I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge. Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Tenacity & Social Change in Gorakhpur.

Income Generation - GoateryIG - Goatery II

As the oppressive heat from the seasonal monsoon rains bore down on us we entered the back alleys of a remote village in Gorakhpur, Eastern Uttar Pradesh. We were there to visit the household of a participant of a livelihoods project being implemented within the region. Upon entry into the household it was explained that the main beneficiary was a young woman with intellectual disabilities who was in her mid 20’s. According to the community workers in this area and her family members, prior to the initial engagement of the project, this young woman used to be idle at home without having been able to pursue a formal education or informal pathways to vocational training in adulthood. As a result she used to run away from home quite frequently and inhibited signs of aggressive and violent behaviour most likely linked with frustrations around the inactivity of her day to day life.

As this geographical area is synonymous with agricultural activity with 70+% of the state’s workforce being engaged in some form of farming, this young lady, who we will refer to as Krishna*, was identified as a candidate for a small scale goatery business. The developmental thinking behind goat rearing lends to a viable source of income generation for rural populations with low cost input. The benefits being two to threefold, with the milk produced being able to be sold, as with the next of kin kids being put up for sale plus the additional possibility that once goats reach adulthood they can be sold for their meat.

Krishna started her business enterprise with just one goat and by the time we visited her, a year on her ventures had been so successful that she had expanded her trade to take on 18 goats. In addition to this, her vocational triumphs had provided her local Self Help Group with the assurity they needed to allow her family members to take out small scale loans and start other income generating activities such as a local petty shop to further support the household income.

While interacting with this tenacious young woman it was obvious that she took pride in her role as the caretaker to her 18 goats and had now become the highest source provider of income generation for her household’s survival. The intervention around providing her with an active livelihood had also had knock on effects in terms of resulting in greater social inclusion within her household and community due to the respect associated with her newfound vocation. According to her family, she has demonstrated skills which they were unaware she was capable of due to taboo, stigma and misunderstanding around her disability.

Sx

*Please note, the name Krishna has been used as a pseudonym in this instance to protect the identity of the young woman in this piece.

*Images courtesy of CBM Australia

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We Can All Do It.

It’s no secret that feminism and the feminist cause have garnered much attention in recent times. Celebrities like Lena Dunham have seemingly led the cause to get young Hollywood to identify themselves as being feminist and attempted to publicly unpack what this actually means. To be fair her advocacy at this level has had a decent result with individual declarations flying around in spades on quite an ongoing basis.

However it seems that the concept of feminism seems to innately sideline and isolate the views of many who experience varying and complex compounding oppressions which intersect across race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability. Women with disabilities have long identified that their experiences of discrimination based on their gender AND their disability have been placed in the ‘too hard’ pile as the cause has opted to frontline identities with less complex variations.

The lived experience of women with disabilities who associate themselves as contributors to the feminist movement has often been synonymous with being frozen out of the process. They’ve been provided a back seat as the challenges they face as women who also happen to have impairments deems their struggles not within the mainstream and thereby pushed to the side. Thinking about this more practically, feminist conferences for the most part have remained inaccessible in terms of physical infrastructure. If a woman with a mobility impairment in a wheelchair can’t even get in the front door to participate, how will her voice be heard, her concerns be taken into account and her cry for equality be put into action? Adding to this and moving beyond physical infrastructure, women with visual and hearing impairments have reported not being able to follow meetings nor participate in gatherings as transcripts in Braille have not been produced or sign language interpreters been provided.

It seems like in order to have messages around gender equality heard on the public forum those which are more palatable have taken precedence. Disability has long been treated with a sense of taboo and the sidelining of women with disabilities within the feminist movement seems to run parallel with this discriminatory thinking. Its approach in which the assumptions around femininity, and let’s be clear able bodied femininity, leave no place for the voices of those with disabilities. The thinking being that their plight, their cause can be taken up on a different stage, that of rights of all people with disabilities and that this forum is for the majority of women, those who are able bodied. Once again, this narrow but pervading view chooses to view discrimination through only one lens and dangerously abandons the other forms of identity leading to compounding discrimination. What all of this proves is that women’s oppression cannot be captured through an analysis of gender alone.

What seems to have plagued us in our fight for equality is a one size fits all mechanism which leaves out the varying and just as important voices that are at the fringes of society to begin with, let alone when this is compounded by the nature of their gender. Women are not actually a homogenous group we differ in ethnicity, background, religious belief and functional abilities. All of these elements as they intersect come to represent marginalisation in different forms. My experience of life as a young 1st generation, Australian woman of South Asian descent will vary vastly to that of say a Caucasian women in her 40’s, an indigenous woman with a disability in Latin America and that of a young, gay African American woman.

All of this comes to represent the term ‘intersectionality’ which was coined by American scholar Kimberle Crenshaw. The main crux of the idea is that multiple and compounding oppressions occur at once based on the different identities of those involved. One cannot separate racism with gendered oppression of a woman of colour as her experience of both are felt in an intersecting way. Breaking this down further this means that the discrimination she feels is worse than that of a Caucasian woman on account of her race and skin colour but different and perhaps less than an African American man based on her gender.

In the early days the launch of the 1st and 2nd waves of feminism were associated with the Suffragette struggle in Great Britain and the voices of able bodied Caucasian women in developed nations. The progress gained by the struggle towards univeralisation of voting rights and equal pay did have knock on effects for all women in these nations. However by no means did it assist in abolishing the discrimination of women based on their skin colour, sexual orientation or functional ability of which prevented them from accessing the gains made by early feminists.

What has also been highlighted in the debate about intersectionality within the feminist movement has been the sidelining of young millennial women’s voices. When the point of view being expressed takes on the form of a young millennial African American woman, gendered oppression in the form of multiple dimensions of identity is emphasized. The experience of Jessica Williams at a forum discussing women’s experiences in the modern day world highlights the level of misunderstanding amongst those who identify as being feminists. Williams, was ‘reminded’ to not place herself as a young, black woman into the ‘victimisation’ boat and was told to think about who she was ‘outside of being a black woman’. I mean the absurdity of this comment seems obvious, but perhaps to these 2 women, both over 50, one Caucasian and one Latina, they viewed a world in which it was possible (and somehow easy) to rid oneself of the 2 elements that form the core of this woman’s identity. Being a woman and being African American are her every day lived experience in which she cannot shed herself of these 2 things even if she were to try. In this sense, her gender and her race/ethnicity intersect to represent the way that she experiences life and discrimination. Unfortunately as has been the case for many women from minority backgrounds, this means that she needs to work twice as hard to access and achieve the things her Caucasian counterparts, man or woman, fulfill.

The permeating element of this entire piece aims to serve as a reminder that no one’s lived experience is the same. The way in which we as women are discriminated against is compounded by other elements of our identities that contribute to our marginalisation. Let’s all try to remember that not all oppression is experienced in the same way and therefore feminism cannot be inclusive without instersectionality.

Sx

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Life of a Development Worker – Relentless Perseverance in Chitrakoot.

SMC Reactivation Mtg II

In the dense and stagnating heat associated with the monsoon season I made my 1st visit to Chitrakoot, a remote district of Uttar Pradesh straddling the Madhya Pradesh border. The project being supported here is an initiative aimed at promoting inclusive education for all children through the delivery of innovative learning approaches and methodologies. Coming into the visit I was firmly focused on assessing the experience of children with disabilities who were accessing (or on most occasions, not accessing) mainstream primary education services. However upon making a visit to the 1st school site on the itinerary for the day I began to realise that attempting to access an education is a huge hurdle even for children without disabilities.

The local Partner engaged in the area I was visiting focuses on re-establishing and strengthening existing School Management Committees which are made up of teachers and parents and aim to act as a collective accountability mechanism to Government & a functioning governance body for the daily management and efficiency of individual schools. On this occasion I was lucky enough to attend a monthly meeting in which parents and teachers alike were raising their grievances and planning for the future development of the school. What struck me almost immediately was the massive variation in terms of the proportion of students in attendance versus the number of teachers present. At this time there were 94 students of varying ages between the range of 4-12 years to only 2 teachers. To add to this there was simply 1 functioning classroom. The 2nd building allocated to classroom duties was in such a bad dilapidated condition that it had been abandoned in fear for the safety of those inside it. It’s needless to say that neither of these buildings were accessible or had toilet facilities available for students on the premises.

In addition to this, the parents present were identifying that teacher absenteeism was a huge concern and that learning outcomes were not being promoted for those enrolled. One parent even expressed in dismay that her child had been attending this school for the past 3 years and yet was not even able to recite the alphabet during that time. We were also informed that due to unforeseen reasons the midday school meal, which research has shown to be linked to higher enrolment and retention figures, had not been served in over 2 and half months. I remember thinking that if this was the circumstance for those children without disabilities in terms of the difficulty involved in simply learning, then what would the circumstance be for children with disabilities within surrounding communities?

My dismay that day was compounded upon a home visit to a young boy with multiple disabilities who had been identified and since that time was now enrolled and attending a local school. His story initially was of course uplifting in the sense that prior to a few months ago he had been at home during the day even though he was of school going age. The local partner after having identified him worked with his family and counselled them on the benefits of accessing an education. However the unseen side of his story centred around his family’s background. This particular family was a female headed single parent household in which the mother worked as a daily wage labourer in order to feed, house and educate her 7 children. It was conveyed that at the most she would be earning 150-200 Indian Rupees per day, a measly amount of about 3-4 Australian Dollars. There right in front of me was a perennial example of hand to mouth existence.

The hope of course for this family and many others like them is that through increased awareness, linkages with existing Government pensions, schemes and programs and targeted vocational training that they will be able to raise themselves out of the endemic poverty cycle that currently traps them. For me on that day however it was yet another reminder of the stark inequalities that continue to exist within our modern day world. Thus being the exact reason of my life long pursuit for attempting to eradicate poverty from the face of our beautiful but utterly flawed planet.

Sx