Meet: Marilyn

In this post Helen talks to Marilyn to find out a bit more about her as well as York Human Rights City Network. Marilyn is a member of the Forum Steering Group and brings so much energy and drive to the Forum—her passion is one of the key reasons we’ve come so far. We think everybody should have a Marilyn in their lives!

Hi Marilyn, as one of the members of the Steering Group, can you tell us why you joined?

A headshot of Marilyn smiling at the camera

I am part of the York Human Rights City Network who have supported the formation of York Disability Rights Forum, so in part I was involved because of that. But also, I have friends and family who are disabled and have been a social worker and social work lecturer. These experiences mean I am passionate about dismantling barriers – both physical and attitudinal – and making an inclusive society that means we all benefit.

Interesting, could you tell us a bit more about the York Human Rights City Network?

York: Human Rights City logo

York Human Rights City Network (YHRCN) is a civil society network and meetings of its Steering Group are also attended by reps from statutory services. It started from a small group of like-minded people getting together to think about how to make more use of human rights thinking and frameworks in a local context such as the city of York. 

A few years later, as the movement grew and as a grassroots survey identified 5 key human rights for York (decent standard of living, education, health & social care; housing; equality and non-discrimination), York was declared the UK’s first Human Rights City by the Lord Mayor in April 2017 – you can see the declaration itself on the website, well worth a look.

It’s not that any of us thought that York excelled at respecting human rights but, crucially, we thought it was an important aspiration for a city to have. I’ve been involved pretty much since the beginning. As well as trying to raise awareness and understanding of human rights in the city in various ways and encourage the voices of residents not often enough heard, the Network also produces an Annual Indicator Report with the aim of identifying where the gaps are and where progress is being made – or not!

Following the Declaration, the city established a Human Rights & Equalities Board whose remit is to develop work streams to address some of the issues raised by YHRCN in their Annual Report.

I understand that your parents were disabled…

Yes, my mum was hearing impaired from childhood, a condition that worsened as she got older. All her life, she had to cope with people in effect assuming she ‘selectively’ heard what was said to her, something that not only caused frustration but also knocked her confidence. 

At the age of 60 she had a brain haemorrhage which left her having to learn to read and write again, though not to her previous standards which caused frustration. She also developed tinnitus, an awful and little understood condition, that could really pull her down at times.   

My Dad was diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and glaucoma in his 50s. As he got older, both conditions caused him significant challenges. In his later years, he was almost completely blind and used mobility aids, and faced all the frustrations that come with trying to access inadequate and ill-informed services.

Mind you, both my parents were pretty determined people: great role models for me.

Can you tell me a little about being a social worker and how that has shaped your views and thinking about disability? 

When I became a social worker in the early 1970s, there was a lot of support for social action and improved social justice. It was an exciting time and I wanted to be involved in changing the world! I felt passionate then, and still do, about inequalities and discrimination in our society and about the ways in which our lives can be affected by that sector of society into which we are born or grow up. And I’ve always been aware of how this can come from a combination of things – for example, if you’re disabled, Black, gay, female and working class then it’s more than a double whammy! 

Making the people who are disadvantaged out to be the problem never rang true for me. And my years as a front line social worker and then as a social work academic reinforced that understanding. My aim in my work with people was always been to help them see what had contributed to their situation (as well as helping them with pressing immediate needs of course), not to ‘excuse’ that but to try and turn the kaleidoscope of their understanding so that they didn’t buy in to seeing themselves as to ‘blame’ and instead get back some energy to survive and thrive better.

If you could make one change to the world, what would it be?

Only one?? To really, truly respect all people’s human rights – and to stop trashing our planet!

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