Seminar on Equality and Rights – 50th Anniversary of the Historic March on Washington

Highlights of the seminar on Equality and RIghts run by the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equalities Council. MLK

The event started with Mr. Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary of Justice, his message was focused on Scotland becoming a better society because of increased ethnic diversity. His speech included pointed remarks against the Home Office’s “Go Home Campaign” and clearly expressed that immigration to Scotland is a good thing. He touched upon sectarianism and did refer to the “handicapped” which is no longer a preferred term. He also struggled on what positives immigrant brought to society. Involvement in health care from doctors to care assistants was mentioned. And Muslims can have a good night without alcohol and we Scots now eat chicken tikka masala? Unconvincing effort there.

There was a brief screening of a documentary I think it was “King: a Filmed Record” available here. Very moving news footage.

Kevin Lynch representing People First Scotland, a self advocacy organisation, gave a fantastic speech. He spoke about the segregation of disabled people starting with legislation passed in 1910 by the Home Secretary at the time Winston Churchill. This resulted in the “feeble minded” being locked away in asylums for life. This policy continued with sterilisation laws in 1934. After WWII asylums were called longstay hospitals, but little had changed and people lived in terrible conditions without rights such as the right to vote. In 1983, a group challenged this disenfranchisement and brought the case to judicial review which they won. However, improvements are still needed. Kevin mentioned that people with learning disabilities are 4 times more likely to die from preventable causes, more likely to suffer sexual abuse, and 88% have reported harassment in the last year. This is what People First are fighting against, Kevin ended with a moving declaration of what People First are advocating for a – “life like other people” with choice, access to justice, and relationships.

The Glasgow Gospel Choir performed three songs. Wade in the Water, Let nobody turn me Around, and Hallowed be thy name. A great performance.

Dr Hakeem Yusuf described equality as the “most difficult right” (McLachlin, 2007, O’Connell 2008) as it contains intuitive concepts of social justice and fairness and dignity. I would disagree with labelling equality as difficult. I think that equality is a simple concept to grasp and that it is very easy to tell when something is unequal. Perhaps it would be better to describe it as the most difficult right to achieve. He argued that Affirmative Action was the best way to achieve substantive equality.

Speaking about the inequalities faced by women was Ravinder Nijjer. She spoke about the suppression of women’s voices and the economic power imbalance between men and women. She then drew on quotes from the “Dignity of Women” an exhibition about what different faiths say about women. She included a lovely quote about human kind having two wings and not until both wings were equal could the bird fly.

Professor Geoff Palmer was clear, “the written word has an impact the spoken word does not have.” He shared personal stories highlighting this such as the Homecoming Campaign being focused on America and Canada. He started a letter writing campaign and now the Scottish Government is including people from all over the world. He spoke strongly about changing attitudes being more important that the law. “Written word is the most important thing that influences attitudes and changes minds”.

The table discussions were disappointingly cut very short.

We ended with a brief summary of Martin Luther King Jr’s life and his connection to Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Overall, a great seminar with some excellent speakers who have inspired me to continue working towards a equal future.

“I’m tired of…”

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