DR RADICA MAHASE
YESTERDAY, we celebrated International Women’s Day. March 8 every year is designated as International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s achievements, eliminate discrimination against women and to help women gain full and equal participation in global development.
This year the theme is I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights. According to the UN, this year, “The campaign demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, healthcare services that respond to their needs, and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life.”
While all of the above are noble aspirations that every country, including TT, should work towards, the reality is that many of these mean nothing to so many women who struggle on a daily basis to survive and to thrive in their own way.
This is especially seen with those women who are mothers and caregivers of children with special needs. The ones who don’t have high-paying jobs or big salaries; the ones who don’t have the highest education; who don’t have the extra support system or the money to afford the best of care for their children. Yet on a daily basis, in the face of much adversity they demonstrate a super strength that is both remarkable and admirable.
There are women like Patricia, single mother to Zion, an 18-year-old boy with autism. Zion has not been in school for a long time, so he’s home every day with his mother. He’s not exactly high-functioning, so there are numerous challenges on a daily basis.
For some time Patricia’s biggest support was her older son – he was amazing with Zion and helped take care of him. Last year he started having seizures, so now, in addition to taking care of a teenager with autism, Patricia is back and forth to the hospital to ensure her older son gets the medical care that he needs.
There are women like Summer, mother of eight-year-old Kai, diagnosed with autism and other developmental delays, with serious medical issues. Summer has spent the best part of the last few years seeking medical attention for her young son, travelling back and forth from Fullarton Village in Cedros to San Fernando General and Mt Hope hospitals. When Kai is hospitalised she stays with him sometimes for an entire week. As a single mother who has to stay home and take care of her son, she cannot work, so she depends on social welfare.
There are also women like Allison, mother to Maya (ten) and Matthew (11), both diagnosed with autism. Allison struggles to hold down a job as well as take care of two children with special needs. So many times when they do not have school they have to stay in her workplace with her. Her main support is her mother, but as the children get older it is more challenging for her mom to take care of them.
Women like Patricia, Summer and Allison and so many others, demonstrate super strength on a daily basis when it comes to taking care of their special needs children. In order to provide for their children on a daily basis they have to properly budget their limited finances, they have to be educators, therapists, counsellors and even doctors/ nurses to their children. They do amazing things with limited resources and they create opportunities for their children, though sheer will power.
Sadly, they are not the ones we hear about when we celebrate International Women’s Day. We believe that an "accomplished" woman is someone who has excelled in her career, some prominent individuals, etc, so these women take the limelight. And while they should be celebrated, we also need to focus on the ones who accomplish great things on a daily basis with limited support, and finances, out of the public eye.
Our celebrations should include these women also. We should consider what can be done to support and create opportunities for these super-strong women, those with children with special needs. We should find ways to ensure that the walks, march, seminars, breakfast meetings, and social media campaigns that we hold to celebrate International Women’s Day can actually help the women who most need help. Let’s think of women like Patricia, Summer and Allison as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2020!
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director, Support Autism T&T