International Women’s Day

Today I delivered a short presentation for Salford City Council’s IWD2019 staff event. Below is two images from the prezi I made for my speech and my instagram blog about IWD2019.

Other speakers included: Debbie Brown (Director of Service Reform) and Magda Sachs (Principal Policy and Equalities Officer).

Image depicting a mountain. Text at the top reads: D 3 – Democracy Disability and Devolution, Manchester Based Women’s Project, Breakthrough UK – Gemma Nash (Trustee)
Image of a leaf. Text on the leaf reads: Why? According to the Fawcett Society, only two women MPs identify as being disabled people – under half a percent of the House of Commons! 42% of women in Greater Manchester who reported sexual violence were also disabled (Voices of Survivors Project 2018)

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The campaigning theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Balance for Better’. But for many disabled women, our lives are literally ‘Hanging in the Balance’. Last month I learnt a shocking, if not surprising, statistic: 42% of women in Greater Manchester who reported sexual violence were also disabled (Voices of Survivors). . . The safety of women in Greater Manchester is a key area of concern for the newly launched Pankhurst-Fawcett Scorecard. The Scorecard identifies 10 key measurements around gender equality across Education, Employment, Safety, Participation and Culture. Led by Helen Pankhurst and the GM4Women2028 Coalition, the plan is for the data to be compiled and shared annually to 2028 (which is the anniversary of equal franchise). . . One of the biggest reasons why the safety of disabled women has become more of an issue over the last few years is due to cuts in our welfare state (Sisters of Frida). In Greater Manchester, for example, many disabled women have reported a 25% reduction in their social care package, sometimes this has been reduced to 50% or even 0%. . . Unfortunately it is also more common for women to have no other method of funding their own care, making them more at risk. According to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, just under half of disabled women are neither employed nor actively seeking work. . . This is a particularly difficult situation for any women in an abusive relationship, as they can end up forced to rely upon their abusive partner to provide ‘care’. . . Anyone can become a disabled person and I always think it’s worth remembering that our fight for representation and is also your fight, or those before you – many suffragettes, for example, became disabled through their activism. Many ended up incarcerated in institutions alongside other disabled people at that time. So these brave women were again denied the right to vote, because they were disabled. #internationalwomensday #girlpower #womenempowerment #balanceforbetter #events #feminist #women #art #empowerment #feminism #iwd #womeninbusiness #artwork #sdg #celebratingwomen

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My visit to the House of Lords

Today I attended an event at the House of Lords to celebrate Voicebox Cafés work supporting underrepresented women to participate in public life.

As a sound artist I have worked in some eccentric places but none quite as grand as the House of Lords! 

I was there in my capacity as a BreakthroughUK Trustee to help promote their new Manchester based women’s project – D3 (Democracy Disability & Devolution).

There were lots of interesting speakers at the celebration talking about a wide range of empowering projects.  I was particularly impressed by the young women from Manchester’s Women Making History project talking passionately about international and domestic ‘period poverty’.  This was a subject I briefly touched upon in my sound piece about disabled women’s health.

Disabled women’s healthcare is also a topic that BreakthroughUK is addressing through their health screening workshops.  Running at the same time as D3  these initiatives will support, encourage and empower local disabled women to take action and become more politically active.

D3:Democracy Disability & Devolution

Supporting disabled women to get involved in the political process is so important because we are particularly underrepresented.

According to the Fawcett Society only TWO women MPs identify as being disabled people – under half a percent of the House of Commons!  Yet the ONS estimates that approximately  8% of the working age population are disabled women.

Our lack of representation can be partly attributed to a global culture of misogynism within the political process.  But I also think we face a hybrid form of misogynism, as illustrated by the awful sexism and ableism  Freyja Haraldsdóttir recently experienced from other Icelandic MPs.

This intersection of misogyny and ableism is apparent within all aspects of the political process – from voting to standing in elected office. 

In the UK there has even been issues at AWS (All Women Shortlists),  such as the lack of step free speaking platforms and ableist attitudes.  For example,  one AWS candidate kept emphasising her ‘physical prowess’ during Hustings.   A debating tactic which would be questioned, at the very least, if she was emphasising being white or heterosexual etc . 

We have a political culture of macho-ableism which favours the loudest, rather than the most suitable, candidate.  Alongside the lack of basic adjustments, this sends the message that disabled women are not expected to be part of the political process. 

Recently this problem has been highlighted by shadow minister Marsha de Cordova after House of Commons authorities provided an inaccessible meeting room for an event being held to celebrate the UN’s international day of disabled people!

Hopefully initiatives like D3 and VoiceBox Cafes will go some way in changing this status quo.

For more information about D3 please see the Breakthrough website: https://www.breakthrough-uk.co.uk/democracy-disability-devolution.

Sonic Pixels: The secret history of the radical female shopper…

Rosa May Billinghurst used her tricycle chair to ram police at protests.

Step into a world of sound with Sonic Pixels. Wander through the stunning Victorian shopping mall, trigger speakers in real-time and experience what it feels like to be right at the heart of sonic compositions.

Member of the Cornbrook Creative team setting up the LED speaker system

Working alongside Cornbrook Creative,  my latest sound piece is a feminist interpretation of Barton Arcade.

Built in 1871, you might think of Barton Arcade as typifying the luxury culture of the nineteenth century, with a carriage entrance and raw iron gates. It is certainly not considered a particularly radical space. However, like many other similar arcades it was once one of the few places women could move freely without being chaperoned by a man.

Historian Erika Diane Rappaport explains that it was during this period that ‘a family’s respectability and social position depended upon the idea that the middle-class wife and daughter remain apart from the market, politics, and public space’. Shopping itself may have been fetishized into women’s greatest pleasure, but for many middle-class housewives in Victorian Britain, shopping was their first taste of real freedom and therefore marked the starting point for their push into public life. Barton Arcade was a place in which, for the first time, women were able to share ideas and meet in public without being accompanied by a man.

Whether it was the Women’s Emergency Corps meetings, Pankhurst’s shopping trips, or female pick-pockets, my piece will explore the secret history of the radical female shopper. Using archived materials, and “found” sounds, I will re-imagine the groups who met here; the conversations that may have taken place and bring to life the stories of the women that occupied this space.

Enchanted B****cks

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that my partner and I bought our five year old daughter the ‘Enchanted Ball’ game for Christmas. Marketed as a very pink board game for girls, four plastic princesses try to win the affection of one prince. Motorized magnets move the princesses and prince around until he finally hooks one with his arm. The game is very dull (for us, and her), and gives out an extremely dubious message to little girls.

The gender bias in toys starts as young as one or two years old and can have a huge impact on children and their social play.

Educationalists and parents have reported an increase in incidences of children being bullied for liking activities or things deemed to be for the opposite gender to themselves.

Last week an 11-year-old boy tried to kill himself after he was bullied at school for being a fan of My Little Pony, because it was a “girls” programme and therefore he must be “gay”.   This shockingly sad incident has rightly raised issues of homophobia in schools, which according to Stonewall is still a huge problem in the UK.   But should this incident also question the negative impact of enforced gender stereotyping of toys and TV programmes?

CBBC has recently been criticised for gender stereotyping and promoting girls as ‘over emotional’ and ‘manipulative’.   There is evidence that gender stereotyping in toys is putting girls off maths and science, combatted to some small degree by the design of toys such as the Roominate. Research also suggests that it’s not just the potential career paths of girls that we need to worry about – gender stereotyping is also having a detrimental impact upon the behaviour and academic achievement of boys.

Phrases like “boys things” and “girls things” have crept into the minds of children as young as two and three. Young boys are discouraged from playing with toys we feminise, expected to “man up” and hide the emotions needed to developing empathy and self-awareness (such as sadness). Girls are encouraged to aspire to looking pretty and value good looks far above being intelligent. From my own personal experience, at the age of just three my daughter was quick to inform her Nana that she was not smart, she was pretty!

I have no objection to my daughter playing with princess dolls, wearing pink and going to ballet lessons – but what I do object to is her worrying she will be teased for playing with toys that she considers to be “for boys”. As a child growing up in the 1970s I can’t remember worrying about whether the toys I played were specifically “for girls”. Of course, there were toys marketed at boys and toys marketed at girls, but nothing like the extreme gender bias in toy marketing today. In the 1970s we grew up with a lot of gender-neutral toys such as Lego and Play Dough.

A parent led group has launched a Let Toys Be Toys campaign for gender-neutral toys. They are “asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys”. This is welcome move and has already sparked leading retailers, such as Marks and Spencer, to make all its toys gender neutral by spring 2014.

Let’s hope that other retailers follow their lead.

 

Two Thirds Column