Human Rights are Animal Rights conference explores intersectionality

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

  • Courtesy.


Written by Peter Miller

Intersectionality is the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination. The Human Rights are Animal Rights conference in Guelph this past Saturday had discussions of intersectionality among issues of animal rights; queer rights; patriarchy; worker rights; indigenous rights; ableism; prisoner rights and state repression; and more. 

The keynote speech was presented by patrice jones, the cofounder of  VINE Sanctuary, an LGBTQ-run animal sanctuary that works from within an ecofeminist understanding of the intersection of oppressions.

For jones, oppression is, “all inextricably linked, and you can’t really understand any aspect of it unless you think about the connections and how it all fits together…. we can’t hope to solve any one problem without reference to the others, without kicking over the whole system.

jones argued that, speciesism is inextricably bound up with other forms of oppression, and encouraged people at the conference to think about intersectionality throughout the day.

The second panel of the day contributed to the compelling argument that speciesism is bound up with other forms of oppression.

Mary Fantaske, a Master’s student in Communication and Culture at Ryerson University, spoke about the links between ableism and speciesism.

Ableism is a form of bigotry that values non-disabled people over people with disabilities. Consequences of ableism include accessibility issues because of architecture, the forced sterilization of people with disabilities, and the assumption that if you are a person with a disability, then your quality of life must be poor.

For Fantaske, “ableism and speciesism are completely ingrained in the definition of how we define human being.”

The definition of a human being is socially constructed. Certain abilities are preferred over others, and people are socialized to see some humans as less than human. The definition of a human is ableist and speciesist. People, who are perceived to be less rational than others, are treated in discriminatory ways.

Fantaske argued that ableism and speciesism objectify both people with disabilities and animals. Animals become objects for human consumption when they are at the slaughterhouse, and people with disabilities can often be stared at.  When people are started at, they can often feel their personhood has been lost, because they are being looked at simply as an object.

The second speaker for the panel was mandy hiscocks, the volunteer coordinator at OPIRG Guelph, who got involved in animal rights activism through the punk scene in high school. she spent most of 2012 in jail serving time for having organized against the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto.

her discussion focused on the prison industrial complex in Canada.

“According to statistics, about 60 per cent of all prisoners in provincial jails in Ontario have yet to be convicted of anything,” hiscocks told the audience.

These prisoners tend to be people who could not afford to get bail. As a result, “people who are marginalized are more likely to end up in jail, not because they commit more crimes, whatever that even means, but simply because they cannot get bail.”

hiscocks added that people in jail often have a lot of trauma, and suffer from mental illness. They also get thrown in jail for survival crimes; for instance trying to survive from sex work or drug dealing. These survival crimes are inevitable in a capitalist system where there will always be a percentage of people unable to find work so people in power can keep wages down, and profits high.

The incarcerated are also forced to work for free once in jail.

“There’s a whole industry built around the prison system, and the cops, and the courts, and a lot of people make a lot of money off that.”

hiscocks also told the audience to counter the argument made by politicians that Canada has to get tough on crime. More people are in jail and more things are being criminalized when violent crimes in Canada are on the decline.

“The people that I was in jail with were people who shoplifted, people who are sex workers, people who breached their condition. Society isn’t safer because they are in jail.”

“People and animals are in cages for this colonialist, capitalist system,” hiscocks said.

her presentation also argued that we should not legitimize the prison system, by calling for jail sentences for people who abuse animals. This is because jails do not deter crime, are oppressive, and make no attempt at rehabilitating people.

“The cops and the courts are oppressive institutions…. that are meant to protect the wealthy, and property, and they criminalize marginalized people, and they criminalize people who fight alongside marginalized people.”

hiscocks emphasized the importance of restorative justice for people, instead of incarceration. her presentation ended by emphasizing the importance of solidarity work with people in prisons.

The final speaker for the panel was Lisa Kemmerer, an animal activist and philosophy of religions professor at Montana State University Billings. Lisa spoke about connections between speciesism and sexism.

Kemmerer spoke about the feminization and sexualization of animals, and the animalization of women. Sexists often call women animal names. Meanwhile, animals are objectified when they are turned into meat, while women are objectified and sexualized in society. Advertisements for animal products often show animals in sexualized or feminized ways to make them more appealing for potential consumers.

This article just briefly describes one of the panels that went on during the conference. The conference succeeded in demonstrating the importance of intersectionality and connecting different oppressions with speciesism. Activists working on different but connected social and environmental justice issues were given the opportunity to better their analysis and understanding of forms of oppression at the Human Rights is Animal Rights conference. 



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