Patriarchy Could Have Killed Me: My Journey with Invisible Illness as a Woman and Moving Forward

Today, I was vacuuming my floor and I felt my heart race.

I thought it was back.

And for a moment, I was ill again and trapped in a cycle of anxiety and suffering.

But it wasn’t it.

It was just my heart beating from intensely vacuuming my room. Thankfully, my world did not fall apart this time.

What “it” is, is hard to explain.

In medical terms, I had what is known as atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia which is a type of Supraventricular Tachycardia, a heart disease.

In layman’s terms, the disease meant that I had an extra electrical connection in my heart which caused my heart to go from 80 bpm to 270 bpm without cause or warning.

But no textbook can translate how this disease brought me to a point where I did not want to live anymore.

It killed friendships, relationships, my potential to be funny and intelligent, my goofiness, my happiness and most importantly, my ability to love myself.

My battle with this disease began around the start of secondary school.

I was in Homesense shopping with my mum, brother, and his friend when I stubbed my toe on a decadent chest-of-drawers.

I remember shouting ‘ow’ or something (this was pre-swearing Alisha) and then proceeded to have a nosebleed.

To avoid messing up the floor, I ran outside. Up until this very point, my life was relatively normal.

At the time, I was being badly bullied at school for my ginger hair and the fact that I spent my pocket money on stationery rather than anything that was cool in 2008- nothing really out of the ordinary.

But then something horrific happened.

I felt like I was choking and like I was having what seemed like a heart attack. I had seen many heart attacks on tv soaps and this looked exactly like it.

I sprinted to my mum’s car screaming that I was going to die. I asked my mum to call my nanna to tell her that I love her, and I remember that could not breathe regularly after that.

My mum was in shock. But she knew that I was going through a lot in school so she diagnosed me right then and there, she said “you are having a panic attack”.

This is did not reassure me as during the whole journey home I felt like I was seeing the world for the very last time.

Around 6 hours later, the feeling went away.

I was exhausted, but I was back.

I thought it must have been just a bad panic attack.

I told the doctor about my “panic attack” and he told me to smile and love my life because I had everything to be happy about.

He told me to relax and maybe go to therapy if things continued- and they did continue.

I soon fell into a state of depression.

I recall being in class not listening to a word and thinking about my death and how the students would pretend they liked me and cry and write on a giant card with my freckled face on it. And the “panic attack” came back again.

I was sent to the medical room but someone was in there with a badly grazed knee so I was told to “sit down and shut up” by the secretary.

I cried and cried, but they treated me like I was crazy and lying to miss the class.

Weeks passed consisting of the same things.

Before I knew it, it was time to study for my GCSEs.

As no one believed that my heart was not right, I believed that I was in fact, crazy.

It was clear that I was not going to do well in these exams.

No surprise, I did not do well in the exams. I received a few A*s but nothing compared to what I was capable of doing.

My school were disappointed, my parents didn’t know any different, but most importantly, I was heartbroken.

My A levels followed and the attacks continued.

I remember being in English class when my teacher was talking about the coursework paper, and my heart kicked in so I ran out of class.

After hours on the medical bed, my teacher greeted me and laughed, “oh Alisha, you don’t have to worry so much about this paper.” “I wasn’t, sir”, I thought.

Then University planning came along. I wasn’t considered one of the bright kids anymore so I was excluded from my school’s elite group.

And yes, that is what it was actually called. The horror.

So, I was left to sort myself out with no knowledge of universities or what on earth I wanted to do. I chose English.

I was told not to choose a Russell Group university because of my mental health, so I looked elsewhere.

My dad told me about Keele because he saw it mentioned on University Challenge sometime ago. As it seemed to have lots of trees and squirrels, I went for it and applied.

Not long after, Keele saved me with an unconditional offer.

They wanted me when I didn’t think anyone did, and so, I accepted Keele unconditionally.

But this did not stop me from trying to do well in my exams. I had something to prove to my school and bullies so I sat exams with my heart racing and fought every bit of pain away.

So much so that I was one of three highest achievers in my sixth form.

I was not the loser I thought I was, and the school suddenly loved me for one blissful morning.

I left for Keele in 2015, still having “panic attacks” and therapy.

I was terrified to live away from home. I had an attack soon enough and called for help.

I was taken to A&E and sat there for 7 hours with people looking after me that I had only just met.

By the time they checked my heart, the feeling had gone. I was given Valium and sent home, delirious and exhausted.

Then I had more, and more, and more attacks. More Valium, more therapy, more “it’s all in your head”, more “uni is not for you, quit”, more inconsistent grades, and more suicidal thoughts.

I took up German again.

I messed up my German GCSE a few years back because I had an attack in the exam, so I promised myself that I would learn it in university.

I worked as hard as I could, and I was accepted onto a German summer school programme- my absolute dream.

I travelled there and had an attack on the plane, and went onto have attacks every 10 minutes that I was in Germany.

I needed to leave, but I had no one to rescue me out of the situation. As my boyfriend so happened to be in Poland at the time, I decided to travel alone from Hamburg to Warsaw on a 10 hour train with basic German language skills and knowledge of the Polish swear words.

I had attack, after attack, after attack.

The carriages had no plug sockets so I was phone-less on a train in the middle of rural Poland having these attacks.

But I survived and arrived in safe hands.

When I arrived back in Wales, I asked my doctor about the weakness I was having on one side of my body and stroke-like symptoms I was feeling.

I went for a CT scan and all was clear- I had hemiplegic migraines. Terrifying things, but safe nonetheless.

Despite all of this going on in the Summer, I made it to third year.

I remember walking back from a seminar and my hands stopped working properly. I thought: stroke.

I called security, asked for an ambulance and was taken to A&E.

I waited for 2 hours. Once they said my name, I got up and my “panic attack” began.

I reassured the shocked nurses that I was having a panic attack.

However, they could not do a reading of my heart as it was too fast. One of the nurses shouted “get her to resus” and my life was like a horror movie for the next 8 hours.

In resuscitation, my heart was at 268 bpm. Unsafe, and at risk of going into cardiac arrest. I was terrified.

Nothing non-invasive worked so they had to administer a drug called Adenosine which would reset my heart’s rhythm.

The sensation of the drug was horrendous. I felt like I was dying. My heart slowed down, my vision was vignetted, my breathing stopped, and the blood around my body flushed.

Questions filled my head. How was I going to survive this? How will my boyfriend cope if I die? Will anyone care? My parents will be heartbroken etc.

After 8 hours, my heart was back to normal.

The doctors told me that I was not crazy, but that I had a type of heart disease.

After years of being laughed at, accused of lying and believing that I was imagining the symptoms.

It was not in my head after all, it was in my heart.

As soon as I returned to uni, I told everyone I knew that I was ill, mainly because I thought I could die.

People were lovely with me, but I felt so outside of everything.

I could not chat to people about new films or gossip and pretend like I was one of them.

I was not human anymore.

I saw the precariousness of my life and knew that the attack could re-occur at any moment.

I began to eradicate anything that caused an attack:

 

  • Chocolate caused an attack
  • Laughing caused an attack
  • Crying caused an attack
  • Exercise caused an attack
  • Drinking fizzy drinks caused an attack
  • Drinking juice caused an attack
  • Getting my hair done in a salon caused an attack
  • Eating meals caused an attack
  • Speaking in class caused an attack
  • Reading books caused an attack
  • Leaving the house caused an attack…

My life soon became no life at all.

The medication was torture and slowed my heart down so much so that I could not sit up in bed.

After a few weeks, I said yes to the operation to fix the condition, and I had no choice but to go for it.

At the time, I was dangerously underweight and suicidal- if I wanted to have a chance at life, I had to get the operation done.

In October 2018, I prepped for the operation.

I had just started my MA English course weeks before, and then soon enough I was in hospital signing a paper that included ‘in the event of your death’.

This was, of course, not ideal.

In my mind, I had two options: end my life or start my life.

And thankfully, my mind wanted to choose the latter.

I went into theatre and had the operation (awake btw as that’s the only way to trigger the attack), and they burned a tiny tiny tiny piece of my heart that was ruining my life.

I felt them burning me even though I was so drugged up that I was seeing Persian carpet patterns on the cardiologist’s face.

I remember smiling and reflecting on my life and saying to the cardiologist: “you’ve found it haven’t you?”.

The two hours flew by and I left the theatre. I was told that from what they can tell, it was a success.

I did it.

Post-op, I went straight back into lessons as I wanted to finally live my life and work on improving myself now that I had the chance.

I danced to all the Kylie Minogue hits that I never got to dance to over all those years.

I went to Sophia’s talk on her MA dissertation (something I would have never done as I was always too scared that people would see me have an attack).

I went on the Waltzers fairground ride with my friends and loved every second of it.

I ate chocolate and ordered tonnes of food. I got my attitude back, and argued with Tories online.

I WAS REVIVED!

But the high began to wear away.

The operation fixed my heart, but not my mind – and it certainly did not erase nearly 10 years of trauma.

I was having flashbacks of the operation, my time in resuscitation, the times people shouted at me and told me I was being dramatic etc.

I had and have ptsd.

Even today, I am obsessed with my pulse, my bodily sensations, and my health in general.

I am yet to remove the pill packet out of my phone case. The doctors may have killed the disease but its ghost – if you will –  lives on in my body.

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But amazingly, things have changed for the better whether I see it some days or not.

I am not void of hope like I used to be. I know that I am fierce and powerful when I need to be.

I know that I may have a real-life fairytale story to tell one day and I cannot wait to live through the very much overdue good bits.

After some research into the disease, I found out that my misdiagnosis was not uncommon.

In a medical journal article on ‘Supraventricular Tachycardia and the Struggle to be Believed’ by Kathryn A. Wood et al., they wrote that:

Researchers have noted that the symptoms commonly reported by patients with SVT mimic other conditions and are often mistaken for anxiety attacks or panic disorders, especially in women. (Wood et al. 2007: 294)

I want to pay particular attention to the fact that WOMEN are most commonly misdiagnosed.

The article goes on to examine real accounts of SVT in women and their experiences with not being believed.

From their observations and interviews with SVT sufferers, they firstly address that: ‘[b]eing disbelieved was interpreted by patients as being seen as untrustworthy, mentally unstable, invisible, or a hypochondriac.

Disbelief also discounted or minimized the significance of the patients’ symptoms and illness’ (300-301) – this, of course, echoes my experience.

I was told that I needed cognitive behavioural therapy as opposed to a heart scan, and the quotations from other female SVT sufferers revealed similar experiences.

Females in the study described their experiences, I quote them in full:

“I just felt like none of the doctors believed me. I think they thought I was making it up because they can’t see it or get it on an EKG. They gave me Valium or Xanax and sent me home.” (301)

“[The Doctor] told me that I was just too stressed out, and that I should stop working and concentrate on being a good wife and mother. Then he gave me a prescription for Ativan to help me relax. I did everything he said and still had that fast heartbeat.” (301)

“They did all sorts of tests … but found nothing. I think they thought I was making it up. I thought about it a lot. Was I really crazy? Was this all in my head? Was I just thinking I had a fast heart rhythm?” (304)

“I think my friends, especially my husband, may have thought that this was all in my head. My husband told me later that he had wondered if I was losing my mind, since the doctors could never find anything wrong.” (304)

I was astounded by these findings.

Oddly enough, not long after I discovered this article, my mother started to present SVT-like symptoms.

Due to this article, I did not take any chances and called an ambulance.

Turns out that my mother has been suffering with supraventricular tachycardia as well as myself, and her case has only been taken seriously because I knew what to look for and what to say to the doctors.

My worry is, what about the women who are in similar positions like this – not just specifically with heart disease – but with illnesses and diseases that are still not being taken seriously by doctors?

I am yet to know the answer to that, but what I can say is this:

If you feel unwell and are suffering:

  1. Do not settle with one doctor’s opinion.
  2. Keep an in depth diary of your symptoms to present to your GP.
  3. If you do suspect that you have a particular condition, bring it up in conversation with your GP.
  4. Ask someone who is aware of your symptoms and how much you are suffering, to come into your appointment with you. Sadly I was taken more seriously when I brought others with me to back me up.

Of course, I am not alone in this experience as a woman.

I believe that our stories can make great changes and help so many other women, so please, let’s get a conversation going about misdiagnosis and sexism in health care.

References

Wood, K. A., Wiener, C. L., & Kayser-Jones, J. (2007). ‘Supraventricular tachycardia and the struggle to be believed.’ European journal of cardiovascular nursing : journal of the Working Group on Cardiovascular Nursing of the European Society of Cardiology, 6(4), 293-302.

Suggested Reading on Women and misdiagnosis/underdiagnosis in healthcare

Gender Stereotypes in Pain Diagnosis: https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/sites/journalofethics.ama-assn.org/files/2018-06/ccas2-0807.pdf

Women and Pain Disparities in Experience and Treatment:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/women-and-pain-disparities-in-experience-and-treatment-2017100912562

The Gender Gap in Pain:

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/opinion/sunday/women-and-the-treatment-of-pain.html

 

The Autism Rights Movement-the Underrated Movement of the 21st Century

In the midst of human rights movements, one has gone forgotten and ignored by the mass media: the autism rights movement, also known as the neurodiverse rights movement.

Approximately 1% of the UK population is on the autistic spectrum, yet it is only this decade that significant autism rights movements and groups, as opposed to advocacy groups that may not properly take into account the wishes of autistic people themselves (as opposed to the wishes of their families, not all of whom fairly consult autistic people), have developed.

For nearly two years, January 2017 to October 2018, I was secretary of the most prominent autism rights organisation, Autistic UK, which has helped organise such events as Autistic Pride around the country and it calls for acceptance, not merely awareness, of neurodiversity: http://autisticuk.org/

How does it connect with feminism, you ask?

Although the ratio of women: men diagnosed as having an autistic spectrum condition (ASC) is relatively equal, fewer women get recognised as autistic because of the different ways society expects from men and women in terms of socialising and the more subtle social skills of women, and also because of a bias in research about autism towards men and boys.

There is also an important social justice dimension: the unemployment rate for autistic people, men and women, exceeds 80 per cent in the UK, and support for autistic adults wanting to live independently and live the same lives as those who are not autistic is scarce and often does not understand their rights and needs.

Autistic mothers, whether or not their children are autistic, face considerable challenges in family life, as noted by Lana Grant in her book From Here to Maternity.

In the last year, the activism of writer and autistic mother of six Emma Dalmayne, along with her friend Fiona O’Leary in Ireland (also an autistic mother), has been crucial to ensure the autism rights movement can face down challenges from those wanting to harm autistic people, such as those who market false and dangerous “cures” for autistic people.

This is a movement we truly need for the 21st century to be as inclusive and accepting as it sounds, especially for autistic women whose voices often go unheard and who still find it difficult to get a diagnosis.

Many men and boys are diagnosed in childhood, whilst a lot of women and girls have to wait until adulthood for an autism diagnosis.

Global Fair Stall

We are planning an event next semester during International Women’s week to celebrate and create a discourse about our cultures individually and together as People of Colour.

The information will be updated here

We will have a panel discussion which will include topics such as colourism, gender roles and sexuality.

As some of you may know Keele has a annual global fair which celebrates diversity and the contributions of others.

We had the opportunity to promote Cultural Affairs at the annual Global Fair launch.

The main idea surrounding the event is creating discussions on important topics that are not discussed enough.

When planning the stall we decided the best way to start a conversation around culture was to ask people what they loved and celebrated about their culture and what they would change.

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As one of the topics will be discussing is on colourism, we decided to bring this subject to the stall to understand what other peoples perceptions on the topic.

We discussed the issue of negative connotations associated with dark skin especially with women and how colourism has impacted our experiences growing up.

It was a great opportunity to engage with people that had so much to say on the subject.

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We also asked people to self-identity and write where they are from as a way of showing that there are people from ethnic backgrounds that are part of LGBT and identity-based communities.

The stall gave us the opportunity to have meaningful conversations that confirmed these are the topics we need to be talking about among peers.

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We welcome everyone to attend Cultural Affairs and become part of a big step towards a cultural shift at Keele.

For more information feel free to contact me (Ade) or Raveena.

Ade (w6j55) + Raveena (w6h50)

or get in touch at the woke email using the below form:

Not in Our Name: Women of Keele Educate (W.O.K.E) join protest at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre

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Raveena

On December 1st the Women of Keele Educate group (supported by the KPA and SU) took a minibus full of people to Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, this involved a two-hour drive each way and a lot of singing.

We joined the 15th ‘Surround Yarl’s Wood’ protest organised in order to demonstrate against the indefinite detainment of people held in detention centres across the UK.

With a few placards, whistles and a megaphone we joined around 300 other protesters, trudging through several muddy fields to get to the detention centre, all the while accompanied by the Police.

It must be said that (as usual) despite several roadblocks and the request for information concerning the numbers in our party, the police were very hands-off on the day.

The UK is the only country which does not limit the amount of time a person can remain in a detention centre before being released or deported.

Amongst those held at Yarl’s Wood (and other IRCs) are refugees, asylum seekers, LGBT+ identifying individuals and those who were brought to the UK as children.

People who have fled war, genocide, trafficking, rape, abuse and discrimination came to the UK for safety and have instead been treated as criminals.

People (mainly women) in Yarl’s Wood have no idea whether they are going to be held for 6 weeks or 3 years and are subject to dehumanising treatment from Serco (private security company who took over management of the centre in 2007) and the Home Office.

The detainees are often left without proper medical care, heating or privacy and a surprise report from Ofsted in June 2017 found, “During the course of the inspection it was discovered that a doctor who had been employed at the centre since November 2016 was not in possession of the required registration” (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2017, p5).

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We’re far too cool to look at the camera!

Although pregnant women are only supposed to be detained in a centre for a maximum of 3 days, one woman has been there for over 6 weeks, according to a sign displayed in one of the windows during the protest.*

In 2017 Women for Refugee Women found that 85% of detained women were survivors of rape and other gender-based violence (pg. 5).

The following, are only a few of the findings from research conducted about detainees in Yarl’s Wood:

  • 62% said they were survivors of rape or other sexual violence
  • 42% said they were survivors of forced prostitution/internal trafficking in their countries of origin, or that they had been trafficked to the UK for forced prostitution or domestic servitude
  • 38% said they were survivors of domestic violence
  • 35% said they were survivors of forced marriage
  • 15% said they were survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM)
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On the way to the demo site.

During the demonstration, both detainees and protesters heard from several ex-detainees, one of which was Mabel Gawanas who had previously been held at Yarl’s Wood for 3 years.

She spoke about the need for solidarity within the community of women in the detention centre, and the necessity of support from the wider society in rejecting the fundamentally racist, anti-immigration policies condoned by the UK Government.

Women inside Yarl’s Wood were able to communicate with protester’s through windows  opening only a couple of inches.

Some waved, some held up messages on A4 paper (‘Help us’, ‘I’m pregnant’, ‘Amnesty’, ‘Freedom’) and some shouted through the gap to tell us about their experiences.

As an ex-detainee stated “If it was safe for us to stay in our country, we wouldn’t be here today, we would be back there.”

Standing up against the inhumane treatment of those who seek safety and refuge within our borders, does not necessarily mean that one has to advocate an open-border type strategy – we can still have a stable and pragmatic immigration policy without subjecting those in need of sanctuary to the dehumanising treatment which currently exists.

Research both in the UK and elsewhere shows that there are much more effective alternatives to detention, ones which are more humane and less costly (see the International Detention Coalition, 2015).

In the wake of Brexit, Donald Trump, the Windrush Scandal and the election of Jair Bolsonaro, it has never been more important to take a stand against the xenophobia and bigotry which is perpetuated in our name.

Women of Keele Educate stand in solidarity with the women detained in Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres in the UK (and around the world) and want to continue increasing awareness surrounding this issue.

So then, we welcome you to join our newly formed organisation at Keele University, which champions intersectional feminism and to add your voice to the increasing number fighting for the human rights of women everywhere.

For more information concerning the demonstration, please follow the links below:

http://www.refugeewomen.co.uk/2016/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/We-are-still-here-report-WEB.pdf

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/protesters-rally-detention-centre-women-immigrants-181201212935358.html  (Spot the quote from our very own Sophia Taha).

https://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/There-Are-Alternatives-2015.pdf

 

*According to Movement for Justice, this woman was released on the evening of the demonstration due to increased public scrutiny and pressure placed on staff by her fellow detainees, whom until yesterday hadn’t been aware of her condition (although it was known to Serco and the Home Office).

See below for more photos from the day.

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You can’t ride a bike…You’re a girl!

“You can’t ride a bike, because you’re a girl”

A sentence that made a five year old girl become a feminist, the notion that you cannot or should not want to do something due to gender was absurd to her even then.

Natalie Bennett has gone on to do some remarkable things, and she came to speak to us at Keele about some of them.

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Natalie’s first degree was in Agricultural Science, which meant that when she would be the only politician with a background in science in meetings about science.

She thinks we need more scientists in politics.

She has also worked as a journalist where she would often write about things from a feminist perspective.

She was the leader of the Green Party 2012-2016 and she was the first woman, in British political history to take over the leadership of a party from another woman, Caroline Lucas.

It took until 2012 for that to happen.

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Westminster is full of memorials to dead white men. 

Natalie told us a story, to illustrate how the Houses of Parliament were not designed to accommodate women MPs.

In 2010, a young MP had a baby, and in parliament, when voting the rule is that an MP has to walk through the doors to vote, but only MPs are allowed to do this.

So when a woman, who had a baby with her, needed to vote she had to quickly pass her baby to the nearest MP and walk through to be counted.

This year is the anniversary of both women’s vote and women being allowed to stand

Suffrage a hundred years ago was a strange thing.

To vote you had to be a woman who was over 30 years of age with property, this was an attempt to prevent an imbalance of women to men following war.

However women over the age of 21 were able to stand to be an MP – this wasn’t considered to be an issue because they never thought female MPs would outweigh male MPs.

As of 2018 we currently have parliament at 32% female MPs.

If we continue at the pace we are at now, 15 year old girls will see a 50:50 Parliament when they are in their 80s.

Natalie asked the room, do we think parliament is a meritocracy?

Surely, we can do better surely than the people in government at the moment!

A Government needs to be representative of the people.

https://5050parliament.co.uk/askhertostand/

Period positivity and period poverty

Natalie told the room about a massive debate in 2015 where David Cameron was very uncomfortable talking about period poverty due to its relevance to female anatomy and period stigma.

Three years on politicians are talking openly about it, and talking positively about periods.

This means it is becoming easier to talk about period poverty and campaign to end it.

Where are the Women?

Natalie spoke to the room about tackling the myth that there are not enough qualified women to be in leadership positions:

In Norway, a law was passed to have 40% of boards be women. If this wasn’t done, the company would be de-registered.

There was a five year period to allow companies to do this and yet some companies still only did this hours before the deadline.

Many companies used the narrative that qualified women couldn’t be found.

When a study was conducted afterwards, looking at qualifications of women versus men on the boards, the findings showed that women held higher qualifications than the men, and were more qualified for the board positions.

So there are plenty of women and if this door can be opened, it opens the door to other forms of diversity other than gender.

How do we get women into leadership positions and politics?

#AskHerToStand you have to ask multiple times for a woman to stand as a political candidate.

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Within the Green Party if there are no women on a short-list – they re-open the position and actively promote to find women to stand.

In 2015 Hackney’s female Green politician was found in this manner.

Patronising, Obnoxious and Unapproachable (Man at Keele, 2018)

Sophia (co-founder of WOKE, KPA Equality and Diversity Officer and co-author of this post) was lucky enough to be called all three of these in April 2018.

Natalie Bennett spoke about the gendered double standards women are held to and the negative labels given to women for acting in the same way a man would in a position of power.

The first time Natalie Bennett went on question time, she was reserved due to the branding of Caroline Lucas as a woman who “always interrupted”, consequently she didn’t have much time to voice her opinion.

Therefore, the second time she went on question time, she “ploughed through” to be heard.

This is a real problem for women, due to the negative stereotypes of “women always talk”, or the idea that they have nothing important to say.

Society has ingrained this within us all, and it will take a lot to undo that within society as a whole – but it’s about baby steps, it’s about empowering women, and encouraging them to have a voice.

You are NOT alone

It is harder to stand as a woman. Don’t do it alone.

The Green Party always has gender balance rules, if there is a lack of candidates the short-lists will be reopened, an example of this Natalie talked about was when all the women from the London Assembly List when to the pub together and signed each others nominations, it was a moment of pure support, women empowering and supporting women, and it resulted in 7 women and 4 men being put on the list.

Natalie described herself as a believer in quota systems; because unless those systems are implemented you have to keep fighting the same battles.

There is a real necessity for building in rules in order to put each battle behind you in order to power forward.

Understand that politics is something we have to DO otherwise it is done to us

Natalie stressed that people have been doing politics to us for so many years

Now it is time to campaign, empower, and make a difference. Each small step can lead to everyone feeling like the CAN make a difference

Political change doesn’t happen because the top GIVES it, it happens because the bottom TAKES it

Three things to take away:

1) Don’t be alone – build networks of support

2) Take every opportunity to gain experience – it will get easier, and be kind to yourself

3) People aren’t going to remember the small details, like stumbling over a word, the world is more forgiving than you think

 

This write up is by Yasmin Benjelloun and Sophia Taha

 

How to make an emergency self-care box 🌻

Life is hard.

While we may be working like robots and juggling all that is thrown at us, we must to stop and breathe every once and a while.

Some of us are suffering in silence and because of that, our suffering, strengths, battles, hard-work and resilience go unseen and sometimes uncredited.

The topic for this month at W.O.K.E is the following:

“November 2018: Welcoming writing around the topics of challenges faced & visibility of Trans and Non-Binary people; anti-bullying and workplace bullying; unseen, unvalued & unpaid labour; carers and the pressures they face” (W.O.K.E, 2018)

The one thing which unites these topics is invisibility.

Not being acknowledged or appreciated can be detrimental to our mental health and in turn, we can forget to love ourselves, care for ourselves and take a moment to reward ourselves for what we know that we have achieved.

As this is often the case, I have created a step-by-step guide to create an affordable emergency self-care box for either yourself or for anyone in your life that you think is in need of some T.L.C. and recognition!

 

After all, WE ARE ALL WORTHY OF SELF-LOVE AND APPRECIATION.

 

(Disclaimer: While I have tried my best to find the cheapest way to create a self-care box, I understand that not all of us have money to spare. So if you do not, I suggest you write a letter to remind them of their achievements, their strength and their worth! You can can also do this to yourself as a reminder to look after and appreciate yourself even when you are running out of self-belief)

 

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So here’s how I made my self-care box:

YOU WILL NEED:

  • A box (or a spare cardboard box that you can wrap up with old wrapping paper and maybe decorate)
  • Small candle/reed diffuser
  • Origami paper
  • Origami instructions
  • Paper of any kind
  • Pen
  • Very small plant
  • Sticky note
  • Sheet mask/face mask

CREATE (AND DECORATE THE BOX)

To do this you can either buy a box from discount stores like Poundland, Home Bargains or Card Outlet for £1 or less.

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Or you can use a cardboard box and cover it with old wrapping paper!!!

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In order to make things easier for you to make your own self-care box, I have split the following sections into 4 self-care objectives for the contents of the box:

  1. Creating a calm space
  2. Distracting the mind
  3. Feeling loved and appreciated
  4. Remembering to look after yourself

STEP ONE: CREATING A CALM SPACE

The space around us can often dictate our moods which is why creating a tranquil environment is so important.

To do this add a small candle (or a reed diffuser if you or your friend live in a property in which they are not allowed to light candles).

I found the smallest ones pictured in THE CANDLE SHOP in Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre for £1.90. The second largest ones were in PRIMARK for £1, and the largest one was in HOME BARGAINS for £3. The reed diffuser was also £3 from HOME BARGAINS.

STEP TWO: DISTRACTING THE MIND

It can be hard to find a hobby and it can seem impossible to find time to do something for fun.

So add something to the box that will offer something fun and creative.

I choose to add origami paper from AMAZON for around £5 for 100 sheets and I printed out instructions that I found online at http://www.origami-instructions.com/

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STEP THREE: FEELING LOVED AND APPRECIATED

Make it personal! Everyone is different and everyone needs to hear different things in regards to support and reassurance.

So if you can, write a small letter to yourself or to your friend, so they can have a friendly reminder of how much they are loved and appreciated even when times aren’t so great.

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Place this letter where you will see it every day!!!

STEP FOUR: REMEMBERING TO LOOK AFTER YOURSELF

If you can’t get a pet, get a plant!

When life is hectic we can often forget to do the little things like drink, eat, get enough sleep etc. but having the responsibility to look after something else can often help remind us to look after ourselves.

To do this, add a small plant to the box and add a sign to it (a sticky note or something similar) to remind yourself or someone else to water the plant but also to drink themselves!!! I found this plant for £1 at MORRISONS.

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Another idea is to add something so the receiver can pamper themselves when times are tough.

I chose to add sheet face-masks which I found cheap at TK MAXX, PRIMARK and MORRISONS.

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Finally: PACK THE BOX!!

 I hope this ‘how-to’ has given you some ideas on how to spread love and appreciation to those who need it (including yourself). 

FINAL DISCLAIMER: This kit is not at all a trivialisation of mental health in any way. If you or anyone you know is in need of emergency mental health support please contact the helplines suggested through this link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

If you make a self-care box for yourself or a friend, why not tweet us or Instagram a photo and tag us?

Twitter: @KeeleOf

Instagram: Women Of Keele Educate

#SheShouldRunKeele

Time to Do Better

A quick Saturday morning of research has thrown up some interesting facts and figures:

2016

When looking at the data from the KeeleSU Elections in 2016 there were 47 candidates total.

Of that total 78.7 % identified their ethnicity as white. When you compare that to Keele’s statistics on all students, the student body, was 65.8% white.

So in percentage terms, the white student populace is over-represented in running for positions of power on campus.

I also found that whilst 61.7% of candidates in the SU elections identified themselves as male, the campus wide demographic showed that only 41% of all students on campus were male.

(Head to here to see the full report on the student demographic at Keele that year)

2017

When looking at the data from the KeeleSU Elections in 2017 there were 43 candidates in total.

70.45% of candidates that ran identified themselves as white compared to a campus demographic of 64.8% white students.

61.3% of candidates that ran, identified themselves as male, but campus wide the demographic data meant that 41.4% of all students were male.

Head here to see the full report on the student demographic at Keele that year

There is a disproportionate number of men running for and holding positions of power on campus.

It is not representative of the student body.

I don’t currently have access to the data to do the same work for KPA positions, but it is significantly worse if you consider the number of male postgraduates that have held the KPA positions versus the number of female postgraduates we have in total.

(This data is from 2015/16 as it was available it is unlikely that there are  huge fluctuations in gender balance year on year):

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It’s time to do better.

After just a few months of work Women of Keele Educate have ensured a higher number of women and non-binary people at Keele have nominated themselves in the upcoming by-elections.

Take the time to read the manifestos of some fantastic candidates when you see them appear in the next few weeks.

Take the time to vote.

Take the time to ensure that you are accurately represented.

If you need any help or would like to join us get in contact

Feminism in 2018: What is there to do?

It’s a funny time to be a woman.

We live in a society that tells us we’ve never had it better, whilst it ignores our cry for change.

One that tells us we have our equal standing in the workplace and pays us less.

One that points to the single woman at a chair meeting and tells us how represented we are around the 14 men drowning her out.

One that tells us our bodies are our own whilst men decide what we can do with them.

One that shuts our trans sister out of her bathroom in the name of ‘protecting us’ from a threat that isn’t there.

And yet, it points to the suffrage of the past and tells us, “They did the work! You got your rights!”

 

How do we fight for change in an environment that acts like we’ve already made it?

 

I was 14 years old when I decided I wanted to be a medical doctor.

I was high achieving, top of my classes, and passionate about doing good in the world.

A few days after I decided, I broke the news to an aunt of mine; married to a psychiatrist, I thought she’d be someone I could turn to for some insight into what lay ahead. Naively happy about my decision, and eager to share it.

She listened to me, intently. She let me reason out what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it – developing a 20-year plan in my 14-year mind.

She heard all of this quietly, and when I was done, she asked me the question: “but don’t you think it’s too much hard work?”

Of course, it’ll be hard work! But it’ll be so worth it in the end.

“But what’s the point in wasting all that time and money when you’ll only be housewife in the end anyway?”

 

I’d pinpoint that as the first time I remember my gender being sold to me like it’s a crutch.

 

Misogyny carries a certain power, when it comes from a female mouth.

She really, genuinely believed that my education was a waste of resources. Because of course, it’s universally accepted that I’ll give up any suggestion of a career to fulfil my womanly duties in the kitchen, right?

And there, I see the work still to be done.

How can our society claim to be equal while it perpetuates the normalisation of those attitudes?

So normalised, in fact, that the very victims of this system are its advocates.

Where women believe it’s normal to drop their passions, their aspirations, their futures because they need to take up the role that’s handed to them.

 

I was 21 years old when I walked through the doors of the medical school as a student.

 

That aunt rarely talks to me now.

When she does, it’s to tell me she thinks this is all useless.

I think of her whenever I speak up about feminism, whenever I feel the passion I have for activism.

I think of her because my heart hurts for her.

The cage she’s been in for so long that she sees as a mansion.

I hope she gets out of it one day.

I hope that she, and anyone who thinks like her, realises that they represent the work that’s still to be done in a society that thinks we’ve already made it.

It’s a funny time to be a woman.

Ask Her To Stand

On Wednesday 18th July 2018, Sophia, Roxy and Kiran got a train into London to go and attend a conference put on by the Fawcett Society and 50:50Parliament, working on getting more women into Parliament by asking women to stand.

The Conference aimed to support women to run for political positions and work across party lines to tackle inequality.

The evening offered panel sessions and workshops giving practical advice to all those who self-defined as women and wanted to get into politics and public life.

Between the three of us we covered all 4 workshops, networked and bagged a bit of swag to give to Ele when we got back!

We sat near the front ready for the opening session and as we looked around we saw a huge room, full of women.

Representing every section of intersectionality.

Representing multiple layers of oppressions and privileges and united together, demanding change, wanting a different state of affairs.

We were so inspired and we were definitely in the right place.

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From L-R: Sophia, Roxy, Kiran

Plenary Session

This opening session was incredible. Chaired by Sam Smethers – Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society.

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We sat and listened to some amazing women:

Lib Dem: Baroness Sal Brinton

SNP: Alison Thewliss MP

Labour: Dawn Butler

WEP: Sophie Walker

Conservative, WESC: Maria Miller

Green: Amelia Womack

 

The audience asked questions and the panel gave us all some insight. The women of parliament collaborate a lot to work towards shared goals even when their politics disagree.

One audience member stood up, asking a problematic question. She wanted to know if the room and the panel would be happy if 50 percent of parliament was trans women to the 50 percent men.

To our relief the entire room replied yes.

Then each panel member spoke up, reaffirmed that transwomen are women.

One panel member pointed out that we are yet to even have one trans MP.

We were so happy that we were truly in an intersectional feminist space. We hope the audience member reviews her own prejudices now.

The panel continued to discuss the issues and solutions that they thought would help get equality for women.

Amelia Womack spoke about the need for job sharing options for MPs. It is the only job that does not allow this. Job sharing would ensure accessibility for anyone that had caring responsibilities. Sophie Walker passionately asked the room, “Are you honestly telling me that the world is run by white men because they are better than, for example, black women?! Are you kidding me?It’s about time we see all women’s lives reflecting on EVERY page of manifestos”.

Dawn Butler spoke about the standards we expect women to have to compete with men. She said she wanted to champion mediocre women. “I’ll be the champion of mediocre women, I want to see mediocre women in politics.” She went on to say that other women must help women to succeed. If you get up the ladder, lay foundations for an elevator. Help women behind you get up quicker. Support them.

 

We learned that a lot of the parties were using all women shortlists for roles, and that the Green Party extended nomination times if no women were put forward by another 2 weeks.

These are things we are going to keep in mind for the smaller project at Keele.

This panel session was beyond inspiring, just the room full of women with multiple experiences, the room was diverse and just as an intersectional movement would be.

It was truly amazing to be surrounded by so many women.

We felt really moved.

Summary of Workshops:

Why Stand? What difference do women make? (50:50 Parliament)

This workshop started with a presentation (that we are bringing back to Keele) to tell us the statistics that underlie the under-representation of women in politics. We then heard from three women. Two who had recently won their seats in 2017 Labour and Conservative MPs, and one lady who was heading up the #AskHerToStand campaign, offering support for any women that wanted to get into the Lib Dems.

We learned about what inspired them to stand, and found out it was a rather ordinary small action that led them to have an extraordinary change of career: Someone asked them to.

This simple task, a second human telling them, ‘You know, you’d make a good MP, have you considered running?’. It reassured us that the journey we want W.o.K.E to take is on the right path. We are so keen to empower everyone on campus, and remind them of how awesome they already are.

The second common point they shared was that they had looked around and realised, some of their male counterparts were truly awful at their jobs! They then realised they could do a much better job.

Something we learned all throughout the sessions is that representation shapes policy. Having women in the room and a diverse representation of women, ensures that policies that represent them are made and put forward.

This is what we want to achieve. Let’s get ourselves at the events, in the rooms and in the roles that will make a difference at Keele.

What’s Stopping You? Overcoming the barriers to getting into politics (Parliament Project)

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This was an energetic and awesome workshop with breakout groups of 3-5 women supported by a facilitator. There were flip-charts and marker pens and loud noises! We talked about the barriers to participation and split them into categories

Despite the breakout groups being small when we all fed back what was discussed there was so many common threads. All the women spoke about a lack of confidence, a feeling they weren’t knowledgeable enough and a worry that they wouldn’t be able to do the roles.

These women were strong, talented people and yet we all shared this imposter syndrome.

Building Your Political CV: How to build the relevant experience

This workshop focussed on helping women make the most out of the experience they already had. Focussing on the transferable skills and boosting the confidence of the women in the room. We already have the skills to do these roles, it is about realising it!

Political Careers: Working in and around politics

This workshop gave women practical advice and allowed women to talk to those who already had political careers.

AskHerToStand Fawcett Society Image

We came back energised and inspired and determined to take more Keele women to conferences.

The shared learning and the empowerment was fantastic.

The event was live streamed and recorded so follow this link to learn more:

Ask Her to Stand 2018 Video of Conference

We hope you join us on a conference soon.

If you find something you think others would enjoy going to let us know!

For upcoming events click here

 

 

 

W.o.K.E Two Weeks (ish) In

Read on for a blog post by Sophia Hayat Taha, co-founder of W.o.K.E

Just over two weeks ago we started the wheels in motion for the W.o.K.E project. 

We have speakers lined up, T-shirts available, a fabulous website (if I do say so myself), direction for writers, writers coming forward, a visible presence on social media which is growing quickly, and people talking about us, coming forward to work together.  Basically we are about to get some amazing changes at Keele actively happening.

It is awesome. It is scary. It is empowering. Clearly we all want change.

What we don’t have yet is our full collection of champions, we are sorely missing more people of colour, trans voices and non-binary voices.

We are lucky enough to have some champions for our mental health based volunteer roles and some faith W.o.K.E champions in the pipeline too (watch this space!).

The missing champion roles scare me, and yes I know we are in the middle of summer, and only two weeks in, but patience has never been a strong point of mine.

I am in a bit of a cycle of wondering what I can do to make the roles more appealing and keep people safe and supported. Please do get in touch with concerns or suggestions.

We want to empower everyone who is usually ignored and kept down by multiple structural oppressions.

After London Pride being hijacked by a problematic group of anti-trans voices we posted our support for our trans sisters and brothers on Instagram and twitter.

We lost a few followers,  had to report and delete comments, and block someone. We will continue to do this every time we see bigotry. We have our safe space rules and we will continue to update and improve on them so that everyone can participate.

W.o.K.E is an intersectional movement. If that troubles you, we have reading lists that will be live soon, we suggest you educate yourself.

Challenge your privileges and have a long think about why you think you can oppress someone else. 

We have many opportunities to learn over the next year, with workshops coming to Keele, external workshops being signposted and travel arranged for groups that want to go (watch this space), conferences, reading lists, activities in informal settings, and more formal speaker sessions.

This is a long journey that we all need to take. None of us is free from our own privileges. A few of mine are that I am a cis, white-passing, straight-passing woman. We all have our own oppressions and struggles. We can all learn. We can all do better.

Over the year we have workshops challenging white feminism and the white supremacy underlying white tears. We have workshops that are specifically for men to learn about intersectional feminism. We have workshops tackling how to be a better feminist in practice instead of just in words. We have practical help for those that want to put themselves forward when nominations open for elected positions on campus. We have well-being activities, collaborations with the careers services coming up and cooperation with Keele’s decolonise the curriculum project.

This year is going to be incredible.

I am so excited. I am so scared, but I hope that you will feel empowered.

In solidarity

Sophia