This piece was originally published on the author’s own blog, Nothing Mentioned Nothing Gained.
My imaginary boyfriend and I have been going out on and off for as long as I can remember. In some ways it’s a perfect relationship. He’s always there when I need him, but he makes no demands of me. There’s no insecurity, given that he’s entirely made up. Unfortunately, the sex isn’t the best, although imaginary sex is generally not the worst either. Imaginary boyfriend exists in the background regardless of whether I have a boyfriend in the real world at the time or not, and all I really know about him is that he is invariably bigger, stronger and meaner than the person I’m describing him to. He is jealous, has anger management issues, and a possible violent streak. You’d think that if you had an imaginary boyfriend he should at least make you happy. But my imaginary boyfriend was born out of sheer necessity, and he’s the kind of man I would never go near in real life.
Recently a Russian lawmaker asked his Parliament to consider allowing women two days paid leave every month when they menstruate. The said Russian is quoted as saying “during their period of menstruation most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort.” He then went on to say that in some cases women are so discommoded they require an ambulance. This rather over egged the pudding and took from his argument somewhat, I thought.
Needless to say, any comments I saw in response to the Russian lawmaker were entirely dismissive of his suggestion, which was regarded as sexist and silly. I mean to say, women are not in any way put out by the arrival of the monthly bleed. Periods are a breeze. Ever since the invention of tampons, we can even go swimming and horse-riding while bleeding. And sure with a reasonable supply of Solpadeine or Nurofen, you don’t feel a thing. Right? I mean, admitting that periods often make you feel really crappy is letting the sisterhood down, right? That would be a sign of weakness, a sign that we are.... well less macho than the guys. Right?
Privilege is something I’m still learning about. I’ve done some research (do yours here: 'Male Privilege Checklist', 'White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack', and 'On privilege and what we can do about it') and I will do more. In the meantime, I wanted to share my recent experience of asking someone else to check their privilege. I was inspired by their response…
I was listening to a lecture on classism as part of a professional training course. The lecturer discussed how some systems we might expect to increase social mobility actually perpetuate social stratification. So far, so feminist.
The other theme covered was professional responsibility. As participants in these systems that perpetuate inequalities, it was our responsibility as professionals to be constantly reflecting on and critiquing them. How else would they evolve?
It’s one of the defining moments in Irish history. A tight-lipped, proud in defeat Padraic Pearse stands stiffly in front of an almost farcically relaxed General Lowe. It was Easter Monday 1916 and the leader of a disastrous uprising had surrendered unconditionally after just four days. It’s a good photograph but there is one thing very, very odd about it. There are three people but eight feet. Elizabeth O’Farrell was actively involved in the 1916 uprising and stood proudly by Padraic Pearse’s side as he delivered his surrender. However, the conservative media of the time didn’t think it was appropriate for a woman to be seen outside the home and erased her from the photograph, but left out – or left in – a tiny pair of details. Nurse O’Farrell’s disembodied feet remain in one of our best known historical photographs as a reminder of all our forgotten heroines.
This is the centenary of the year that gave us our trade unions. Led by James “Big Jim” Larkin, the workers organised and went on general strike for better pay and conditions. The employers then united and locked-out all of their unionised workers. The dispute went on for four months and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) is usually the only group to be credited for the events of 1913. But if behind every great man there is an even greater woman, it follows that behind every army, or union, of great men, there must be an army of greater women.
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.”
Emma Rogan wrote this article on her own blog here, and she can be found on twitter here.
If you travel by train or bus or walk through an Irish city, you’re likely to have seen the posters from the Women Hurt.ie website. The website claims to be “a project initiated by women who regret their abortions and wish to share their stories of hope and healing with women who find themselves in similar situations”.
My interest was spurred on by an online discussion so I took a look around the google-box and made a few connections. Here goes:
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
The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) celebrated its ten year anniversary this weekend. Over the past ten years the ICI has worked with migrants and their families providing legal support and advocating for change in Government policy and legislation. Many of the migrants coming to Ireland are women. With the feminization of migration, services such as the ICI have become increasingly aware that young migrant women are suffering from issues such as domestic violence and human trafficking, leaving them excluded and on the margins of society.
As a young Irish woman myself I did not think something as horrific as human trafficking was happening in my city before I worked with the Immigrant Council and saw the devastating effects this exploitative industry was having on young women, some as young as thirteen and fourteen. As an avid feminist, I believe that all forms of gender inequality and violence should be eradicated. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, an intolerable form of violence against women and a prime example of gender inequality at its worst.
So how does human trafficking happen? Traffickers who recruit women in the countries of origin are primarily people known to them - they recruit these women through deception, force and coercion praying on their vulnerability. People, especially young girls become susceptible to human trafficking for reasons such as extreme poverty, family dislocation, war and conflicts and childhood abuse. Traffickers exploit their situation of poverty, isolation and fear and bind them to their sickening business, pretending to be their friends and saviours.
Once in Ireland trafficked women are being handed over to Irish pimps, and end up in indoor prostitution to be sold to Irish clients – over and over again, for the profit of the agents. Women who are trafficked are subjected to horrendous violence, including rape and gang-rape. Violence is used to break their resistance and their willingness to escape. It is through violence that traffickers keep women under control.
The research report “Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland” published by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) in 2009 exposed the fact that Ireland has a substantial - and apparently resilient - sex industry that does not show signs of decline during the present economic crisis. The reason for this may be related to the fact that the sex industry has already spread to every corner of the country posing the danger to become accepted in people’s minds as a normal feature of everyday life, that it is an inevitable evil or the ‘oldest profession’ in the book.
Prices of the so called ‘escort’ services are high, and women are available to be ordered online or by mobile phone. They are for sale in hotels and privately rented apartments with the overwhelming majority of women in indoor prostitution being migrants, up to 97%. They could be ordered by forms outlining their physical and ethnic attributes and delivered to clients’ homes. Agencies often move women from town to town to create ‘variety’ for clients, while another, maybe more important reason is to keep migrant women disoriented and with a total lack of links to friends and communities.
One woman interviewed by the ICI research team described her experience of prostitution stating:
“I feel like nothing. I feel dirty. I feel confused and upset all the time. I want to get out of this work. I want a normal life. I am tired of all the lies… lies, lies, lies to everyone, to my family, my friends in Brazil. How could I go back? What would I say I had been doing? I do not want to lie but how can I tell the truth. I have lived inside this world, this universe and the normal world outside is lost to me. I feel I have no future”
That brings us to an important question, who are these men buying vulnerable women? There is not any special or separate clientele for trafficked people. Men who buy sex, buy everybody who is on offer - trafficked, not trafficked, women, boys and girls. They are well earning people, often in a relationship or married. The 2009 ICI report dispels another myth about prostitution, this time in relation to buyers. As opposed to being lonely or sexually inhibited, buyers actually tend to be successful professionals who watch porn excessively and have multiple sexual partners. These men are totally protected under the Irish law, at present. While women in prostitution could be convicted for brothel keeping, living off earnings from prostitution, men who buy sex indoors are not liable for any offence.
Those who say prostitution is a job would find it hard to justify the tremendous physical and emotional damage women in prostitution suffer. International research shows that mortality in prostitution is 10 times higher than that of the general female population. Other reports exploring the emotional trauma sustained by women in prostitution speak of post traumatic stress disorder that appears at the same rate as it appears among soldiers who have participated in combat. What’s more, women are living in constant fear from violence from procurers and buyers. We should never forget that 9 out of 10 women want to exit prostitution because they find it unbearable (Home Office, Paying the price, 2004).
In order to protect vulnerable women and to break away from our stereotypes in relation to prostitution, a group of Irish organisations and unions came together and launched a campaign called the Turn off the Red Light: End Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in Ireland, of which the Irish Feminist Network is an important campaign member. The campaigners recognise the practical advantages of the Nordic model of prostitution regulation that has a two-fold approach. Those who sell sex are decriminalised in recognition of their subordinate status and limited life-choice, while those who buy sex are penalised as a result of the unacceptable choice they have made when purchasing vulnerable people.
We would like to urge the legislators to act by amending the outdated law from 1993 that criminalises everybody but buyers in Ireland. A change in legislation would lead to a decrease of prostitution and sex trafficking as the sex industry would be dramatically reduced and criminal organisers would be less interested in operating on the territory of the State which has such laws. Most importantly, we would have the real potential to raise new generations of young people who believe that prostitution is incompatible with human dignity and gender equality. Presently, the Irish Minister for Justice has launched a consultation process on the criminalization of the buyers of sex in Ireland.
In celebrating the Immigrant Council’s tenth birthday we hope that you will support the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, together with the Irish Feminist Network we invite all supporters to mobilize and to follow the proposed actions on the campaign website and facebook page, so that we get our voice heard.
To support the Turn off the Red Light Campaign please visit our website www.turnofftheredlight.ie and share our Facebook page www.facebook.com/turnofftheredlight
We welcome submissions to the blog, subject to editorial review, please contact us if you're interested. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the IFN.