Happy International Women’s Day! While today is for celebrating marvellous women and their achievements, here in Ireland we still have a long way to go before women have equal dignity, autonomy, freedom and respect.
This list isn’t exhaustive. This series of posts details issues that I was able to brainstorm from my room in ten minutes on an A4 sheet of paper. There are undoubtedly far more things that I haven’t even considered.
But here’s what I’ve got.
1. Repeal the 8th Amendment
The 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution provides that:
“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
This means that without a referendum to change this, no Irish government can legislate for abortion in any case where the pregnant person’s life is not at risk. The chilling effect provided by the Eighth is probably why Savita Halappanavar is not here with us today. It means that if you die while pregnant, but it is possible for your body to be kept metabolising until the fetus is viable, your doctors must do so. Pregnant people who receive diagnoses of fatal fetal abnormalities are forced to travel to the UK for terminations. And to smuggle their wanted children home in the boots of their cars if they want to give them a burial.
It also means that any risk to a pregnant person’s health that doesn’t threaten to kill them is not grounds for a termination. No matter what that will do to their bodies.
Not all pregnant people are women. But most are. And the Eighth Amendment’s purpose is to control women’s bodies. It needs to go.
You can find out more about the campaign to change this hateful provision at Coalition to Repeal the Eighth.
2. Free, safe, legal abortion
Repealing the Eighth and legislating for hard cases like fatal fetal abnormalities and pregnancy caused by rape would be better than the situation today. It’s not enough. Legislating for specific cases will only continue the status quo: where politicians, not pregnant people, decide who does and does not have to give birth. Abortion needs to be decriminalised and treated as a medical matter. It should be chosen by pregnant people and carried out by their medical professionals. While the state should provide counselling and information to everyone who needs it, this must be an optional service.
Free, safe and legal abortion on demand and without apology. Women’s lives belong to us. The state must respect that.
The Abortion Rights Campaign are working to bring free, safe and legal abortion to Ireland.
3. Choice and Consent in Pregnancy and Birth
Are you tired of reading about the Eighth Amendment yet?
Until the Eighth is repealed, it is legally impossible for women’s rights to be prioritised when they are pregnant. Pregnant people don’t have the right to say no to unwanted medical interventions, as their fetus is legally their equal. It’s very difficult for pregnant people to exercise choices regarding how and where they give birth in this atmosphere.
AIMS Ireland, the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services, work both to support and educate pregnant people on their options, and to push for change that puts pregnant people and their welfare and autonomy first.
4. Decriminalise Sex Work
Not all sex workers are women. But most are, and the stigma around sex work falls disproportionately on women.
While sex work is not illegal in Ireland, many activities surrounding it are. This includes soliciting, kerb-crawling, organising sex work, living off sex workers’ earnings and brothel-keeping. While this might seem innocuous, these laws can be used to prevent, say, sex workers sharing work space to provide security for one another. Or be used to punish partners and dependents of sex workers.
Because of the stigma around sex work, sex workers also have to fear what would happen if their job is discovered. This doesn’t just lead to awkward social encounters- it also means that sex workers are far less likely to report violence against them to the Gardaí, in case they’re found out.
The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland is a collective of current and former sex workers and those who support them. They’re working to support sex workers, reduce the stigma surrounding their jobs, and bring about positive legal change.
5. End direct provision
When people seek asylum in Ireland, they are forced to live in direct provision until their claim is processed. In this system, accommodation and food are directly provided to people while they wait for a decision. In reality, this means that asylum seekers spend years living in institutions. They don’t have the right to cook their own meals or choose when to eat, to privacy and a room of their own, or even to invite visitors over. Multiple people are housed in one room. Asylum seekers don’t have the right to work, are subject to arbitrary house rules without any real recourse, and have to live on less than €20/week.
These is unacceptable for people of all genders. Women, however, face additional issues. Rates of sexual violence against asylum seeker women are horrifyingly high. And- of course- if asylum seeker women become pregnant as a result of rape, they don’t have the option either of terminating in Ireland or of leaving the country for abortions, as 12 women do every single day.
In addition to this, women bear the lion’s share of care and parenting work. Parenting in direct provision is extraordinarily difficult.
The Irish Refugee Council are campaigning to end direct provision. Once and for all.
6. Justice for Magdalenes
The last Magdalene laundry in Ireland closed less than twenty years ago, on September 25, 1996. The Magdalene laundries imprisoned and enslaved women and girls, forcing them to work without pay for years and subjecting them to constant physical and emotional abuse. Girls and women were sent to the laundries for having babies out of wedlock, for being too flirty or boisterous, for speaking out of turn or simply for being too pretty.
A limited compensation scheme does exist for Magdalene survivors- granting them a pathetic €20,000 for each year they spent being abused, imprisoned and forced to work all day, every day against their will, to a maximum of €100,000. And the religious orders involved have, to date, refused to pay their share of compensation.
This is not enough. And it definitely isn’t justice.
Justice for Magdelenes advocate for survivors of the laundries. And to remember those who did not survive.
7. Justice for Victims of Symphysiotomy
If you’re eating, you might want to finish up before reading any further. Symphysiotomy is a medical procedure carried out on people during labour if they get into difficulty delivering. It involves dividing the pelvis into two pieces. This can be carried out by cutting the joint between the two pubic bones, or by sawing through the bone itself.
It’s rarely carried out these days. Before the development of safe caesarian procedures (let’s hear it for anaesthesia, clean hands and antibiotics!), it was far more common as it was less likely to kill the pregnant person than slicing through their abdomen and fishing about for their uterus through their intestines. By the mid-20th century, though, it became incredibly rare in parts of the world with access to good medical services.
Except Ireland. You see, caesarian sections can limit the number of children a woman can safely have. Sawing through her pelvis (without her consent and with little to no anaesthetic) carries no such risk. A woman might be in constant pain for her entire life. She might be incontinent. Walking might be agonising. But she’ll be able to keep popping out babies for decades. Women’s pain wasn’t part of the Catholic church’s plan for Ireland. Fertility was.
Symphysiotomies were regularly carried out here until 1983.
“Patient consent was never sought: women were operated upon wide awake and often screaming: those who resisted were physically restrained.”
Nobody has been held to account for this. No inquiry has been held.
Survivors of Symphysiotomy Ireland are working for truth and justice for the victims of this procedure.
That’s all for today- but it’s not all from this topic. I’ll be back later this week with the next part of this series, where I’ll go into even more gendered injustices that women and girls are living with today in Ireland, and let you know who is working to end them.
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