Change is slow, especially for women
It didn’t rain! It usually rains. It’s International Women’s Day again and I wondered had anything changed since last year. Change is always slow. Changing an oppressive cruel law affecting Irish women, the eighth amendment, is going to be achieved inch by inch.
For anyone who isn’t aware of the eighth amendment, it was passed in 1983 and enshrined in our constitution, not that a constitution is the place for that kind of thing. It has resulted in almost 3,500 women each year travelling from Irish shores to get an abortion, usually to the UK. How Brexit is going to affect this terrible arrangement is a cause for concern. Tighter borders will make the journey more difficult and expensive. The need to repeal, not replace, the eighth amendment is urgently required, lest we continue to torture women for being women.
We gathered at the Garden of Remembrance. It’s the usual meeting point for these now familiar marches. Wednesday night’s march was one of several organised around the country for International Women’s Day. Having taken part in two marches I thought I knew what to expect: the atmosphere, the crowds, the crowds. However, walking from O’Connell Street up Frederick Street for one of these protests was so exhilarating. I passed so many different strands of Irish society. Students, expectant mothers, mothers pushing prams, middle aged women, men. Some brought their bicycle along, some brought the family pet. Little kids were carried, pushed, cajoled to stay peaceful. Purple hair, green hair, no hair. Every definition of womanhood was represented. Well, almost everyone.
It had been a long day at work. Tales of women’s achievements reverberated around me and the campus turned purple in celebration. As much as International Women’s Day is about celebrating female achievement, gender equality and how far we’ve come, it is also a reminder of the steps yet to be taken. We’ve progressed but some have been left behind. It’s difficult to reconcile this.
This year;s events included two protests in Dublin, a strike4repeal afternoon demonstration and a later evening gathering. I was gutted not to be able to attend the lunchtime event. Sometimes it’s about numbers, and showing up is an important part of making your voice heard. No amount of complaining to family and friends can make up for simply showing up. At 12.30pm women across Dublin downed tools and set off for O’Connell Bridge to strike for a repeal of the eighth amendment. I honestly thought it would be a small affair, not about to bother anyone. However, given the global climate of anger, 4,500 women and men showed up and took the bridge. They held it too. For hours. People were naturally irked. Traffic came to a standstill. Disruptions everywhere. Laura Graham, writing in The Conversation has highlighted this point in a recent article, namely that civil disobedience is required, and yesterday’s stand was an excellent example of how to be civilly disobedient. Yes, some were put out, complaints abounded about blocking up the streets. But isn’t that what protesting is all about. You are not there to be nice; you are there to disrupt.
Back at the beginnings of the march we heard inspired and inspiring speakers rally the crowds. And then we set off. Over 10,000 people set forth to shout for change. We weaved our way across the city, first bracing the road works and bemused pedestrians on O’Connell Street. On the intersection of Earl Street North and O’Connell Street, where that great phallic symbol, the Spire, sits stood a feverishly worked up member of the Christian community. Complete with microphone to carry his loud message to as many distracted shoppers as possible, he reminded us of this passage and that passage. But it was all joyously drowned out by cheers, whistles, calls from the pink hat brigade. People lining the protest route cheered. Cheers went up for this encouragement. Cameras of all kinds were switched on. I’m sure I’m in a highlights video somewhere.
We carried on across O’Connell Bridge, the site of that famous afternoon struggle, up Westmoreland Street where business owners came out to cheer, passed in front of Trinity College Dublin, where I suspect many of the participants had rallied and ended on Kildare Street. All of Kildare Street. And maybe a little of Molesworth Street.
By then it was 7pm, so our politic officials had probably departed for the day. The site of that condemning amendment was also the site of progressive legislation. Perhaps a repeal could be next. Many spoke. Many more chanted, sang, cheered. People eventually wandered off, to the Sugar Club or home to pack away their placards and maracas and drums until the next gathering. Meanwhile, the Abortion Rights Campaign, the X-ile Project and many other local and national groups are continuing their efforts.
At the 2014 march for choice 5,000 attended. In 2015 that number went up to 10,000. In 2016 there was 20,000 demanding a change to this repressive law. We will march again in 2017, for this battle is not over. We are gaining ground and public support. We are noisy. We are angry and ultimately we will succeed. Three and a half thousand women a year need us to succeed.