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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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.
OPINION : The response to the Savita case tells us women’s lives don’t merit speedy action
Five weeks have passed since Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death in an Irish hospital. While much has been written on the circumstances, not much has been said about the messages conveyed by the story to the women of Ireland, and the further contextualisation of those messages in the wider debate on women’s reproductive rights.
The last five weeks have witnessed not, as should be expected in a civilised country, decisive action to protect women’s lives, but a continuation of the shameful 20-year tradition of political inaction that has prevailed in Ireland at least since the X case.
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.
On 19th May 2012, the Irish Feminist Network held its first ever conference. The rationale behind the conference consisted of the need to document the current resurgence in feminist activism in Ireland, while also situating this resurgence within the wider context of the history and potential future of Irish feminist movements. The conference was themed “Feminist Activism in Ireland: Past, Present and Future.” In order to do this broad topic justice, we structured the conference in terms of successive feminist ‘waves’ in Ireland, and were fortunate to have an amazing line-up of speakers. There were panels on the first, second and third waves of feminist activism, and keynote addresses by prominent politician, Mary Lou McDonald, and women’s migrant rights activist, Salome Mbugua from AkiDwA.
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
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