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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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


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My Body is My Own.

Roxane Gay has fast become one of the most influential writers of her generation through her honest, poignant and at times utterly devastating writing style which focuses on the raw emotion and struggles of her past and present. What drew me to her writing was the inhibition in which she yields when identifying herself as a flawed being; just as we all are. There is no element of a pedestal placing perfection with which she depicts herself and her past experiences.

After a recently published Mamamia article which abhorrently played up her supposed ‘victimisation’ of being a ‘fat lady’ who is challenged by everyday tasks she has come out with unheralded grace and honesty in her response.  She reminds us all that yes she struggles with her image, as we all do, but that no one is perfect. Most importantly she highlights that in spite of any circumstance, no other person has the right to comment on her body, as it is entirely her own.

I was reminded of this recently on a personal level within my own life. It’s no secret that I have struggled with self image issues and fluctuating weight for years now. I admit, just as Gay does, that my own self image and my confidence which are linked to my body are works in progress. My issues with anxiety and control mean that I go through periods in which I am debilitated by the act of attempting to have entire power over what I consume and when I do it. I’ve learnt techniques to assist me in easing these reigns and exercise has become one mechanism to thwart my spiralling. I am all too aware of these things on a consistent basis. However when someone decides to go ahead and make an uninvited sweeping judgment statement on whether I am or not eating enough solely based on the way my body looks right now, I am kind of bothered…

The idea of snap judgment and the mere ability to comment on something so personal as someone else’s body seems absurd and completely off limits to me. I’m thoroughly taken aback that someone could obtain a mere glimpse into my existence, mainly terms of what my body looks like to them and then somehow come to the conclusion that my entire lifestyle is off (and that they have the right to comment on it). I just don’t get it.

I know my annoyance in this circumstance does not hold a candle to what Roxane Gay has gone through for her entire life. But the parallels of these comments indicate that society feels it is completely okay to comment on women’s bodies as if they are some public entity that is up for unwarranted and unwelcome criticism and unsolicited advice at any time. Do we really need a reminder that it is not okay to tell a woman to eat more or less because of our own preconceptions and judgments based simply on the way they look to us?

The truth is women are judged against unfair standards to do with their appearances at substantially higher rates than men are. We are subjected to people commenting on our looks all day long in situations which do not warrant this in any occurrence. Just a simple reminder, to which I find it absurd that I have to even reiterate anyway, that our bodies are entirely our own, no one else (and I mean no one) has the right to tell us what and what not to do with them. As best expressed so vehemently by Roxane Gay ‘only she lives in her body and only I live in my body and only you live in your body’, so let us live.

Sx


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Speak Up, Speak Out.

I’ve been in the international development sphere for the past 10 years now having worked with people living in poverty in developing countries to empower themselves to rise out of poverty. I’ve always known that this endeavour is far beyond a day to day vocation for me, it’s a calling and one which I take very seriously. I’ve spoken in the past about my lifestyle choice being to live this existence attempting to empower and after 10+ years of this work I’ve grown anything but tired of it. As time has gone on, I’ve increased my commitment past that of simply applying my time to the cause of eradicating poverty. Working in the disability sector, with a heightened focus on marginalised women I’ve come to understand that the power of raising my voice is much more potent than I ever could have imagined.

The HerStory campaign is the complete embodiment of this ideal. In a world in which silence or tacit complicity are the usual response to injustice, I more than ever understand the importance of doing the exact opposite. Working in this field I see so many hideous things and lately I’ve been more open and honest about the trauma in which I’ve absorbed subconsciously through my field visits. Seeing the evidence of so much discrimination and indignity in which so many women around the world are subjected to has not been lost on me. I’ve heard so many tales of loss, pain and hardship that comes with deeply entrenched poverty that sometimes it’s easy to forget how much of an impact it has had on my psyche. What I have learnt however is that far from letting this push me into a state of helplessness or endemic sadness, I use it as the inspiration in which I set about changing this world.

In truth 2017 has not been a good year for women, women’s rights or the struggle for gender equality as a whole. The never ending metaphorical beat down of the pursuit for justice is one which is easy to give into, lay down and stay silent on due to sheer helplessness and frustration. But my voice is a powerful one, just as others are and particularly of those of you who are reading this article. I don’t promote the saying that we need to speak for those who are voiceless. This is a pointless and utterly denigrating statement which identifies those who are vulnerable and marginalised as defenceless victims who have nothing to offer. People living in power and especially those who are women are not voiceless, instead they simply lack the platform to raise their voices and be heard on a large scale. This is where you and I, and others like us have the ability to speak with them (again not for them) and leverage the platform we have as educated young people in developed countries trying to make a difference in this world.

So every time you feel demoralised by the events of this tumultuous and increasingly discriminative world remember to speak up, speak out and continue to commit to the fight of seeking justice and promoting equality. The battle cry of the HerStory campaign lives within this exact ideal and in which we continue to draw light on the particular injustice of denial of sexual and reproductive rights which is costing women their lives. It centres around the paradigm that if we continue to speak about the abhorrent nature of this repeal of women’s rights that the conversation keeps going and the women who are facing the bulk of this discrimination know that they are not alone in this fight. These women understand that we will not ignore their plight and simply go on with our lives in spite of their peril. We stand beside them and demand the commitment to basic human rights in which women the world over are allowed to make choices about what happens to their own bodies, which has scarily become far from a foregone conclusion.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Towards Inclusive Education.

Nongpoh

On a chilly, windy day in February I entered the premises of Ferrando Speech and Hearing Centre in Barapani which is approximately 45 mins away from Shillong, a hill station in India’s remote North East. The centre was initially set up as a school for children with hearing and speech impairments but in recent times has worked towards enrolling children without disabilities to promote holistic inclusion and equal education for all. Through the CBM Australia funded Regional Action for Inclusive Education in the North East (RAISE) project, Ferrando is one of 16 partners working towards enrolment, retention and mainstreaming of children with disabilities into educational facilities and local government schools and improving the quality of education for all children across 5 states in the North East.

The core tenet of this project is to skill up 28 key teachers with the techniques required to provide inclusive education to children of differing learning abilities. A main activity revolves around developing relevant Teacher Learning Materials (TLMs) allowing for adapted learning approaches and models where children with disabilities are enabled to learn alongside their peers.

During the visit I met with Jacinta and Joyshree who are the 2 key teachers appointed by Ferrando to take part in the RAISE Project. I was instantly taken aback by the enthusiasm of both these young women as they recounted their motivation and willingness to take part in the project. Both women explained that through the key teachers training they were learning about a multi disciplinary approach towards disability inclusion in the education context. They will then be responsible for sharing this knowledge with other teachers within their institution, developing adapted teaching & learning modules and approaching SSA (local government) teachers to promote the usage of these.

My appreciation of these key teachers was compounded as Joyshree herself is speech and hearing impaired and explained that she was once a student at Ferrando. After growing up in Imphal, the capital of Manipur within the North East region, Joyshree attended the institute who at the time was one of the only schools offering educational opportunities for children with speech and hearing impairments. She cited her experience within the institute during her education and the lack of services available for children with disabilities within the sector as being her source of inspiration for becoming a teacher. According to Joyshree, she feels ‘an obligation’ to educate others who may have missed out on educational opportunities solely due to their impairments.

When I asked Joyshree of what her end goal was for participation within the project she replied that she hopes not only for all children with disabilities to access to quality education, but also that all mainstream teachers are equipped with the skills to teach these children in an inclusive setting.

Sx

**Content © CBM Australia


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#StayWoke

HMtale

I’ve recently started watching the tv series adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and found myself wondering whether the events within the show are in fact a dystopian element of fiction or an eerily similar commentary on the modern day far-right populism that is infecting our world today. Coming into the series I was warned of the graphic nature of depictions toward rape and body mutilation which is inherently at play during viewing. However what is perhaps more shocking is the portrayal of a slow onset repeal of human rights, more specifically women’s rights that snowballs into women being stripped of basic civil and universal liberties around determining what happens to their own bodies and the direction of their lives.

As ‘Offred’ the main protagonist explains the changes occurred slowly while they were all metaphorically asleep in a far right response to growing terrorism. The first effects of which began with people on the streets openly spurting hate filled rhetoric and abuse at her character while she was wearing work out gear (including shock horror, shorts) and jogging in public without the presence of a male chaperone. She was slut-shamed and refused service as a café but laughed it off as a once off. This scene is then juxtapositioned against a spiralling effect where the bank accounts of all women are frozen and they are ‘let go’ from their workplaces.

To be honest if this series had come out a few years ago I would have identified the parallels with the ongoing struggle of the feminist movement and entrenched patriarchy of our world but been able to end an episode and go on with my daily life. However, in the age that we are living in today my response, the further I get into this series, is one of utter fear. The parallels to our modern day, Trump era existence are frightening real. As in the Handmaid’s Tale, women and minorities are slowly losing their rights with every blinking of an eyelid. We are being sold the idea that this is necessary in a fear mongering campaign that works to capture the worst of our apprehensions about safety and security.

Day by day we are seeing decisions, actions and executive orders taken by those in the high echelons of power that should surprise us and shock us into action. But we’ve been so highly desensitised to the never ending absurdities that we seem to have accepted that this stupidity might just be our inherent fate. Now let’s be clear I am not saying that the next stage of the human condition will be plucking fertile young women out of their lives, placing them in homes of those who are wealthy but reproductively challenged and renaming them ‘of-whatever their masters name is’. However, I am attempting to highlight that what seemed completely unacceptable yesterday has crept into existence today in the most shocking of ways. The reimposition of the global gag rule, the repeal of planned parenthood services and the gutting of UN funding to marginalised women worldwide is an outright assault on our pursuit of justice and equality as members of the human race.

So I urge you today to not accept the next hideous thing that comes our way without a fight. I beg you to not ‘fall asleep at the wheel’ as June (I refuse to continue calling her Offred) and her friends did. Do not be desensitised by the continuance of these abhorrent violations of our basic human rights and please continue to resist.

#staywoke

Sx


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I am a Woman who unreservedly deserves your respect.

As I stood in the city waiting to meet a friend for some Friday night drinks I couldn’t help but think about the connotations of what a young woman standing on a street corner would signify to passers by. It seems like an absurd thing to ponder over or even be anxious about but being in this situation in the past for me has been associated with a whole load of negative memories. When I was younger and living in Colombo I used to have to wait outside my workplace to get a lift home from my cousin. Due to colossal after work traffic jams, this often meant that I had to wait around on the street dawdling until my lift arrived. On almost every occasion that this occurred, mind you this was each and every day for a good 3 months, I would either be propositioned, mistaken for a prostitute or catcalled. Not because I was eliciting this type of behaviour but quite simply because I happened to be a woman standing on the side of the road. In this existence that we live in today this one act somehow justified fair game to any man who passed thus inviting their foul mouthed commentary.

The reason I bring this up is that it happened again on Friday night when a group of passing men felt it appropriate to quite loudly and deliberately jeer in my direction. Considering that they were in a pack and were less than a foot away from me it made me feel quite vulnerable. I often have conversations with male friends where I’ve attempted to explain what these actions invoke in women to limited success. I’m often met by the response of ‘as if you didn’t get a kick out of that’ and the equally as misunderstood implication referring to how it would stroke my ego or was meant as a compliment. To be honest for myself and I am sure for most women, the feelings invoked are anything but that. It left me feeling somehow dirty or tainted and had me subconsciously questioning if I had somehow warranted that behaviour. Until I realised that no, I had not, I just simply happened to be a woman, wearing my Friday night best standing on my own outside of a bar.

This behaviour is unfortunately far from uncommon and represents the ideal that if a woman is seen outside of those ‘purest, demure, housewife-like’ settings then it’s absolutely fair game to comment on her body, her appearance and verbally harass her in the middle of the street. Well it really IS NOT OK. I do not consider this type of behaviour a compliment. Instead every time this type of incident happens it makes me feel beyond vulnerable, defenceless and susceptible to unwarranted harassment. Because let’s be honest, catcalling and inappropriate advances are a type of harassment. I and no other woman like me deserves to be violated in this way just simply because someone else deems it appropriate to speak to us in such a vile and degrading manner. I deserve your respect even if in your warped mind my appearance makes you question my ‘purity’. I am not asking for it, I do not ‘get off’ on your comments and I am not a piece of meat which is up for the taking.

I am a human being who just like you, wants to enjoy a catch up with some friends on a Friday night without the fear of being verbally harassed on my way there.

Sx