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Emergence of ‘Legal Issues’ wrt. Shannon Key West Hotel

Press release from Leitrim and Roscommon United against Racism, guest published on Feminist Ire

 

23rd Feb 2019

 

Leitrim and Roscommon United against Racism regret the manner in which the sudden emergence of ‘legal issues’ around the use of the Shannon Key West Hotel  as a DP centre gives an impression that the state has bowed down in the face of a spate of racist arson attacks.

 

We feel for the eighty people waiting somewhere in Dublin in a holding centre waiting for placement who now have nowhere to go. They are the most vulnerable people in this whole situation. They are not just numbers.

 

We believe they should now be housed in communities in this general area in the empty housing stock we see all around us – and be allowed work while they await the outcome of their applications for asylum.

 

We hope that a proper dialogue will now take place between citizens, agencies, communities, campaigners, public representatives and churches in this area on this and the related issues. We hope that outside influences attempting to fuel racist sentiment off the back of this situation are excluded from this dialogue.

 

We believe the Direct Provision system is fundamentally an oppressive system and we were glad to hear a local councillor quoted in the Irish Times yesterday describing it as such. We believe it must be dismantled and those in the system be given the right to live and work in our communities. It is a carceral system and an increasingly ugly stain on our society and communities.

 

 

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How to talk to your children about abortion

How to talk to your children about abortion

This is a slightly reworked repost of a piece I wrote for Parents for Choice in the run up to the referendum on abortion rights in Ireland. 

 

I have two daughters, who are 6 and 3. My six year old has been really interested in pregnancy, and pregnant women and bumps specifically, since she was three or four, and my three year old’s interest in pregnancy has started following suit in the last year. I think it’s really important when talking to children to try and reflect your own view of the world as honestly as possible in the words you use to them. My own view of pregnancy, particularly in the early stages, is that the developing pregnancy is something with the potential to grow into a baby, but not the ethical and moral equivalent of one. Because of this I’ve always made a deliberate effort to talk about a pregnancy as a “baby seed” rather than a baby. I don’t tell her people have “a baby in their tummy”, we talk about people having baby seeds that are growing into babies. When they’ve finished growing into a baby they’re ready to be born.

 

I use these terms because I don’t want to have to explain to a child  who’s asking questions about abortion that actually a 7 week embryo or whatever isn’t actually “a baby in someone’s tummy” as I’ve been telling her all along, and so that it won’t strike her as something as immediately shocking as I think it otherwise might. We’ve looked together at diagrams and drawings of embryo and foetal development and talked about how they’re not ready to be babies just yet, that they are growing into babies.

 

I also talk to my six year old about how growing a baby seed into a baby is a really hard and difficult and sometimes dangerous thing for a body to do, so I think everyone should get to decide for themselves whether they do or not. And I tell her some people think everyone should have to grow baby seeds into babies whether they want to or are able to or not. It helps that she remembers my pregnancy on her younger sister, in which I nearly died and had to inject myself with heparin for the remainder of the pregnancy, so we talk about that too.

 

She pointed out one of the “baby” posters during the referendum campaign when we were in the car and passed one. I said “Actually that’s a baby seed but the people who paid a lot of money for those posters made it look like a baby on purpose, because they think everyone who has a baby seed should have to grow it into a baby whether they wanted to or not.” And that I think that’s telling lies and shouldn’t be allowed.

 

I was pregnant with her when Savita died, in 2012, and in 2017 I took her to one of the vigils in memory of her for the first time since she was old enough to ask questions. I actually found hers engagement with the vigil and its cause really poignant; I explained to her in the car on the way in that we were going to a vigil to remember a woman who died called Savita Halappanavar (she said her name very carefully) who died before it was her time to die, because she was growing a baby seed and sometimes growing a baby seed can make us very sick because it’s an awful lot of work for our bodies. So sometimes people don’t want to grow baby seeds and sometimes people are too sick to grow baby seeds. And that I think doctors should be allowed to help people who don’t want to, to stop baby seeds from growing, but here they aren’t allowed to. And because they weren’t allowed to stop Savita’s baby seed from growing, even though her body wasn’t able to grow it, she died.

Our bodies, our babies, our births

Our bodies, our babies, our births

Before I write the rest of this piece I feel the need to lay out my mothering and birth ‘credentials’. I am a mother to two daughters; I’ve given birth twice, both times vaginally, neither time without intervention. I found one birth traumatic and one deeply and intensely healing. One pregnancy was life-threatening and high risk, the other was not. (The traumatic birth was not the one which resulted from the life-threatening pregnancy.) I’ve breastfed both daughters, both exclusively for 6 months, and for an extended period beyond that. 5 years in total with some crossover in babas being fed at the same time (only once literally at the same time thankfully, I HATED that). I’ve spent the entirety of my life as a mother in the struggle for bodily autonomy in pregnancy (whether ended or continued) and birth. Here in Ireland, with the 8th amendment limiting our rights in both, it was always clear to me that pregnancy and birth are a continuum and the restriction of our rights in one aspect of it will be used to restrict our rights in others. The fundamental right to ownership of one’s own body has always been to me one issue.

I do not care how anyone births as long as it’s the way that’s right for them; one they have chosen as freely as possible, one they feel safe and supported in, and in a pregnancy they’ve chosen to continue. Likewise I do not care how anyone feeds their baby as long as it’s the way that’s right for them; one they have chosen as freely as possible and one they have, if problems have been encountered, received appropriate, accurately informed, and timely support for. Unfortunately when women run into problems with breastfeeding this is all too often not the case. I don’t just mean the kind of ‘support’ that involves telling brand new mothers with bleeding nipples to ‘just’ pump instead (the casual disregard for the work and time of women inherent in this is enraging), though. I also mean the kind of support which ignores the realities of that woman’s life, particularly when she already has other very small children around to care for, on top of feeding herself, and no other adult in the home for most or all of the day. The kind of support which pretends the problems of capitalism and patriarchy, where women’s work of feeding and raising babies, doesn’t exist, being instead part of a magical and wonderful nurturing process that is bestowed on us by some earth mother fairy godmother type at birth, and that all will magically come right if you just ‘feed feed feed’. Peer support and advice can only compensate for so much; without an additional set of hands there in the home, many mothers will simply be unable to complete all the separate tasks they must do in a day to ensure each of their children, as well as themselves, are safe, clean and fed. For this to happen, that set of hands would need to be a paid worker, provided by the state, because the state recognises that mothering work, and the work of bringing babies into the world and feeding those babies once they’re there is work of value. I do not believe that we will see this happen while we continue to individualise the ‘problems’ and place the ‘responsibility’ for breastfeeding or not on each mother. As I once said to a friend in the aftermath of her own journey to breastfeed ending earlier than she wanted, with a baby who just wouldn’t latch, I am an advocate for women, not for breastfeeding. I want to support people, not a process.

This piece has been brewing in my mind for some time now, with much of it brought to the fore by some of the response to a US study that found in a cohort of 6,000+ women, induction did not raise the risk of c-section, and that a woman who chose not to have an induction at 39 weeks was more likely to have a c-section. I certainly think there are questions to be asked around this study – I would love to know the outcomes of the 16,000 women who declined to participate. The interrogation of the concept that there may be an element of self-selection in the participants is a welcome one too, and I would like to know to what degree that matters. I also think societies which consider free maternal healthcare to be a basic right for all may not be directly comparable to a society in which those who cannot afford maternal healthcare must go without it.  I would question too if it is reasonable to compare c section rates in a country in which some hospitals and indeed states will compel women to have c sections against their will to those which do not. I would also find far more interesting a trial which, for once, took into consideration the feelings of a large cohort of women about their births. There is a strong distinction to be drawn between the sometimes unavoidable damage to our health and bodies that pregnancy and birth can inflict and the always avoidable suffering and trauma that the denial of our autonomy wreaks upon us. As someone who has experienced both in different pregnancies, I found the former far easier to recover from.

In much the same way as I view breastfeeding, I do not believe in nor agree with the privileging of ‘natural’ pregnancy and birth above all else in the birth advocacy world. Not least because the insistence on ‘natural’ pregnancy as a process seems to me to be at odds with the struggle for our rights to choose to end or continue our pregnancies as we see fit. Please do not misunderstand me here; the fight for ownership of our own bodies in continued pregnancy and birth is frequently one that takes the path of having to defend our rights to say no to external intervention in pregnancy and in birth, rights which are all too often trampled on. But I simply do not agree that the one overarching goal of the entirety of the maternity and birth rights movement should be the prioritisation of ‘natural’ birth. I worry that the focus of this movement has shifted from our right to have the time and space and care to have the best birth for us, to the idea that there is only one best type of birth. It would be easy to understand how this might have happened, in societies in which all too often a medicalised pregnancy and birth is presented as the only option and in which it can frequently seem as though the intervention-free birth is only possible in one’s own home. But I am concerned that this focus on ‘natural’ birth, as distinct from the right birth for each birthing person simply creates a parallel between natural birth advocates and the paternalised medical system which so many of us have negative experiences of.  Again, I want to be an advocate for women and each individual woman or person’s right to own their own unique experience, not an advocate for a certain kind of pregnancy and birth. I don’t always believe that what’s ‘natural’ is best for each and every woman, but I do believe in every pregnant and birthing person’s right to fully informed choice. And I believe with that right, and with supportive, informed, qualified, involved carers, from whom the person giving birth has had continuity of care throughout pregnancy, everyone giving birth would have the perfect (though perhaps not natural) birth for them.

As a final note, I haven’t mentioned anything about babies, their rights, and their best outcomes in this piece. This is a deliberate choice on my part, in part because I believe that information (as pertaining to breastfeeding in particular) is pointless without the resources to implement it, and in part because I don’t believe that the outcomes for babies should weigh on anyone who is not their mother making decisions about their mother’s body. Nor do I believe it is my role as a mother who breastfed to advertise breastfeeding to other women. Each individual woman is the only person who is or ever will be in her shoes and is the only one possibly qualified to make the right call for her and her baby in their best interests.

 

No more than she deserves

No more than she deserves

In a country which voted overwhelmingly only a few months ago to return ownership of our bodies to us, it was dispiriting, though not surprising, to watch the mob turn on a young homeless Traveller mother, Margaret Cash, for the crimes of being young, a mother, a Traveller, a woman and homeless. The mob has spoken, and it has decreed that she has too many children (though it has failed to specify which exactly of her children should not have been born), that she is in some way to blame for her circumstances (though the housing and rental crisis is in no way of her making), that she should have taken the housing options she was offered (though she could not afford them, had no way of getting to them, and indeed in one case they could not take all of her children with her).  The mob would presumably let them all rot on the benches of Tallaght garda station indefinitely. The mob also does not give a toss that Margaret Cash’s children are listening while it bays that they should not exist.

Why is it that we can talk about “the housing crisis” or “the homelessness crisis” in the media as one under which people are suffering, yet when a mother in pure desperation shares a photo of the straits her children and her family are in, she is torn apart for it? Are people that desperate to believe it couldn’t happen to them that they will peer through every tiny chink into a family’s life through Facebook posts and deem them unworthy and undeserving on this tiny, one-sided, skewed angle of perception? That is surely a part of it, but there is a darker truth here too. The habit of misogyny and of blaming women and mothers for their societally created and enforced suffering is one that has long been pervasive in Ireland. However much you may like to believe that your Together for Yes twibbon frees you of the need to interrogate any of your beliefs about women – especially mothers –  if you believe that you have the right to a say in anyone else’s reproductive decisions, particularly in the wake of their being already made, you are a part of Ireland’s misogyny problem.

Let me be perfectly clear; if you are one of those people who last week thought or said or posted or tweeted or commented that Margaret Cash had surely some part to play in sleeping in a garda station along with her children, you are one of those people who would have said the same about the mothers and the children in the Magdalen laundries and the Mother and Baby homes. If you believe that it is in any way acceptable for you to suggest going through Margaret Cash’s Facebook posts in response to a family being so utterly failed by the society they live in that they are forced to resort to trusting to a policing force that automatically sees their ethnic grouping, including their children, as criminals, to house them, you are one of those that would have looked straight at those women walking together with shorn heads in ragged uniforms down the main streets of Ireland’s towns and never seen anything amiss.

To want a home in which to have and raise children, and to be supported by society in so doing, is a perfectly feminist ideal and to suggest otherwise is pure misogyny. The work of having and raising children is work of value on which society depends; indeed without the work of mothers in growing, birthing and raising our children society as we know it would end within a generation. This is not a new feminist ideal; it has been widespread since the Wages for Housework international campaign of the 1970s. Most of the demands of the Wages for Housework campaign (paid maternity and parental leave, women’s right to work outside the home, equal pay, and social welfare supports) have passed into the accepted needs of society as a whole and are taken entirely for granted as part and parcel of our fought-for and hard-won rights in feminist circles. There is however one area that hasn’t yet been assimilated into society; the concept that the work within one’s own home, of raising one’s own children, of contributing to society the thing it needs most to keep going, should be paid work. That a mother’s work is valuable because it has a price; not worthless because it is of no monetary value.

The reason this vital part of the Wages for Housework campaign did not succeed as its other demands did? Simple; ‘business’ (by which I mean of course capitalism) does not directly benefit from it in the same way that the opening up of a new supply of workers (mothers) to the workforce does. Capitalism requires that this work not be seen as ‘real’ work; that it be done silently and alone without pay, that one employee who wants to have a family must have another person in the home doing the unpaid labour of caring for that employee and the family. Without that person and their unpaid labour the edifice of capitalism begins to shudder, to be seen as the imprisoning behemoth it is, beneath the weight of which all of us are being slowly crushed.

Margaret Cash and her children are today’s sacrifice to Ireland’s continued worship of the combined gods of capitalism and misogyny. We cannot continue like this; leaving the children of ‘undeserving’ mothers to be trodden underfoot by the rest of society, nor can we continue to declare the system is not broken beyond repair in the face of the growing thousands without homes and safe places to stay while the massive landlords that are banks and the vulture funds are given tax break and bailout hand over fist. In much the same way that we reclaimed ownership of our bodies, so too is a movement where we seize back our basic, fully achievable right to homes and safe shelter the only way from here. The ongoing refusal of the State to provide for our obvious needs while women and families suffer and die is an all too familiar echo of the decades gone past. We know they would not have listened to us then had we not risen up and made them. It’s time to make them listen again

 

 

 

 

It’s been two months now

It’s been two months now

If I have to tell you what it’s been two months from there’s probably not much point in you reading this.

We won and I didn’t feel like I thought I would feel. I thought I would feel joy. I thought I would feel vindicated. I thought I would feel loved and supported. I thought the 26th would be a celebration. Instead it felt more like a wake. I found myself stopping many times, just where I was, to cry. On the footpath while taking down a Together for Yes sign for my wall. At home in the morning. In the car on the way to the count centre. While tallying. Every time I saw the unofficial Limerick Together for Yes results. Seeing women I love and work with sharing the victory together without me, in places far from me. When I saw the ratio for the tiny village I cast my vote in come in at 67% yes. When I had to accept that I was so exhausted I needed to ask my friend to bring me home at 5 o’clock that evening instead of being able to dance and sing as I thought I would.

I thought I would feel energised. I thought I would feel empowered. Instead I am more shattered than I would ever have believed possible. 6 long years of the intensity I pursued this with has left me in pieces; burnt to the socket and beyond. I had some intensely ugly feelings during the last 13 weeks of the campaign, from when the referendum date was announced. I found myself carrying a frightening dark resentment for people who were able for far more than I was; whose energy reserves hadn’t been as completely sapped as mine. I felt judged for not being able to do more than I was; for not being able to give more than the everything I already had done and was still giving. I felt an indescribable level of bitterness for the lauding of male political and medical figures as leaders of the campaign, particularly those men who’d opposed us every step of the way back in 2012 and 2013. I found depthless fathoms of rage inside me for the shaping of a campaign I’d once had the opportunity to be a key part of without me; without any voices in the struggle near me. I discovered I was and still am fighting not to be consumed by rage at personal betrayals by people I’d thought were my allies and my sisters. I find my fingers shaking when I try to respond to people who describe the last 13 weeks of that fight, without thinking, as “the campaign” in its entirety. (No, not all of these feelings were fair. Not all of them are without hypocrisy. I am sure many people in this fight far longer than me have felt the same things about me, including my beloved sisters-in-struggle at Feminist Ire. Fairness is not the point about dark, ugly feelings, it turns out. If you’re reading this and worrying it’s about you, it’s not; it’s about me.)

I am grieving the loss of untainted first years with my children and with my partner as parents to this struggle. It is difficult to put into words the intensity of the driving force to fight for abortion rights and bodily autonomy I found awaking inside me in 2012. It grew with the pregnancy I was carrying inside my body, that of my first child, the first of my two daughters. It exploded into engulfing fury in November of that year, when those of us outside Galway first heard of the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar. I found the pro-choice movement growing with my daughter; my drive to keep going through Parents for Choice intensified with my 2015 pregnancy with my second daughter. I spoke at the 2015 March for Choice when 8 months pregnant with her about my near-death pregnancy-induced event early on in that pregnancy; it brought home intensely to me the experience of being 8 months pregnant in 2012 on the Never Again march for Savita.

I remember thinking victory would bring freedom; that it would bring peace. I never once imagined it would bring grief, exhaustion and anger beyond I ever think I remember feeling in the depth of the struggle. I feel selfish even for writing this, this first piece I’ve been able to write in months. I thought I would be invigorated by the need to capture all of our own voices and our own stories; to talk to the incredible women I have been inspired by for years, who I am privileged to know, to count as friends. Instead I have had weeks I cannot even leave my own house, never mind get to Dublin for events I desperately long to be able to attend. I thought I would be able to turn to the rest of the many injustices on which I long to work, in conjunction with those who suffer from them, on putting to rights. I am simultaneously deeply jealous of the women I see doing this work and filled with self-loathing for my own incapacity.

When I stop and think about it I know that surely this will pass; that I will heal from this as I have healed from all the other wounds inflicted on my body and my self by the 8th before. But still at my core I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to trust that I will ever be truly made whole from the scars and the suffering from this, the last indignity, the last sufferings it has ever caused me. I am in pieces and I do not see how this shattering will ever be truly pieced together again.

 

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Feminist Solidarity: cis and trans people will not be divided! (Re-blog)

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Solidarity with British feminists fighting back against the scourge of transphobia in the UK women’s movement.

Feminist Solidarity: cis and trans people will not be divided!

We are a group of feminists, many of whom identify as lesbian or whose politics were influenced by lesbian culture. We are cisgender, we are non-binary and we are trans. All of us are active in the arts, community organising, the media and education. We have all benefited from the deep analysis, radical lifestyle and astonishing bravery of the lesbian feminists who came before us – actions that we understood to be about dismantling the patriarchy, liberating all women from gendered oppression and re-imagining the future.

Therefore, we were dismayed to see Pride in London being hijacked by a fringe group determined to divide the LGBTQIA+ community along the issue of trans rights, particularly rights for trans women, and arguing that the struggle for such rights erases cisgender lesbians.

This cannot stand.

We re-state our support for trans people everywhere. Transitioning in a transphobic society is a brave – sometimes…

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No council for (some) women: the NWCI and the silencing of sex workers

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Last week, at its AGM, the member groups of the National Women’s Council of Ireland voted down a motion (proposed by the Abortion Rights Campaign and seconded by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland) calling on the NWCI to “develop a process for a review of its position in relation to prostitution and sex work”. Instead the NWCI reaffirmed its existing position, supporting the Swedish model and defining all prostitution as violence against women.

The committee in charge of these things decided that you could only support one motion or the other, and the latter motion (proposed by Ruhama and seconded by the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation) won out by 43-24. Reports from attendees suggest that there would have been more support for the ARC motion if it hadn’t been deemed oppositional to Ruhama’s.

The outcome was disappointing but not surprising, particularly in light of the fact that sex workers themselves were unable to contribute to the debate. This is because the only Irish organisation led by current sex workers, the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, has been refused membership of the NWCI. The NWCI is therefore taking policy positions about a group of women without allowing those women any say in the position it takes.

The criteria for joining the NWCI are listed on its website. While I don’t have access to the written reasons for refusal, I understand its Board decided that SWAI didn’t agree with the NWCI’s “values”. It should be noted that the Board includes Sarah Benson, CEO of Ruhama, and Sheila Dickson, a past president of the INMO.

Now obviously the NWCI is a private organisation (albeit one that receives a fuckton of public money) and has a right to decide who can join it. But it seems … curious that this issue is one that they’re prepared to exclude a group over. You would think, for example, that repealing the 8th amendment would be regarded as a key NWCI value (especially given the organisation’s effective takeover of the Repeal, sorry the “Yes” campaign) and yet it was fine for member groups to refuse to support it, like Ruhama and the YWCA. Equal rights for same-sex couples might also be thought of as a key NWCI value, yet it has no problem with the membership of an organisation that “continues to hold the view that ‘marriage’ is inherently between a man and a woman”. Not locking young women up in institutions for perceived moral failures, where they would be forced to work as slaves, should pretty definitely be a key NWCI value and yet a group whose founders did exactly that, and which still has board members who are refusing to pay redress to these women, are not only allowed to be members but are effectively allowed to direct the organisation’s policy towards the “fallen women” of today. Their attitude towards groups that don’t share their “values” seems a little bit selective.

But I think it’s important to point out that simply opposing the NWCI stance on sex work isn’t enough to make a group unwelcome in the NWCI. If it was, then ARC and the MRCI and all the others in the 24 would presumably be tearing up their membership cards. So, it’s fine for a women’s group to advocate for the rights of sex workers as long as they aren’t sex workers themselves. It isn’t about values at all, then; going on that vote, SWAI’s values are shared by more than a third of NWCI member groups already. What is it then? Are sex workers the NWCI equivalent of “Unwomen”? Do they have cooties? Or does the Board just not want to have to listen to them?

The most galling thing about the Ruhama motion is that it refers to “support for women and girls affected by prostitution and sex trafficking“. But what constitutes “support” is being decided in a context where the affected girls and women are denied a voice. Supporters of the policy would no doubt argue that the women they’re concerned with are a different class of sex worker to those in SWAI, but they have nothing to support the implicit suggestion that those women want their clients criminalised. It’s notable that GOSHH (Gender, Orientation, Sexual Health, HIV) and the Chrysalis Community Drug Project, the two other Irish organisations that do outreach to the more vulnerable sectors of the sex industry, are both strongly opposed to the Swedish model.

There are, of course, former sex workers (or survivors, to use their preferred terminology) who would share the NWCI’s position. But isn’t it remarkable that practically none of them seem to have actually worked in Sweden – or any other “Nordic model” country – under that law?  We’re nearly 20 years into it now; if it worked as well as its advocates say it does you’d expect there would be dozens if not hundreds of women coming forward to share their accounts of how the Swedish model saved them from the sex trade, but I legitimately cannot think of one. Certainly, all the survivor organisations are led by women who didn’t survive the law that they’re campaigning for. Nor, it seems, are they particularly interested in hearing from women who did: whenever I’ve mentioned them in response to “listen to survivors” comments, the response has been … crickets.

And there’s also research from nearly every country where the law has been introduced, showing that opposition to the law straddles all classes of sex worker. I’m not going to link to it all here because frankly it’s tiring always pointing to research that Swedish model advocates just ignore anyway. Though tellingly, they can’t provide any research that says the opposite.

At the very least, though, a member-based organisation like the NWCI ought to be listening to groups of women before taking policy positions about their lives. This is one of those things that I can’t believe I even have to say. The refusal to do so sends a clear message that it simply isn’t interested in what sex workers think. Its position on this issue is going to be determined by the organisation’s own take on “feminist values”, one of which is apparently not recognition of lived experience. I could dig up loads of NWCI quotes from the Repeal campaign which show the irony of this approach, but I understand Linda Kavanagh from ARC already made that point at the AGM and it clearly didn’t make a difference. The NWCI doesn’t “trust women” who are sex workers, doesn’t want to hear from them, will happily let others speak for them (or purport to), but ultimately will fall back on the conviction that it knows what’s best for them, anyway. Viewed in that light, maybe its embrace of an NGO with roots in the Magdalene laundries shouldn’t be so much of a surprise.