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Holding the space: Women and Girls Safe Spaces for refugees and asylum seekers in Greece

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren24 November 2021

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Ignacia reflects on the importance of securing women´s safe spaces for female refugees and asylum seekers and shares her experience working with refugee women in Samos, Greece, one of the five EU designated ´hotspot islands’ with newly imposed restrictions on refugees.

Photo credit: Author

 

Women and girls have less access and power in public spaces than men. The creation of safe, female-only spaces has been a key counterspace created for women to feel safe and for feminist movements to organise. In humanitarian contexts and emergencies – in which the existing social networks and institutional structures disintegrate – safeguarding women and girls’ rights is crucial. In this context, Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) have become a strategic intervention to protect female refugees. In a male dominated environment, they aim to create a place safe from violence, but also safe to connect cognitively, intellectually and emotionally, to receive psychosocial support, create solidarity amongst women from different countries, and claim rights.

Adult women represent a fifth of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Europe. This smaller overall proportion (in the last 2 years, 42.6% are male, 23.1% are women and 34.3% are children), has been explained by the risks and the high cost that the journey entails, with young men opting to travel first and then reunite with their families. Although Greece has been one of the preferred points of entry to the EU, the designation of five islands – Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos – by the EU as ‘hotspots’ in the Aegean Sea means that refugees and asylum seekers that arrive on these islands cannot continue their journey into Europe, but are instead processed there, often waiting indefinitely for the outcome of their applications.

In addition to the current Covid restrictions in Greece, the controversial new EU-funded Reception Centre in Samos – a closed space, with double barbed wire, metal detectors and a strict entry and exit policy – has drastically reduced the possibility for women to access female-only safe spaces, legal advice and health care outside the camp.

What do WGSS do for female refugees and asylum seekers?

Female refugees are at high risk of gender-based violence, exploitation, and human trafficking. This is an issue that civil society organisations, alongside asylum seekers, have been campaigning for across Europe. In this context, WGSS aim to provide:

“(…)  physical spaces where women and adolescent girls can be free from harm and harassment. They are also places where women and adolescent girls can gain knowledge and skills; access GBV response services or other available services, and foster opportunities for mutual support and collective action in their community.” International Rescue Committee-International Medical Corps

The ultimate aim of WGSS is to foster transformational change, serving as a counter space within a larger unequal space, such as in humanitarian settings. Specifically for GBV interventions, evidence of WGSS around the world shows that safe spaces for women and girls represent a key intervention and entry point for meaningful access to lifesaving services for GBV survivors seeking access to case management and psychosocial support services hosted in the WGSS.

Holding the space for women and adolescent girls within new Reception Centre restrictions in Samos island

There are at least two spaces dedicated exclusively to female refugees and asylum seekers in Samos, both of which are managed by NGOs: WGSS from Samos Volunteers and We Are One Centre from Glocal Roots. Both spaces have been operating for several years and have adapted to the needs of female refugees and the changing situations for refugees in the island. Until September 2021 (when refugees were transferred to the new Reception Centre), both WGSS catered for thousands of women that lived in the ‘old camp’ just outside of the city of Vathy.

In the last 2 months however, women’s access to these spaces has been drastically reduced. The new Reception Centre – one of five multipurpose reception and identification centres – was built in an isolated area 6km away from the city centre, far from services and NGO support, and has reduced the possibility for women to access WGSS. In this context, holding the space is not only creating and maintaining a physical space for women, but also advocating for these spaces to exist.

Since 7th November, Covid restrictions in Greece stipulate that a vaccination pass is required to enter any building.  However, the camp only vaccinates once a week and women have said that they need to arrive at 6am as the doses available are limited, and then they need to wait 2 weeks for the certificate. Most importantly, on 17th November, further restrictions were introduced in the Reception Centre further reducing women’s possibility of leaving the camp.

The Reception Centre operates with a card reader and metal detector. The new restrictions affect new arrivals who have to wait between 1 to 2 months for vaccination and an ID card; people with a second rejection in their asylum claim, whose card is taken from them and who are waiting for legal aid to make a new case or to be sent back; and people with residency whose card has also been taken until they are allowed to leave the Reception Centre.

The Reception Centre’s drastic restrictions measures means that women – the majority from Somalia, DRC and Afghanistan – have very few places to congregate. Each container sleeps eight people (two bunk beds in each room and a kitchen). There are no communal spaces in the containers. There is a football pitch which women do not use, and a communal area, mostly occupied by men. Where do women meet in the camp? What places do they find safe? It is hard to know. Women are just getting used to this new arrangement. Some women find solidarity with women from their same country of origin, as they share the language and everyday practices.

Providing a space that can foster solidarity, empowerment or even just a basic nurturing environment which is free of violence has been severely constrained. And so, amidst the uncertainty, holding the space is fundamental.

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Author:

Dr. Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren is an Associate Staff at Development Planning Unit (University College London) and is currently based on the island of Samos, Greece.

Reflections from the frontlines: Does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice? (Part 2)

Nick Anim18 November 2021

Read Part 1 here.

Mainstream environmental movements in Occidental countries such as the UK have long been challenged by what I call a ‘chronic affliction of diversity deficiency syndrome’. A consistent criticism levelled against them is that of ‘elitism’, which comes with a charge that their activists tend to be predominantly White, middle-class, well-educated, and post-materialist people who often have the time, space, and wherewithal to engage in environmental activism. Implicit in that charge is that environmentalists are constantly preoccupied with, for example, the conservation of nature and the increasing parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but otherwise characteristically silent or seemingly apathetic to the hostile environments billions of people endure and navigate daily due to a variety of persistent and durable inequalities (Cf. Tilly, 1998; Morris, 2000).

Relatedly, from my research exploring the perennial challenges of inclusion and diversity in glocal environmental movements, movements which ‘think globally and act locally’ on issues of environmental degradation – case study the Transition movement – a question that I have wrestled with is ‘do environmentalists have a problem with social justice?’

Introducing that question in my previous piece (Anim, 2021a), I signposted research by various political theorists and urban planners which problematise and challenge the widely-held assumption that environmental sustainability and social justice are not only interconnected, but also interdependent in a relationship of mutual reinforcement on the same virtuous circle of development (see, for example, Dobson, 2003; Marcuse, 1998). Theories and debates examining their immanent antagonisms, tensions, ambiguities and universal compatibility notwithstanding, my longitudinal autoethnographic research of, and hence activism with, diverse environmental movements and organisations, indicate that two recent global events – the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations – ushered in something of a critical inflection point regarding how, and perhaps even more importantly why, movements for environmental sustainability should try to build solidarity across differences with groups fighting against persistent issues of racial and social injustice, in order to achieve their shared demands for systems change.

Against the backdrop of social justice grievances being filtered through the lens of racial justice and propelled to the fore by those two recent events, I reflect in this piece on trying to help the Transition movement (TM) better understand and address its diversity deficiency syndrome, and consider how the movement has been recalibrating its notions and narratives of environmental transformations to include concerns about social justice.

 

Transition and the collective action dilemma of ‘all lives matter’

Since its emergence in 2006 as an environmental movement predominantly concerned about peak oil and energy descent, the TM has always been in transition; a real-life, real-time global social experiment that periodically revises its principles and core-values through iterative processes of learning and unlearning. Based on its ideological roots and references to the principles of permaculture, the TM’s community-led model for change has frequently emphasised the importance of diversity as a segue to encouraging local Transition groups to engage with matters of social inclusion and, relatedly, social justice. However, in practice, the approach adopted by many groups has, at best, been passive and, at worst, non-existent. My research suggests that for many activists drawn to the movement by its defiantly positive solutions-based approach, and its staunchly apolitical stance, ‘wicked problems’ of social and particularly racial injustice are often seen as far too political and divisive, especially in our current moment of polarising identity politics.

Advising on that reticence to engage in race matters and why matters of race matter in environmental matters, I have, in numerous presentations and workshops delivered to various Transition groups and other environmental organisations since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent BLM protests, argued that to demote, sidestep, hold at arm’s length or strategically swerve persistent matters of racial and social injustice in the dogged apolitical prioritisation of ecocentric resilience and sustainability, is to appear well-adjusted to injustice, well-adapted to indifference, or to live in cognitive dissonance.

On that last point of living in cognitive dissonance, an apolitical stance that is grounded in the post-political conditioning and configurations often deemed necessary for the disciplining role of consensus-building in environmental activism, betrays an ignorance borne of and maintained by a social, moral, and epistemic imaginary of self-deception and structured blindness. And that, as Charles W. Mills has argued, reveals an implicit ‘agreement to misinterpret the world’ (1997:18). Seen as non/mis/mal-recognition, that approach functions to effectively filter out any empirical evidence about the durable inequalities that conspire to create and perpetuate social and, relatedly, racial injustices. Such self-deception and structured blindness are axiomatic in the recursive and pervasive ecologies of wilful ignorance intrinsic to the colour-blind perspective within environmentalism’s, and hence environmentalists’ de facto ‘all lives matter’ entry point. Yet, ‘all lives matter’ is a promise, an ideal, that is yet to be met. And yet, it must be met. And therein lies an inescapable collective action dilemma – the recognition of difference. Aristotle was right; there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals. In the context of the BLM protests, ‘all lives can’t/won’t matter, until Black lives matter’.

When allied with power and the ‘invisible knapsack’ (McIntosh, 1988) of race privileges in the unsettled multiculturalisms (Hesse, 2000:2) of countries such as the UK, it becomes clear that the wilful ignorance of colour-blindness, understood as an active and dynamic perspective formed through processes of knowing designed to produce not knowing, is, in the words of James Baldwin, ‘the most ferocious enemy justice can have’ (2007: 149). The silence of wilful ignorance, colour blindness, ‘all lives matter’, is a form of power too. With the power and privilege to speak or act in the face of others’ distress and injustice, to remain a silent bystander, to bear silent witness, is to be complicit. Silence is violence.

Transition’s (a)political pivot?

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and during the BLM protests, the organisational body of the TM released a statement of solidarity, expressing an ambition to do much better and much more to “become a movement which actively supports social justice and amplifies the work of Black and [B]rown communities striving to create a safe, resilient and regenerative future for all people, [and] to bring clearer focus to the huge shifts urgently required of the Global North if we are to deliver anything remotely resembling climate justice for Black and [B]rown communities in the Global South” (McAdam, 2020).

Overall, the statement captured perhaps the most explicit suggestion of a paradigm shift intention by the TM since its inception. In its entirety, it appeared to orientate the TM towards adopting a more political stance, and a proactive, rather than passive, approach to social justice. How, since then, has the movement operationalised those intentions?

Transition Bounce Forward: (re)locating social justice in the Transition Movement

Following the TM’s BLM statement, the ‘Transition: Bounce Forward’ (TBF) initiative was set up with the express ambition of helping local Transition groups advance its paradigm shift intentions. I joined the nascent TBF team to advise and help assess how emerging Transition projects could better understand and then engage with issues of social justice, looked at through the varifocal lens of race, class, and other constructs of marginalisation.

Under the momentum of that paradigm shift thinking, we, the TBF team, designed and delivered the ‘What Next? Summit’, a series of online events that were held over a three-week period. We grappled with challenging topics, questions, and conversations about the intersections between justice and the environment, and how Transition groups might navigate issues of inclusion and diversity in their community-engagement approaches. For several sessions of the Summit, we platformed and amplified the work of Black and Brown community organisers, as well as projects focused on the concerns of marginalised groups.  In my research and activism with the TM, it appeared that the Summit marked a pivotal moment in the movement’s approach to issues of social justice (see, Anim, 2021b).

To say the Summit ‘appeared’ to mark a pivotal moment for the TM is to simultaneously acknowledge and suggest that time will, ultimately, be the arbiter of integrity and success. In that respect, it is also important to question how the visions of paradigm shifting that were widely discussed and promoted during the Summit, have cascaded down to the ways Transition groups are reaching beyond ‘the usual suspects’, their choir of adherents.

To help Transition groups navigate issues of inclusion and diversity in their locality, TBF offered a course on ‘engaging with difference in collaborative community organising’. A key focus was on learning and unlearning to encourage activists to develop an approach to community engagement practices that put connections first by building relationships through trying to understand the lived experiences of disparate community members. With this approach, the course aimed to prompt and help Transition groups to pursue collaborative projects that bring together social justice and environmental sustainability.

It is noteworthy here that although the course was fully funded and open to all Transition groups in the UK – just under 300 – less than 10% of the groups took up the offer. Whilst bad timing and availability of activists were given as the main reasons for the low uptake, the question about environmentalists having a problem with social justice looms large.

In my study of Transition Town Brixton (TTB), guided by my research findings and the discussions during the ’What Next? Summit’, as well as the TBF community engagement course, we conducted some visioning exercises that involved numerous interviews with diverse members of the community, and four online workshops under the umbrella question of ‘What If Lambeth?’ to establish how people envisioned the borough in 2030. Focusing on four themes – food, enterprise, community spaces, and fashion and music –the resulting visions, captured in the composite sketch below, begin to encapsulate our recalibrated ambition of ‘inspiring local action for a sustainable and socially just future’. Whilst there is much more work to be done in relation to what I call ‘hot-button issues’ such as racist policing and the politics of urban poverty, the paradigm shifting has begun.

To conclude this piece, the question of whether environmentalists have a problem with social justice and, perhaps more specifically, issues of racial justice, is one that has long plagued mainstream environmental movements in Occidental countries such as the UK. Regardless of how accurate its analysis of the situation is, no movement can survive unless it is constantly growing and changing. Therefore, it is vitally important, from time to time, to engage in a dose of critical self-inventory. Why? If a movement is unwilling to expose itself and its ideas to some scrutiny and criticism, then it will not grow or succeed. In that regard, the TM has, even if morally coerced to do so by the zeitgeist resulting from recent events, embarked on a journey that I believe will help it become more relevant to different groups beyond its usual adherents. That is especially important in the unsettled multiculturalisms of urban agglomerations where there are often imbalances in available resources, cultural heterogeneity, ethnic and/or class tensions and transient populations. Though the organisational body of the TM, and indeed other environmental movements such as Extinction Rebellion, have seemingly embraced a ‘justice pivot’, many activists remain reticent. It is, therefore, the duty of the core movement organisers to help activists understand why their fight for environmental sustainability and matters of justice are intertwined and inseparable in the long quest for ‘systems change, not climate change’.

Having mainly focused here on the ‘how’ factor of the TM’s efforts to address matters of social justice, I propose, in my third and final piece under the titular question ‘does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice?’, to look at ‘why’ I believe environmentalism should not be pursued in dogmatic isolation, and hence movements for environmental sustainability should try to build solidarity with social justice groups.

 

References

Anim, N., 2021a. Reflections from the frontline: Does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice? (Part 1). The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Access via: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dpublog/2021/04/01/reflections-from-the-frontline-does-environmental-sustainability-have-a-problem-with-social-justice-part-1/

Anim, N., 2020b. The What Next Summit: a pivotal moment for social justice in Transition? Transition: Bounce Forward. Transition Network. Access via: https://transition-bounceforward.org/the-what-next-summit-a-pivotal-moment-for-social-justice-in-transition/

Baldwin, J., 2007. No Name in the Street. 1972. New York: Vintage.

Dobson, A., 2003. Social justice and environmental sustainability: ne’er the twain shall meet. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, pp.83-95.

Hesse, B. ed., 2000. Un/settled multiculturalisms: diasporas, entanglements, transruptions. Zed Books.

Marcuse, P., 1998. Sustainability is not enough. Environment and urbanization, 10(2), pp.103-112.

McAdam, S., 2020. Black Lives Matter: A statement written collaboratively by the Transition Network team…Published 6 June 2020. Accessed via: https://transitionnetwork.org/news/black-lives-matter/

McIntosh, P., 1988. White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.

Mills, C.W., 2014. The racial contract. Cornell University Press.

Morris, A., 2000. Building blocks of social inequality: a critique of durable inequality. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 42(2), pp.482-486.

Tilly, C., 1998. Durable inequality. University of California Press.

Embracing Diversity: Inclusive Mobility for Women with Disabilities from Low Income Households in Kelayan Barat, Banjarmasin

Anyu Liu5 August 2021

Written by Fitria Nazmi, Gusti Muhammad Irsyad Maulana, Muhammad Firdauz Nuzula, Orchidea Annaysa Azizah, Rika Febriyantina, Yun Gu, Shuqi Fang, Manjin Wei, Adina Kaztayeva, Yaozhi Xu, Quynh Nguyen and Anyu Liu

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

In April and May 2021, students from the MSc Social Development Practice programme, UCL together with students from the Urban Citizenship Academy, Indonesia (UCA)  and the Indonesian NGO Kota Kita conducted an Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE). The engagement took place remotely due to the restrictions for the Covid-19 pandemic. Its overall aim was to learn about disabled people’s aspirations for inclusive public space and community engagement, and ultimately to promote inclusive citizenship in Indonesia, for our group it is especially in the city of Banjarmasin. The engagement is a part of the ongoing action-research project “AT2030: Community led Solutions” led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub.

During the OPE, our research specifically focused on the issue of inclusive mobility to increase access to public space for women with disabilities in Kelayan Barat,  Banjarmasin. Qualitative research methods were employed for our data collection, including a literature review, semi-structured interviews, and photo voice. With support from Kota Kita, a total of 15 interviews were carried out, of which six were face-to-face with women with disabilities who are residents from low-income households in Kelayan Barat. The other interviews were conducted online with policymakers from relevant governmental departments and a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) namely Himpunan Wanita Disabilitas Indonesia (HWDI), or Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities. Additionally, women participants were invited to take or choose videos and/or pictures themselves (photovoice) to visually demonstrate what they believe to be the good practice/ barriers associated with inclusive mobility. 

Key findings from our research demonstrate a highly prevalent need for mobility of women with disabilities in Kelayan Barat as well as the multiple barriers hindering this aspiration, which include:
 

Inadequate infrastructure and transport: The physical infrastructure of Kelayan Barat is a daily struggle for people with disabilities. The lack of inclusive design and quality infrastructure, e.g. unpaved alleyway and tyre pathway, prevents women with disabilities going out  and safely accessing public spaces. When they do go out, companions are often needed for assistance. The women  have limited access to transportation and assistive technology is inadequate, hampering mobility to the point of making some women housebound.

Image: Photos taken by participants during photovoice activity, April 2021 Row 1, left to right: favourite transport (motorcycle), example of insufficient infrastructure (unpaved alleyway and tyre pathway) Row 2: flooding in the settlement


Lack of social recognition and prevalent social stigma associated with disabilities and gender:
While most policymakers acknowledged the need to recognise the diversity of disabilities, challenges remain in realising this programme delivery. Amongst the interviewed stakeholders, only the HWDI leaders paid explicit attention to the social barriers which hinder the mobility of women with disabilities, such as insufficient social acceptance. The experiences shared by the women participants demonstrated the layered and intersectional discriminations they face due to their identities as women and having disabilities highlighting the importance of designing taking these intersectional identities into consideration. Specifically, women’s reproductive role can worsen their physical health and further obstruct their already limited mobility, and the role of house caretaker can restrict their freedom for mobility. In some cases, stigma against disability and the heavy burden of housework can result in them being prohibited from going outside by their own family.


Low active participation of women with disabilities in the planning and design of policies/programmes on mobility:
Women with disabilities participation in the planning process appears to encounter various challenges. First is the relatively top-down administrative style as policies/programmes are often designed and planned based primarily on policy makers’ and community leaders’ perceptions without sufficient inputs from women with disabilities. Secondly, women with disabilities lack information on relevant activities available to them. Besides, insufficient accessibility and affordability together with social stigma earlier discussed also hinder their participation in the process.


Limited community awareness and collective actions in supporting women with disabilities’ mobility: During interviews, women with disabilities and HWDI leaders indicate that community connection is crucial in improving the mobility of women with disabilities. While various departments at city level have implemented programmes, within the community, collective actions to support the mobility of women with disabilities appears limited. Although neighbourhood leaders considered the community environment to be open and friendly, the women interviewed felt the need for more community care. Social barriers such as the aforementioned stigma are not well recognised by community leaders, which further hinders the community’s collective efforts for the women’s social rehabilitation.

On the other hand, the active and substantial role that NGOs such as HWDI and Kota Kita play in providing diverse support to people with disabilities) in general and women in particular is promising. A report and advocacy output will be produced by the research team at the end of the engagement. We hope that what we have learned will contribute to the wider AT2030 project, as well as to the overall efforts in improving inclusivity for people with disabilities.


About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.

 

Upholding ethical considerations during collaborative remote research in Banjarmasin, Indonesia

Ritwika Deb30 July 2021

Written by Naufal Muhammad Azca, Jianglei Bai, Chang Chao, Ritwika Deb, Farah Dhafiya, Kristy Adelia Gayatri, Ahmad Rizky Rolanda, Hargita Saputri Mei Vita, Mojun Sun, Yu Wei, Menglin Yang, Haoyang Zhang

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

In late February, we were introduced to our research project that aimed to advance inclusive design and planning in Indonesian cities through a process of remote knowledge co-production that was to be designed and implemented by our group of 11 students from Kota Kita’s Urban Citizenship Academy and UCL’s MSc Social Development Practice programme, based across Indonesia, the United Kingdom and China. The project presented us researchers with the opportunity to learn from and contribute to  the Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities (PPDI) and the low-income neighbourhood of Pelambuan in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesia.

While preparing the groundwork for the research strategy, the work of scholars like Nidhi Singal (2010) helped us understand that disability research in countries of the South faces many challenges and dilemmas in terms of design and implementation. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our project included elements of both face-to-face interaction and remote data collection, which led to additional complexities, especially in terms of ethical and logistical considerations, which had to be carefully contemplated.

To account for the dilemmas that emerged from this challenging context, our team of researchers identified the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated Research (British Psychological Society, 2017) as the relevant code of ethics to build on.  Scholars and researchers across the board have long emphasized the importance of ethics – and for good reason, because us researchers ultimately are responsible for whether or not we do harm or good to communities. From setting the goals to shaping the strategy and implementing the methods on the ground – we play a key role as decision makers. By using the code of ethics, we learned that such a code can support researchers in general decision-making by giving them a structure to follow in the middle of the dynamic process of field engagement, allowing them to be prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas if and when they arise. Especially in a scenario like ours, where unprecedented challenges could arise at the complex intersection of disability research and remote knowledge co-production in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, this code of ethics served as a structure for our team members from the moment we began our engagement, not only helping us prevent potential challenges, but also making the process of dealing with emerging issues much easier.

 

  1. Ensuring informed consent

This principle of the referenced ethics guidelines emphasised the importance of ensuring that participants make informed choices. The first practice in this regard was to provide adequate information about the research, to specify what kind of commitment was required from participants, and to make it very clear to them that participation was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the research at any time if they wanted to.

To this end, the consent strategy was developed in accordance with the nature of the research methods and the needs of participants with disabilities.

First, a simple consent video was developed in the local language so that the research objectives could be clearly communicated to all, including participants with visual impairments.

Second, an accompanying consent form was created to enable participants with hearing impairments to lean on written information.

Third, participants were also given the opportunity to share verbal consent, if more feasible.

Finally, people with cognitive disabilities who expressed difficulties in giving informed consent were still invited to participate as long as they were accompanied by a family member or caregiver.

 

  1. Recognising participants’ choices

Another effort in relation to this principle was also to ensure that participants’ personal choices or preferences are always respected. To further stimulate responses to interview questions, we introduced a participatory photography method. In addition to securing consent from participants to use their photographs in our research work, we made adaptations in the process to allow participants of all abilities to take part by giving them the flexibility to either take the photos themselves or request the assistance of a researcher.

Our primary effort was to foster a safe space for them to express their opinions, address any unintentional stress during the activity and assure participants that if they withdrew their participation at any point there would be no consequences. An important instance to note is that when one of the participants showed a strong expression of autonomy on her part during the fieldwork and asserted that she was no longer in the mood to participate in this method, the researchers respected her decision without contestation.

Overall, this ethical consideration and the strategies used to promote it strengthened our understanding that a research project such as this should strongly value the opinions of participants, facilitate their inclusion and true participation even if the methods involve technical complexity. and ultimately consider participants’ needs, lived experiences and autonomy to be of the utmost importance.

In conclusion, adopting this ethical approach enabled us to adhere to a form of self regulation that guided us and defined the boundaries between what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in research. Although no code of ethics can describe every situation one will encounter, building a solid understanding of the principle of ‘respect for autonomy’ and adapting the guidelines to a version appropriate to our specific context, served us in most cases. This, coupled with a spirit of continuous reflection through the research process, enabled us to spot any danger early on and to move forward with increased self-vigilance when engaging with all involved parties.

 

Bibliography

 

British Psychological Society, 2017. Ethics Guidelines for Internet-Mediated Research. Available at: https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/ethics-guidelines-internet-mediated-research-2017. [Accessed 5 May 2021].

Capstick, A., 2012. Participatory Video and Situated Ethics: Avoiding Disablism. In: E-J. Milne, C. Mitchell and N. de Lange, ed. The Handbook of Participatory Video. Lanham MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 269-281.

Denscombe, M., 2010. Research Ethics: A practical guide. In: The Good Research Guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press, pp. 329-342.

Padan, Y., 2015. Asking Questions. Practising ethics guides to built environment research Series. The Bartlett Ethics Commission. Available at: https://www.practisingethics.org/project [Online] [Accessed 5 May 2021].

Singal, N., 2010. Doing disability research in a Southern context: challenges and possibilities. Disability & Society, 25(4), pp. 415-426.

 

About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.

What is the role of gender in Spatial Data Infrastructure?

Sandra Rodriguez Castaneda20 July 2021

This blog is adapted from an essay submission for the MSc Urban Development Planning module ‘The City and its Relations: Context, Institutions and Actors in Urban Development’


Introduction

Is land a source for gender equality? “Perhaps the most significant pro-poor urban transformation of the late twentieth century had to do with the gains of the feminist movement and the emergence of gender-based planning” (Parnell, p.27, 2015). , However, there is still a long way to go before women have an equal role in cities and rural areas. In the case of land, it is fundamental to the development of women’s identity, wellbeing and mobility (Chant & Datu, 2015). It is acknowledged that good management of land is key addressing gendered concerns. However, how does gender figure in the technologies of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) that underlies good land management? Therefore, this post investigates how SDI is gendered and argues that this has consequences for land administrators seeking more equity.

There are multiple processes around the land in which the gender approach must be studied and taken into account. Generally, when talking about gender and land, it is often based on the reformulation of policies around women´s right to access land, land distribution and titling programmes. What this tends to leave aside is how data is integrated to understand the relationship between land and women’s public-private roles. Additionally, land standards are applied to define guidelines but they tend to miss the intersectionality of gendered social relations, and methodologies for assessing indicators around land use and tenure do not reflect women’s real participation.

Despite the fact that the SDI seeks to facilitate and improve processes and decisions around land, the technological and modern component does not resolve the question of the role of gender in its understanding and comprehension.

I argue for the need to have a holistic vision to generate knowledge and cooperation to understand the role of gender in spatial data. Therefore, the tools developed to support land management should be understood under a differential and gender inclusionary approach.

 

Why is this argument important?

In this section, two examples will be explored to provide evidence why this argument is different and important. The first example is based on the fact that SDI is a technological component intended to facilitate decision making around land and productivity. Therefore, its focus is on capturing spatial information, and it does not have an explicit differentiating approach that considers social roles that make up land relations. The second example is based on evidence of the current situation of the relationship between women and land, and it is argued that the specific needs of women are not clearly understood, and so discrimination that replicates colonising models continues to exist.

According to Coleman and McLaughlin (1998, p.9), SDI “encompasses the policies, technologies, standards and human resources necessary for the effective collection, management, access, delivery and utilisation of geospatial data in a global community”. Definitions such as these suggest that the main objective of SDI is based on effectiveness, while the social component is limited to human resources and the use of data in the community. Rajabifard and Williamson (2003, p.3) note that, “SDI is much more than data and goes far beyond surveying and mapping, it provides an environment within which organisations and/or nations interact with technologies to foster activities for using, managing and producing geographic data”. However, even in this wider view, SDI as a social approach remains very much implicit in thinking about how SDI can be an enabling tool for organisations and nations.

In this light, what kind of data should be generated to understand social roles and especially women’s roles? This first example shows, through the most cited definitions of SDI above, that raising the question around the role of women in this technological tool is significant. As an additional element, it is also worth noting that inherent in technology itself is a complex language that is often based on strategic and rational concepts that leave aside social components (Cohn, 1987). Therefore, technology could become a gender-unequal tool despite being conceived to be gender-neutral if there is not a broader approach and understanding. We are in search of more socially and spatially just cities, so it is valuable to think about using the technological tools that support decisions about land to generate a more inclusive vision.

The role of women has been affected by sexist and colonising models that have limited their access to land. Throughout history, the subordination of women in society, based on a patriarchal structure, has been in evidence. Also, it is assumed that housing policies affect men and women equally when it is evident that there is discrimination against women (Borja & Castells, 1997).  As a result, it is essential to understand that there are socially constructed roles of women in the household and society: productive, reproductive, community managing and politics (Levy, 2009) that must be understood from a diverse perspective and taking into account the context and identity characteristics of each woman (age, religion, ethnicity). Accordingly, it is valuable to ask how this is reflected in the capture of information, in the standards implemented, in data analysis policies and in land governance in general.

According to FAO (2018, p.1), “Reliable, sex-disaggregated data on land is crucial for highlighting disparities in land rights between women and men. (…) there is still a lack of understanding as to what data are available and needed, and what they can tell us about women’s land rights”. This shows that there is still some way to go in understanding the role of women and the discrimination they face in relation to land rights. Given that SDI is an important part of land administration it will be important to work on how the inclusion and protection of women’s land rights can be enhanced through technology.

 

Conclusion and final discussion

This post presents an essential question in the context of SDI and gender equity. The framing of the question outlines a new challenge that combines the rational understanding of technology, the social dynamics around the land, the recognition of women’s real needs and the use of spatial tools. Consequently, technology should not be seen as a sole means of efficiency and productivity but also of inclusion.

Among the challenges that this question implies are to generate a holistic and decolonising vision that helps breaking with stereotypes and exclusionary models that are reflected in women’s lack of access to land, in the absence of protection of their rights, and the lack of representation and participation in decision-making related to land administration. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand that the relationship between women and land is complex and requires recognition of their roles in the public and private sphere. This will lead to the identification of the different entry points that need to be studied in order to find effective solutions according to time, scale and space.

Finally, “prosperity is not an inevitable outcome of urbanisation, and in the absence of appropriate management, cities can become sinkholes of poverty and inequality” (Chant & Datu,2015, p.40). Therefore, raising the question of the role of women in SDI shows that it is not enough to have efficient geographical tools; their appropriate use and management is fundamental to fight against poverty and inequality. Thus, the pressure of globalisation and the search for productivity need to be oriented to create new questions that confront the status quo and do not blind the construction of inclusive policies and strategies.

 

 

Bibliography

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Borja, J., & Castells, M. (1997). The City of Women. In Local and Global (pp. 45-67). Routledge

Chant, S, & Datu, K. (2015). Women in Cities: Prosperity or Poverty? A Need for Multi-dimensional and Multi-spatial Analysis. In The City in Urban Poverty (EADI Global Development Series, pp. 39-63). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Chen, M. A. (2010). Informality, poverty, and gender: Evidence from the Global South, in: S. Chant (ed.), The International Handbook of Gender and Poverty: Concepts, Research, Policy . Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 463–471.

Cohn, C. (1987). Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals. Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Volume 12, Number 4. [Accessed 15 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/494362

Coleman, D. & McLaughlin, J. (1998). Defining global geospatial data infrastructure (GGDI): components, stakeholders and interfaces. Geomatica, Canadian Institute of Geomatics, 52(2):129-144. [Accessed 20 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291089003_Defining_global_geospatial_data_infrastructure_GGDI_components_stakeholders_and_interfaces

Deere, C., Alvarado, G., & Twyman, J. (2012). “Gender inequality in asset ownership in Latin America: female owners vs household heads.” Development and Change, 43.2, pp. 505–530.

Enemark, S. (2006). Understanding the land management paradigm. GIM, 1-5.

FAO. (2018). The Gender Gap in Land Rights. CGIAR. [Accessed 12 April 2021]. Available from: http://www.fao.org/3/i8796en/I8796EN.pdf

Fenster, T. (2005). The right to the gendered city: Different formations of belonging in everyday Life. Journal of Gender Studies, 14 (3): 217–231.

Kabeer, N. (2008). Paid Work, Women’s Empowerment and Gender Justice: Critical Pathways of Social Change. Pathways Working Paper 3, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton. [Accessed 15 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.academia.edu/4002986/Paid_work_womens_empowerment_and_inclusive_growth_Transforming_the_gendered_structures_of_constraint

Levy, C. (2009). “Gender justice in a diversity approach to development? The challenges for development planning”, International Development Planning Review Vol 31, No 4.

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Wajcman, J. (2010). Feminist theories of technology. Cambridge Journal of Economics. Volume 34, Issue 1, Pages 143–152. [Accessed 15 April 2021]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/cje/ben057

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Sandra Esperanza Rodriguez Castañeda is undertaking her Master’s degree in Urban Development Planning at the University College of London. As a civil engineer, she has worked and led projects related to geomatics, geographical information systems, cadastre, and transport.

No Man is an Island

Ruochan Liu16 July 2021

Written by Ruochan Liu, Rachel Cobbinah, Di Hu, Celine Sola Gracia Lumban Gaol, Bayu Laksono Jati, Yuan Meng, Meerim Osmonalieva, Ricca Padyansari, Amich Kemala Damariyan, Nuzula Firda Sa’adhati, Xinran Zou

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

——John Donne, MEDITATION XVII

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624

“Us”

I was wearing several layers under my hoodie when we had our first group meeting. Two seasons later, the rest of us have finally caught up with Giligan’s everlasting summer and our outfits for Zoom finally look like we’ve got the same memo.

We begin this blogpost with this anecdote because upon reflection, this is perfectly symbolic of our experience as a group throughout this Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE). We set off on completely different pages, coming from a kaleidoscope of backgrounds with multiple understandings of disability research. Synchronization of workflow happens incrementally in much the same way as snowmelt precedes the budding green, and greenness is prologue to blossom. Effective communication and healthy dynamics within the group are hard-won fruits. Despite all the bad internet connections, lengthy video calls, long debates about every single detail of our methodology, we end up appreciating each other more than ever. We realized that this inseparable unit of like-minded researchers-to-be cannot function without the presence of every single member as part of the sum. For those of us from UCL, our lack of proficiency in Bahasa results in a heavy reliance on our UCA members as they make sure no data is lost in translation. For our UCA members, they are also gaining new experiences and knowledge on social rights, citizenship, inclusivity as well as empowerment, which help them as they interview our research participants. We become each other’s remedies, attending to our vulnerabilities, insecurities and frustrations through the whirlwinds of unexpectedness. We challenge each other on the falsity of our assumptions. We interrogate, together, each other’s takeaways from interviews. We scrutinize the language we’d use in interviews and discussions. We, as a team, have worked as a continent of pieces.

 

“Them”

Our research diary entries are an intriguing read as we approach the end of OPE. We as a team have reached the consensus that our anticipation of disability research as students of urban planning and social development are significantly overturned. Research processes are much more complicated and nuanced. Working with people involves getting knee-deep into their daily experiences and acknowledging that they are complex beings full of intentions, struggles, strength and hopes. It is about building foundations of trust and rapport with gestures of mutual respect. It is about learning and producing knowledge on equal grounds. It is a practice of patience and resilience. The time spent sitting in classes and reading journal articles are only meaningful after fighting tooth and nail to bite into the realities. We, as students, have to sail off from our islands of books. It is then we will see how it is only one part of the main, and our islands are connected to millions of heartbeats.

 

“We”

The words in bold have emerged out of our reflective discussions. We collated them before sitting down to write this post, and it is only now we notice how they can encapsulate almost everything our research participants have said in the course of OPE. Community engagement, active participation and inclusive public spaces will be hard-won fruits. It needs bold and assured experimentation of new ways of working, the understanding of vulnerabilities in the most diverse ways, and constant outreach to the unheard and unnoticed. There needs to be a genuine respect of people’s complicated realities. Anyone who is interested to work towards promoting inclusive planning for people with disabilities must be prepared to fight a long battle.

 

There is really no such a binary between “us” and “them”.

It is time to start working as “We”, for no man is an island entire of itself.

 

About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.

Chile will write its new Constitution building on a more diverse, plural and female ‘we’

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren24 May 2021

By Camila Cociña, Ignacia Ossul Vermehren and Lieta Vivaldi

 On Sunday 16th May 2021, Chileans elected the 155 citizens that will write the new Constitution. With the country voting in favour of a gender-balanced assembly, with indigenous and minority representation, we discuss what this latest development means for inclusion in Chile and the possibility for change and hope elsewhere.

Elisa Loncon, one of the nine Mapuche women elected for the Convention. Source: https://www.instagram.com/elisa.loncon/

How does a people collectively rewrite the trajectory of its own history? How does a people mobilise its differences to set up their own collective rules? How to write a “we” that has never been spelt out before? The people of Chile have started to recognise and build together their own “we”, one that is female, indigenous, working class, diverse, and is coming from places not usually in the spotlight.

What is happening in Chile?

The elections last weekend saw the latest development of a process of constitutional transformation that was triggered by the simmering social unrest that exploded in October 2019 across the country. As we discussed in a previous blog, in October 2020 Chileans voted in mass to overhaul the 1980’s Pinochet-era Constitution, determining that this new Constitution would be written by an assembly composed exclusively by elected citizens, half of whom would be women.[1] Following this popular mandate, the poll on the 15th-16th May 2021 elected the 155 members of this Constitutional Convention, which will function for the next 9 to 12 months with the exclusive task of writing the new constitution.

New mechanisms for inclusion

The election of the members of the Constitutional Convention is a crucial milestone in a unique transformative national process, which has relied on social mobilisations, territorial organisation, political negotiations and agreements, formal democratic processes, violent contestations, resistance to human rights violation, and thousands of organised actions that have strengthened a collective sense of self determination. During the last decade, several processes paved the road and created the political conditions to promote renewed mechanisms for institutional inclusion. These events included social mobilisations around specific social justice agendas – including feminist mobilisations – as well as an attempt of constitutional change led by the previous central government (2014-2018), which involved self-organised local assemblies, and a rich public debate about potential mechanisms for the writing of a democratic Constitution. These processes only intensified after the 2019 social outburst, with the emergence and raise of countless local political instances in urban and rural areas, including spaces of discussion and co-learning, and territorial and  feminist assemblies, which have’t been waned by the difficulties of the pandemic.

In a post-2019 scenario of political crisis, it became very difficult for the political class not to acknowledge the existing gap between the formal tools of political representation and the deeply democratic and diverse processes taking place across the territory. Then, the institutional arrangements for this Constitutional process agreed between November 2019 and March 2020, were pushed to incorporate several explicit inclusion mechanisms: The gender quota system, designed prior to the election, enshrined a historical agreement for gender parity of 50% both in the nomination of female candidates as in the elected ones; indigenous groups’ representation (7 Mapuche, 2 Aimara, 1 Rapa Nui, 1 Quechua, 1 Atacameño, 1 Diaguita, 1 Kawashkar, 1 Yagán and 1 Chango); and electoral mechanisms to allow independent actors outside political parties to be competitive in the election.

This is positive in at least three ways: First, it mirrors Chilean society more closely – women represent more than half of the population, and for the first time 10 indigenous groups in Chile are recognised and represented in a formal political process; second, it prevents the overrepresentation of white, upper class, heterosexual men that has been reproduced historically in other spaces of democratic decision-making; and third, it will allow the interests of women, indigenous groups and working class people – such as achieving recognition of specific rights that have been historically invisible – to have a better chance of being incorporated into the constitutional text.

Results: A more honest and plural ‘we’

Beyond the pre-established inclusion mechanisms – which had an indubitable effect in terms of the output – the results of May 16th presented a picture of Chilean society that no previous election had ever shown:

  • Gender: As said, the gender quota mechanism was established both in terms of number of candidates, as in terms of elected members – in other words, entry and output This double mechanism was key to encourage political parties to present competitive female candidates. In the National Congress election of 2017, for example, there were already mechanisms to include at least 40% of female candidates, but this only translated into 23% of female representatives elected (see the analysys from Arce-Riffo and Suárez-Cao). By contrast, in this 2021 election women candidates performed better than men, and the correction instruments to ensure parity of output benefited more men than women, with eleven cases in which women had to give their place to their male co-runners in order to ensure equal distribution of female and male. As a result the convention is now formed by 78 men and 77 women. .
  • Indigenous: Indigenous groups had 17 reserved seats, which constitutes an unprecedented mechanism of recognition in the country. The low turnout (22,81%) of indigenous people reflects that there is still a possible distrust in formal political processes and representation through institutional spaces. Among the elected (9 women and 8 men), there are emblematic traditional and spiritual authorities, such as the Machi (traditional healer) Francisca Linconao, who obtained the first majority of the Mapuche votes. Machi Linconao spent nine months in pretrial detention accused of terrorist activities in 2016, and was later acquitted of all the charges in a case that raised international concerns about the violation of human rights of Mapuche people by the Chilean state.

Distribution of seats in Constitutional Convention, after gender and D’Holt corrections. Original image by Macarena Segovia in CIPER, available here – https://www.ciperchile.cl/2021/05/17/convencion-constitucional-mecanismos-de-paridad-redujeron-a-29-la-brecha-de-representatividad-de-las-mujeres/.

 

  • Age: The new Constitution will be written by a relatively young assembly. The average age of the elected members is around 45 years old. Independent elected candidates are the youngest, with an average of 41, while the two traditional rightwing and centre-left coalition are the oldest with an average of 48 and 49 respectively.
  • LGBTIQ+: There are at least 6 (3,9%) self-identified LGBTIQ+ elected members. There were 38 LGBTIQ+ candidates, two of which were transgender candidates but weren’t elected.
  • Class and occupation: The social composition of the Convention is also significantly more diverse than traditional representational bodies. In Chile, as elsewhere, schools are a very clear proxy for class. While in the current Chilean Congress more than half (54%) of representatives come from paid private schools, from the 155 elected members; 49 come from public schools, 40 from publicly-subsidized private schools, and 43 from paid private schools – and most of them are not from traditional elite schools (see infographic here). Likewise, in terms of occupation, even if more than 60 of them are lawyers – as could be expected given the nature of the constitutional body – the second most common occupation is teachers (20) and the rest are distributed in 39 occupations that include activists, accountants, social leaders, environmental scientists, technicians, nurses, designers, journalists, housepersons, and so on.
  • Progressive and grassroots forces: Finally, one of the main surprises of the poll results was the support to transformative and emergent political forces. Conservative ruling parties, under the “Chile Vamos” coalition, got only 37 seats – less than a third of the convention, which would have allowed them to block initiatives within the Convention; this is an important loss compared to the previous performance of the current president’s coalition, even if they collected significantly more financial resources for their campaign; the traditional centre-left parties, “Unidad Constituyente”, got 25 seats; this is less than the 28 seats gained by the newly formed left coalition “Apruebo Dignidad”, which includes the Communist Party and the emerging force Frente Amplio; the rest of the seats are distributed among independent candidates, 27 of which ran for the “Lista del Pueblo”, which grouped activist mobilised during the 2019 social outburst outside the traditional political system. As the table below shows, progressive forces of Apruebo Dignidad, Lista del Pueblo, and the indigenous seats had a significantly larger representation of elected women, with 68%, 67% and 59% respectively.

Constitutional Convention, by coalitions and gender. Image based on information available here, by plataformacontexto.cl

 

Opportunity for a truly transformative institutional process

The plurality of protagonists of this process – which are best captured by the diversity of the 155 elected members – opens up the possibility of recognising claims, struggles, knowledges and ways of living that have been historically rendered invisible by dominant discourses and practices, in a highly unequal and centralised country. At last, we see how a country full of complexities and particularities can be represented in their difference and not only by a white, middle class, heterosexual elite, that for years has impossed an absolute and “universal” thruth leaving behind the rights of so many people.

The possibilities of this transformative institutional process fills many Chilean people with hope. Getting here has only been possible through the articulation of complex processes of social mobilisation with political action. It has required active efforts and mechanisms to give space to the life experiences of sectors that have been historically discriminated against and excluded from traditional political spaces. This moment has been shaped by a combination of formal mechanisms and the grounded efforts of the people of Chile to articulate claims and voices in new and democratic ways. In doing so, it recognises the composition of the country as it is, and as it wants to be. In a context in which sisters and brothers are fighting for their rights and freedoms from Colombia to Palestine to Myanmar and beyond, we see in this unique experience a hope; one that shows the possibility of a change mobilised by the radical construction of a plural ‘we’.

 

[1] Chile will be the first country in the world that writes a Constitution with gender parity. This is possible due to the gender parity system established in the nomination (same number of men and women as candidates), as well as in the election, to make sure that the elected positions are distributed evenly between men and women.

 

Camila (Univeristy College London), Ignacia (University College London) and Lieta (Universidad Alberto Hurtado) are academics from Chile working on women’s rights, feminist theory, poverty, planning and urban equality.

Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Sierra Leone and Indonesia

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren3 December 2020

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren (DPU), Nina Asterina (Kota Kita) and Hawanatu Bangura (SLURC)

Abu on the football pitch at Thompson Bay (Sierra Leone). Photo Credit: Angus Stewart

The 3rd of December is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. We reflect on this year’s theme “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World” through DPU’s research “AT2030: Community led solutions” in informal settlements Sierra Leone and Indonesia.

While we know that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, there is no global data specifically on informal settlements. After conducting the rATA WHO survey last year, we found that 26% of people surveyed across four informal settlements in Indonesia and Sierra Leone experienced at least ‘some difficulty’ in seeing, walking, hearing, remembering and/or communicating. One third lacked the assistive products they needed. Despite being a major issue, disability tends to be overlooked in urban and development research.


The impact of COVID-19 on disabled people in informal settlements

 Between April and August this year, we conducted a research on the impact of COVID-19 on older people and disabled residents in Sierra Leone and Indonesia. Distinct effects emerged, including loss of livelihoods, reduced educational opportunities, unequal access to government support, limited social life and poorer access to information. Moreover, COVID-19 recovery narratives emphasising the importance of ‘healthy bodies’ have exacerbated these difficulties and increased stigma towards disabled people (see video with stories from Indonesia here).

However, the research also highlighted how community-based organisations in the global South are stepping in to provide support, whether through life-saving resources, accessible information, new spaces for disabled people’s participation, or innovative collaborations in the city. As has been the case across the world, the pandemic has brought into focus the experiences of those more vulnerable members of the community.

Making disability visible in communities

 While research in informal settlements has tended to overlook or co-opt the voices of disabled people, making disability more ‘visible’ has its tensions. A first step that challenges rather than reinforces stigma has been to engage with the specific lived experiences and priorities of disabled residents.

 An important output of Phase 1 of the research has shown that the methods, implemented through grassroots organisations with a participatory approach in the communities, can facilitate an emerging collective and positive identity around ‘disability’. Many participants who did not initially want to refer to themselves as disabled, started to see disability as a more positive, political, group identity.  Providing spaces for disabled residents to participate in the wider decision-making process of low-income communities, can further foster solidarity between disabled and non-disabled members of the community.

The leadership of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) have themselves felt influenced in the way they approach disabled residents. As FEDURP’s country head said in a speech during last year’s Celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities: “We knew that disability was a big issue, but we hadn’t engaged with it, neither including disability in the discussion nor working with disabled residents specially. FEDURP is now committed to working with people with disabilities.”

Coming together to foster a political identity around disability

Mural Painting in Pelambuan (Indonesia). Photo credit: Kaki Kota

International Day of Persons with Disabilities has become an important event in giving visibility to disability in the two communities in Sierra Leone. This year, Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, FEDURP and Dr. Abdulaya Dumbaya (a disability activist and Head of the Springer Trust Fund) will be reflecting on how COVID has affected disabled people, discussing disability rights and sharing stories of resilience in the communities.

In Pelambuan, a low-income neighbourhood in Banjarmasin, Indonesia, the celebrations this year led by NGO Kota Kita will be marked with the painting of a mural on the theme of “Community participation towards an inclusive neighbourhood (kampung)”. The mural aims to translate community voices and aspirations — particularly those with disabilities — and build collective identity through an inclusive approach.

As a physically impaired male participant in Pelambuan said, “I am really happy to participate in this mural project. I like the idea of turning our aspirations into images on the wall. I hope this activity can inspire other neighbourhoods to strengthen their community participation.”

Through making disability more visible, and engaging with tensions that may arise, the research has been able to create space for disabled people to take a shaping role in the community. Recognizing days such as this is an important step in continuing to do so.

 

The action research project “AT2030 Community Led Solutions” is led by DPU’s Julian Walker as part Global Disability Innovation Hub’s programme and funded by UK Aid.

A historic victory for gender equality in Chile

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren2 November 2020

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, Lieta Vivaldi & Camila Cociña


On Sunday 25th October, Chileans voted to overhaul the Pinochet-era Constitution. The country also determined that this new Constitution will be written by an assembly composed exclusively by elected citizens, half of whom will be women. In doing so, Chile will become the first country in the world to write a Constitution with gender parity.

Manifestation in Santiago for International Women’s Day, 8th March 2020. Galería Cima has recorded from above all events in Plaza Dignidad since October 2019. Source: Galería Cima


The protests and the overall claim for Dignidad

On 18th October 2019, simmering social unrest in Chile exploded. Led by students in response to Metro ticket price rises by 30 pesos, protests spread across the country, exposing deep inequalities and systemic injustice. “No eran 30 pesos, eran 30 años” (“It wasn’t 30 pesos, it was 30 years”) became a mobilising slogan for protesters that claimed several demands to address multifold inequalities experienced by the majority of people.

The protests were framed, in broad terms, as a response to the failure of the neoliberal system. While economic and social policies have for decades led to successful macro level indicators, the model has deepened disparities in terms of distribution, political power and representation. The consequent human rights violations and police brutality that followed the protests, only deepened the sense of injustice. Issues of representation of ethnic groups and women in politics played a key role, as well as demands related to pension, health and environmental issues, summarised under the overall claim for Dignidad (Dignity). The demands for change were so fundamental, wide-reaching and varied, that less than a month after the beginning of the protests the political establishment agreed on setting up a route map to write a new Constitution through a democratic process. One year and one week later, the country was finally given the chance to vote on whether or not to write a new Constitution, and if so, who would be responsible for writing it.

 

A new Constitution to address entrenched social inequalities

The results were overwhelming. With a large turnout across the country, 77.6% voted in favour of a new Constitution. Crucially, 78.99% determined that it should be written entirely by elected citizens, half of whom will be women, rather than both citizens and members of parliament.

How and why did a mobilisation driven against inequalities find an answer in a claim for a constituent process? And what do the results and the nature of the body in charge of writing the new Constitution tell us about the fight for gender equality in Chile and Latin America?

When social mobilisations and violence exploded in October 2019, many figures from the establishment claimed that they ‘didn’t see this coming’; while the statement seems to project some humility, it is hard to comprehend it in a country where the depth of inequalities and the ‘social gap’ had been widely researched and socialised by organisations from diverse sectors, as encapsulated by the report “Desiguales” (“Unequals”) published by UNDP in 2017. Even more, mobilisations and unrest against injustices in different arenas had grown exponentially: while students’ mobilisations for public education trembled the political agenda in 2006 and 2011, the last decade witnessed the emergence of massive protests around gender and indigenous rights, environmental concerns, and pension issues.

Looking back, what all these mobilisations had in common was a call for what the 2019 mobilisation coined as ‘dignity’. From a social justice perspective, the distribution aspect of inequality was only one of the elements at stake: claims for representation and parity participation have been central to all of them. While some legal reforms were introduced in each of these sectors as response to citizens’ claims, the impasse for structural change seemed to be always the same: the burden of the Constitution written during the dictatorship in 1980, and its limitations to adapt to the claims of the majority while concentrating power in a few. Unsurprisingly, the demand for a new Constitution had been growing as a significant claim by civil society groups and new political forces (who in 2013 articulated the campaign #MarcaAC), and also by authorities that led President Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018) to launch a first attempt of re-writing a democratic Constitution through self-organised local assemblies (for an assessment of that process, see here).

But the demand wasn’t just for any new Constitution, or any constituent process. While significant in itself, the overwhelming triumph for writing a new Constitution is as telling as the nature of the politics of representation of the body that will write it up. This representation was determined in March 2020, when parliament voted for any citizen-based constitutional convention to be gender equal, following long-term demands for gender parity. In voting for a new Constitution written exclusively by elected citizens, Chile has voted to become the first country to enshrine the equal representation of women and men in the writing of its Constitution.[1]

Poster in Santiago’s street. It reads: ‘Against all violence: neoliberal, clasist, racist and patriarchal. We resist to live, we fight to transfor”. Source: Ignacia Ossul, December 2019.


The key role of feminist movement(s)

 Chile has historically been one of the most conservative countries in terms of gender rights in Latin America; abortion was only made legal in 2017, and only on three grounds. Yet, it was the first country in Latin America to establish a Department of Women’s Services in the 1990s which became the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality in 2016. During Michelle Bachelet governments (2006-2010; 2014-2018) many progressive gender bills were put forward, such as the newly passed abortion law.

Progress has not been limited to legislation. Many believe last year’s extended protests were made possible by feminist groups, who played a key role both in setting the agenda and in mobilising people on the street. The 2016 feminist protests of “Ni Una Menos (‘Not one [woman] less’), in which thousands of women in Chile and across Latin America marched to demand the end of gender violence, is also seen to have prepared the ground for last year’s mobilisations. In May 2018, the “Chilean feminist revolution” took place. It began in universities with demands for equal rights in higher education, to stop sexual assault and to incorporate feminist theories and authors to the syllabus. These demands expanded later to different social inequalities caused by patriarchy and neoliberalism that were an important precedent to feminist demands from October 2019 onwards.

Many of the most enduring, widely shared and internationally recognised images of the protests were based in feminist demonstartions, whether through the performances of Un violador en tu camino” (‘A Rapist in Your Path’) by art collective “Las Tesis” and the giant textile banner “Borda sus Ojos in which women from across the country embroidered an eye to denounce police brutality implicated in 359 recorded eye injuries. The banner was subsequently displayed this year in the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

During December 2019, thousands of women gathered in the national stadium in Santiago to perform “Un Violador en tu camino” (‘A Rapist in Your Path’) by Las Tesis. Source: “Las Tesis, Estadio Nacional” by pslachevsky under CC license.

The outcome of the plebiscite directly reflects the demands of feminist groups for more representation and parity in political participation in decision-making spaces. This victory has already set a precedent for representation and inclusion of other groups, which has been taken forward by a bill to include additional reserved seats for indigenous peoples in the writing of the Constitution, currently being debated in parliament.

The details of the referendum results, at this early stage, seem to manifest some of the intersectional claims for recognition and participation that had been raised over the last decade: first, the social gap and concentration of power of elites resistant to change was manifested by the fact that the option against the new Constitution only won in the three richest districts of Santiago,[2] which has led some to say that “No eran 30 pesos, eran 3 comunas” (“It wasn’t 30 pesos, it was 3 districts”); second, in a country where participation in elections had systematically decreased since the return of democracy in 1990, this plebicite witnessed an increase of turnout particularly in poor and segregated districts, such as La Pintana and Puente Alto in Santiago, with increased turnout from young urban groups, who were consistently seen as the most politically disaffected group; and finally, looking at the districts in which the support to the new Constitution was the highest (with triumphs of around 90%) they tend to be small towns or rural areas that had been at the eye of the storm of environmental conflicts over the last years, led by local communities against extractive companies. All in all, these results speak of a hope for change precisely from those groups that have been marginalised from the narratives of development and growth that have dominated the country, and women are not the exception.

Mapuche and Wiphala flags in manifestations, which took place every Friday in downtown Santiago. Source: Camila Cociña, December 2019.


The Constitution from a feminist perspective and how it could bring about change

In terms of gender equality, the opportunities in the Constitution for social change are immense, both in the recognition of women in decision-making spaces, as in the potential for a gender approach to the creation of the Constitution. Although the equal participation of women and men in the Constitutional convention alone does not guarantee feminist outcomes and the protection of women’s rights, particularly considering the wide diversity of age, class, ethnicity and political beliefs of the women involved, this remains a significant step towards improving gender representation in the country.

Before 2015, Chile had one of the lowest rates of female parliamentary participation in Latin America: 15.8% compared to the average of 27.8% in Latin America. It was only after the introduction of a new law on gender quotas for 40% of the candidates, that the percentage of elected women increased to 23%. This is still lower than the average in the region and far from Nordic countries, that have 42.5% of female representation in parliament.

To think a Constitution from a feminist perspective is much more than including an article establishing that men and women are equal before the law. Formal equality has proven to be completely insufficient in order to really guarantee women’s and sexual diversity rights.

On the one hand, feminist demands involve expanding rights that have been historically made invisible, such as domestic and reproductive labour, sexual and reproductive rights, and the prohibition of discrimination; additionally to incorporate gender perspective to rights that are already in the constitution, such as health care, education, and so on. On the other hand, a gender perspective implies questioning the politics of representation of diverse identities, knowledges and claims; then, writing a feminist Constitution means also to ensure a mechanism to distribute and negotiate power, ensuring that multiple and often marginalised identities are recognised in decision-making processes in the long term.

The constituent process is an opportunity to expand this approach to all government bodies: the equal representation of men and women in each state branch and institution is also crucial to ensure the inclusion of women and sexual dissidence in processes of decision making. Furthermore, Chile has subscribed and ratified international treaties with commitments to ensure several women’s rights, and the way in which the legal system includes them to then apply them by national courts, is also a matter of the constituent discussion. Last, the state should have specific obligations and duties in order to incorporate gender perspective in public policies, judicial decisions and national legislation.

Even if the outcome of the Constitution is unknown, the decision to vote for gender parity of those writing the Constitution is an enormous win for Chile, and a model for democratic politics of representation and parity participation around the world.

Graffiti in Santiago. It reads: ‘No fear / It was sadness, it was rage, it was us / New Constitution!’. Source: Camila Cociña, December 2019.

 

[1] Additional to these three districts (Las Condes, Lo Barnechea, Vitacura), there were another two small districts where the option against the new Constitution won (Antártica and Colchane, both of which are rural areas with military bases), making it to a total of 5 out of the 346 districts of the country. For a complete analysis of the territorial distribution of the results, see “Cartografías del apruebo: notas de trabajo”.

[2] Even if similar processes in other countries have ensured minimum quotas for women as candidates and elected representatives, this will be the first case in which the final composition of the body in charge of writing the new Constitution will be actually composed by 50% women. For more information, see “Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation”.

 

Ignacia (University College London), Lieta (U. de Chile and UAH) and Camila (University College London) are academics from Chile working on women’s rights, feminist theory, poverty, planning and urban equality.

Disability, inclusion and cities: can COVID-19 trigger change?

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren8 October 2020

COVID-19 has exacerbated the disadvantages experienced by people with disabilities in low-income communities of the global South. Here, the authors explain how urban community organisations are offering effective short-term support and inspiring inclusive longer-term strategies.  

DPU, Indonesia (Kota Kita)

Disabled people living in informal settlements have been not only affected by the general consequences of the pandemic, including decreasing support from carers, family and friends and difficulty accessing basic supplies, but also by the threat of increased stigma and exclusion.

However, some community organisations have mobilised: providing life-saving resources, accessible information, new spaces for participation and innovative collaborations. In doing so, they have also mapped strategies for inclusive urban development.

Taking a local look at disability

While we know that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, there is no global data specifically on informal settlements.

An indication of scale can perhaps be gleaned from the WHO Rapid Assistive Technology Assessment conducted in 2019 as part of our research project, Community-led solutions: Assistive Technologies in Informal Settlements, led by The Bartlett Developing Planning Unit and Global Disability Hub.

The assessment surveyed 4,000 people across four settlements in Banjarmasin, Indonesia and Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was carried out by our partners, Indonesian NGOs Kaki Kota, Kota Kita and the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC).

We found that 26% of people surveyed experienced at least ‘some difficulty’ in seeing, walking, hearing, remembering and/or communicating. One third lacked the assistive products they needed.

In April-August this year, the project expanded to include a response to COVID-19. Kaki Kota and FEDURP took the lead, providing support and conducting interviews with disabled people in informal settlements to understand the impact of the pandemic.

Disproportionate impacts

We found that disabled people often saw the impacts of COVID-19 as similar for disabled and non-disabled residents, such as loss of income and poorer access to basic supplies.

However, distinct effects on people with disabilities also emerged, including:

  • Loss of livelihoods: Many disabled people depend on begging or practice trades which are greatly affected by social distancing (for example, masseurs with visually impairments in Indonesia). Lower income decreases access to food and water.
  • Reduced educational opportunities: In Indonesia, parents of disabled children have found it difficult to adapt to online teaching, having to modify learning materials and cope without sign language support.
  • Unequal access to government support: In Sierra Leone, only recognised disabled groups received support, overlooking many residents of informal settlements. In Indonesia, the bureaucracy around government cash transfers has been a barrier for many disabled people.
  • Limited social life and capacity to organise: In Indonesia, social distancing has seen activities for disabled people cancelled; many cannot afford internet access to join online alternatives. Risk of infection has also limited the chances for disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to meet or provide in-person support.
  • Poor access to information: In Indonesia, signage about social distancing is not accessible for people with a visual impairment, causing even more difficulties for using public space.

COVID-19 response narratives emphasising the importance of ‘healthy bodies’ exacerbate these difficulties and increase stigma towards disabled people. Social distancing rules have limited offers of help from the public, such as support crossing the street.

Local leadership reaches the right people

Community-based support is vital in a pandemic, to manage information and resources and control the outbreak. However, we found that disabled people tend to have less contact with community leaders, lower levels of participation and limited use of communal spaces, meaning they are liable to miss out.

A targeted approach is needed, and community organisations are well-placed act: FEDURP and Kaki Kota delivered water, food parcels and face masks (transparent masks for sign language users) to people with disabilities in low-income communities.

Both organisations built accessible sanitation points and distributed coronavirus information in a range of formats; Kota Kita’s accessible support guide met the disabled community’s demand for better information on COVID-19


After COVID-19: inclusive urban development?

As urban development organisations – rather than disability specialists – FEDURP and Kaki Kota could situate action on disability within wider initiatives. This ensured that disabled people can access mainstream community resources, as well as raising awareness of their needs across sectors.

As locally embedded organisations, Kaki Kota and FEDURP could make quick decisions and corroborate community-level data. Kaki Kota shared georeferenced disability data with city authorities, enabling support to reach disabled people. They also formed a disability-focused consortium of community-led organisations and NGOs, supported by the Government of Banjarmasin.

The community-led responses discussed here show how local organisations can play a vital part in knowledge production about disability in informal settlements, not least by engaging with DPOs and disabled people directly as research collaborators. They also show how community organisations can scale up inclusive interventions by collaborating with other organisations and authorities.

There is a real opportunity for this thinking to transcend the current crisis and place disability at the centre of an inclusive approach to development, both for and with disabled people.

 

This blog post has been written with valuable inputs from Julian Walker (DPU-UCL), Hawanatu Bangura (SLURC), Yirah O’Conteh (FEDURP), Nina Asterina (Kota Kita) and Kesuma Anugerah Yanti (Kaki Kota).

 

This blog post was originally published on the IIED website on 1st October 2020.  The authors wish to acknowledge the support from the IIED team for this piece.

 

“AT2030 Community led solution” focuses on how disabled and older people in informal settlements in Banjarmasin (Indonesia) and Freetown (Sierra Leone) are able to achieve their aspirations, and the role that Assistive Technologies play in their strategies to do so. Julian Walker is the Principal Investigator. The project is part of AT2030 programme, funded by UK Aid and led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub.