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!