New Years Empty Promises

The new trendy thing to do is not to make any New Years resolutions because well they never work and who wants to follow the crowd – go you’re own way my friend.

However, I personally believe it’s really useful to think of all the things you might want to do differently next year. (May I also just quote Amanda Bynes here and say: “New Year, same me – because I’m perfect”).

Here is my list:

  1. Continue to be confident
    A lot of people say that I am very confident, sometimes arrogant. I’ll take that. I’m confident because I work really hard and I know what I’m doing. I wouldn’t be confident performing a surgical operation or leading an exercise class but I am confident in my ability to be a social worker and campaign about FGM (no, my New Years resolution is not to stop talking about FGM). So yes I will continue to be confident because I am owning it right now. You should all continue to be confident too. Be bossy, be arrogant, be smart, be sexy because why the eff not???
  2. Continue to write a journal
    Because maybe, some day, someone would like to read about my struggles and pay me a lot of money for a book deal. Or maybe just because it stops me thinking about things over and over and enables me to get a good sleep.
  3. Continue to eat whatever I want
    I have honestly had a guts full of all the healthy eating, protein shaking, pancake making, fruit cleansing hype that fills my social media every day. Okay it might work for you, and maybe part of me is jealous of your motivation to get up at 5am go to spin class and make a quinoa cereal bar, but just chill out. Have a cheesecake, have a nap and chill out.
  4. Read
    Read every day. Read a new book every month, read the paper every morning, read the back of the tampon box when you’re on the loo, read the small print, read into things. Read.
  5. Stop sleeping with my phone under my pillow
    You’re not going to miss anything major and you might set your head on fire.
  6. Exercise?
    Undecided at this present moment.
  7. Continue to say what you feel
    Maybe try and be more tactful but yes continue to say whats on your mind. I do this because I like to clear any tension, not because I like to right people’s wrongs (maybe a little bit of that). And who wants to go their whole life just quietly whispering under their breath everything they wished they had said.
  8. Stop trying to do everything
    I have a tendency to take on every project I can and take on everyone’s problems until they become my problems. Stop it. I will continue to do all I can to raise awareness of FGM but also realise that you are not Malala Yousafzai but a 23 year old woman, who still lives at home and has a collection of china owls.
  9. Listen to a new band every month
    Sounds alternative and trendy right?
  10. Finish my masters and get a job
    Must resist temptation to do a PhD…..
  11. Move away
    The ambition is to move to New Zealand – watch this space.

Why I Don’t Want Kids

Mothers, your daughters don’t exist to give you grandchildren

Ever since I was young I’ve always had a sort of life plan in the back of my mind. Buy a house aged 23, get married aged 25 and have kids at 27. Not only was I completely deluded (who owns a house aged 23 nowadays??!?) but now I realise that I don’t actually want any of those things.

And also when I was 10/11 being aged 23 seemed really frigging grown up. I’m 23 right now, I’m a student, I still live at home and as I’m writing this I’m listening to Now That’s What I Call Christmas. Hardly an adult.

It’s true what they say – you spend your whole youth wishing you were older and your entire adult lives wishing you were younger. What a bloody nightmare.

Anyway, I have always gone back and forth about wanting to have kids. I love kids, they’re sublimely ignorant yet hilariously honest and brutal. I’m pretty good with kids as well, I think it’s because I don’t speak to them like they’re idiots, because they’re really not. I remember talking to a 3 year old and saying “wow you’re a big girl now” and she said “well not as fat as you”.

I also recently read an article that claimed that it costs over £230,000 to look after a child up until the age of 18. How bloody scary is that? And it doesn’t end at 18 does it? Myself, and a lot of my friends, are still a massive financial and emotional drain on our parents. It never really ends does it. My parents stopped taking me and my brother on holiday a few years ago. Not just because it was weird for a load of grown adults to share a small holiday apartment (bedroom with sofa bed), but because they now go on about 2-3 cruises every year by themselves. They’re both in their 50’s and only now are they doing what they want.

My mum always says that she wishes she did more with her degree and skills, but instead she had a family. That’s depressing. But maybe that was life then. You were expected to have a family and you couldn’t have a career at the same time. I think it’s changed slightly now, but women are still judged for putting their career first. I also think that it’s a social expectation on myself to have a child. More and more women are now having children later in life and out of wedlock, compared to just a few decades ago. But I still feel some sort of pressure. Like when I finish this masters am I supposed to get married and have a baby? Probably. Am I going to? Absolutely not.

The quote at the top is reference to the amount of times that I and many of my friends have been asked by mothers and grandmothers “When am I having grandchildren?”. That’s not why any of us are here.

I really do admire anyone who has a child, and you deserve a medal if you have more than one.

Maybe I’m really selfish and I’m masking my desire to not have children by blaming it on this patriarchal society in which we live, where a woman can either have a career or a child. But there are loads of people I know who are doing both, and really well.
But actually I just am really selfish. I want to move to New Zealand (permanently or temporarily), I want to do a PhD, I want to go to yoga everyday, I want to go on holiday 3 times a year, I want a nice house with white upholstery, I want my boobs to stay north, I NEVER want to stop drinking Merlot, I want to spontaneously go travelling, I want to see my friends (but maybe I won’t because they might all have kids), I want to take a crap in peace (according to Emma this doesn’t happen), I want to spend my well earned money on myself, I don’t want to stay in one place, I don’t want to spend every Sunday with grandparents, I don’t want to watch In the Night Garden, I don’t want to walk on eggshells in a supermarket in case one of them has a melt down, I just don’t want to be responsible for another person for the rest of my life.

Who knows in 10 or 20 years time I might change my mind. Also, I’m dedicating the rest of my working life to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children – and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I just don’t want any of my own.

Opinions welcome.

The ‘Other’

We must all resist the all too familiar and dangerous temptation to mark foreignness itself as fundamentally threatening.

(Honnig, 1999: 40)

I recently got involved in a heated debate at a social gathering about Female Genital Mutilation. Obviously.

Whenever I meet new people and tell them about my work on FGM they always seem fascinated and want to know more. Me, being me, is happy to divulge all manner of information about said topic and I personally jump at the change to say ‘clitoris’ and ‘labia’ over and over to men to watch them squirm.

Everyone knows that I completely oppose the practice of FGM (the total or partial removal of the female genitalia) as it is not only a fundamental human rights issue but is an abhorrent form of patriarchy. Or is it?

The crux of this debate was that “FGM is wrong”. Yes to many people, in fact the majority of people in the World (including the US, Europe, China and Japan), FGM is not normal our routine. In the West, ‘backward’ cultural traditions are conceived as needing to be steadily replaced by ‘rational’ ways of life (Walley, 1997: 420).  It was also suggested that we shouldn’t accept the ‘other’s’ cultural reasons as excuses, which I agree with. But I think that it is fundamentally important that we acknowledge those reasons.

It makes ‘us’ (the majority) say:
“OMG, WTF?” or “I can’t believe they do that to their own children!” or “That is barbaric and backwards”.

FGM was made illegal in the UK in 1985, and the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 also made it illegal to aid or take a girl child abroad to have them circumcised.

Genital alterations are only referred to as ‘mutilations’ or FGM in the US and Europe. Which conjures up the image of the ‘other’ being inadequate, deformed or damaged. It also emphasises that FGM is ‘associated with the nightmare of some brutal patriarchal male’ (Shweder, 2000: 220).

However, to practising communities FGM isn’t FGM, it’s a rite of passage and a necessary part of life. Most African women do not regard FGM as a human rights violation, nor do they even think of it in that way. The Sudan Demographic and Health Survey of 1989-1990 found that 90% (of the 3,805 women interviewed) were circumcised. And that 96% of them already have or would circumcise their daughters and over 90% of those circumcised women favoured the practice (Shweder, 2000: 217).

It is generally believed, amongst practising communities, that genital cutting improves women’s bodies, makes them more beautiful, more feminine, more civilised and more honorable.

Carla Obermeyer, a medical anthropologist at Harvard University, systematically reviewed over 80 pieces of literature on FGM, specifically those which highlight the detrimental health problems caused by the practice. She found that the widely publicised complications of genital cutting were the exception, not the rule. She also found that those articles which claimed that many women and girls had been killed by the surgeries, were not supported evidentially.

We have come a long way in the UK, since the 19th C, where it was in fact suggested that a woman had her clitoris removed to cure a number of mental health problems. And it is now fact that FGM can cause a number of health problems including pelvic infections, urinary tract infections and difficult labours and births.

“Instead of assuming that our own perceptions of beauty and disfigurement are universal and must be transcendental we might want to consider the possibility that there is a real and astonishing cultural divide around the world in moral, emotional and aesthetic reactions to female genital surgeries” (Shweder, 2000: 216).

FGM, genital cutting, genital alterations, genital surgeries, sunna, cutting are just a few of the terms used to name the practice all over the world.

FGM, in ‘our’ eyes is wrong, barbaric and child abuse. It is a practice that must be stopped, but at the same time those who practice FGM only do so because they deem it the right thing to do for their child. Women are ensuring the survival of their child and therefore their family by having their daughter’s cut.Without being cut a girl is deemed un-marriageable, dirty, uncivilised.

I am not stating that you can defend FGM because of these reasons, but instead of simply deploring the “other”, we might develop a better understanding of the subject by looking at the inside point of view, from the perspective of those African men and women “for whom such practices seem both normal and desirable” (Shweder, 2000: 216).

Honnig, B. (1999) ‘My Culture Made Me Do It’. In: Moller Okin, S (ed). Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women. Princeton University Press: Princeton.

Shweder, R.A. (2000) What about “Female Genital Mutilation”? And why Understanding Culture Matters in the First Place. Daedalus, 129, 4. 209-232

Walley, C. (1997) ‘Searching for “Voices”: Feminism, Anthropology, and the Global Debate over Female Genital Operations’. Cultural Anthropology, 12, 3, 405-438.

The Pyramid Assessment

One afternoon on placement, whilst listening to Frank Ocean – Pyramids, I came up with a new way of assessing support needs. I call it the Pyramid Assessment.

The usual way of creating a support plan involves a lengthy form where the worker asks the questions and the service user answers and then emphasises which areas of their life they believe they need support with; managing money, managing a tenancy, relationships etc.

However, I am currently working with a young woman who I believe responds better to visual stimulants. We see each other on a weekly basis and have a chat about her current situation. She is quite immature for her age and since working with her I have found that going through a long form and asking numerous questions discourages her from engaging with me. Saint-Jacques et al (2006) states that workers need ‘many different strategies for involving’ service users.

I quickly drew up this pyramid. With Step 1 at the bottom and building up to Step 6 (although this can be adapted to fit in as many steps as required).

Pyramid Assessment

Step 1 is intended to represent the foundation, without which the rest of the pyramid could not be built. Therefore, Step 1 should represent the support need that the service user feels is most important. After all the aim of support is to encourage individuals to make positive changes in their lives which effects their overall well-being.

To help the service user identify what Step 1 is, I used the support plan goals set out by Supporting People:
– Feeling Safe
– Contributing to the Safety and Well-being of others
– Managing Accommodation
– Managing Relationships
– Feeling Part of the Community
– Managing Money
– Engaging in Education and Learning
– Employment and/or Volunteering
– Physically Healthy
– Mentally Healthy
– Promoting a Healthy and Active Lifestyle.

These have been cut out into strips of paper, this way the service user can move them about the pyramid when discussing the aspects of each.

I have then created a number of statements under each title, which have been adapted to that service user’s particular situation. For example, under Managing Money the statements read:
I have access to my money
I do not have access to my money
I need help learning how to access my money
I know how to budget my money
I need help to learn how to budget my money

The service user can then pick which statement most applies to them, thus giving them an idea as to whether they need support in that area. They can then place the statement ‘Managing Money’ onto a section of the pyramid.

This continues for every relevant support need, baring in mind that not everyone needs support in every area. The service user can then move the support needs around the pyramid and decide which of the support needs is most important to ensure that the other support goals are met.

For example, a service user may decide that they need support with managing accommodation, managing money and engaging in learning. However, if that service user is currently living in temporary accommodation or is homeless and does not have a steady source of income it would be almost impossible to engage with a college course successfully.

I believe the Pyramid Assessment helps service users weigh-up their support needs and puts them into perspective. I believe this method of support planning / assessment is especially useful for younger service users or those with language barriers.

I will be implementing my Pyramid Assessment in my next support session in the hope that the service user can recognise that you need to start at the beginning to affect the end result.

Saint-Jacques, M.-C., Drapeau, S., Lessard, G. and Beaudion, A. (2006) ‘Parent Involvement Practices in Child Protection: A Matter of Know-How and Attitude’ Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23, 2, pp 196-215.

Using the Power and Control Wheel – Feminist Perspectives to Social Work Practice

“Do you believe you are experiencing domestic abuse?”, I ask an individual.
“No”, they reply.

Many domestic violence support workers will be familiar with this conversation as it occurs almost daily.

Sometimes you need to help individuals recognise that what they are experiencing is not acceptable behaviour and that they are not alone. I have found that women from BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities are particularly reluctant to accept that they are experiencing domestic abuse. Through interactions with BME women I have found that many believe that they must endure abuse (be it physical, financial, emotional or sexual) because they are women and that is their role as a wife.

Physical and sexual abuse are the most obvious forms of domestic violence, however some individuals find it difficult to recognise the more subtle forms, such as financial, emotional and social abuse. Using the Power and Control Wheel, developed by the National Centre on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Texas, practitioners can help women to understand the pattern of abusive behaviours and can then empower women to make changes in their lives.

Lena Dominelli talks about the importance of being able to recognise that service users are experts in their own lives and they possess the ability to make changes. She also talks about the importance of helping women to redefine the problem and being able to say “Yes” when asked if they believe they are experiencing domestic abuse.

I have found using the Power and Control Wheel extremely useful in practice. Its not about forcing women to accept that they are experiencing abuse, as this is a very difficult thing to accept. It is about empowerment and allowing women to be active agents in their lives.

Feminist social work seeks to promote the empowerment of clients and the realisation of their well-being

– Lena Dominelli

Dominelli, L. (1998) ‘Feminist Theory’. In Davies, M (ed) The Blackwell Companion to Social Work. Blackwell Publishers Ltd: Oxford.

Why do I need Feminism?

I have been getting really annoyed at this recent #meninist craze that is all over everywhere.

I saw a post the other day which said:

Feminism, the belief that both sexes may become equal by focusing solely on one.

Yeah. Heaven forbid women get a say in equality of the sexes. Anyway, feminism – to me and many others – is equality of the sexes, not female rights over male. Maybe the focus wouldn’t be solely on one sex if men hadn’t successfully oppressed females since the beginning of bloody time.

Shall I tell you why I need feminism?

Because people still ask what the victim was wearing in a rape case.

Because I like being able to vote.

Because I don’t want my vagina grabbed when I’m on a night out – actually happened.

Because I don’t want to be sexually assaulted at 8am on my commute to work  – actually happened.

Because my holes aren’t goals.

Because men should not be emasculated by doing ‘feminine’ jobs.

Because I want to be successful because I’m good at my job not because I’ve done ‘alright for a woman’

Because women are mutilating their vaginas for men.

Because 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted

Because men still earn more money than women.

Until I started my masters I never really thought about myself as a feminist – I thought it involved standing outside the houses of parliament with my boobs out and growing my armpit hair. I am proud to say I am a feminist and anyone who isn’t is openly admitting that they do not believe men and women are equal.

What is a ‘Good Death’?

I believe that a good or bad death is only defined by or affects those who are still alive. I believe that one can have a bad or good end of life (period of time just before death), but personally I believe that when you die you die and that is it. The way you died and whether it was anticipated or unanticipated only effects those you leave behind.

My Nan had a very prolonged end of life. She suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived in a residential home for several years. She died with a broken pelvis and fractured ribs, from a fall that went unnoticed. I believe she had a terrible end of life. She must have been in pain for a long time, however her death was a relief, not only for her but for us. Her death was ‘good’. She had a very fulfilled life, but her end of life experience was awful. Death is a means to an end. Whether you are in pain or suffering, death ends that suffering. I believe that death is often better than prolonged life. After all, who are we keeping people alive for? Their best interests or ours?

I believe that society has become obsessed with managing death; machines, professionals and drugs all contribute to prolonging death. The agenda has moved away from the person who is dying.

People are living longer, they have less quality of life and their values that once defined them have diminished. Society decides that people should live longer, if the medicine is available to prolong their life, but they don’t accept that death is a part of life.

We often talk about what song we want to be played at our funeral, where we want our ashes scattered or where we want to be buried. I don’t really care what happens to me when I die, for I will be dead. If those I leave behind find it easier to collectively mourn my existence in the form of a ceremony or memorial, than so be it because my death will only affect them.

Social Work begins where Community fails.