Rebel Women of the Past

The summer term had just started when my 7-year old daughter came home from school lamenting the injustices of life.

“Mummy, we’re learning about explorers this term, but they’re all boys! I’m a girl, so I want to learn about girl explorers!”

Indeed. My daughter wasn’t content with reading about the likes of Christopher Columbus, James Cook and Sir Francis Drake, so I set about looking for notable women explorers of the past. And there are quite a few although history hasn’t afforded them nearly as much attention as their male counterparts. Continue reading

Second-Class Citizens

On 1 March, Channel 4 aired a special episode of Dispatches: Under Lock and Key, which gave a disturbing insight into how more than 2,500 people with learning disabilities across the UK are locked up in hospitals, forcibly restrained and plied with anti-psychotic drugs that render them catatonic.

Five years ago, following a series of inpatient deaths, the government promised an end to this practice, vowing to move people out of large institutions and into local, personalised community-based care, but this has not happened.

Channel 4’s programme focused on St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, a leading provider of specialist mental healthcare in the UK, where a technique called prone restraint – or face down restraint – is commonly used on patients, including children and adolescents with autism and learning disabilities.

Any treatment, it soon became apparent to anyone watching the programme, centres largely on controlling patients with challenging behaviour. As a result, many patients keep getting worse, not better and parents face an uphill battle to secure their children’s release into community-based care.


The fact that thousands of young people with learning disabilities are still being locked up and treated like prisoners is nothing short of criminal. A learning disability is not a mental illness, and an institution like St Andrew’s is not the right place for a person with a learning disability, as many experts in the field of learning disabilities will confirm.

As the Dispatches programme showed, those who were lucky enough to be discharged into community-based care generally saw their quality of life dramatically improved; no longer needing medication and, with the proper support, being capable of a more independent life.

But with the NHS facing near collapse, and with the introduction of damaging cuts to disability benefits, the future looks bleak, to say the least, for the thousands of people forcibly locked up, denied their fundamental rights and treated as second-class citizens because of their learning disability.


What is a learning disability?

“A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example, household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life. People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people.” (Source: Mencap)

All Lives Matter

I had a plan for my blog this week; I’d done the research and knew what I wanted to say. But when news of a terror attack in Stockholm, my hometown, reached me, my plan fell apart.

Last Friday afternoon, a man drove a truck down a popular shopping street and into a department store. Four people – including two Swedes, one Brit and a Belgian – died and 15 people were wounded in the attack.

Still enjoying my holiday in the Canary Islands when the attack took place, I was deeply shocked by the incident, and my first thought was to check that friends and family in Stockholm were safe.



In contrast, when a British man deliberately ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and outside the Houses of Parliament last month, also killing four people, my response was muted. Perhaps that’s because London is no stranger to terror attacks and remains almost perpetually on high alert.

At the time, I was sitting in a movie theatre in north-west London together with my daughter and her classmates, and Westminster seemed very far away. I was even a little annoyed when text messages started coming in from people asking if my family and I were ok. Although London has been my home for almost 18 years now, the subsequent attack in Stockholm felt much more personal.

Two days after the Stockholm attack, the BBC reported that more than forty people had died when bombs exploded outside two Christian churches in the Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria. As tragic as the deaths in Stockholm were, the attacks in Egypt prompted me to take another look at the almost daily terror that occur around the world, and this is what I discovered:

IMG_0058On 7 April, the day of the Stockholm terror attack, seven people were killed in Nigeria in an attack led by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

In Mogadishu, 15 Somalis lost their lives on 9 April in an attack orchestrated by Al-Shabaab, a jihadist group based in East Africa.

On 10 April, furthermore, as many as five terror attacks around the world took place, including Somalia where ten people lost their lives; South Sudan, where also ten deaths were reported; and in Iraq where an attack claimed by the Islamic State killed 12 people. And then there’s Syria, where men, women and children are killed daily, most recently in a government-led gas attack.


Yet, terror attacks in Europe receive vastly more media coverage and public attention than any attack, no matter how deadly, in other parts of the world. Because despite liberal Europeans’ pledge of allegiance to universal human rights and racial equality, the hard reality is that the colour of your skin still matters.

While I wouldn’t want to diminish the tragedy of the lives lost in London and Stockholm, it bears reminding that, ultimately, losing a child, parent or loved one in a violent attack is an unfathomable tragedy for anyone, whether Swedish, British, Somali, Egyptian or Iraqi. All lives matter.

Who’s the real Mrs Baron?

All the stress of last week fell away the moment we arrived in Tenerife on Sunday afternoon. Welcoming us here were our friends from London who’d already been soaking up the sun for a few days.

On Tuesday, we celebrated our youngest daughter’s 7th birthday, and the hotel staff had truly gone out of their way to make sure our daughter received a grand celebration with cake, decorations, and some extra surprises throughout the day.

For her birthday breakfast, our friends joined us, and we were a pretty loud crew of three grown-ups and five girls. As the cake was presented, one of the waitresses approached my friend, a British-born Indian whose daughters are a glorious blend of different heritages, just like my own.

“I hope you’re happy with the cake,” she said, apparently thinking she was speaking to Mrs Baron.

My friend suppressed a giggle but not wanting to embarrass the waitress, she nodded and smiled, adding a few pleasantries.

This wasn’t the first time she’d been mistaken for being my husband’s wife; the night before we’d left all the girls in the care of two local babysitters while we enjoyed an adult evening of food and wine at one of the hotel’s restaurants. Again, a waiter assumed my friend was Mrs Baron and looked rather embarrassed when he realised his mistake.

So why the confusion? And what’s the big deal?

My British husband is of mixed African and Indian Caribbean heritage, and I am white European. Implicitly, people assumed that the two people with darker skin were a couple, not me and my husband.


At first, we just laughed at the confusion and, slightly inebriated, joked about me being the mistress or the nanny, but then my friend said, “isn’t it a bit racist to assume that the two people with similar skin colour belong together?”

“I don’t know if it’s racist,” my husband answered, “but it’s definitely ignorant.”

It got me thinking; why is it that in 2017, ignorance and prejudice about mixed-heritage couples persist?

Even in London, one of the most diverse cities in the world, I sometimes notice people’s reaction when they realise my husband and I are a couple. Had he been white British, no one would have batted an eye lid, but because he’s black, we’re seen as anything but an ordinary couple. What they don’t realise, is that my husband and I are very similar in all but the colour of our skin.

Humanity has made huge advances in science and technology, and there’s now scientific evidence that the old racial divisions are socially constructed and not rooted in any real biological distinction.

Yet, prejudice and ignorance persist in every society. Albert Einstein once said, “It is harder to crack prejudice than an atom.” Having studied and worked in conflict resolution, I know just how difficult it is to break down the barriers of prejudice and intolerance. But we must keep working towards it.