On Tuesday February 21st, the Action on X alliance (of which the IFN is a member) held a public meeting in the Gresham Hotel, O'Connell Street entitled, 'Twenty Years After X: Where Are Our Rights?' Below is the text of a passionate and moving speech given on the night by journalist and reproductive rights activist Anthea McTeirnan.
Why must men always fight their battles for control on the bodies of women?
Why can’t women be trusted to make the right choices? Why shouldn’t women be trusted to make the right choices?
We are the experts. We make our choices with careful thought, with intelligent consideration. Sometimes with sadness, sometimes with relief - but always with responsibility.
Our bodies are just that. They are our bodies. It is not a cliché – it is a fact.
We have argued over women’s reproductive rights for so long. The putative womb of Irish women has been kicked around our courts and debating chambers as men in wigs have bickered over whether women in Ireland are fit or capable of making our own decisions.
We have not yet decided whether they are.
We have need of more experts, it seems.
This time the experts will look at implementing the X-Case judgment.
A woman is entitled to an abortion in this State if her life is threatened by her pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. This means that there must be clear medical and psychological criteria for allowing a woman to have an abortion.
And there must be a service provided. She must be able to have that abortion in Ireland. The European Court of Human Rights expects this matter sorted. Twenty years after the Supreme Court made their ruling In the X Case, the human rights of women in Ireland are still being violated.
No more pretending.
No more pretending that the 4,500 abortions that happen each year in England or Holland or Spain - or wherever - are not Irish abortions. They are. The sex was Irish sex, the money to pay for the termination is Irish money, the counselling – before and after – is Irish counselling.
A land of saints and scholars that spews its women like undesirables across the sea at a time of great individual challenge is not one to be proud of.
We now have the opportunity to make amends.
As we speak, men the world over are waging their wars over the bodies of women. The United States is dissolving into a chequerboard of pot luck, where unlucky women needing an abortion find themselves imprisoned in their home States in the land of the free. Women from Utah and Alabama and Indiana must turn to their sisters in New York to help them to travel and pay for a medical procedure with prohibitive restrictions in their home States.
Here in Ireland, we are used to men fighting their battles over our bodies. Yet our own situation has begun to look even more precarious. Across the Irish Sea conservatives like MP Nadine Dorries seek to erect barriers where none previously existed, adding layers of policing and control to the provision of terminations in Britain. This move failed, but we cannot be certain there won't be more attempts.
So we can continue to abandon Irish women to the whims of other jurisdictions or we can drag our post-colonial democracy kicking and screaming into a place where we no longer cede the vindication of the rights of half our population to another state.
We actually have the opportunity to develop a model of best practice. We have the chance to unhook ourselves from a colonial reliance on the land next door. We can do it better – we can have a system that supports the reproductive rights of women, a system that doesn’t seek to judge and moralise and restrict.
And it is not a far-fetched demand to make.
In England, progressive campaigners are demanding that the clause in the 1967 Abortion Act that “the opinion of two registered medical practitioners” must be sought to approve an abortion should be removed. We can provide a service in this country that is progressive, accessible and stripped of moral policing. We can move forward into a new millennium, where a woman seeking a termination is not “mad” or “bad”. There is no need to judge. The woman will decide, the woman must decide.
It is time to stop asking for small measures.
The recent Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 says 30 per cent of election candidates must be women by 2016. A strangely disproportionate choice given that 50 per cent of the population is female. In the words of one of our corporate saviours, providers of the Morning After Pill, Boots the chemist - “here come the girls”. We will increase our numbers in government, but it will mean nothing for our personal autonomy.
We have elected two fine women Presidents, heads of State who embodied the sovereignty of our nation, yet who, as women, never enjoyed sovereignty over their own bodies. An irony of presidential proportions.
Yes we can be presidents, yes we can take our 30 per cent allocation of places on the ballot paper. But as women we can never be equal in a State that embeds discrimination into its Constitution.
If we can afford the cost of a plane ticket and a termination in an English clinic, if we are strong enough during our chemo to walk up the steps of that Ryanair plane, if we can find someone to mind the kids, if we can get out of the country on our visa, if we can find out where, if we can find out how, we can get an abortion.
But that is too many ifs. If we need an abortion, if that is the choice we make, it is time for us to be able to do so here.
Reducing the women of this State to reproductive systems that need policing has to end.
Equality of opportunity will only come from equal rights and equal respect. The time has come for a mature democracy to take mature decisions. It is time to provide a service for medical terminations here.
Women are the expert group. Women can make the right choices. The time has come to trust us.
- Anthea McTeirnan - journalist and reproductive rights activist
Having lived in Ireland for over a year now, I should know better than to let anything Kevin Myers writes get to me. Yet I felt the need to speak out about Myers’ piece in Friday’s Irish Independent (‘What is Going On Amongst the Female Sex that so Many of its Members are Prepared to Undergo Cosmetic Surgery?’). In it, Myers uses scant anecdotal evidence to paint all women as looks-driven, celebrity-obsessed bimbos who take pleasure in mutilating our bodies to look beautiful.
There are several points that are grossly misinterpreted here. First of all, Myers attributes the behaviours of a handful of women to the entire female gender. He also takes the huge leap of equating highlighted hair and bikini waxes with excessive cosmetic surgery (dubbing the face-lift obsessed socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein a female role model made me spit out my coffee). Most egregiously though, Myers blames this pressure to look perennially youthful, slim, and sexually available squarely on ‘the feminist movement’.
While I wholeheartedly agree that the pressure on women to look perfect has resulted in distressing attitudes and behaviours, Myers’ charge that this was prompted by feminism is laughable. Women wouldn’t be getting boob jobs if society didn’t make us feel inadequate in the bodies we’re born with. The truth is that practically from birth, we are exposed to television, print, and Internet images that demonstrate how women should look, act, and dress. The media conglomerates that control this information are out to sell products, which they do by pigeonholing both genders, glorifying celebrities, and sowing self-doubt with the help of heavily Photoshopped images. Through all this exposure we are taught that a woman’s appearance is inseparable from her worth as a human being, regardless of what other accomplishments she has achieved. Those who don’t conform to the 21st century standard of female beauty (which is itself increasingly influenced by the mainstream porn industry) are made to feel worthless. Maybe the reason women like Brooke Shields and Melanie Griffth appear ‘so botoxed and collagened that they resembled the sewn-on faces of blow-up sex-dolls’ is because society’s attitude toward women over 40 is so derisive. Not so for Hollywood’s leading men.
The media fuels the fire by publishing re-touched photos and turning comments on a woman’s cellulite into ‘news’. Indeed one of Myers’ prime targets is the women’s magazine industry which is admittedly a primary arbiter of such content. But as someone who spent two years working at a pretty prominent fashion magazine, I can tell you that just because a woman is writing an article or editing a section doesn’t mean that she’s ultimately making the decisions on content. In my case that was left to my direct bosses, two men, whose own orders came from the CEO of the publishing company, a 60-something white male who let us all know in no uncertain terms what the magazine’s ‘message’ was to be. Any deviation would risk alienating advertisers and losing revenue. Therefore, Myers’ assertion that fashion magazines are ‘produced entirely by women’, and therefore we are the ones perpetuating beauty myths and eating disorders is false.
However, I’m determined to look on the bright side and be grateful that these issues are being discussed publicly; because identifying the problem is the only way we’re ever going to solve it. Happily, women’s representation in the media happens to be the very topic of the film ‘Miss Representation’, which the IFN is screening on February 22nd and March 11th. ‘Miss Representation’ articulates how media conglomerates, with the ultimate goal of making money, decide how women are represented in contemporary society. They get away with it by telling audiences that they are only providing what the public demands, thereby both guilting viewers into thinking that they are to blame, and creating the illusion that what they are seeing on TV is a reflection of reality.
It’s hard for women to win these days. If we don’t conform to society’s ideas about how we should present ourselves, we are overlooked and under-valued. The ones that do play the game are called bimbos. Try to look good and be successful at the same time and we’re accused of trying to have it all and then whining about it. Maybe, instead of pointing fingers like Kevin Myers we should concentrate on fixing the underlying problem. After all, at the heart of it, don’t we both agree that plastic surgery, eating disorders, and society’s obsession with dubious celebrity role models are a problem? Let’s change that then. As journalists, we can start by no longer picking women apart for their choices of clothing, hairstyles, and reading material, and stick to covering some actual news.
1 in 5 women over the age of 18 experience physical, emotional and sexual abuse in Ireland and in a national survey on domestic abuse, almost 60% of people who had experienced severe abuse in intimate relationships experienced the abuse for the first time under the age of 25.
Women’s Aid recently launched the second year of a national public awareness campaign highlighting dating violence. There is a myth in society that abuse only occurs in older and more established relationships. But we hear on our National Freephone Helpline that this is not the case.
In many 'going out' or 'dating' relationships, abuse is already a feature but is often not recognised as such by the young woman herself, or her friends.
The 2in2u campaign highlights unhealthy and abusive behaviours in a Relationship Health Check Quiz at www.2in2u.ie, in the hope that young women, if informed, might get help before the relationship becomes more established, and it has become harder to leave or get support.
It also encourages young women to listen to their instincts with its strap line - 'If it feels wrong, it probably is.' The campaign is supported by Charlene McKenna, Irish actress and star of RTE Drama ‘Raw’.
The 2in2u campaign highlights the way the controlling boyfriend's attention can often be overwhelming at the early stages of the relationship, and encapsulates how it feels to be a young woman experiencing abuse. Again and again, we hear from women living with domestic violence that the signs that her partner was possessive and controlling were from the start. But to her and those around her, it appeared like he was just so into her.
The 2in2u campaign is a four week long radio, online, digital and poster advertising campaign targeting young women aged 18-25 years old. To listen to the Radio ad and for more information visit www.womensaid.ie/campaigns. You can also request posters to be sent out to you from email@example.com.
Are you affected by dating abuse?
Dating abuse can happen to any woman at anytime and it means that your boyfriend does already/may try to:
How Women’s Aid can help
If you are anxious or worried about your relationship visit www.2in2u.ie, for a relationship health check and contact the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 to talk to someone in confidence, who can help you make sense of your situation.
Cross posted from Irish Examiner from Friday, February 10, 2012
The gender quotas bill is a chance to give women — over half the population — more than an abysmal 15% political representation, writes Clara Fischer
LAST week history, indeed herstory, was made: The Electoral (Political Funding) Bill 2011, or less formally, the gender quotas bill, was introduced in the Seanad. While this certainly is a seminal moment in arduous process toward gender equality in politics, it is just that, a moment.
Given the rampant ideology of post-patriarchy and its impact upon our Sex and the City-addled collective consciousness, we would do well to view this bill not as a satisfactory solution but as a vital step in the campaign toward gender parity in all political decision-making in Ireland.
By placing current events in this wider historical context of the struggle for women’s access to political power, it becomes apparent just how much is still left to do. Women have never made up more than 15% of TDs and currently fewer than 20% of representatives on local authorities are women. There are just two women members of the Cabinet, and women account for just over one third of all State board members.
In light of this dire situation and the democratic deficit it engenders, it is fair to ask whether the quotas bill will mitigate the status quo. The answer to the former question is a resounding yes and no: quotas will ensure that a minimum (30%) of women candidates are put on the ballot paper, lest political parties risk being sanctioned with cuts to their funding. What quotas will not guarantee, though, is the election of those candidates, or even the equitable treatment of candidates by their parties.
Women might be placed in constituencies where there is little or no hope of their success (so-called unwinnable seats). Parties may simply take the financial hit and ignore the candidacy quota.
These possibilities considered, is breaking the historical 15% threshold all we should hope for? Women make up over half of the population of Ireland, so why stop at this low level of political power sharing?
The Government’s plan of increasing the quota to 40% after seven years will go some way toward realising the maximally effective political reform we so desperately need.
Labour have expressed their openness toward setting a higher quota, while Fianna Fáil are reluctant to do so. On the other hand, Fianna Fáil wish to extend the legislation to apply to local elections. Both of these measures are needed to really get the most out of this decisive moment in Irish history.
Lamenting the slow progress for women’s suffrage in 1912, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, the famous Irish women’s activist, sardonically remarked that the 19th century would have made for an interesting study on "Female Patience".
Little did she know that the achievement of women’s right to vote would be followed by 94 years of women’s effective near-complete exclusion from political decision-making. If our policymakers are interested in significantly increasing the number of women representatives, they will use their power to make the gender quotas bill as effective as possible by bringing local elections under its remit and by increasing the quota. We cannot afford to let this moment pass without at least aiming at complete gender equality in Irish politics. Women’s patience has run out.
* Clara Fischer, a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network, holds a PhD in feminist and political theory.
CALL FOR PAPERS –
1912: Irish Women before the Revolution
Women’s History Association of Ireland -Annual Conference
25-26 May 2012
Mater Dei Institute of Education (a college of Dublin City University)
The WHAI invites proposals for the 2012 annual conference that will address aspects of women’s lives and activism in the years immediately before 1913. As has been noted the success of republican nationalism after 1916 has obscured the reality of the aspirations and experiences of constitutional nationalists in the early twentieth century. Yet for constitutional nationalists 1912 appeared to be the year in which expectations for a new Home Third Home Rule Bill would be realized either as individuals or in the context of their roles within family structures. Literature such as Paeseta’s, Before the Revolution, has focused on the identities of the male nationalist elite-in-waiting. This conference will provide an opportunity to explore the identities of Irish women who supported in various ways and hoped to benefit from the Home Rule solution to Ireland’s national question. Indeed, the Irish Women’s Franchise League turned to militancy in 1912 because of the refusal of Redmond to allow women to attend the National Convention in support of the Bill in April of that year. Suffrage women wanted votes for women to be included in the third Home Rule Bill. The period also saw a strong anti-suffrage lobby in Ireland, spearheaded by women, and the conference welcomes papers on this subject.
1912 was also, however, a year which saw perceived and real challenges to the success of the Home Rule campaign. While the militancy and demands of the IWFL, in the wider context of the mass WSPU demonstrations in England, was seen to have the potential to derail the Liberal/IPP alliance by forcing a general election on the issue of women’s suffrage, a more serious threat was emerging in the north of Ireland. 1912 saw the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant by which Ulster Unionists pledged to go to arms to resist the imposition of Home Rule; the UWUC signed a separate women’s covenant.
1912 was also the year of the establishment of the Labour Party and the role of women in labour activism prior to the 1913 strike deserves greater attention. For many Irish women, of course, the activist causes had little or no resonance or impact and in the spirit of a holistic investigation of female lives before the revolution papers are encouraged that address the ‘day-to-day’ concerns of Irish women, an area that has been hugely aided by the launch of the 1901 and 1911 Irish census online.
The conference themes might include, but are not limited to the following:
Cross posting this article written by Alison Spillane from TheJournal.ie.
Twenty years on from the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the X case it is both astonishing and disheartening that so little progress has been made.
Over the past two decades, successive governments have failed to legislate for the Supreme Court judgment which established the right of women to access abortion when their lives are at risk, including the risk of suicide. In so doing, they have withheld a constitutional right from women in Ireland.
In the interim, we have seen a working group, a Cabinet committee, an Oireachtas committee and two referenda (1992 and 2002) in which the Irish people reaffirmed the Supreme Court ruling by refusing to remove suicide as legitimate grounds for abortion. More recently, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in ABC v Ireland that the rights of Applicant C had been violated under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights due to the State’s failure to legislate for the existing constitutional right to abortion. The Court noted there was a “striking discordance” between the theoretical right to a lawful abortion in Ireland on grounds of a relevant risk to a woman’s life and the reality of its practical implementation.
In January this year, after much can-kicking, Minister for Health James Reilly appointed a 14-member expert group to consider the ECHR judgment of December 2010. The expert group is charged with examining the options available to the government on how to implement this ruling.
In one sense, the establishment of the expert group is a step in the right direction but it is also a delaying tactic allowing government to push this issue to the margins for as long as possible. The reality is that an expert group is not necessary – the legislation required for X is in fact relatively straightforward (although we must be careful the law is not too rigid); the element requiring the most work is the medical guidelines needed to accompany it which should provide long overdue clarity for medical professionals who have been forced to censor themselves due to the severe penalties they could receive under archaic legislation.
Do we really need to legislate for X?
Often when the X Case comes up in the public domain the argument thrown up by the pro-life lobby is that, as things stand, doctors will always act to save the life of a woman even if this means unintentionally terminating her pregnancy, thus there is no need for legislation in this regard.
In reality, things are far more complex than that. As demonstrated by the ABC case where Applicant C – a woman in remission from cancer – found she could not access clear medical advice about the threat to her life if she continued with the pregnancy, or the damage that may have been done to the foetus as a results of tests she had undergone as part of her cancer treatment. Doctors stayed silent, left in a very unclear situation themselves, and were unwilling to advise this woman because of the legal implications surrounding abortion provision. Due to the negative climate around abortion in Ireland doctors are fearful and often unsure whether they can assist a woman, for example, in the provision of post-abortion care – abortion remains a criminal offence under 1861 legislation, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
As a result of the failure to legislate for X, Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 are still in force meaning that women and medical professionals run a risk of serious criminal conviction. As the European Court of Human Rights observed, “The criminal provisions of the 1861 Act would constitute a significant chilling factor for both women and doctors in the medical consultation process, regardless of whether or not prosecutions have in fact been pursued under that Act”.
Why has the State not acted?
As part of its defence in the ABC case, the Irish government argued that restrictions on abortion in Ireland were based on “profound moral values deeply embedded in the fabric of society”. Recent opinion polls, however, beg to differ. The inaugural Irish Times/Behaviour & Attitudes Social Poll published in October 2007 found that 69% of women believe the government should legislate for abortion where the woman’s life is at risk. In 2010 a Marie Stopes/YouGov poll found that 87% of those questioned supported abortion where a pregnancy seriously endangers a woman’s life. It is clear that Irish attitudes to abortion have liberalised significantly over the past two decades.
Successive governments have displayed extreme political cowardice and conservatism in their refusal to introduce the relevant legislation. For the most part elected representatives have been afraid to touch the topic and in doing so they have greatly underestimated the electorate, as demonstrated by the opinion polls above. To be fair to backbench and opposition TDs, the pro-life lobby has traditionally been more visible and vocal on this issue (due in part to the rather staggering amount of resources it seems to have at its disposal) and elected representatives need to know that their constituents support them before they take a stand.
Unfortunately, this issue has for too long been monopolised by an extremely vocal and well-resourced minority who cry “Murder!” at the slightest mention of women’s reproductive rights. This approach stifles public debate and hinders reasonable discussion about a very complex topic. In advocating the right of women to access abortion when their lives are at risk, including the threat of suicide, I do not expect everyone to agree with me. But it is unjust for those who disagree to force that opinion on the rest of us, thereby preventing women from accessing life-saving treatment and doctors from providing proper and necessary care to patients. For twenty years this has been the status quo in Ireland, and the time to act is long overdue.
Alison Spillane is a political researcher and a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network.
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