Monday, 14 October 2013

Abortion Support Network

The Abortion Support Network (ASN) is a volunteer led charity that provides financial support, non-judgemental advice and accommodation to people who need to travel to the UK for an abortion from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Last week they helped their thousandth client. 

There are many reasons why women travel for abortion. ASN's first client was a woman with a young son who had just escaped an abusive relationship when she found she was pregnant by her abuser. The law as it stands in the Republic of Ireland would be happier to see this woman tied to her abuser for the rest of her life or to sweep her experience under the carpet just as they have done with the 200,000 other Irish women who have had to travel.

The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 makes little or no practical difference to the women who are still travelling abroad for abortion today. The Bill does not cover for rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities or inevitable miscarriage. The Bill does not help the twelve women every day who will still travel to the UK and elsewhere for a safe and legal abortion. More and more women with life threatening crisis will still need support and finance.

The fact that an organisation like ASN has to exist highlights that particularly now abortion is a socio-economic issue. We don't like to think of women and couples aborting because they cannot afford a child (or another child) but neither can we stand by and watch women and families lock themselves into a poverty trap. The Abortion Support Network helps those women and couples that our government fails. 

The Abortion Support Network has heard from older women, younger women, husbands, sisters, friends, mothers and grandmothers. More than 200 of the women they've heard from were already mothers, some women were in, or trying to escape abusive relationships, some women had serious health complications aggravated by pregnancy, some pregnant from rape, some living in shelters, some experiencing serious mental health problems and at least four had learning disabilities. This is only a snapshot of the women that ASN have helped. This is only a snapshot of the women who have been let down in our country.

Due to the economic time we are in funding for the ASN is down but calls are up. I would like to urge you that if you could afford to give £1 or £2 or £10 or £100 to donate to them to help women and families

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

'Mercy' and 'Charity' from the Catholic Church

While at Atheist Ireland’s conference on Empowering Women through Secularism I encountered a host of experienced, intelligent and well thought of speakers. One of the highlights for me was Elida Radig who spoke about the separation of Church and State. Elida spoke in detail about the issue of clerical compensation for abuse in Australia. You can view Elida’s contribution here .

Of course Ireland is no stranger to the Church avoiding paying compensation to abuse survivors and Elida noted this in her talk. Only last week we have heard of the disgraceful refusal of four prominent orders (ironically titled The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Charity, The Good Shepherd Sisters and The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity) to complete their compensation payments to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries. The compensation scheme is expected to cost between €34.5 million and €58 million when completed. The Orders themselves are not expected to foot the total cost of this but merely contribute to the payment in cooperation with the government. Though no figures have been mentioned it seems to be estimated that the four orders together should pay €20 million. The flat out refusal to even engage with the process of compensating women whom they incarcerated is particularly galling when we consider that one of these orders alone has assets totalling an estimated €1.8 billion. Let that sink in for a minute €1.8 billion, even if they were footing the whole bill it would be but a drop in the ocean when compared to their assets.

Do we trust that the nuns who ran the slave labour laundries are sorry? I certainly don't, to this day I think any of the surviving nuns probably still believe they were doing God's work by incarcerating 'fallen' women. Regardless of how the orders feel about what they did we all know it was horrific and wrong. These women were locked up, some when they were just girls, they were used for slave labour in the laundries, they were horrifically abused and in some cases they had their children taken from them and sold. Their children were sold, not adopted, sold for very high amounts of money by the orders to couples usually from the United States (for further reading on this I recommend the book Banished Babies to see another shameful chapter of our past). These orders of sisters have the audacity to claim charitable status but that charitable status does not extend to the women they have wronged. We hear a lot from the Catholic Church about respect for life. No one respected lives of the women in the Magdalene laundries.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has urged the four orders to reflect on their refusal to pay into the redress scheme. You can help them 'reflect' by peacefully protesting at the Catherine Mc Auley Centre, 23 Herbert St. (corner of Herbert St. and Baggot St. Lower), Dublin 2 – the Dublin headquarters of the Sisters of Mercy at 6pm this evening. See here for more details.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Symphysiotomy in Ireland - a terrible crime against women

Many of you may have heard about symphysiotomy in recent weeks but for those of you who haven’t symphysiotomy is yet another sinister chapter in Ireland’s past. Symphysiotomy was the practice of breaking a woman’s pelvis bone during labour instead of performing a caesarean section. It was once a common procedure in most places around the world up due to lack of sanitary conditions for performing caesareans. However with the advent of improvement to medical techniques, hygiene and clinical practise its popularity began to wane in the 19th century eventually leaving Ireland as the only country in the developed world that was still carrying out symphysiotomies in the 20th century.

Syphysiotomy in Ireland was, like as with so many other things, linked with the influence of the Catholic Church. At the time Caesarean sections could only be carried out four times, whereas symphysiotomy was seen as a ‘gateway to childbearing without limitations’. Caesareans were discouraged as they were associated with what Archbishop McQuaid called the ‘crime of birth-prevention’. Symphysiotomies were also carried out for training and experimental purposes, in particular for doctors who would be going abroad to third world countries. Symphysiotomies often went wrong and they had far reaching consequences and often lifelong consequences for the women on whom they were performed. None or few of the women were ever told at the time what was being done to them. The way in which they were treated was a complete violation of their bodily autonomy and has been described by doctors as “beastly cruelty and butchery”.

In Ireland it is estimated that 1,500 women unknowingly and without their consent underwent symphysiotomies during childbirth between 1944 – 1992. The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) are seeking redress through the courts for the permanent damage they suffered as a result of symphysiotomy, during which their pelvises were unhinged. Survivors of Symphysiotomy called on the Irish Government to have the statute bar lifted so the SoS can seek redress through the courts. The Justice Bill has now been accepted by all TDs in the Dáil. The Survivors of Symphysiotomy group now need to ensure this bill becomes legislation and all survivors are given access to justice as soon as possible and that Government acknowledges the wrongfulness of this barbaric operation and abandons its defective Walsh report.

I would urge you to give them your full support.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Cough CPR - DON'T DO IT!

It's been a while since I wrote up a sceptical post about medical misinformation on Facebook but there's something that has cropped up on my news feed several times over the last few months and I feel it needs to be addressed. The piece in question regarding 'Cough CPR' allegedly began circulating as a chain e-mail and like the chain e-mail the Facebook version urges people to share the information in order to "save someone's life".

The piece begins by telling us that since many people are alone when they suffer a heart
attack, without help, the person whose heart is beating improperly and who begins to feel faint, has only about 10 seconds left before losing consciousness. It then goes on to give detailed instructions on how to perform cough CPR. In some versions, the advice has been  that someone who thinks he or she is suffering a heart attack should repeatedly cough and go at once to a hospital, by car if necessary.

I hope after that last paragraph you are still reading because I don't want you to be one of those people passing that on. If a person, who is alone, believes they are suffering from a heart attack the FIRST thing they need to do is phone emergency services (and depending on your country ask for a cardiac ambulance, hell ask anyway!). If you are not allergic to aspirin (or are not under 16 or do not have any type of bleeding disorder) and have some nearby chew an aspirin. However do not get up and wander around the house looking for an aspirin. This may put unnecessary strain on your heart The British Heart Foundation says this, so don't sue me for giving medical advice! Now on that advice you can see that if you shouldn't be wandering around looking for an aspirin, then you definitely shouldn't be self-administrating cough CPR to yourself. Cough CPR may have it's place on rare occasions like settings such as the cardiac catheterization laboratory where patients are conscious and constantly monitored (for example, with an ECG machine). A nurse or physician is also present who can instruct and coach the patients to cough forcefully every one to three seconds during the initial seconds of a sudden arrhythmia. However a person on their own self-administering cough CPR runs the risk of exerting themselves which can result in cardiac arrest. Cough CPR is not taught on 'lay' persons CPR courses, or in First Response courses because it is generally not useful and can be dangerous in non-hospital settings.

An estimated 5,000 people die of heart attacks every year in Ireland so challenge the Cough CPR link if you see it, rather than sharing it.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Sometimes we don't feel okay

*Kicks tumbleweed away and dusts off the cobwebs* To any of you still out there who checks in here please have my sincere (and I really do mean sincere if you're still hanging around here) apologies for my long hiatus from blogging recently but rest assured I am already planning on new posts from here on in.
However I do feel like I owe you an explanation.

For the past few months I haven't felt okay, I haven't felt down, I've just felt meh (for the want of a more articulate word). While trying to help someone very close to me out of a tough time I fell into it myself. I lost interest in nearly everything, I lost interest in cooking, which I normally love (leaving himself to make us what he self describes as 'splodge'), I lost interest in playing the guitar, I lost interest in hanging around with people and most bizarrely I lost interest in reading. I lost interest in exercise and yoga which is a big deal for me too. In fact I regularly tried to make myself feel better by attempting to exercise in the morning, which resulted in me getting into my gym gear and then spending the day on the couch playing flash games, which resulted in me feeling like a failure because I couldn't even do some poxy exercise for half an hour.
Throughout all of that I know I am luckier than a lot of people. The only thing I had any real interest in was my maths course, and having even just that one thing makes a huge difference. The maths made sense, the numbers go in and all going well work out properly on the other side.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to himself about how I was feeling, and I spoke with my friends and that is another part of life where I am lucky. My friends and husband understood. The were wonderful, to borrow an analogy from Hyperbole and a half, the weren't the type of people who tried to help me look for my dead fish. I know I should have never underestimated them but they made the talking easier.

So here we are, I feel I am doing a lot better these most recent weeks. I've gotten back into my reading, my cooking, my music and even exercising again. I'm not offering anything as a quick fix for anyone else because sometimes there is no quick fix and everyone has different ways of coping. This is just an extended apology to my readers for my lack of blogging and an offering to people who do feel down - one of the things I was most surprised by was the amount of people who have gone through similar, I thank them - they're conversations meant the world to me.

As I said I will be back to regular blogging soon but first I am off on my holidays tomorrow and so will recommence blogging properly here on Monday 24th June.

Thank you all for your support.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

See me as a Woman

Yesterday was International Women's Day (heading some of the obvious "but what about the men?" comments - International Men's Day was on November 19th okay). Often, even as a woman International Women's Day is a time for me to do a privilege check. Things aren't perfect but for the most part I feel happy and content in most of the interactions I have with other people on a day to day basis. However for some women things aren't so lucky, and it is for those women that International Women's Day remains necessary.

Taking this to a cause that resonates with me personally, I have a sister who is a twenty four year old woman who has a disability. It was with great pride yesterday that I was able to attend an exhibition containing her photograph. The exhibition titled "See me as a Woman" photographed by Ciara Drennan showcased at the Riverbank Arts centre in Newbridge. It was a  slideshow consisting of a simple black and white head shot of 38 individual women, with a quote alongside their photo from them on what it means to them to be a woman. The 38 women involved all happen to have a disability. As I sat in the room yesterday with most of the women and their friends and families, disability didn't matter. All that mattered for those six minutes was the 38 wonderful faces and their beautiful thoughts on what being a woman meant to them. All that mattered was the sense of community and that everyone in the room saw these women as women, not women with a disability. I exclude the Daddies from that sentence as they will always see us as a little girl regardless of age, disability or no disability. What was important to these women? Mostly the same things that matter to every woman - ranging from their strength, their independence, their physical appearance, to their hatred of periods. When the turn came for my sister's photo to be shown she had simply said she loved dancing and her boyfriend (to much good natured jibing).
See Me as a Woman ran last night for one night only but I would very much love to see that exhibition and others like it to gain more prominence.

It is vital that we see all people as a person first.

youtube is acting up for me at the moment, I'll try to embed the video later but in the meantime it can be found here: See me as a Woman

Monday, 21 January 2013

Abortion and how Ireland forgot it was a democracy

Do you believe in democracy? Do you believe it's a good form of government? Do you, like me, criticise other countries when it appears that their electoral/voting practises are corrupt and rigged and the people aren't listened to?
If you said yes to all of the above then you believe in a form of government that gives equal representation to all citizens, a form of government which listens to and represents the people of the country.

There are countries whose citizen's aren't so lucky. There are countries where the democratic process is not respected, where elections are rigged, where gerrymandering occurs and where peoples rights and voices are not respected. Ireland is one of those countries.

Ireland fought for the right to independence against our old colonial neighbour. Ireland fought for the right to freedom to be represented in government and eventually to have its independence and its own government, in its own country, that listened to the voices of all of its people.


The first inkling of there being something foul in the state of this country was in 1992 when a fourteen year old child was raped and became pregnant as a result. The girl and her family had travelled to England in order for her to have an abortion but were summoned back by an injunction sought the Attorney General Harry Whelehan and granted by the High Court. This injunction was appealed to the Supreme Court and was overturned by a majority of four to one. The Supreme Court ruled that a woman had a right to an abortion under Article 40.3.3 if there was a real and substantial risk to her life (but not her health) including the threat of suicide. Later that same year the people went to the polls and voted for a)'the right to travel' (to another jurisdiction for abortion), b)'the right to information' (regarding abortion) and c)the right to abortion if there is real and substantial danger to the life (but not the health) of the woman. Crucially in this referendum the people also rejected the Twelfth Amendment which sought to remove the risk of suicide as grounds for an abortion.


The people voted but it appeared the government didn't care. One of the main tasks of any country's government (particularly in a democracy) is to legislate on what the people have voted on and adjust the constitution accordingly, but this didn't happen. The government buried their heads in the sand and refused to act and refused to listen to the will of the people. 

Nothing happened until 2002 when the government and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (because of a promise made to his mother) decided to hold another referendum to remove the threat of suicide. This proved that not only were the government not listening to the people's views on the previous referendum, they were in essence riding rough shod over the previous vote before it had even been legislated for. Once again the people voted to retain the risk of suicide as a real and substantial risk and once again the government failed to do their duty and legislate.

In 2010 three women, know as A, B and C took a case against Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled in the case of C that Ireland had violated article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights because it was uncertain and unclear whether she could have access to abortion in a situation where she believed that her pregnancy was life threatening. The court also noted the "significant chilling" effect of Irish legislation (with regard to abortion). The ECHR recommended that Ireland would have to clarify whether and under which circumstances an abortion may be performed to save the life of a pregnant women.

This country has the nerve to call itself a republic and a democracy and yet sees fit to ignore
A Supreme Court Ruling
Two Referendum
A European Court of Human Rights Ruling

 How can we criticise processes in places like Russia, the Middle East, Zimbabwe etc., when we appear to be a democracy in name only, when our own government doesn't respect our voices. Regardless of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, the democratic process has to be upheld and the voices of the people have to be heard and respected. This debate is not just about abortion, it is about respecting the democratic process that our country was once so proud of and making Ireland into a democracy that we can be proud of once again.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Let's talk about sex

Specifically, let's talk about sex and disability. @MrPaddyDoyle tweeted a link last night (It is the Daily Mail but don't run away just yet) regarding a film starring John Hawkes and the lovely Helen Hunt, it tells the story of a physically disabled man who hires a 'sexual surrogate or therapist' in order to teach and help him have sex.
People with disabilities are often portrayed as being somehow otherly, they have overcome greater things than the rest of society,they are kind hearted (or angry and mean until a protagonist comes along to 'save' them and turn them into the good person they really are), they are lovable and they love everybody, they are (insert your own meaningless platitude here). People with disabilities are seen as innocent and good minded and, if your average person or mainstream media was to be believed, they never think about sex, let alone participate in it.

In surveys, myths about women with disabilities have been identified as follows (many of these also extend to men with disabilities):
  • Women with disabilities don't need sex
  • Women with disabilities are not sexually attractive.
  • Women with disabilities are 'oversexed.'
  • Women with disabilities have more important needs than sex.
  • Girls living with disabilities don't need sexuality education.
  • Women who live with disabilities can't have 'real' sex.
  • Sex must be spontaneous.
  • Women with disabilities should not have children
Can you imagine attributing the above to any other societal group? It just wouldn't happen. Sexuality is a huge part of the human experience and yet people are squeamish and in denial when it comes to addressing the topic of disability and sexuality. I am not putting myself on a moral pedestal here either by the way. I will admit my own failings when it comes to thinking about how people with disabilities explore and are aided in exploring their sexuality. This is mostly on a personal level though  with regard to my sister. Whether this is because she has Down Syndrome or whether it's the regular attitude that one has towards  thinking about your 'baby' sister's sexuality (I do know she's twenty three but she'll always be my baby sister). However much as I am loathe to think about this aspect of her I know it's there. Why wouldn't it be? I'm older than her, she has seen me have boyfriends, she has seen me get married. She knows I share a bed with my husband. How ridiculous would it be for me to think that she wouldn't also want these things? I have seen her at discos with her boyfriend. At the same discos (run for people with Special Needs) I have also seen the "passion police" having to get involved before things get too hot and heavy. The smooching I've seen at these discos leads me to believe that while non-disabled people were busy desexualising people with disabilities they forgot to tell them. The reason why I say that my failure to deal with the matter at hand is a personal one is because as a teacher and advocate of equal rights it horrifies me when I hear that others think that people with disabilities have no need for sex education and it horrifies me when I find that they think that people with disabilities don't have a sexual side.

The fact that people would seek to ignore this part of being a human in people with disabilities shows that they are thought of as an 'other'. That they think they may be on the fringe of humanity. Sex is an integral part of the human experience. It is intimate, emotional, physical. It can create bonds and strengthen personal relationships. It's fun! We need to stop desexualising other people because of our own hang ups. We also need to be aware that while sex is all kinds of wonderful it also has a dark side and people need to be ready, mature and it is vital to ensure that those with an intellectual disability are not exploited. If we can't discuss the good side of sex, how are we ever to protect vulnerable people from the dark aspects of it?

So let's do it! Let's talk about sex.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Stop hijacking legitimate discussions

Over the past week on various social/news media I noticed a not so new trend. If one deigns to open a discussion regarding anything to do with women, somewhere within the first five comments will contain the line "(subject topic) also happens to men, why does (this person/publication) ignore this."

The first time I saw this last week was in The Ladies Lounge on in a thread about harassment. The discussion opened was discussing the level of harassment sexual and otherwise that women encounter both in Ireland and abroad. Lo and behold before the discussion really took off within the first page a male poster had came to announce that harassment also happens to men. The women in TLL, to my knowledge, had never stated that it didn't and TLL also seems a highly appropriate place to start such a thread for women (the hint being in the name of that particular section on Boards). However, undeterred posters unanimously agreed that such harassment also happens to men and invited the aggrieved poster to share his experiences (also to note TLL does not discourage male posters) or if it was something that he felt really strongly about to start his own post on harassment towards males either in TLL or elsewhere on Boards. It turned out that the poster in question had never been harassed but gave a few tid bits of anecdotal evidence of x/y/z happening to people he knew. He did not feel strongly enough to start his own thread or contribute further to the original thread beyond repeating his mantra that harassment also happens to men.

The next time that this aggrieved response caught my attention was in an article on The Journal by Lisa McInerney, titled All sexual harassment needs to thrive is for good men to do nothing. The article headline was obviously utilising the famous quote about evil and may not even have been decided on by Lisa herself. The first part of her article details her own experiences of public harassment and how for it to thrive all it takes is for everyone else to simply do nothing.
She then goes on to discuss the Everyday Sexism project and #shoutingback which has been used on Twitter to encourage people to share their stories of being sexually harassed. Again first few posts in "harassment happens to men too". Lisa McInerney even acknowledged that there were a number of male contributors to #shoutingback but that the overwhelming majority of the posts were from women. She details mostly women's experiences, possibly because she is a woman, possibly because everyday harassment is something that almost every woman has experienced and possibly because it is easy to write from that situation because it's one in which the majority of women have found themselves in. I would be unable to write about male harassment, I don't know what it feels like. I (and Lisa McInerney and other women) do, however, know how it feels to be woman who is harassed. I know how violated I've felt when I've been groped in a bar, I know the fear and the taste of metal in my mouth when I was followed home by two men in broad daylight who had two other men waiting for them. I know the revulsion and nausea when I thought about what might have been. I know the fear of being a woman walking alone at night. I know what it's like to keep an eye on my drinks and my friends and ensure no one walks home alone.

Another article I read (embarrassingly enough I can't remember where) detailed that four out of five women have to be turned away from Sonas (which deals specifically with women and children) due to lack of funding and again the typical responses cropped up in the first couple of comments.

The Journal published a piece before Christmas where Amen, the charity representing male victims of domestic abuse, warned that men in these situations are in a very vulnerable position at Christmas time. How many women commented that this also happens to women? None. Instead some of the comments took an even nastier turn linking domestic violence against men with the "feminist agenda". This deliberately misconstrues the meaning of the word feminism but that's a rant for another day.

As I said above my female friends and I have discussed harassment, rape, physical abuse etc. None of my male friends have ever discussed their experiences (if any) with me. Now before we get to the comments section, here goes: domestic violence against men and male rape are serious topics, as serious as the same against women. It is to the shame of this country that we have yet to open up a proper discourse on these topics and it does immeasurable harm to both men and women. Domestic violence against men needs to be discussed in an open manner so that men who find themselves in such a situation will be more likely to seek help. The shaming of men suffering domestic violence needs to stop. It is not just a women's issue and funding needs to go into all centres for men, women and children living with domestic violence.  Instead of defensively hijacking another discussion with "this happens to men too". Why not join the discussion and give your experiences or discuss the rates of abuse against men? Why not write your own post about violence against men? Why not donate to Amen? Why not open a proper discourse about violence perpetrated against men and let these men who are unable to speak know that you are there to support them?

Instead of stubbornly putting these things down to the "feminist agenda",let's work together to ensure that people realise violence against anybody is simply not right. Men and women living with domestic violence need to be supported in more meaningful ways.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Belated Happy New Year

I've been a very bad blogger since Christmas/New Year with work and various illnesses getting in the way but I promise I will have a brand new post on Wednesday!