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e zine “We are Sisters of Frida” (3)

This was published in May 2022

Art Piece by K A Tan :A stylised water colour painting of a parent and child stood on the roof of a house that is mostly submerged in flood waters. The roof of the house has a sign that reads Help I Am Deaf. In the background two people in a similar situation are being rescued by a person in a small boat – the house has no sign. At the bottom of the art is a signature that reads Tan Kuan Aw 4 Apr 2022.

Gender, Disability, and the Environment

Sisters of Frida and the National Council of Women of Great Britain ‘s informal discussion on the topic of ‘Disability, Gender, and The Environment’ which was recorded on 24 March 2022 at 6pm GMT. See Transcript

see transcript for discussion

On 24th March, Sisters of Frida (SOF) and the National Council of Women of Great Britain (NCW) hosted a discussion, titled ‘Gender, Disability, and the Environment’. The panel consisted of Khairani Barokka, Asha Hans, Rhine Bernardino, Harrie Larrington-Spencer, as well as Carmen Yau (who chaired the session).

In line with the 66th Commission on the Status of Women, an annual two-week global conference, SOF and NCW contributed to the priority theme of ‘Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes’. Drawing on the experiences of disabled activists and researchers from various countries, this event examined crucial environmental issues in relation to disability, including eco-ableism, inclusive sustainability, accessibility and nature, as well as interconnection and disability climate justice. Surprisingly, the intersection between disabled women and the environment is a largely untouched topic of discussion. Yet, during the event, panellists provided clear examples of the significant challenges that the environmental crisis poses to a vast majority of Deaf and disabled women across the world.

Climate change policies, environmental decision-making and contingency plans have often failed to include Deaf and disabled women. With the rising sea levels, flooding and snow melting, disabled women are more likely to face serious consequences as they are likely to experience poverty. For example, disabled women in India who work as farmers are likely to be forced into migration and have their livelihoods taken away as they can no longer provide for their families in climate-affected regions. With increasing pressures to feed families, 70 per cent of food is needed but agriculture is an impossible reality for disabled women in India.

Another challenge is setting up cyclone shelters, creating infrastructures to find them and making sure that they are friendly for disabled people. Climate disasters, such as typhoons in the Philippines, also underline the expected responsibilities of disabled women to carry out domestic duties, including the burden of survival, looking after the family, and dealing with emergency situations which are caused by climate change. In addition, environmental issues place additional pressures on indigenous disabled women, who are disproportionately affected by land ownership and weapon manufacturing.

Transport justice also offers an important aspect which needs to be considered within this debate. Inclusive active travel with different forms of mobility aids and types of sustainable transport, such as cycling, can help to reduce carbon emissions and challenge traditional stereotypes associated with masculinity in the United Kingdom. Disabled people are commonly spoken over in this discussion, overlooking the additional problems that disabled women often encounter related to abuse, and protective measures.

With unexpected climate crisis challenges and issues, disabled people are faced with greater uncertainty. Disabled women, including indigenous sisters, need to be at the table when discussing environmental policy, and consulted in decision-making processes. Deaf and disabled perspectives must be included in the conversation of climate change – we need to be heard in all the invisible spaces that Deaf and disabled women live in. Grass-roots communication with disabled women in local communities and governmental recognition of these perspectives are therefore central to finding more effective, disability-inclusive solutions, and mitigating the current and future environmental challenges. Ultimately, there is no climate justice without disability justice.

Report by Kirstie Stage

We deserve more

It’s been a pretty shitty 2 years and a little bit of pandemic, and so much more. The usual cares of life as a disabled woman did not pause, but were turned up, and our support structures, escape hatches, and pressure release valves were removed.

No amount of home spa kits, emergency chocolate, meditation podcasts, journaling or posters of kittens telling us to hang in there is going to get us out of this. They might get us a brief moment of joy or motivation, and are worth doing for that alone, but that’s not enough. “In case of emergency, eat chocolate” doesn’t work when there’s a new emergency every day, or an ongoing battle to simply survive.

I’m sick of Self-Care. I know, that’s unthinkable, but I’ve said it and I’ll stick by it. I’m sick of being told to “take care” and “hope” and finding nothing better to say to others. In these times, it’s not enough. I need more words and I don’t know what they are. Netflix and a cup of tea and a snack might get me breathing right again, but it’s not enough. We need more than Self-Care – we deserve more than Self-Care.

We are told the idea that in a world that pushes you back with negative attitudes, loving yourself and showing that through acts of self-kindness is the most radical thing you can do. It has it’s uses, but it’s nowhere near the top of the list. Entire industries and billions in profit have been built from the attempts of the rightfully upset to avoid being crushed by the steamroller of life.

Radical Self-Empathy goes a step further, and may offer another level of relief: It’s OK to be sad that more than a thousand people a week are dying from Covid-19 in the UK. It’s OK to be angry about the things that have happened, and are happening, to you and around you. You feel how you feel, and you have a right to own those feelings.

You can take it a step further, and show Radical Empathy to others, and say “That’s shit” and “O fuck” when something bad happens to someone. I find it more comforting than “take care”, but some others may not find mutual swearing in any way an improvement to the situation.

Even when Radical Empathy, whether shown to ourselves or others, is performed to perfection and meant sincerely, it’s not enough. Sometimes I just don’t want to share how I feel, or put the knowledge of something terrible into someone else’s brain (though I know my friends want me to not hold anything back), or to be validated about something I already know to be true. Though sometimes I do. We need more than empathy – we deserve more than empathy.

We are told in a world that ignores your feelings and the feelings of others, taking time to understand and showing empathy is the most radical thing you can do. It has it’s uses, but it’s not a full solution. Entire industries and billions in profit have been built by the urge to show off just how much we care, flowers that die in a week and gift cards made of deforestation; and the need to have difficult conversations and confront reality, from 24/7 news channels to self-help books and tech-giant sponsored Youtube videos of how to unroot discriminatory ideas from your brain, fuelled by the worthwhile desire to not be that asshole who made things worse by denying that people are being crushed by the steamroller of life.

Restorative justice is the next level often recommended to deal with a situation that’s hurt someone. “You could write to them.” “That’s not legal.” “You can get compensation for that.” It’s powerful, and often satisfying. It can protect our futures, and those of the next generation. But it’s hard, and takes more energy and time than may be available, or healthy and sensible to give. It involves a large number of people agreeing to change, the barriers can be huge, and unjust themselves.

In some situations, there is no justice to be had. No matter what is done, no matter who apologises or changes their policy or overhauls the entire structure of what they do, what has been taken can never be returned. Restorative justice cannot restore before. You can’t fix it, not always. You can stop it from happening again, sometimes, but that’s as far as it goes. Justice isn’t enough. It could never be. We need more than justice – we deserve more than justice.

We are told the idea that in an unjust world, fighting for universal justice is the most radical thing you can do. It has its uses, but it’s not a complete solution. Entire industries and billions in profit have been built from the attempt to dismantle the steamrollers of life, but it won’t restore those who were and are being crushed by them.

Given I’ve just shaken my head at the popular solutions, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m about to unveil some grand plan for removing all inequity and removing the pain of what it has done.

Guess what? I’m not.

I know what the world I want for us to live in looks like, and sounds like, and smells like. There’s clean air to breathe, but you can’t because you’re laughing so much, along with the others who are laughing too. You laugh so much you spit tea out of your nose, and don’t feel embarrassed because there’s no shame in this place; everyone else is too busy wiping laughter tears from their eyes. You are understood without explaining. You’re being taken care of and are taking care of others in return. There’s no need of self-care, or self-empathy, or restorative justice in this place. Nothing bad has happened, not here, and it couldn’t.

That’s what we deserve

Given I’ve just shaken my head at the popular solutions, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m about to unveil some grand plan for removing all inequity and removing the pain of what it has done.

Guess what? I’m not.

I know what the world I want for us to live in looks like, and sounds like, and smells like. There’s clean air to breathe, but you can’t because you’re laughing so much, along with the others who are laughing too. You laugh so much you spit tea out of your nose, and don’t feel embarrassed because there’s no shame in this place; everyone else is too busy wiping laughter tears from their eyes. You are understood without explaining. You’re being taken care of and are taking care of others in return. There’s no need of self-care, or self-empathy, or restorative justice in this place. Nothing bad has happened, not here, and it couldn’t.

That’s what we deserve

By an Anonymous Author

Straddling Identities

I belong to a few communities, but they do not often link up. It feels like parts of my identity are not visible or ignored by the other parts. This feeling of being an outsider is exacerbated during a crisis like the pandemic, as a disabled woman of colour of East/Southeast Asian heritage. Needing to shield and self-isolate (as a disabled person ) made time to reflect and organise differently. I had started to connect with ESEA Facebook and Instagram groups and started attending events. But not all venues/community centres are wheelchair accessible, and I am saddened by that. As a disabled activist, I frequently call out on such venues because there is legislation against this but I am loathe to do this in my own community spaces. Is this a double standard on my part? I am being excluded by my own community – in a space where I can use my mother tongue.

As I write, it is Disability History Month (DHM) (18 November to 18 December). Most people know of the Black History Month (BHM) but not many know of the DHM, not even disabled people themselves. Due to COVID19 restraints, I did some online interviews of the intersection of being disabled and people of colour, including with disabled people from the ESEA community to mark DHM. There is a theme each year and last year it was on Access, this year it is Hidden Impairments and Disability, Sex and Relationships.

There has been none themed yet on intersectionality and so last year I collaborated with a few disabled friends of colour on online videos on how they perceived themselves with the interlinking identities of being disabled and people of colour. Amongst them were people from the East and Southeast Asian communities. Disabled people are found in every sector of society – we are very diverse with a cross section of impairments: physical, visible, learning disabilities, mobility, vision, hearing, neuro diverse. Some of us have our impairments from birth and some have acquired impairments from accidents, illnesses or they can be age or mental health related. One barrier, among others, we all share is the stigma from being disabled. This stigma is even more pronounced among Black and minoritised communities, we are less likely to self-identify as disabled.

Disaggregated data has been signalled as very important in UN shadow reports such as the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) and certainly in the pandemic, to ensure that everyone is included when it comes to strategy and policy decisions. However, data as regards to gender, race, sexual orientation etc – all the protected characteristics are not always recorded. At Sisters of Frida, a Disabled women’s collective, we did a report on Disabled Women’s perspectives and how COVID19 has impacted on their independent:

Our briefing ‘The Impact of COVID 19 on Disabled Women from Sisters of Frida’ illustrates that most Disabled women are already on low income. We are more likely to provide domestic care, less likely to be employed, and are less financially independent. We also know that women do not all have the same life experiences and this needs to be reflected in policy making. For example, Disabled women of colour are disproportionately disadvantaged due to racism, disablism and sexism. Disabled lesbians face social exclusion from the LGBTQIA+ community and disability rights groups. While some data exists on some matters affecting Disabled women such as unemployment, intersecting identities such as race, class, sexuality and gender diversity are not taken into account. Therefore, when considering policy on disability issues, it is important that different Disabled women’s experiences are included. This report attempts to incorporate some intersectional depth to Disabled experiences of the pandemic.

Data on how the pandemic has affected the ESEA community is not easy to extrapolate. There are reports such as on Filipino nurses in the UK. However, as far as I know, there is no data breakdown on ESEA disabled, let alone on how they are affected in the pandemic. We can venture a guess on the disruption of family lives because of lockdown. BIPOC/ BAME older folks and disabled tend to have a higher dependence on family members for care duties. I did a video as part of the Sisters of Frida’s report above in which I spoke about the impact of COVID19 and briefly on ESEA racism. However, I think my friend, James Lee, speaks best on this point of being both from the ESEA community and being disabled during this pandemic. James is a disabled consultant who consults for grant funding organisations. His parents are immigrants from Singapore. He remarked that as a disabled person of colour, he is hugely influenced by his parents who are also both disabled people of colour.

On my question (in my interview with him) as to whether the pandemic and the specifically discrimination and violent attacks on people of East / Southeast Asian origins, affected him or if he had any thoughts on that, he responded:

I think that clearly there was a demonstrable rise in racism and in hate crime incidents against people who were of the Southeast Asian heritage or appear to have a Southeast Asian heritage and that all started with I think some of the unhelpful rhetoric on around the world about how we talk about the virus about where you know people deemed case zero to be as it were where people felt the origins of the virus came from.

A lot of that was driven by some of the unhelpful rhetoric around that … It was frankly racist rhetoric – calling things like the China virus and so forth. … It’s horrendous that that happens, I think that if you are a disabled person of Southeast Asian heritage you feel and you have the danger of feeling an even more acute vulnerability to that, and I hate the word vulnerable, I hate to use, I know we use it so much when we talk about disabled people in the context of COVID but I’m talking about vulnerability in the context of hate crime here.

We know that hate crimes against disabled people are hugely underreported; that they are rarely followed up that they rarely end in any form of judiciary action.

To be both disabled and a person of Southeast Asian heritage, I think puts you at an even greater … it leaves you feeling so much more exposed, so much more targeted and singled out. And it may well be that the people all around me that the thought had never crossed their mind to say anything that was racist or to say anything that was ableist. But there is a level in which we talk about internalized ableism we talk about internalized racism and there is a level to which that you can’t help but have that creep into your psyche a little bit. To the extent where you know – I would go to the shops and I think all right – do I, you know – are people looking at me more?

So I’ve got what I like to think is a relatively thick skin. I’ve been a wheelchair user for a very long time I, you know, don’t bat an eyelid at the occasional lingering glance or the occasional, you know, I almost said longing stare. There the occasional, the occasional lingering glance or like if someone looks at you and you know that they’re thinking something or you project that they’re thinking something slightly unkind as disabled people may do but I think that that combination of factors – the prevailing mood of racism at a time when there was also this huge issue with disability hate crime is just – it’s not a pleasant combination.

Realising the different identities and my own specific heritage, I applied to be one of the directors of the End Violence and Racism Against East and Southeast Asian communities (EVR) and am honoured to be accepted. I hope to work for the identities I belong to with the passion I feel for justice, equity and inclusion for everyone.

Eleanor Lisney

This article was first published by ESEA Hub.

City of Women London

This collaborative public history project ‘City of Women London’ aimed to redraw and reimagine the classic London Underground map to produce an alternative map, replacing existing station names with the names of remarkable female or non-binary Londoners who have had an impact on the city’s history.

Led by writer Reni Eddo-Lodge and actor Emma Watson, who worked with writer and activist Rebecca Solnit and partnered with Transport for London (TfL), the project – called City of Women – draws from figures in arts, sports, activism, science, media, law, medicine and beyond. The digital version, led by Dr Leah Lovett (UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis), allows people to learn more about each person and their lives. The online map launches with featured biographies and interviews from contemporary women and non-binary people.

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