Let’s Talk About Coronavirus And Women

Let’s Talk About Coronavirus And Women

Like most things in life, coronavirus has a gendered impact. Previous experience with viruses like Ebola and Zika has shown how these crises tend to have particularly harmful effects on women and girls and reinforce gender inequality.  

 

Now, although it is early days, we can see similar patterns emerging regarding the coronavirus – including within Ireland. While initial data indicates that women are less susceptible to the virus than men, there are several key reasons why women are impacted more by this coronavirus. 

 

Firstly, front-line health professionals and workers are more likely to be women, which means women are more likely to be exposed to this virus (with all of the related impacts on their health, wealth and wellbeing). Globally, around 70% of the global health workforce are women. 

 

Secondly, women are more likely to be casual or part-time workers without sick leave or other work entitlements putting them at a higher risk of wage loss or unemployment.  This is especially the case for low income or migrant women who tend to be employed in hospitality, retail or other service industries. Women’s wages also take longer to recover than men’s after crises – as evidenced during the Ebola crisis. 

 

Thirdly, the coronavirus is being called a ‘disaster for feminism’ by The Atlantic – because as children are sent home, decisions will have to be made regarding who will mind them. This will likely mean a considerable increase in the volume of unpaid work carried out by women. Women are also likely to be responsible for looking after COVID-19 patients at home. It is feared that women’s work and incomes will suffer more than men’s during this period ‘making women’s independence a silent victim of the pandemic’. Globally, girl’s schooling will also be disproportionately impacted by school closures (including in non-obvious ways, e.g. moves to teleschooling due to the digital divide issues many women face).  

 

Fourthly, domestic and sexual violence rise during crises like these – termed the ‘silent epidemic’. Not all homes are safe, and so women are at heightened risk of controlling behaviour, verbal abuse and violence during times of quarantine and lockdown. Rights groups in Ireland have been working to draw attention to these issues

 

Fifthly, women face challenges in accessing the services they need, including sexual and reproductive services and services for maternal care. During the Ebola crisis, more women died of obstetric complications than the disease, but these secondary deaths attract less attention

 

I could continue because there are so many ways in which women are impacted differently to men – but I will stop there. However, it must be emphasised that already-disadvantaged women, including migrant women, homeless women, and women in direct provision, face double layers of discrimination and have more limited access to healthcare and protective items than the general population. During this time of collective stress and uncertainty, we can perhaps experience greater solidarity with these women whose daily experience already involves a high degree of stress from their living conditions and uncertainty about their futures. 

 

In Ireland, groups like the NWCI and Women’s Aid are doing Trojan work to remind women they are not alone during this time and making sure key supports for women are continued. Recent confirmations from the Irish government that it is safe for migrants (documented and undocumented) to access essential services are also essential. However, more needs to be done by our government to ensure the most vulnerable are protected during this crisis.

 

The increased burden faced by women during COVID19 highlights the ways in which women are disadvantaged within our society – still saddled with the brunt of unpaid care work and domestic work, at heightened risk of domestic violence and abuse, and faced with gender gaps at work and at home. 

 

While one might expect the unique experiences of women at times like these to mean they will be included in decision-making around the crisis, and in gender-proofing our decision-making, this is unfortunately not the case; in fact, gender issues are being largely ignored. And, valuable opportunities are being missed to gather data or conduct research on the gendered-impact of the coronavirus which could help us better prepare for future epidemics. 

 

As we face into the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, it is important that we do not treat gender as a side issue – there is too much at stake. Rather, we might see this as a crucial opportunity for leadership based on principles of intersectionality and mutual care. 

 

More to come from STAND on how the coronavirus impacts women over the next few weeks and months – stay tuned. 

 

 

Photo by Tumisu from Pixabay

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Coronavirus And Women

Like most things in life, coronavirus has a gendered impact. Previous experience with viruses like Ebola and Zika has shown how these crises tend to have particularly harmful effects on women and girls and reinforce gender inequality. Now we can see similar patterns emerging regarding the coronavirus – including within Ireland.

New Emojis to Highlight Diversity

Emojis play an important role in digital communication, allowing us to express our emotions and convey meaning through cute little symbols. However, our ability to communicate is limited by the pictures and symbols on offer, and so emojis can make a big difference!

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

On the 7th of March 2020, the organisation ‘Abolish Direct Provision’ hosted the first Asylum Seekers Feminist Conference, with the aim of uniting and empowering women in Direct Provision. The event, held in DCU, was attended by asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres all around the country.

FGM: An Ever-Lasting Fight?

FGM is the perfect example of the inequality many women and girls still have to suffer in today’s world. It stands for Female Genital Mutilation. The procedure entails the cutting and damaging of the female genitals and is also known as female circumcision. Although there haven’t been many cases of FGM in Ireland, it is still an issue here.

“Marry-Your-Rapist” Bill to Be Passed in Turkey

In rape cases, there is a victim and there is an aggressor. However, the Turkish government is currently attempting to progress a horrific “Marry-Your Rapist” law that will allow rapists to escape any judicial penalty.

Victim of the Magdalene Laundries Seeks Justice from UN Committee Against Torture

Elizabeth Coppin, a seventy-year-old survivor of the Magdalene laundries, is taking her case to the United Nations in a landmark move. Ms Coppin says that she has been denied justice by the Irish State for over twenty years. This could potentially have resounding implications for the State’s approach to historical abuse.

7 Things to do While we’re Stuck in Isolation

7 Things to do While we’re Stuck in Isolation

With a week and a half of quarantine already under our belts, it would be fair to say that most of you reading this have had your lives flipped over in a very short period of time. Universities and schools were cancelled, your working life has changed, you haven’t seen your grandparents or immuno-compromised friends in two weeks, and perhaps you aren’t even in Ireland anymore. It has been a tough time for all of us, be it through health scares, money worries or even just an impending sense of cabin fever right about now. However, it’s important to remember that what we are doing is having a tangible effect on the overall health of the country, and we are currently protecting  the health and the lives of people we don’t even know right now. At the same time, it is entirely understandable and, frankly, normal to be feeling a little cooped-up, a little down and a little and bit in limbo. This is why we have put together a list of things for you to occupy yourself with during this ever so strange time in our lives.

 

1. Schoolwork

If you’re anything like me, studying is the last thing you feel like doing right now. However, most of us still have online lectures and tutorials, as well as essays due and exam deadlines. Of course, this work is important – for a sense of normality more than anything else at this stage – but it is so vital to take this work with a grain of salt. A tip I once heard from Cambridge University, the “8-8-8” rule,  comes to mind – 8 hours of study (including classes), 8 hours of sleep (the best way to stay healthy!) and 8 hours of doing something else, anything else, that you enjoy. Even having this sense of balance will introduce structure into your routine, and you will find it much easier to section off your days.

 

2. Binge-watching 

With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and now even Disney+, there are a wealth of streaming sites and apps to get you so addicted to a new series or movie genre that time will pass before you even know it. However, if, like me, you tend to ( sometimes) feel the tiniest bit guilty whiling away those hours on Love is Blind, try a feature-length documentary instead. Or, if you like something shorter and snappier, the Netflix series Explained has 20-minute documentaries on a variety of topics to keep you entertained.

 

3. Exercise

If you’re sitting inside all day and similarly not really moving from the sofa, the importance of exercise is magnified. And I don’t necessarily mean home workouts – half an hour outdoors either running, walking or cycling around your immediate area will do wonders for both your body and mind… especially with the weather so unnaturally lovely over the past few days!

 

4. Bake or cook

Although many people are rationing their food right now and are being careful of what ingredients they use on a daily basis, there is no harm in trying out some simple healthy (or unhealthy – we deserve it these days) recipes that you’ve always wanted. Try using the common, easy-to-get ingredients, or whipping up that dry-mix cake that has been sitting in the cupboard for the past two years. Being in the kitchen and creating something delicious is more therapeutic than you’d think, and at the end, you have something lovely to indulge in!

 

5. Read a book

Like the majority of us, you probably have thousands of unread books sitting on your shelf at home, neglected because of lack of time spent cosying up at home. Well, now that is no longer an option! Reading is a wonderful way to both expand your mind and obtain knowledge or simply entertain yourself. Reading for pleasure is a luxury few of us actually revel in these days, for a variety of reasons, but it is such a good habit to get back into.

 

6. Try your hand at something new – or old!

Trying different things is a great way to occupy your time at this stage – whether it’s something you lost touch with or something you’ve always wanted to go for . It doesn’t need to be extravagant, just mind-consuming and calming. For example, I know countless people who have picked back up their abandoned instruments; and others who have gotten back into their old sports, like practising online yoga or cycling. Others have taken up new, simple hobbies, like painting, journalling, or calligraphy. You could even make it your resolution to check our STAND News every day to read about current affairs and human rights! 

 

7. Keep healthy!

The primary aim right now is for all of us to keep as healthy as possible. This means getting enough sleep as well as sticking to a proper sleep schedule (this is difficult right now, I know, but it makes a huge difference in the long run!). Again, like we’ve heard a thousand times before, frequently washing hands is a must. Drinking plenty of water is also vital, as, apart from the usual health benefits, it washes out any viral particles living in your mouth. Take care of your skin and maintain your personal hygiene. Overall, keeping to some sort of routine, in general, is pivotal in ensuring we all stay as healthy as possible. 

 

 

Photo by Yuri Efremov on Unsplash

 

 

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Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

7 Things to do While we’re Stuck in Isolation

With a week and a half of quarantine already under our belts, it would be fair to say that most of you reading this have had your lives flipped over in a very short period of time. We have put together a list of things for you to occupy yourself with during this ever so strange time in our lives.

A Student’s Perspective: Sweden is Playing With Fire

I write from Sweden, a country which has chosen not to take strict measures as other European countries to fight COVID-19. I am an Irish masters student at Lund University and find the lack of movement worrying. If the virus is not contained here, we will encounter a health emergency as we have seen in Italy.

FGM: An Ever-Lasting Fight?

FGM is the perfect example of the inequality many women and girls still have to suffer in today’s world. It stands for Female Genital Mutilation. The procedure entails the cutting and damaging of the female genitals and is also known as female circumcision. Although there haven’t been many cases of FGM in Ireland, it is still an issue here.

A Student’s Call to Action on Climate Change

Climate change and environment issues, in general, are the most talked about topics these days, and for good reason. With all this news of despair and disaster regarding climate change it is easy to think that no matter what we do, nothing is enough. But this isn’t necessarily the case.

Xenophobic Ideas Spread Along with the Novel Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus now has 75,000 reported cases and has claimed over 2,000 lives in China. In the midst of this recent outbreak, we might find ourselves more germaphobic than usual. While paying extra attention to hygiene is normal and even healthy, there is an insidious side to this newfound germaphobia.

A Student’s Perspective: Sweden is Playing With Fire

A Student’s Perspective: Sweden is Playing With Fire

I write from Sweden, a country which has chosen not to take strict measures as other European countries to fight COVID-19. I am an Irish masters student at Lund University and find the lack of movement worrying. Sweden at present has over 2000 confirmed cases and, sadly, 41 confirmed deaths at the time of writing. However, it is possible that the actual figure of people infected is much higher as efforts to test for the virus is currently focused on those that are considered vulnerable. 

 

If the virus is not contained here, we will encounter a health emergency as we have seen in Italy. Indeed, no health system is equipped to deal with so many cases at the same time. Some measures have been taken. My university courses are online, and public gatherings of over 500 people have been banned. Vulnerable groups have been asked to quarantine themselves. However, these measures are minor in comparison to Ireland’s response and have not changed people’s nonchalant attitude towards the virus.

 

Being Irish, I have heard from my friends and family back home over and over the importance of social distancing. However, social distancing is not a common term here, and absolutely nobody that I have seen in the supermarkets practices it. In some ways, I feel like I am living in a parallel world compared to the news which comes from Ireland.

 

Sweden’s response has been explained by its decentralized government system. The government set the remit for the public agencies but the Public health agency has independence in decisions and is the lead authority in the crisis. Thus the government states that they are following the expert agencies advice. The Agencies lack of movement in enforcing stricter measures has been critiqued in Swedish media outlets. 

 

The Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven delivered a speech to the nation on the 22nd March.  In this, he urged people to take individual responsibility to prevent the spread of the virus. This approach blatantly ignores the fact that individual responsibility has not worked in other countries. There is thus a feeling that Swedes will act in the public interest more so than people in other countries. The Prime Minister also stated that you should not continue to go to work if you present with symptoms. This is ignoring the fact that the virus is one which has the capability of presenting itself as asymptomatic. 

 

The newest measure which has been introduced is allowing table service only in restaurants and bars. This is not an effective measure. People can still gather in both restaurants and bars and continue to spread the virus to one another. 

 

I genuinely hope there is some reason behind the government’s logic, but if there is, they are not sharing it very clearly with the public. Rather it seems that the economy is what is taking precedence over the people. 

 

The Prime Minister did state that measures may come in the future with short notice. I wonder how many people will have to suffer and die before such action is taken. 

 

 

Photo by Christian Beiwinkel on Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

7 Things to do While we’re Stuck in Isolation

With a week and a half of quarantine already under our belts, it would be fair to say that most of you reading this have had your lives flipped over in a very short period of time. We have put together a list of things for you to occupy yourself with during this ever so strange time in our lives.

A Student’s Perspective: Sweden is Playing With Fire

I write from Sweden, a country which has chosen not to take strict measures as other European countries to fight COVID-19. I am an Irish masters student at Lund University and find the lack of movement worrying. If the virus is not contained here, we will encounter a health emergency as we have seen in Italy.

FGM: An Ever-Lasting Fight?

FGM is the perfect example of the inequality many women and girls still have to suffer in today’s world. It stands for Female Genital Mutilation. The procedure entails the cutting and damaging of the female genitals and is also known as female circumcision. Although there haven’t been many cases of FGM in Ireland, it is still an issue here.

A Student’s Call to Action on Climate Change

Climate change and environment issues, in general, are the most talked about topics these days, and for good reason. With all this news of despair and disaster regarding climate change it is easy to think that no matter what we do, nothing is enough. But this isn’t necessarily the case.

Xenophobic Ideas Spread Along with the Novel Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus now has 75,000 reported cases and has claimed over 2,000 lives in China. In the midst of this recent outbreak, we might find ourselves more germaphobic than usual. While paying extra attention to hygiene is normal and even healthy, there is an insidious side to this newfound germaphobia.

New Emojis to Highlight Diversity

New Emojis to Highlight Diversity

Emojis play an important role in digital communication, allowing us to express our emotions and convey meaning through cute little symbols. However, our ability to communicate is limited by the pictures and symbols on offer, and so emojis can make a big difference! As the adage goes, you can’t be what you can’t see. 

 

Emojis have faced much criticism in the past for a lack of diversity, which led to the introduction of emojis with different skin tones and genders, as well as same-sex and interracial couples, and emojis depicting persons with disabilities. In 2019, a period ‘blood droplet’ emoji became available following a campaign to combat period stigma.

 

Today, we are able to choose from over 3,000 emojis in Unicode Standard. It may seem as though there is already an emoji for everything: facial expressions, nature, food, sports, everyday objects, and other symbols. But the 2020 release of 117 new emojis is evidence that there is always room for more diversity and more creativity.

 

One very exciting aspect of this new release is the inclusion of a gender-neutral version of several emojis. New emojis include a woman feeding a baby, a man feeding a baby, and a person feeding a baby – representing various gender identities and expressions (a previous emoji release added a breastfeeding emoji for women, but the only alternative was a lone baby bottle). Increased representation of gender identities seems to have been a key focus of the new release which also includes the transgender flag and transgender symbol, as well as gender variations in bridal veils and tuxedos. There is even a new gender-neutral Mx. Claus to add to existing Mr and Mrs Claus. 

 

There is a myth that technology is neutral but emojis show how it can subtly reinforce values that are baked into our culture. Happily, these new emojis are challenging the limited binary conception of gender that is prevalent today. The representation of diversity in skin tone and gender of the new emojis is an important step towards equality and visibility of often marginalized groups.  Other exciting additions to emoji 13.0 include blueberries, bubble tea, a bison, and a boomerang. If you want to check out all the new emojis before they become available on our devices, see this released list

 

 

 

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

New Emojis to Highlight Diversity

Emojis play an important role in digital communication, allowing us to express our emotions and convey meaning through cute little symbols. However, our ability to communicate is limited by the pictures and symbols on offer, and so emojis can make a big difference!

An Interview with OurTable: “It All Comes Down to Integration”

STAND’s Cedric speaks to Ellie Kisyombe from Our TABLE Dublin about the history of Direct Provision in Ireland, changes to the system and the role of ‘OurTable’. 

The Challenges of Coming Out Later in Life

Ireland has experienced the AIDS epidemic, witnessed the Fairview Park murders and has seen same-sex marriage passed into law by popular vote. While these historical events have brought the idea of the existence of LGBT people into everyday conversation, are the resources out there benefitting all members of the community?

STAND Student Podcast Episode 6: The Gender Recognition Act review – Why were some people left behind?

In November last year the Gender Recognition Act 2015 went through a review which left some groups out – meaning certain groups won’t be able to have their preferred gender recognised by law.

Lack of Diversity Overshadows Another Award Season

For the last few years, award ceremonies have come under a huge amount of scrutiny for a lack of diversity in the talent which they choose to celebrate. Heading into a new decade it felt tempting to think that those behind some of the most prestigious awards in entertainment may have started to heed this calls for inclusion. Unfortunately, as the list of nominations came rolling in over the last month, we soon learnt that this was not going to be the case.

10000 students working towards a more equal future

One person alone might feel as though they can’t make a change, but what happens when 10000 third-level students come together to take one small action each for a better world? This is what STAND, a Suas Educational Development initiative, and the Unions of Students in Ireland (USI) are trying to encourage by partnering on a new platform called 10000students.ie.

Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

In October 2016, bulldozers came into the refugee camp known as the Calais Jungle. They tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes for the past few years before attempting the dangerous journey across the English Channel to the UK. The roughly 6,000 migrants who had been living in various forms of shelter throughout the camp were shipped off to temporary reception shelters throughout France. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction of the Jungle camp, the charity Help Refugees estimates that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests of Northern France near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors. In Calais, where the largest refugee camp in Europe once stood, approximately 500 people are sleeping in forests and under bridges, often with no shelter other than a sleeping bag. Charities such as Help Refugees have volunteers on the ground providing basic needs such as blankets, firewood and hot food; and work with lawyers to flag particularly vulnerable cases.

 

The French authorities have implemented a ‘hostile environment’ policy to deter refugees from setting up more permanent shelters, fearing a return to refugee camps on the same scale as the Jungle. In reality, this policy manifests as a constant displacement for the migrants situated there, with violent evictions early in the morning being a daily reality for people who have already faced weeks of treacherous journeying. Hundreds of people a month continue to risk their lives crossing the English Channel to Britain, only to face yet another hostile environment. With Brexit looming, and a Conservative government with its most significant majority in years, it is unlikely that these refugees will find the haven that they have risked their lives to find. Currently, the law states that unaccompanied child refugees have a right to be reunited with family in the UK, but with Brexit comes uncertainty as to how people seeking asylum will be treated in Britain without the pressure of the EU. In January of this year, the House of Commons voted against an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill that would preserve family reunification following Brexit. With a massive push in the UK for closed borders, and a ramping up of deportations by the Home Office, it is an uncertain time for people seeking asylum in Britain. Dehumanised by French authorities, dehumanised by politicians and the media; refugees are often seen as mere  statistics, only given the courtesy of a discrete identity if they die in tragic circumstances.

 

One project in the UK is attempting to bring a degree of humanity back to the refugee crisis. Conversations with Calais documents conversations had between volunteers and migrants in Calais refugee camps, printed out in distinct black and white and displayed by members of the public. Sometimes casual, sometimes incredibly poignant; the conversations give a glimpse into the human experiences behind the homogenous portrayal of refugees and migrants in the media. Mathilda from Conversations from Calais told STAND News how when starting this project she wanted to “break away from how migrants were portrayed in mainstream media by remembering, documenting and commemorating banal but intimate and relatable conversations”. Having volunteered with various organisations in Calais on and off for over a year, on returning home, Mathilda felt she had to document somehow the experiences she had in the refugee camps. This, coupled with anger at the portrayal of migrants in the media, led her to create Conversations from Calais. 

 

It is hard to estimate how many cities the posters are in now, as they are now easily downloaded from the Conversations from Calais website with instructions to make your own glue to stick them up around your city. The conversations have been translated into ten languages, and are in at least sixty cities across five continents. Often the way refugees are portrayed in the mainstream media reduces individual stories into lazy stereotypes; “as villains we need to protect our countries from, heroic figures we need to constantly celebrate, or hopeless victims that we need to save”. Conversations from Calais focuses on the individual stories, the everyday events behind the stories that find their way into international news. 

 

 

With simple black text against a white background, the simplicity of the posters mirrors the simplicity of the conversations they portray. They take away the complicated politics and bureaucracy, intellectual arguments and conflicting attitudes away from the conversations; distilling them down to merely an interaction between two humans. The humanity and openness of the conversations remind us that no matter how different our lives may be, there is more that unites us than divides us (a statement as important as it is corny). Conversations from Calais aims to highlight these ordinary conversations that do not often get the attention of the media, “we are all different and have a different story whether we are a refugee or not does not change that”. 

 

The humanity that Conversations from Calais gives its subjects is a welcome change from the portrayals given in the media, often by politicians and sometimes well-meaning commentators. While it will take incredible pressure and direct action from the public to push back against policies enacted which threaten migrant rights and safety, remembering our shared humanity is always a good place to start. Art and activism have the ability to move people, inspiring social change by appealing to the best of our humanity than the worst. The future is uncertain for those seeking asylum in Europe, with an increase in far-right presence in governments and on the streets in many countries; it is essential not to forget our fellow humans who just happen to have been born outside our borders. While it may seem like an impossibly large and complicated issue, Mathilda has faith that there is still a huge amount of compassion around us – “now it’s about finding ways to use that feeling to inspire social change and demand systematic change from our governments”. 

 

Find out more about the project on their website.

 

 

 

Photos by Ellen McVeigh

 

 

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The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

In recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

7 Common Myths About Migration

Studying migration makes you face a lot of assumptions that you have about the scary and controversial topic that it is. Migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. In this article, we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

In October 2016, bulldozers came into the refugee camp known as the Calais Jungle and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

On the 7th of March 2020, the organisation ‘Abolish Direct Provision’ hosted the first Asylum Seekers Feminist Conference, with the aim of uniting and empowering women in Direct Provision. The event, held in DCU, was attended by asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres all around the country.

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

On the 7th of March 2020, the organisation ‘Abolish Direct Provision’ hosted the first Asylum Seekers Feminist Conference, with the aim of uniting and empowering women in Direct Provision. The event, held in DCU, was attended by asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres all around the country.

 

The day began with a moving opening address from Sonia, a woman living in Direct Provision. Sonia shared her experience of living in an asylum seeker accommodation system which has been repeatedly called out for violating human rights, and emphasised the importance of asylum seekers standing together. She spoke of how those who stand up for their rights in Direct Provision often face retaliation from managers and said this is why residents must speak up in unity and act as “one force.” Sonia addressed the limiting roles and expectations placed on women, that keep them from taking up leadership positions and dissuade them from being assertive. She pointed out that this needs to be challenged and highlighted the role of men in standing behind women and supporting them in this process. She concluded by singing ‘Hustlers’ by Alicia Keys, a song which she said has given her strength and inspiration during her time in Direct Provision. The feeling was clearly infectious, as by the end of the song the whole room was on its feet, clapping along.

 

Catherine Lane, the Women in Local, Community and Rural Development Officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland was the next speaker of the morning. She described the implications of Direct Provision for equality and human rights, as well as the gendered nature of forced migration and how women are disadvantaged in the asylum-seeking process. In particular, she criticised the failure of the Direct Provision system to meet the needs of victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. Despite highlighting the many challenges faced by asylum-seeking women, Catherine concluded on an uplifting note. She encouraged the audience  not to lose sight of the resilience and courage of women and their power to bring about change. Fittingly, Catherine ended by reciting the poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou.

 

Next up was a panel discussion on mental health, featuring Kate Mitchell, the acting CEO of Mental Health Reform, Mary Haynes from the NWCI and the sculptor Nicola Anthony. Kate Mitchell spoke of the intersection between the asylum-seeking process, gender, and mental health. She noted that asylum seekers are ten times more likely to experience PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)and that women generally face unique barriers to accessing mental health services. According to Kate, the Irish Mental Health system has failed to provide culturally competent services to meet the specific needs of asylum-seeking women. Mary Haynes, who is a women’s health policy officer at NWCI, emphasised that women are experts on their own health and said that asylum-seeking women are too often left out of the conversation on mental health, which leads to them facing greater barriers in accessing support and perpetuates health inequality. Nicola Anthony, a UK born artist, described her work that transforms the stories of migrants into sculptures, with the aim of promoting awareness and compassion. She spoke about the power of art and creativity to provide relief from mental suffering and to bring people together. She also spoke about her experience as a second-generation migrant, and the opportunities she has had as a result of her family’s migration to the UK. She ended by saying that future generations will be grateful for the courage of asylum seekers today.

 

After lunch, there were workshops on Youth in Direct Provision in rural Ireland, Career opportunities in Direct Provision, and Art and Loneliness. I attended the Art and Loneliness workshop run by Nicola Anthony. The workshop focused on how, even without a high level of artistic skill, creativity can be a source of solace and comfort. We made mandalas and talked about how art can be incorporated into daily life, even in the face of hardship. After the workshops, there was a group discussion about the challenges and needs of asylum seekers in Ireland today. People highlighted the main issues they faced in the direct provision system, including a lack of accessible information about their legal rights and the asylum-seeking process, mistreatment and manipulation from centre managers and the inaccessibility of the labour market. Ideas were suggested as to how people could face these issues collectively, share information and take action to better the lives of asylum seekers. This sense of commitment and solidarity in the face of adversity lies at the heart of International Women’s Day and underpinned the entire conference.

 

Overall the day highlighted that, while celebrating the hard-won freedoms many women in Ireland now experience, we must also recognise the women who have been left out of the process of liberalisation. There are thousands of women in Ireland today who are coercively confined in Direct Provision centres, where their needs are unmet and their rights are undermined. The lived experience of these women must be central to the progression of gender equality in this country. 

 

 

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