Ireland is undergoing the next stage of a quiet revolution this winter. Since 2007 we, as a state, have remained in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights making Ireland the last country in the E.U. not to provide gender recognition legislation (GRL), and therefore equal rights, for its transgender (trans*) citizens. Now as the joint Oireachtas committee on Education and Social Protection mulls over the Draft Heads of the State’s GRL bill, and Amnesty begins compiling data for its special report on the human rights situation for trans* people in Ireland there is no sign of outcry or media storms; instead there is a slow steady inevitability about the proceedings. The task now for human rights activists, such as TENI, is to ensure this long overdue legislation, which currently includes clauses such as forced divorce, does not compel individuals, who have waited so long, to choose recognition at the cost of their dignity and families. The situation is clearly shameful but what does all of it mean in the context of development?
Development as a sector pursues the mainstreaming of gender into all best practice reforms and projects. The discourse surrounding gender responsive service delivery, gender budgeting and combatting gender based violence refers mainly to women’s rights and the consideration of women with regards to social hierarchy and the layers of oppression embedded within. The definition of women, however, remains limited while our visualisation of gender equality is restricted to the binary categories of men and women. As states begin to redefine gender and shape legislation to project gender equality in the broadest sense of complex identity, must this not be mainstreamed into overseas development projects and funding streams?
In 2012, as part of my research for my MA at Kimmage Development Studies Centre, I visited a group of activists working in Bangalore for gender and sexuality rights. They highlighted the challenges of funding restrictions and socio-cultural stigma which came, not only from local society, but from larger funders in Europe and North America. The intersectional nature of their work was not presented as an idealised harmony of grassroots organisations but a necessary bolstering of vulnerable groups. Dalit collectives, slum dweller groups, women’s rights organisations and LGBTQ activists recognised the oppression of the other as equal to their own. Activist culture in Bangalore was able to create a network of radicals across lines of caste, gender identity and, at times, across barriers of personal animosity or worse. Within this network a medical service was not deemed to be gender responsive which created access only for women, born with female bodies, living in socially and culturally sanctioned homes. The goal was much more revolutionary than that. Recognition and safety for sex workers, gender non-conforming individuals or families along with sexual health and pleasure rights for all individuals were considered to be the core of project planning and management.
The Irish state is currently being asked, yet again, to re-examine and redefine its conceptualisation of gender and gender equality. Clauses in the new legislation which break apart family units and require mental health evaluations before granting access to full human rights provided for under European law only serve to highlight the cultural and institutional violence enacted towards those whose identity cannot be contained by pre-approved notions of sex and gender in this country. Transgender people face numerous forms of discrimination and marginalisation across the globe and legal recognition is vital to those who are endlessly endangered and discredited in job interviews, airports, social welfare offices, hospitals or schools because their gender representation does not match their official documents. The Bangalore example illustrated to me how much deeper Irish development organisations must delve into the gender policing which occurs within our own society and legal structures, in order to better understand the roots of gender inequality in a global context.
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On Friday, Broadsheet.ie featured an opinion piece about abortion that was published in the Wexford People newspaper last week. While the article has received national attention and astute criticism from the Broadsheet readership, discussions of a woman’s right to choose in forums such as this are a case of preaching to the converted.
The Wexford People should be made aware that opinion pieces such as Walsh’s are not simply inflammatory and biased, but derogatory and potentially damaging to women.
Walsh believes that the availability of abortion ‘on demand’ could create a situation where “women could be free to have an abortion in all circumstances if they unexpectedly became pregnant. For example, a woman might be due to go on an exclusive foreign holiday but an unexpected pregnancy could interfere with her plan and how she might look on the beach. Or there could be an unexpected pregnancy in the run up to a family wedding, ruining the chances of fitting into a very expensive dress.”
IN THE PAST fortnight, two significant contributions to Irish political discourse were made.
One was a column appearing in the Irish Times by Dr Eddie Molloy about the importance of organisational culture. The other was the repeated claims about what, and indeed who, should and shouldn’t be targeted in the next Budget. Neither phenomena have been understood in connection with each other, which is rather unfortunate, given that they are intimately bound by the idea of homogeneity in decision-making and some people’s capacity to make possible harmful or detrimental decisions on behalf of others.
I am sure you've seen the Anti-Abortion billboards by Youth Defence. These billboards have caused broad range of discussion from advertising standards to free speech to misinformation and the ever divisive issue of abortion itself. And it's not the first campaign of its kind.
In March this year, we carried out a social media campaign analysis of the Youth Defence page, it had 30,178 likes, three months later it has 57,661 fans. (source)
This demonstrates to us that Youth Defence have the financial backing, social media know-how and are actively and aggressively campaigning for their Pro-Life/Anti-Choice beliefs.
The problem is that the pro-choice side is comparatively passive. And in Ireland it is those who shout the loudest who get heard. It's time to start being heard.
Below, are some examples of Youth Defence's behaviour and how you can help rally against it both on and offline.
In recent years, the State has made progress in protecting women and children from domestic violence through, for example, the establishment in 2007 of Cosc and the recent amendments by Minister Alan Shatter to the Domestic Violence Act 1996. However, much more needs to be done. By Alison Spillane of the Irish Feminist Network.
Following the Universal Periodic Review of Ireland’s human rights record in early October the Irish government accepted recommendations from five UN Member States in relation to domestic violence. These recommendations included a request by Switzerland that Ireland “submit rapidly its national report to the CEDAW committee that was due in 2007 and include a section on violence against women as requested by the committee”.
The Irish government also agreed to examine a further four recommendations including Austria’s suggestion that Ireland sign the Council of Europe Convention on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
This failure to meet international standards in tackling domestic violence was highlighted elsewhere this year when SAFE Ireland published its Domestic Violence Services Statistics for 2010 which showed that while over 7,000 individual women received support from Domestic Violence Support Services last year, on over 3,236 occasions services were unable to accommodate women and their children because the refuge was full or there was no refuge in their area. Ireland has just one third of the refuge capacity recommended by the Council of Europe. With budget cutbacks, essential new refuges are not opening and existing refuges are finding it more difficult to maintain their services.
As well as the above, government must also be aware of new developments around the issue of domestic violence such as the way in which technology – and particularly social media – can be manipulated to facilitate abuse. The increasing role played by technology was emphasised by Women’s Aid in June this year when the organisation published its Annual Statistics for 2010. The report found that social networking sites are being manipulated by abusers to intimidate victims. Women have disclosed abuse such as their mobile phone calls and texts being monitored and social media and technology being used to stalk and control them.
In Budget 2012 the government must, at a minimum, protect existing levels of funding to services for violence against women. As the National Women’s Council noted in its pre-budget submission, these services are historically under-funded as it stands – additional funding cuts introduced since the onset of the recession mean that the situation has reached crisis point. As the NWCI observes, “The consequences are that more and more women are not being accommodated in refuges or are on waiting lists for support services. Services have been forced to cut positions, programmes or hours of operation. Moreover, domestic violence frontline services have not been able to develop adequate initiatives to better respond to the needs of marginalised women such as migrant, refugee, asylum seeking, Traveller women and women with disabilities”.
In addition to protecting funding for existing specialist services, the government should also commit to meeting the standards set by the Council of Europe as regards refuge capacity and produce a detailed timeframe for the achievement of this goal. Further legal reform is also necessary in areas such as the eligibility criteria for applying for Safety Orders and the length of cohabitation requirement for Barring Orders. One in five women in Ireland experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime – government inaction on this issue cannot be tolerated.
This post originally appeared on the Women’s Aid 16 Days Blog as part of the One in Five 16 days of action campaign which aims to raise awareness of the reality of domestic violence and to push for positive change to increase women's safety. For more information see here: http://www.womensaid.ie/campaigns/
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