Tag Archives: women

Internet Activism can Change the World

Somebody once told me I could run the world with my laptop and an internet connection.

Most people use the internet for mundane things like social media, checking out movie times, bus times, reading “list” articles etc. People often think they couldn’t live without the internet or rather, social media. We have forgotten what we did before the world-wide-web became a staple in people’s lives.

People with chronic illnesses and disabilities see the internet as more than just a way to settle a debate between friends about which actress played a part in some film or to keep up with the Kardashians on their Instagram stories.

[pullquote]The internet has allowed those of us who have been trapped in our homes by physical illness and also for those of us with crippling social anxiety to remain a part of society. We can get involved, we can change the world with just a few clicks on the computer.[/pullquote]

This is where my path to activism started. The internet allowed me to learn from people across the world on how to change things for the better, it allowed me to get involved in social justice issues. I learned that I was far from alone in the way I lived. Trapped at home most of the time because of my illness. I am not reliable enough for a full-time job and set hours. If I could work from home, at my own pace without set hours, I’d be sorted. Those jobs are far and few between.

So, with no job, the inability to leave the house whenever I liked, the internet became my home and allowed me to fill my time and feel useful.

It’s been so long since I wrote my blog on why I am pro-choice. So there is a lot to fill you in on. I’ll try to be as brief as possible!

Repeal

So with a date announced to hold a referendum on whether Ireland should repeal the Eighth Amendment, I set up Disabled People Together for Yes. We called to remove the archaic law that prevented abortion except in cases where the pregnant person’s life is under ‘a real and substantial risk.’ It meant that you couldn’t have an abortion unless you were on death’s door. Even if you were a victim of rape, incest or the foetus had a fatal abnormality.

I traveled all over Ireland attending public meetings spreading the message of how people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the Eighth Amendment. I explained my own story of pregnancy with Ollie Pop and what would happen should my contraception fail.

bodily autonomy pic
Strike 4 Repeal protest Credit Siobhan Venables

I am very proud to say I was actively changing people’s minds. Total strangers approached me to tell me that they hadn’t considered how people with disabilities would be affected by the lack of abortion services. It made the complete exhaustion, excruciating pain and time away from my family totally worth it.

Right before referendum day, I flew to Manchester for REDS4VEDS day. That was the first time I had ever taken a plane alone in my 31 years and something I thought I’d never be able to do. Taking multiple buses and trains alone around Ireland prepared me for the journey.

The beauty of the internet was that in the eight months I was campaigning, I never took a day off and yet, I was making a difference. I scheduled my speeches carefully so that I wouldn’t spend any more than two days of the week traveling. When I got home, I crashed, in pain and emotionally drained. But, I still opened up the laptop to create content, share stories that were sent to me and arrange the next public outing.

My first speech was at the International Women’s Day March in Cork city.

My last speech was at the launch of Disabled Women Ireland.

I went on a few TV shows discussing the referendum, and um…let’s just say my face went a tad viral on Twitter:

The internet is forever
The Zebra Mom at the Pat Kenny Show

I did so many things in between like writing and filming my poem “Bring Compassion Home”. Looking back on it now, I was actually so busy. I don’t know how I did it. Compassion and fighting for something you genuinely care about really can give you energy and drive that you never knew you had.

Voting Day was May 25 and that night the exit polls showed we won by a landslide. On May 26, it was confirmed. Ireland voted yes to the 36th Amendment to the constitution. The 8th was gone and nobody would have to travel for abortion anymore. In reality, that wasn’t the case, of course, there were those who were not happy with the result and went to the High Courts to contest the result. Purely a delay tactic, in my opinion. Until these court cases are put to bed, our President can not sign off on removing our 8th Amendment.

The Government has now told us it will be January before legislation will be enacted. [pullquote]That means over 2,000 women will still have to travel or order pills online and take their lives into their hands.[/pullquote]

We had hoped that we would never have to march for this cause again but unfortunately, we will be marching on September 29th. I am delighted to say that I have been invited on to the stage to speak. Last year there were 30,000 people marching so it is nerve-wracking but I am also super excited for it all!

So, what else have I been up to?

Well, I spoke at Galway University at their disability law summer school which I was really nervous doing (and it was super obvious) but after a few minutes, I managed OK.

Now? I am actually running in next year’s local election for a seat on the county council!

The internet allows us to make real change
Social Democrats Candidate, Evie Nevin.

There is nobody in our Government that truly represents people with disabilities.[pullquote] We don’t have many women in Government nevermind any women with disabilities![/pullquote]

I’ve also started taking driving lessons with a great instructor who specialises in helping people with disabilities. This is a huge deal for me because I had a real fear of getting back on the road. But, I’ve taken the same approach with everything else this year and just, well, did it. I was most nervous about city driving so I started my lessons in the city. Go big or go home and all that jazz.

So it’s been a really hectic year so far and it all started with a new year’s resolution to not say no to opportunities because it was scary. Scary or not, it has been one of the best years of my life. I got to visit new places and meet the most amazing people including one of my favourite authors, Louise O’Neill.

The internet allows us to make connections and make friends
The Zebra Mom with author, Louise O’Neill.

I was offered so many additional opportunities. I know if I had said no to that initial speech on International Women’s Day, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today. There have been so many things before that I had the opportunity to do but fear stood in the way.

In addition to my own political campaign, I am now getting involved in helping the people of Northern Ireland get the same reproductive rights as we achieved. There is so much more I want to achieve and get involved in!

So moral of the story is that we can change the world within the confines of our homes and that when you say yes to things (despite it being really scary), wonderful, wonderful things can happen. There is nothing worse than wishing you had taken the chance on yourself. You just never know where it can lead you and what doors can open as a result.

What is your passion? Is there a cause you feel very strongly about? Let me know in the comments below!

Z.M

 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

Is gender bias affecting women’s medical treatment? The Zebra Mom investigates.

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So for awhile now I’ve been thinking about writing this piece as I’ve heard a lot of anecdotes about sexism and gender bias in medicine. I know myself that I’ve experienced some sexism in my time as a regular visitor to the GP and hospital.

The definition of bias: inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.

“When we talk about gender bias in medicine we usually either mean an unintended, but systematic neglect of either women or men, stereotyped preconceptions about the health, behavior, experiences, needs, wishes and so on, of men and women, or neglect of gender issues relevant to the topic of interest.”-Gender Bias in Medicine; Katarina Hamberg

I think the experience of sexism and gender bias that stands out to me the most, personally, is the time I went to my GP explaining I had zero libido, that it was borderline painful to have sex and that it was affecting my relationships.

The GP (who by the way was a woman) told me to just do itthat the more sex I had, the more I would want it.  Now I don’t know if I am off the mark here but I’m sure if a man went to his GP and told them that they had no libido or that it hurt to have sex that they wouldn’t be told to “just do it”.

Now, I’m not a doctor but I think I if I was, that I would at least do some blood work and if nothing showed up, refer the patient on to a Gynaecologist/Urologist for further investigation. Or you know, have a look down there to see if anything obvious stands out!

So, I wondered if there was solid, scientific evidence to suggest whether gender bias actually exists in the medical field. I have been told hundreds of stories over the years as a health journalist about women being fobbed off. Sadly, this treatment has cost women their lives.

I recently spoke at a conference in Manchester and while I was there I spoke to a GP who also suffers from hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. When I brought the subject up of whether women’s pain is taken as seriously as men’s; she responded: “Absolutely. It’s a feminist issue, for sure.”

Of course, we can’t go on anecdotal evidence. To prove something actually happens we must look at it from a scientific point of view. I contacted the amazing Gill Roddie (follow her on Snapchat: gemeroodles) to ask her for solid articles about this issue. Gill teaches Biology in third level and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to science. Her science snaps are definitely worth the watch, so do check her out.

Does the research show that women’s pain isn’t taken as seriously as men’s? Yes, it does.

gender bias in medicine

It’s a disturbing thought, but there is a plethora of mounting evidence to back up these anecdotes. Women’s pain is taken much less seriously by doctors than men’s, fact.

This gender bias has a number of serious implications; including that women in acute and chronic pain are left to suffer for longer in hospitals. Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental health problems because women are emotional” even when clinical results show their pain is very real.

Research has found that when women and men present in A&E with the same severity of abdominal pain, men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated, while the average wait for women is 65 minutes. Similarly, women are consistently prescribed less pain-relieving medication, even when controls for weight are applied.

One reason for this blatant display of sexism may be that doctors often perceive women are being more irrational or emotional than men, and therefore see their complaints about pain as being ‘all in their head’ rather than having a physical basis.

Clinical studies have also found that doctors are more likely to think women’s pain is caused by emotional issues rather than physical causes, even in the presence of clinical tests which show their pain is real. Researchers J.Crook and E.Tunks found in their study ‘Women With Pain’ that women with chronic pain conditions are more likely to be wrongly diagnosed with mental health conditions than men and often prescribed psychotropic drugs, as doctors regularly dismiss symptoms as being a part of a mental illness.

I myself can back this up, again with anecdotal evidence. When I first went to my GP about my symptoms of pain and fatigue, I was told that I was depressed. Another GP told me my chest pains were caused by stress. I told him I wasn’t stressed at all and he said “Oh, well it must be subconscious stress.” Again, no investigations, just a script for Lexapro. We now know that my pain and fatigue symptoms were a result of my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and the chest pain is either a subluxated rib or costrochronditis.

But this assumption also does no favours for the male population either. Men are seen as more rational and when they say they are feeling acute pain, doctors take their symptoms seriously as having physical cause rather than assuming an emotional basis. But what if it is emotional?

A 1990 study by Karen Calderone from Rhode Island University indicated that women are more likely to be given sedatives for pain, while men are given pain medication.

This indicates that women are perceived as being more ‘anxious’ than truly in pain.  This research suggests that doctors focus on returning women to a ‘calm and rational’ state rather than actually relieving their pain.

This means women are often left in severe pain for longer periods than men. Sedatives can make women appear calmer but all the while continuing to feel pain acutely. This means they stay in extreme discomfort for longer periods and this can lead to serious symptoms. Conditions may go unnoticed and undiagnosed through this type of medical treatment (or lack their of).

In Hamberg’s paper she noted that in a large variety of conditions, such as coronary artery disease, Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, neck pain, and knee joint arthrosis, men are investigated and treated more extensively than women with the same severity of symptoms.

Personally the most disturbing thing I’ve read during my research for this article is learning that the more attractive a health care professional found their patient, the less treatment they received. This confirms what most patients with invisible conditions say, that their pain isn’t taken as seriously because we appear healthy.

In the research paper ‘Beautiful Faces in Pain’ it was found that due to this “beautiful is healthy” stereotype, doctors assume people who look ‘better’ on the outside, are healthier and subsequently require less treatment. Since sexism and patriarchy is present when it comes to hierarchy in hospital settings, men are more than likely to have senior positions. They are responsible for decision making and since the majority of men are heterosexual, it seems quite possible that women’s pain is underestimated due to the perceived attractiveness by the males responsible for their treatment.

While I’m sure most health care professionals will say that they treat each patient with the same level of care, regardless of their gender, the facts and figures say differently.

You can not deny the solid, scientific facts that show that gender bias is very real in medicine.

Sexism is seen in A&E waiting rooms and hospital wards. Gender bias and sexism is present in almost every area of society, so why would medicine be any different?

Gender bias is literally physically hurting women as well as emotionally. Imagine if those chest pains I was suffering from was something more sinister? What if it was my heart giving me a warning sign? What if I ended up in cardiac arrest? I may be presenting you with hypothetical situations here but, for many women, this has happened and sadly, it has cost them their lives. Until gender bias and sexism is rectified in medicine, women will continue to face difficulty in accessing appropriate treatment.

Until next time,

Z.M

x