Today is International Women’s Day. It was first officially observed in 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland, as a strategy to promote equal rights for women.
At this time, one of the largest issues was the fight for the right to vote, a fight which many Irishwomen took part in, including the legendary Countess Constance Markievicz, who delivered this stellar advice to feminist activists in a speech she made in 1909: “Dress suitably in short skirts and sitting boots, leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver.”
So basically, there have been some very deadly and formidable women in the past, who have fought tooth and nail, grafted, and even sacrificed their lives to give all of us the level of equality we have now.
Ireland has a history of strong women who have been instrumental in affecting change, but on the other hand our history also consists of terrible treatment of women over decades. From symphysiotomies performed without consent, to the hundreds of vibrant lives wasted in Magdalene laundries, fairness towards women is something that frankly barely existed here until relatively recently. Our past is murky, of that there is no doubt.
Of course, a day for the celebration of women’s achievements is always welcome and I am not trying to downplay this in any way, but it should also be a day where every woman takes stock of what still needs to be done to achieve full equality. . Obviously, female friendship, solidarity and admiration are a huge part of IWD, but this needs to turn into tangible and real change.
It is very easy to tweet out a hashtag in support of International Women’s Day, but this has to transform into real action, otherwise there’s a risk of echo chamber syndrome.
According to the IFPA (Irish Family Planning Association), between 1980 and 2014, at least 163,514 individuals made the trip to a clinic in either Wales or England to terminate a pregnancy.
That’s over 4,800 people per year who had to travel to the UK to get a termination.
This is staggering, and doesn’t even begin to take into account those who travelled elsewhere. Don’t forget the people who didn’t have the money to travel and had to resort to dangerous home methods or go through with a pregnancy they were possibly not financially, mentally or physically prepared for.
Right now in Ireland, we have one of the most regressive abortion laws in the entirety of Europe. Abortion is only legal if there is an ‘imminent and substantial risk to a woman’s life including suicide, even then the individual needs to be vetted by a panel of doctors, which is no doubt a traumatic and scarring experience for them.
If you are pregnant due to rape or incest, or pregnant with a foetus that won’t survive outside the womb you are not allowed have an abortion in this country, and that is very far from equality in most people’s books.
This needs to change, and we all need to work together to achieve this. As a people, we need to demand a referendum on the 8th Amendment from our new government, and keep up the momentum around this issue. Ideally, it would be great if it was just totally removed, but we all know how difficult this would be.
It’s clear from the protests, Twibbons and opinion polls that the majority of people want to live in an Ireland where a person has control over their bodily autonomy, and their value as a human being isn’t reduced to being simply a vessel, with no agency to make their own decisions.
Ireland is a place full of beautiful, creative, intelligent and powerful women, and we deserve to have our choices respected.
Photo Credit: Renee Summer.
We will be hosting the second HerTalks in the coming weeks surrounding the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment, with details to be announced soon.
We have also been documenting some brilliant Women You Should Know to celebrate IWD here. #HerWYSK