only been allowed through the door.
I attend a lot of events and conferences and often people go to great lengths to explain to me the access adjustments, whether they relate to my needs or not. While I am grateful for the thought I often feel conference organisers expect me to praise for doing the minimum. I celebrate and praise the conferences and events that embed access features without fanfare and share the information on available adjustments with everyone rather than treating accessible features as a secret that you have to look the part to access.Â Sometimes when accessing mainstream events I feel like some kind of pioneering explorer entering the unknown and I feel like I have to over appreciate when attempts at access are made out of fear that the organisers won’t even attempt to include disabled people in future if I don’t.
Even within spaces exploring oppression or rights on grounds other than disability I often feel I’m expected settle for partial participation because I can access most of something or the bits organisers see as important. This often leaves me compromising my safety and/or dignity to access social aspects of events because they tend to be the bits seen as add ons and optional extras. Unfortunately I see the social aspects of life as valuable as the professional because they are often the spaces I can show I’m human and make connections with people beyond professional curiosity.
For a long time I would make compromises without articulating what I was sacrificing to be included because I didn’t want to be seen as âthatâ person the party pooper, the moaning disabled person or the difficult one. However I realised recently that by hiding what being in inaccessible spaces costs me I was doing a disservice to other disabled people and future me who may not be able to make the compromises I currently can.
The pesky thing about exclusion is it is rarely visible, although this is not unique to disability.Â Â If someone is not there how do you know whether they are not there by choice or because they are experiencing barriers getting in the space. The exclusion of many oppressed groups is difficult to challenge because if someone is excluded how do they access you or vice versa to work through and remove the barriers.
I get the feeling that those with hidden impairments and access needs like child care have to compromise even more often thanÂ other groups because having visible needs initiates the conversation for you whereas those whose needs are less visible have the additional burden of deciding whether disclosure is worth it. When I am running events I try and create spaces where everyone is allowed to have and articulate needs. I do this by asking everyone what do you need to feel included and able to participate.
I currently have the privilege to chose how and when I compromise my safety, wellbeing and dignity to take part. What this means is in my work life particularly when accessing non disability spaces I now strangely settle more. Why? because even in the most conscious of spaces we are yet to get to the point where disabled people’s absence from spaces is consistently worthy of comment. If I’m in the room then I can raise it. People can see and feel the effort and energy I spend just getting into the room and maybe next time the next person won’t have to compromise so much.
In my private and social life I chose to compriseÂ my needs when the benefits of being present outweighs the compromises I need to make to be there. As I’ve got older and have been able to see the consequences of settling, my willingness to settle and compromise my needs has decreased. while this unwillingness to compromise my needs has lost me friends and caused me to miss things I generally have a better time now than I had when I settled for partial participation. What’s interesting though is people generally seem to expect me to settle more in my personal lifeÂ than elsewhere and I can’t work out if it’s because I’m disabled a woman or both. Although I suspect the expectation to compromise comes from the fact that in personal spaces decisions and actions are more traceable to individuals.
Although I compromise less in personal spaces I hide the personal impact of barriers more because I know that many of the barriers I experience are out of anyone’s control. My exception to this is attitudinal barriers because I can’t hide them and they cost me a lot. For example it is often assumed that the people that I hangout with are not my friends through choice but out of charity, kindness or cash. I would like to hope that my friends are there because they enjoy my company if not being me hopefully I’ve scared off anyone there for any other reason!Â However it has taken a long time to come to terms with the fact people might actually want to be my friend even with all of additional considerations that come with that.
For relationships once people get over the shock as a disabled woman I might want one. Most strangers assume I should/can only date a disabled person or worse I should jump at any non disabled person who shows me the slightest bit of interest regardless of how unsuitable they might be. Navigating this minefield is still something I’m not very good at.
Everything I do in life I do because we only have one life and I do not want regret not living the life I want because of others expectations. Yes there are still barriers and I have to settle like everyone does but I refuse to settle just because it is expected of me as a disabled woman. I hope that by being open about the decisions I make to have control over my life that I can support others to live their lives as they wish.
Weirdly I think settling is fine if you can live with what you get as a result but no one should feel obliged to.
Zara Todd is a Sisters of Frida’s director.
Here we are featuring some of the blogs/websites by Sisters of Frida
Hello! Iâm Michelle Daley and Iâm a proud black disabled woman. I was born and raised in the East End of London to Jamaican parents that moved to England in the 1950âs. I have worked in the disability field for over 15 years on international, national and local issues for public sector and voluntary organisations. I am privileged that through my work I am able to express myself and support others to do the same.
Hereâs where you can find out more about my career background.
Why follow me?
Through endless surfingÂ it is clearÂ that there is a lack of representation by British black disabled people in archives and on-line particularly from British black disabled women. I want to share resources including some of my own works, post blogs and for you toÂ share your own experiences.
I am currentlyÂ a Research FellowÂ inÂ the School of Education at the University of Sheffield.Â Prior to this post, IÂ became the inaugural Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
IâmÂ a disabled feminist and public sociologist who believes in the power and politics ofÂ co-production and arts methodologies. To me,Â researchÂ isÂ inherently political, personal, and embodied, and collaborative and always community-focused. This website details my scholarly and research interests, as well as my activist work.Â Please feel free to haveÂ a look around, and donât hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.
I am a human rights activist from the UK. I have a background in disability, training and youth participation work. I identify as a disabled person and Feminist. I belive in equity and using intersectional and inclusive approaches.
This blog is primarily to document my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship
A bit more about me
I am a born and bred Londoner who loves art, culture, travel and politics (although i am a left leaning non partisan).
I have a degree in psychology and a masters in Eastern European studies. I am interested in identity and decision making.
I have been involved in disability rights campaigning since childhood and have been active locally, nationally and internationally in the disabled peoples movement since the age of 17. Over the last 10 years I have worked in government and the NGO sector both in advisory and delivery roles.
Prior to this trip I was working for the biggest DPO in the UKÂ Equal LivesÂ .
I am a trustee of a childrenâs literature charityÂ outside in worldÂ and a board member ofÂ ENILÂ and chair of itâs youth network.
I am also a director ofÂ Sisters of Frida, a disabledÂ womenâs collective.
Hi, I am Eleanor Thoe Lisney MA, MSIS, FRSA, AMBCS. I am passionate about access, human rights, disability culture, intersections of race, gender, disability. I am learning how to do digital strategy and smartphone film making. Recently I have become an emerging artist and making progress there.
I am a disabled Actor living in London, who trained with Graeae Theatre Co. I have worked extensively since, including my performance as Coral in the award winning Graeae play Peeling.
Other stage performance includes work with the David Glass Ensemble, TIE in Nottingham, Theatre Resource in Essex and Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh. My Media work also includes photo modelling, corporate video and radio.
I also Write and regularly contributor to various print & on-line publications, including Able Magazine (column writer for 2 years) and Disability Arts on-line (blog & reviews). This, along-side writing my solo piece, Song of Semmersuaq. Iâm also embarking on a new project.. so read this place!
Please read my resumĂ©s for more details of my work.
Sideways Times is a UK based podcast, in which we talk about the politics of disability and disability justice. Through this podcast I hope to have many conversations which broaden, deepen and challenge our understandings of how we work against ableism and how this connects to other struggles.
This year is amazing! so many of us will be at the WoW festival this weekend! do go along and support -if you can get a ticket!
Venue Level 4 Blue Bar at Royal Festival Hall
TimeÂ 11:15am â 12:15pm
Date Saturday 12 March 2016
One in five of us is disabled â so why doÂ we try to hide it from our friends? How doÂ we âcome outâ as disabled women?Â Four women tell their stories. SpeakersÂ include Deborah Williams, DiversityÂ Manager BFI; Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg,Â Visiting Lecturer, SociologyÂ at University of Westminster andÂ Rebecca Bunce, human rightsÂ researcher and campaigner.
Chaired by Zara Todd, disability rightsÂ campaigner and activist.
In partnership with Sisters of Frida.
Venue St Paulâs Roof Pavilion at Royal Festival Hall
Time3:45pm â 4:45pm
Date Saturday 12 March 2016
Examining womenâs health Heart disease kills more women than men each year, fewer women than men survive a heart attack, so why do we hear so little about it? In mental health, women are more than twice likely than men to have depression and less likely to be taken seriously. How does gender affect physical and mental health care and what can we do to change the status quo? Speakers include Bridget Hargreaves, author of post natal depression memoir Fine Not Fine; Dr Victoria Showunmi, lecturer on migraines at the UCL Institute of Education.
Chaired by Annabel Crowley.
Venue St Paulâs Roof Pavilion at Royal Festival HallÂ
Time2:15pm â 3:15pm
Date Saturday 12 March 2016
Come and find out why you should give a shit about toilets. From women always having to queue, to the lack of toilet facilities in the developing world having a devastating effect on womenâs safety, what can toilet provision tell us about gender equality? Come and join the grand doyenne of public toilets Prof. Clara Greed; award winning writer and feminist Beatrix Campbell; Changing Places campaigner and disabled feminist Sarah Rennie and periods activist and founder of #periodpostive Chella Quint to discuss. Beware â there may be toilet humour.
Chaired by New Statesman Deputy Editor, Helen Lewis.
Venue The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival HallÂ
Time1:15pm â 2:15pm
Date Sunday 13 March 2016
Studies show that women still do twice as many chores as male partners, even when they work full-time. From housework to âemotional labourâ, is this one of the last frontiers of normalised gender inequality? And how can we level the playing field? Speakers include counseller and lifelong feminist Pauline Latchem, and teacher and writer Lola Okolosie.
Chaired by Laura Bates, founder Everyday Sexism Project.
Venue Level 3 Foyer (Green Side) at Royal Festival HallÂ
Time4:00pm â 5:00pm
Date Sunday 13 March 2016
What does the portrayal of black women in popular culture tell us about race, sex and power? Join journalist and campaigner Reni Eddo Lodge, visual sociologist Emma Dabiri, activist Becky Olaniyi and playwrite Adura Onashile as they discuss the joys and challenges of being a black feminist.
Chaired by Senior Programmer, Contemporary Culture and journalist Hannah Azieb Pool
We were asked if Sisters of Frida works with young people and yes, we do. Becky Olaniyi was very much in the picture as part of the Steering Group until she rolled into university and have too much on with university work and getting used to campus life.
“... but I wanted to say a huge thank you for everything you did for the Youth Action Festival in December. I wanted to thank you and your colleague for giving up your Saturday and providing such a meaningful contribution to the day. We really could not have made the event the success it was without you.
Overall the event was a huge success. Please do have a look at the quotes from evaluation forms on the attached letter that give a flavour of what an incredible impact the day had on participants.
We also used the solutions that young people put forward during the day and the learning from the day to shape the policy and ideas for our Learn Without Fear UK campaign this year. You can see our campaign and policy content on our web pages and in articles in the press Daily Telegraph Wonder Women section, Metro.co.uk, Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping and the Daily Express.
Thank you Zara and Rebecca!
Photo Credit: Plan International//Jessica McDermott
Zara, one of our steering group and director, had an articleÂ ‘My biggest act of rebellion as a disabled person is living as I wishâ. But somehow that fact of being in Sisters of Frida got missed out in her impressive CV!
âWhat you fundamentally want when you are growing up is to fit in, and when you are constantly being told that you donât fit, there are two ways you can react,â says Todd. âOne is to take it all on board and end up hating yourself, and the other one is to fight it.â
For Todd, who has been a committed activist since the age of 11 when she began âall sorts of campaigningâ with a local charity focused on young people, it is quite clear which approach she took. While legal landmarks such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and the Equality Act 2010 have undoubtedly heralded improvements in the lives of younger disabled people, numerous obstacles remain to full inclusion, she says.
âThere have been massive strides, but one of the things that saddens me most about hearing children and young peopleâs experiences today is that a lot of the things that I experienced are still happening. I hear stories of young people who arenât even allowed out [during break times] because there are fears that they might be bullied or that something might happen to them and there arenât enough staff to facilitate it safely, so the only option is to keep them all in a room together.â
read the rest of the article at the Guardian.
If I had a pound for every time someone asked me this question or a less polite version such as what’s wrong with you? Have you always been like this? Were you born in a wheelchair? I would be a millionaire.
Now I know people are curious about disability (even if I don’t really get why) but do we really need a superhero like origin story can’t we just exist? While I generally humour the disability questions, providing people are politely I’m not going to lie it is irritating.
However recently Ive begun to realise all of these ‘origin’ questions are intensely personal and potentially traumatic. While seemingly most of the questions have yes or no answers in reality the conversation doesn’t stop there. For the majority of disabled people it’s either unclear when we acquired our impairments or the result of a traumatic experience. Meaning the answer to ‘have you always been disabled?’ becomes no or I don’t know. These answers invariably lead to more questions or an expectation of an explanation. I was trying to think of similarly personal question and the best I could come up with was why did you get divorced? Whilst some would ask the majority would let the affected party direct the conversation.
Despite having my impairments as long as I can remember and therefore the questions about my impairment for almost as long, until recently I didn’t really feel like I had any option but to answer. In part feeling compelled to answer questions about my impairment comes from growing up in systems which depend on that information to judge my eligibility for support combined with me being the first ‘severely’ disabled person in many of the environments I’ve accessed. However I now question how that information being disclosed to all and sundry has aided me. Yes as someone with support some people need to know what support I need but is do impairment labels or my history communicate my needs… Not fully.
I suspect it has taken longer for me to take ownership of my right not to disclose my ‘origin’ story because I’m a woman as often the refusal to disclose information is often seen as being aggressive regardless of how polite the denial.
I’m not against talking about impairment or disability in fact if we talked about them more maybe the novelty factor would wear off, however I believe that disabled people should have control over their own story and who they disclose it to.
Surely there are much more interesting conversations to be had.
Panel: The politics of womenâs bodies: sexuality, porn and nudity
Collette Nolan – Doodle Your Down There
Jane Fae – Journalist and campaigner
Zara Todd – Sisters of Frida
Rebecca Ryce – Sexpression
Chella Quint – Period Positive
Pandora Blake – feminist porn maker
(see transcript below)
Panel – Preventing violence against women and girls, and supporting survivors
Rebecca Bunce – ICchange
Chris Green – White Ribbon campaign
Tamara-Jade Kaz – feminist campaigner
Full progamme at From Woman Up eventbrite
transcript of video clip
âŠ.seen as innocent vessels (?) that are then corrupted by the world.. And yes, there are some horrific stats about disabled womensâ experience.
We are 4 times more likely to be the victims of domestic abuse and violence. The sexual exploitation of disabled children is massive.
But for me I canât help but question whether those stats in part, are partly because we de-sexualise disabled women.
Because if by de-sexualising them it means that if they do go to the police and say that theyâve had an experience they can be disbelieved because disabled people donât have sex.
What is really strange to me is that, despite the de-sexualisation of disabled people and disabled women, it is seen as perfectly acceptable for a stranger to approach me and ask how I have sex, or do I have sex. And they are questions that non-disabled women donât get asked very often.
And I think that to me is where disabled women need to be represented in discussions in Feminism, about sexuality, about porn because a lot of disabled women have hidden impairments and actually a lot of the women that are being exploited and are experiencing sexual violence are probably disabled women. They might not realise it, you might not realise it, but that doesnât mean that they arenât experiencing those kinds of barriers. So itâs really important that weâre being open and honest about disabled women and how they fit into this kind of environment.
Now Iâve been a Disability rights activist for quite a long time, probably longer than some of the panel members have been alive! – in that I started being involved in Disability rights at the age of 10.
I didnât get involved in the Feminist movement until my mid-20s. The reason for that was that I didnât feel like I belonged in the feminist movement. I have spent a large proportion of my life trying to be seen as a sexual entity, as a sexual being, whereas a lot of the messages that Iâve received from the Feminist movement over that same period of time have been telling me that I donât want to be âobjectified. Actually, as a disabled woman who is told that I donât have a sexuality, repeatedly by society, the idea of being sexualised and objectified â sounds pretty good to me!
Anyway, on that note Iâll hand overâŠ
As a young, white, heterosexual disabled woman, I have a pretty good idea of how privilege affects different peopleâs 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 somebodyâs 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
(from right) Rahel Gaffen, Michelle Daley, Zara Todd, Lucia Bellini, Kirsten Hearn, Eleanor Lisney and Ciara Doyle.
Filmed with thanks to Disability Action in Islington by Felix Gonzalez for the WOW party installation at the Southbank, London