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Monthly Archives: February 2016

After #ge16, where to now for #Repealthe8th?

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The results from count centres across the state are slowly trickling in as I write this, and Labour activists and supporters are shouting that #Repealthe8th is dead as quickly as their candidates are dropping out of the race. They need to stop.

I presume they genuinely believe what they’re saying, just as they believe that we wouldn’t have marriage equality were it not for the Labour Party, but peddling that view damages the pro-choice movement.

Labour might have been confident that they could deliver a referendum on the eighth amendment, but pro-choice activists of all political stripes and none haven’t forgotten that they delivered legislation on X to allow for abortion where a woman would be a risk of dying that contained a 14 year jail sentence penalty for inducing a miscarriage, and the horrifying case of teenage refugee pregnant as a result of rape enduring what was ostensibly a forced c-section at 25 weeks, despite medical professionals acknowledging that she was suicidal. The #Repealthe8th campaign exists in spite of Labour, not because of it. Perhaps Labour in government after #ge16 would have delivered a referendum, but what would that have looked like?

Besides, Labour aren’t in government now, and unless there’s some kind of divine intervention over the next twelve hours it doesn’t look like they will be. They had five years to work to hold a referendum and didn’t. We can acknowledge that Labour were in government when the Marriage Equality referendum happened but it was won because people mobilised and worked their rocks off to get it passed; People who were never involved in politics before came out alongside grassroots groups and got Ireland to a place where it said yes to valuing people as equals. So instead of throwing the toys out of the pram and acting all hard done by, Labour activists would do better to channel their energies into the pro-choice campaign and work for a repeal of these laws. There is nothing to be gained by trying to undermine the positivity of pro-choice campaigners by getting in a huff, throwing hands in the air and saying we should all just forget it now.

That said, it is difficult to ascertain just how much of a deciding factor abortion was in this general election given the number of Fianna Fail TDs that have been returned and their unwillingness to commit to a referendum – but there have been huge returns for independents and political parties who are very much in favour of holding a referendum. The people of Dublin Bay South waved goodbye to Lucinda Creighton, one of the most staunch anti-abortion voices in the Dáil and while this is to be welcomed, this is not a time for pro-choice activists to rest on our laurels. Clare Daly has championed reproductive justice and been returned to the Dáil alongside Joan Collins. Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny are all pro-choice. Sinn Féin have a policy in favour of repeal the eighth. There is a recognition, even amongst conservatives such as Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald that a referendum is inevitable. It is easier now to be pro-choice than it ever has been before and thanks to the work of pro-choice activists and an increase in public support, the stigma surrounding the subject is ebbing away. Now is the time to send a clear message to the returned members of the new Dáil that a commitment to repeal the eighth amendment must form a part of any new Programme for Government. Women must no longer be blocked from accessing appropriate healthcare. Public opinion on the need to repeal the law and provide legal abortion for women is far more progressive than what is represented in the Dáil now, even with the addition of the large range of socialist, republican and left of centre voices. This public opinion needs to be converted into action on the ground.

We must make no mistake, the anti-choice groups that are happy to see women die for want of medical care, will consolidate their efforts in order to keep the eighth amendment in place. They will continue with their bitter newspaper columns full of demonisation and blame, and their shaming billboards and they will continue their misrepresentation and campaigns of outright lies against people who provide women’s healthcare in Ireland. Their attacks on the IFPA and others are not about women’s healthcare, they are about muddying the waters so that they can portray themselves as being something other than religious fundamentalists who want to keep women in the dark ages. They have no intention of stopping so we have an onus to build our movement, to keep up the pressure no TDs and tell them in their clinics, in the streets, in the courts, and in their media streams that they must fight to repeal the eighth. We can’t only depend only on TDs to argue these points in the confines of the Dáil chamber; there is an onus on us to keep speaking to our families and friends to reduce the stigma, to help women accessing abortion care, to publicise information and to counter the outrageous propaganda and lies bandied about by anti-choice activists. We must organise and march in the streets and stand shoulder to shoulder with others campaigning for free, safe and legal abortion.

Pro-choice groups are ready for this fight. Are you?

#Repealthe8th

@stephie08

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An Appeal to the Left from Sex Workers

On Friday 15th February, a sex worker was found murdered by a client at her place of work in Aberdeen, Scotland. The media reported on this with the sole purpose to sensationalise, dehumanise and victim blame.  They set about doing this by using her full name; giving details of her hourly rate; giving detailed information from her bio on her escort site; reporting information from her personal social media site to support their depiction of an irresponsible mother living a double life rather than a working mother.  

In all of this reporting, the focus is completely on minimising the murder of a woman of colour rather than on the murder itself.  We know all of these largely irrelevant personal details about her, yet all we know about the alleged murderer is that he is 25.

If any other worker had been murdered on the job, we would be hearing about this from the left. Especially when laws exist that prevent those workers from taking measures to protect themselves from harm. Instead there has been a deafening silence, so challenging the sensational articles has been left to fellow sex workers who are grieving and scared.

Not only are we not hearing about this from people on the left, but we are currently being told to vote left. This will mean in some cases, voting not only for those who are silent on this, but also for those who are actively campaigning for the very laws that created the conditions for this murder in the first place.

Those who do not support sex workers struggle for bodily autonomy and worker rights on the left are the AAA/SP (Anti-Austerity Alliance/Socialist Party) and the Workers Party.

AAA/SP 

The AAA/ SP actively campaign on issues that affect sex workers negatively. When these activists say ‘my body, my choice’ they don’t mean that sex workers are capable of making an active choice over what they do with their bodies – they just mean reproductive choices.

They consistently patronise sex workers and question the choice they have made and the conditions under which they have made it under. Not only this, but they talk about the work sex workers do as something that is happening to them, rather than something they are actively participating in. When they say they will fight for workers rights, they don’t mean sex workers rights as can be seen here:

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Or here, where Ruth relies on an article from Anti-Choice site LifeSite News:

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When the AAA/SP hold a ROSA meeting on violence against women, you won’t hear them mention the abuse that the sex worker women face as part of that narrative. This all serves to further perpetuate the violence sex workers experience.

They continue to ignore the fact that many sex workers are mothers, many sex workers are students, many sex workers are working class, that sex workers are in fact workers. Their insistence on excluding sex workers struggle from their worldview is continuing to have a dangerous impact on women involved in the sex industry. As I said, they don’t just exclude sex workers, they actively campaign to ensure they are put in more danger and harm than they are already, and this is a problem.

Ruth Coppinger’s record of treating sex workers in a repulsive manner goes relatively unchallenged on the left. If it was any other type of worker, this kind of thinking would just be unheard of and completely condemned by everyone on the left.

During the time that the Sexual Offenses Bill was making its way through the Dail, it was difficult to tell the difference between Ruth Coppinger and any other Labour TD attempting to gain opportunistic support from the anti sex work lobby, or otherwise known as the conservative or religious right. When a socialist TD is as enthusiastic about a bill as Labour or the anti-choicers are, then it might be time to question what exactly they mean by socialist.

In fact, given Ruth’s record on the issue, it is quite incredible that she is running in the general election under ‘Women for Ruth’ banner – quoting that ‘Ruth will fight for your rights’ – but only if you aren’t repulsively selling sex or going off making immoral choices about your bodily autonomy that Ruth says you’re incapable of making.

 

ROSA (Reproductive rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) is the feminist side-project of the AAA/SP. They held a talk on the sex industry at their last Bread and Roses Festival where Ruhama attended, spoke, and posed for a PR photoshoot with them. The second wave was spoken highly of by Laura Fitzgerald of the SP, and a conflation of sex work and trafficking occurred throughout.

 

The Workers Party

The Workers Party yesterday released the following statement in a message when requested to clarify their position on sex work:

“The Workers Party is firmly opposed to sex-slavery, sex trafficking and the commoditization of women’s bodies. We believe that the conceptualisation of sex work / prostitution as a “choice” undermines the very real material and cultural deprivation and exclusion which overwhelmingly drive women into prostitution under capitalism. People diving in sewerage or collecting cans for remuneration similarly engage in labour which is exploitative, and which as socialists we believe should be eliminated. Prostitution should be seen in this light. The Workers’ Party advocates eliminating the material conditions that drive workers into exploitative situations. Primarily this should involve providing comprehensive access to social housing, decent employment and social welfare, and the creation of respectful and dignified state bodies to support women in transitioning into less exploitative employment.

This strategy must necessarily be accompanied by harm reduction measures in the immediate term. In relation to how harm reduction for those involved in the sex trade can be ensured, the Workers’ Party does not support the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, recognises the evidence that it has not been successful in other countries. Neither have we taken a position to support full decriminalization. We continue to debate the issue within our party, within a frame which respects women, recognises the flawed model of “choice” often used to justify legalization of prostitution, but also recognising the difficulties which criminalisation of sex work poses to ensuring harm reduction.”

The minute you conflate sex trafficking with sex work, your position is completely flawed. The argument that sex work should ideally be abolished because of its ‘exploitative nature’ only stems from the influence of the religious right, whorephobia and moralism and neglects the fact that all work is exploitative.

The jobs that the Workers Party refer to above are valuable jobs, and include work that is and will be necessary even under parliamentary socialist reforms. However, to compare sex work and by extension, predominantly women sex workers, to diving in sewage really takes the anti sex worker rhetoric to a new vile low.

Let’s go with it though for a moment: Sewage diving is carried out by professional divers who are usually trades people first and it involves high-tech diving in places such as sewage farms, basements and drains of hospitals.  It takes careful planning and is a very serious job with stand-by divers ready in case something goes wrong. It is essential work especially in instances where bacteria is used to break down solids instead of chemicals or where repairs are required to the machines used to breakdown sewage.  It is difficult to imagine a situation where the Workers Party would not support requests by sewage workers to support measures that they deem would keep them safe while working, such as being able to work in teams for example.  However, where sex work is concerned, the Workers Party state that they have not taken the position requested by sex workers which will keep them safe, namely decriminalisation.  Their insistence on using the term ‘prostitution’ is indicative of the disregard they have for sex workers self-determination. But we shouldn’t have to be talking about sewage work when trying to win rights for sex workers that will keep them alive.

It is the experience of sex workers that no other work gets imagined as being redundant in the future as much as sex work.  The fixation on this can only be due to moralism.The questioning of choice is a familiar obsession of many on the left and it contains sexist undertones where predominantly women sex workers are deemed unable to make an active choice to engage in sex work. Regardless of the factors that drive women to engage in sex work, questioning the very notion of that choice clearly says that the Workers Party don’t trust women to make their own choices and think that they know better than the women themselves, thereby stripping women of autonomy.

There have been conflicting answers from various members of the Workers Party when questioned on their position, so sex workers say that they need to immediately retract this position, publicly apologise to sex workers and make a clear statement on the position they do have, if it differs from the one they released yesterday.

Appeal from sex workers 

Sex workers lives are at risk if the left continues to ignore their voices alongside conservatives, so sex workers are finding themselves in the unusual position of having to protest the left to change their position. Protest and pressure work.  We’ve seen many pledges in advance of this election yet none for sex workers who are some of the most margianalised in society.

The time to pressure those looking to be elected is now and it’s not fair to expect sex workers to remain silent on a matter that literally involves endangering their lives or to call those supporting them sectarian for doing so. In this respect, following the murder of Bianca in Scotland, a sex worker based in Ireland put out a call for people voting in the elections to not vote for AAA/SP candidates.  She asked that we extend our pro choice priority to sex workers. She said:

I would like to ask people not to vote Paul Murphy or any other AAA/SP candidate and stop singing praises for him/them. Him and his party supports the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients. It frustrates me to no end, that people turn around and say, well his policies on other issues important to lefties are good, but a shame about the sex work issue and but I will vote for him anyway. We wouldn’t accept this with abortion, so why do we allow it with sex work?

I got some sad news that a sex worker sister was murdered recently. Criminalisation of sex work and stigma was why she was targeted – and this will only get worse with client criminalisation. Please stop tooting the AAA’s horn, cause if it was up to them – they’d ignore evidence-based policy and sex workers’ voices, and would rather endanger their lives even more in the name of ideology.

 

…I want people to understand, that the next “dead hooker” story could possibly be a comrade.”

Not even 12 hours after this call was made however, leftists continued to promote AAA/SP election material and promote their politics as a chance for a ‘united left’. This completely ignored sex workers demands in favour of their own ideas of good politics.

This continued denial of the reality of sex workers lives and struggle is only further damaging sex workers lives. The longer we ignore this, the more likely that one of our own comrades is going to suffer the fate that Bianca did, along with so many others. We cannot, as feminists, leftists and activists, continue to throw our sex worker comrades under a bus. Voting for those who continue to abhorrently disregard sex worker rights will only serve to increase the violence that sex workers experience and worsen the stigma that sex workers face every day.

A vote for those who deny sex worker rights is not a pro choice vote and it is not a women’s rights vote, nor is it a workers vote. Women can’t wait, say the AAA/SP and they are right!

After the Russian Revolution, Innessa Armand didn’t seek to abolish, or ‘end demand’ of sex work, but she actually decriminalised it, therefore providing sex workers more safety and autonomy over where and with whom they work. In the words of Inessa Armand: “If women’s liberation is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without women’s liberation.”

We see you, writing us out of history. Again.

The radio was on this weekend while I was in the kitchen. I was doing about seven different things at once at the time so I’m not sure what show it was or who was on it, but it was some male author or playwright or actor or some such being interviewed on it by a male presenter. The interviewee was being asked about his favourite authors and was predictably listing off Joyce and Beckett et al, and talking about taking part in a production of Waiting for Godot when younger with a listing of his male relatives and how lifechanging it all was and it suddenly occurred to me that what I was listening to was the ongoing act of removing all women writers and thinkers and playwrights and artists and dramatists and actors from the accepted list of ‘important’ work yet again.

We see it everywhere really; male bloggers and self-appointed, as well as actually appointed ‘political analysts’ only commenting and retweeting and talking to one another in their all-men’s social media echo chambers that may as well be the all-men’s exclusive social clubs of yesteryear and not even noticing that the voices of women and other not male people are missing from their conversations. It becomes particularly obvious when they start offering their (generally incredibly facile and poorly thought-out) opinions on women’s bodies, women’s health, and women’s rights as though they and their opinions were both revolutionary and also the final possible say on the matter. We see you.

We see you, men of the left who wouldn’t give up a platform to a woman even if you were paid to, suddenly proclaiming that the women of 1916 are revolutionary unsung heroes and listing all of their names and achievements; a list you have absolutely definitely lifted from the academic research of other women of today whose work you didn’t even credit in  your oh-so-feminist shout-out.

We see you, men who call yourselves feminists who absolutely Never Ever even think to include a single solitary work by a woman in any of your social media listings of your absolutely favourite, groundbreaking writers, artists, social commentators, thinkers, musicians, and creators. You claim you think we’re people too; just not people with anything of import to ever say about the world.

We see you, male curators of this year’s performances in the Abbey Theatre who decided that not a single solitary play by a single solitary woman was worth including in their year long celebration of Irish theatre. Teresa Deevy‘s entire body of work was utterly forgotten by an Abbey Theatre of 1937 onwards, who found her too uncomfortably revolutionary and feminist in Dev’s Ireland; the same is happening with the women writing and directing and performing plays in Ireland of 1990 onwards as their work, our work is being overlooked and ignored all over again by the men who continue interviewing each other and deciding that each other’s work and each other’s opinions are what is canon and important and Worth Reading.

We see you, Kate O’Brien, Edna O’Brien, Nell McCafferty, Teresa Deevy, Augusta Gregory, Eva Gore-Booth, Nuala O’Faolain, Éilis Ní Dhuibhne, Jennifer Johnson, and many many others and your works being written out of history, out of the context of 20th century Ireland, and left to gather dust. We see you Rosaleen McDonagh, Belinda McKeon, Sarah Clancy, Rita Ann Higgins, and the many other vivid, radical, angry women’s voices of 21st century Ireland who are only ever treated as the ‘other’ voice, writing from the edges; never as though their narratives were a genuine and driving one, on which entire stories and entire movements could be centred.

We see you.

 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Revenge Porn: My Two Cents on #UCD200

Writings From Wymark

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Sometimes, it is really difficult to believe in Ireland. A country where the woman’s special place in the home is enshrined in our constitution, alongside the eighth amendment, which disallows those capable of birth bodily autonomy. It is even harder to love Ireland when case after case of sexual abuse gets acquitted or a reduced sentence is sought out and achieved by perpetrators. It becomes impossible to endure when a crime is committed against you and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it; and no one to listen to you either.

When the reports of #UCD200 came out, my heart sank but simultaneously, I felt like we had a chance at change. I hoped for justice – finally we could have a serious discussion about revenge porn and momentum to introduce legislation to combat online sexual abuse. But in fact, once again, women were shut down and no…

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