Tag Archives: Salvita Halpannavar

My Citizens’ Assembly submission for #Repealthe8th

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Why it is essential to the concept of the Irish Republic that we repeal the 8th

 

It is 100 years since the Easter Rising. An Easter Rising in which women fought, and sacrificed their lives to, the ideal of a nation that ‘….guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally..’. Where the women of the nation have been concerned, however, the idea of civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities have been denied, and, through an unholy alliance of Church and State, betrayed.

It is essential that we no longer betray our forebears who sacrificed so much on our behalf. The suffragettes who risked life and limb, and who had the added burden of not just being revolutionaries on behalf of their fellow citizens, but on behalf of their fellow female citizens. Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Dr Kathleen Lynn, Rose McNamara and Elizabeth Farrell, Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell are names all but unknown now – yet the role that these brave women played in altering the course of Irish history needs to be honoured.

There needs to be reparation for the sins of the past, in particular the sins of the State in colluding with the Church to imprison and enslave generations of Irish women in the Magdalen Laundries. There needs to be reparation for the toxicity of a State that held the rights of its male citizens as paramount and sacrificed its women at their altar. There needs to be reparation for the lack of care given to the women who were unjustly denied abortions: Miss X. Savita Halappanavar. The endangered, unnamed migrant woman in 2014 denied an abortion by our courts. All the unnamed women who, for reasons of their own (which should be their citizens’ right to decide) have had to make the lonely trip to England. Oh the irony that their former colonial masters can provide the medical procedure that their own supposed Free State will not. What a bitter pill to swallow, on top of all the other bitter pills women have endured since the beginning of our nation once again. Same oppression, different master. In modern Ireland, the possession of the Y chromosome is paramount.

Towhit: either all of our citizens are free and autonomous, or none are. For anyone who considers themselves an Irish citizen, true to the values of the Proclamation, no matter one’s personal or religious beliefs, this is the crucial point to understand. To believe otherwise is to dishonor the very tenets upon which the Irish State was created. To believe otherwise is to betray those brave men and women who sacrificed their very lives on our behalves. To believe otherwise is but to ape the tactics of British rule, by which we were but second-class citizens in our own country. It is time to elevate women to first-class citizenship, whereby they have that most basic of human rights: complete bodily autonomy. Let’s finally do the right thing and be a shining example of transformation in the world. #Repealthe8th

The Awakening

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There was a great meme doing the rounds a few weeks, that showed how few women there are in the political landscape worldwide. The pictures depicted lone women sitting down in various governments and organisations, with the men around them taken out. The pictures were a stark reminder of how much work needs to be done before female equality is achieved, and also, whether we realise it or not, our lives are dictated by a one-gender world viewpoint.

Something strange and wonderful has been happening within the Irish community however, both worldwide and at home, over the last couple of weeks. People have been looking for the missing women. Ignited by the Abbey Theatre’s virtual exclusion of women in its centenary celebrations, the conversation started by Lian Bell and #WakingtheFeminists is having an open discussion at the Abbey today. I am cautiously optimistic about this. The first part in any process is dialogue, hence the optimism. The caution because, let’s face it, most women have been in this place before. I marched on the original Miss X marches in Dublin, and was reminded of this starkly when Savita Halappanavar died. Those of us who’ve emigrated and been away from Ireland always have this dichotomy when it comes to the motherland: we love its optimism, we hate the inertia towards meaningful change. And yet, quietly hopeful since the Yes Equality vote that maybe real change for women is possible.

There has also been the inevitable backlash from some quarters – fairly quiet, but inevitable. Regarding the Abbey, I’ve seen a few comments on social media along the lines of ‘Maybe women haven’t been submitting plays to the Abbey theatre and that’s why they haven’t been chosen’. Yes – well, maybe. But the way to dispel that train of thought is to get the figures on submissions from the Abbey Theatre itself. I’m fairly confident that is not the issue however, as the Abbey itself has acknowledged potential unconscious bias in its selection. Also, if that were the case, there would need to be questions asked as to (a) why was this lack not identified  and (b) what are the impediments to women writing and the solutions i.e. a room of one’s own, childcare etc. We also have to recognise that opinions and preferences are formed, by and large, by our life experiences; and no one person’s, or group of people’s opinion is infallible. We only have to look at the history of the Abbey Theatre (as an example – the theatre is far from the only institution to reject great works) to see that is the case: the rejection of ‘The Silver Tassie’ by O’Casey, several early works by John B Keane, and also of the modern Synge himself, Martin McDonagh.

Women are hamstrung in the world of film, theatre and TV, more than our male counterparts. That’s a worldwide issue, not just an Irish one. And it happens to women across the spectrum. Reese Witherspoon made a valid point when she joked to Amy Schumer this week that she, at age 39, would probably now only be able (in the prevailing patriarchal ‘wisdom’ of Hollywood) to play Schumer’s grandmother, and Schumer would have to play her own mother in a biopic of Schumer’s life. Ageism and sexism mainly has an adverse effect on women, to the detriment of fulsome storytelling in society. In a way, when we look at the gender bias in parliaments and board rooms worldwide, this is not surprising. In Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament, women make up 20.5% of the total TDs (MPs). That’s an increase last year, by the way, and was seen as a ‘record high’. In a patriarchal society, the dominance of the stories of one gender takes precedence over the other, and that is down to a number of factors – social status, economic status, power prerogative – which all have their roots in inequality. One of the more imaginative campaigns that is challenging that narrative is that of my namesake, Gráinne Maguire, who has taken to live-tweeting the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, her menstrual cycle. A light-hearted approach to a serious issue, she makes an important point: Irish women are such second-class citizens in our own country that our bodies are not our own and our voices and stories go unheard.

Maybe it is the case that women have to be more vociferous in the telling of our stories. There are economic factors that sometimes mitigate against that however, one of the biggest being economic. When you are living a life, trying to put food on the table, be you married or single, it is made more challenging by the fact that women work the best part of two months of the year for free. As Laura Luchador tweeted to @EverydaySexism this week: “If I had a pound for everytime I was told I didn’t need feminism I’d have 85p each time”. There’s childcare. There’s trying to operate in a man’s world with female biology. As Oona King recounted, she was expected to do her job despite suffering monthly with endometriosis, to the extent of collapsing on the House of Commons floor and being stretchered out on an ambulance. I sometimes wonder whether there would be a sea-change in Irish men’s opinions on female equality in Irish society if they sat down with their mothers and had a frank discussion about the challenges in her life: maybe the men who sexually harassed her, even in casual instances of everyday sexism; the expectations placed on sexual self-restraint and the real consequences in the era of the Magdalen laundries should she fall short of that; the fact that she could not legally buy contraception and had to give up her job up till the 1970s if she married. Maybe we could start an #AsktheMammy campaign. I’m sure it would be an eye-opener for some men into the world of women.

And here’s the crux of this issue: women are usually well-versed in the ways of men, because we live in a world dominated by their systems and stories, whereas the reverse is rarely true. So this latest chapter in the history of the Abbey Theatre is of paramount importance not only on an artistic level, but on a national, and potentially, because of the history of great writers in the English language our country has produced, on an international level also. To be fair to a lot of men out there, they are keen to know more. I’ve been inspired and grateful for their support and interest and their stories of the great women who’ve inspired and helped them in their lives and careers. To be fair to the Abbey, they are engaging and hosting this discussion today and that is a very positive  step in the right direction. But with a mere 10% of the female experience originally proposed for such a seminal centenary by the theatre that had as one of its founders the playwright Lady Gregory – well, there’s a lot of discussion and constructive action to be had. I’m looking forward to it.

#WakingtheFeminists #WakingtheNation