The Fight for Abortion Rights in Northern Ireland Continues

The Fight for Abortion Rights in Northern Ireland Continues

The most recent vote in the House of Commons, which was followed by an outcry from some members of the public and political establishment, shows how abortion rights activists must keep the pressure on the political establishment. 

To this day, Northern Ireland is among a number of countries in the world without abortion rights, including Egypt, Iraq, and Malta. Worryingly, abortion rights are being eroded in a number of countries, including the United States with the recent signing, in Alabama, of the Human Life Protection Act which defines a foetus as ‘persons’ that isn’t that far away from the 8th amendment.

Currently, pregnant people seeking abortion in Northern Ireland still have to travel or procure safe, but illegal, abortion pills through services like Women on Web and Women Help Women. The number of Northern Irish people seeking abortions in England and Wales has increased by 22% which illustrates the urgent need for abortion to be legalised in the North. If they are not in a position to travel then their only option is to obtain abortion pills online and risk prosecution and punishment. This risk became reality for a mother who was prosecuted for providing abortion pills to her 15-year old daughter in 2013 – with a trial scheduled in November of this year. 

But it seems that now the outcome of this trial is unknown, following the most recent vote in the House of Commons. Just two and half years after the collapse of Stormont, if power sharing is not restored by October 21st, Northern Ireland could finally have both abortion rights and marriage equality. This is the result of tireless work by abortion rights activists and LGBTQ+ activists who put enough pressure on establishment politicians from both unionist and nationalist parties to put these important issues on the table. 

It can seem that change is inevitable, but it is necessary to realise that the work is not finished. Abortion right activists must keep the pressure on politicians that call themselves pro-choice. This means that the abortion rights movement in Northern Ireland must be a cross-community movement that doesn’t give in to sectarian pressure. Abortion and marriage equality are cross-community issues. It has been shown time and time again that public opinion is ahead of the positions of mainstream parties, a poll by Amnesty International in 2018 shows that 65% of the public in Northern Ireland believes that abortion shouldn’t be a crime, 67% of DUP voters also agreed that abortion shouldn’t be a crime and 78% of Labour voters think that the UK government should act to the change the law. 

With it just being over a year since the repeal of the 8th amendment, it is important to remember that the battle for abortion rights is not over. We won twelve weeks on request, but this right can be taken away by the political establishment. Even if power-sharing is restored by October, the issue of abortion isn’t going away anytime soon. Abortion rights activists in Northern Ireland will continue to push for the decriminalisation of abortion and public opinion towards the legalisation of abortion will only continue to grow. It is important to keep fighting on this issue, to make sure that the abortion laws in Northern Ireland offer real choice for all in Northern Ireland, not just in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality. 

Photo courtesy of Rally for Choice via Facebook

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Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

The popularity of this summer’s Women’s World Cup was unprecedented…

Record numbers of viewers tuned in to watch the matches. England’s semi-final match against the United States (US), with nearly 12 million views, was the most watched English TV programme of the year. Ditto France’s quarter-final match against the US.  

US viewership of the final in which its team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 was 22% higher than the 2018 men’s final. Remarkably, 88% of Dutch TV viewers also watched the match. Overall, FIFA estimates that this year’s World Cup has attracted one billion viewers for the first time in history. 

Despite Ireland’s team failing to qualify, Irish viewers also tuned-in in their droves, with a peak audience of 315,000 watching England’s dramatic defeat on RTE (surprise, surprise). The fact that Michele O’Neill was assistant referee during the final (becoming the first ever Irish woman to referee a World Cup soccer match) also helped to pique interest levels. 

There are several reasons for the dramatic take-off in viewership for this year’s World Cup. 

For one thing, the skill levels in the women’s game are increasing year on year. In soccer, skill is most accurately measured by the number of passes in a game, rather than by the number of goals. For instance, a typical English Premier League game contains more than 900 passes but this falls to about 650 passes for games in the fourth division. The average number of passes in this year’s World Cup is up 10% on 2015 levels, with latest figures from Opta showing the average game had 825 passes – and that data does not even factor in the knock-out games! The prize money on offer also doubled to 30 million dollars, compared with the 2015 prize pot. The fact that most countries broadcast the World Cup on free-to-air channels like RTE also helped to win more viewers.

Another key reason for the growth in women’s football is the transformative power of new, multi-million sponsorship deals. Some sponsors like Visa are now spending equally on promoting the women’s World Cup as on the men’s. UEFA’s recent unbundling of the rights to the women’s competitions in Europe also encouraged many female-focused brands like Avon to get involved. 

However, issues remain. The annual global wage for a female professional footballer is around 7000 dollars. In England, which has one of the wealthier competitions, a female footballer barely takes home one-hundredth of what a Premier League male footballer makes. These financial issues lead many female footballers to consider throwing in their proverbial boots. 

The US women’s team marked International Women’s Day 2019 by filing a class-action suit against their employer, the United States Soccer Federation, alleging that differences in pay and employment conditions between the women’s and men’s teams violate the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act because the women’s team is getting paid less despite engaging in “substantially equal work”

The US team also called out the FIFA scheduling of the World Cup final as “disrespectful” to the women’s game due to the decision to schedule the Copa America final and the Gold Cup final on the same day.

Closer to home, the FAI has attracted criticism for its perceived failure to truly progress the women’s game. Colin Bell, the former manager of the Irish women’s team, recently stepped down due to his frustration with how women’s football is being handled in this country. In Ireland, aside from the Senior Cup final, there is little to no coverage of domestic women’s football in the media or on television and the women’s game is definitely not getting the attention, nor the financial support, it needs and deserves. 

Don’t be a Fairweather Fan. Let’s show that our support for women’s football is not a passing fad! Now that the furor of the World Cup has passed, why not find out more about the Irish women’s national team and consider going to see them playing in person?

Photo courtesy of US Soccer WNT via Twitter

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Why self-care can be a radical act

Why self-care can be a radical act

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde, writer and feminist

What do you think of when you hear the term self-care? Do bath-bombs, luxury spa days or yoga retreats spring to mind? Is it reminiscent of a solitary walk in the woods or of curling up with a good book by the fire? Maybe it simply means cooking yourself a good meal or going to bed on time. More importantly, do you react positively to the term or do you view it as somewhat self-indulgent?

Self-care relates to the self. It is personal in nature. Thus, it makes sense that self-care looks different for each of us. However, the concept has an interesting and complex history that most people have forgotten about.

With the advent of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, self-care became a political act. Women and people of colour perceived the white, patriarchal medical system as inadequate for their specific needs and – worse – as sexist and racist. To tackle hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation, marginalised groups had to look after their own health, simply because nobody else would. For women, taking the time to self-care also went against patriarchal ideas about women’s role in society, as women are often type-cast as carers of others rather than self-carers.

As Sadie Trombetta writes, for these groups, “[self-care was] a courageous act that started with acknowledging that they had needs, that their needs were important, and that those needs deserved to be met, no matter what their oppressors said”.

Many black people at the time lived in the kind of sub-par conditions strongly correlated with ill-health. To help address this structural inequality, groups like the Black Panthers set up free community-service programs to look after the healthcare needs of their community and ensure their access to healthcare. Women’s groups took their cue from these community programs and opened health clinics to ensure women – particularly poor, working-class women – could get the care they needed. This often included access to reproductive services.

Around the same time, a broader wellness or self-care trend arose within society – however, this had more to do with improving quality of life than ensuring access to healthcare. People began doing activities such as yoga and paying attention to their diet in order to create positive health (rather than the mere absence of illness). By the 1980s, this trend had become mainstream and commercialised, and soon it developed into the mass billion-dollar industry we are familiar with today.

As a result, some argue that self-care has been hijacked by capitalism and that the concept has been reduced to something we buy – wholly divorced from its political origins. However, for marginalised groups the act of looking after oneself is still arguably a radical act for the reasons outlined by Trombetta. Furthermore, in airplanes we are told to tend to our own oxygen masks first before helping others. This isn’t selfish – rather, it puts us in a better position to help others and to deal with life’s challenges. Used wisely, self-care can help us become our best selves so that we can also serve society – a noble aim for any aspiring activist!

If we are seriously concerned about effecting change in our world, it is important to keep psychologically healthy so that we don’t become disheartened or burn out. The fact that the term ‘self-care’ was googled twice as much in the week after Trump’s election illustrates this point beautifully.

Now, where are my bath salts…?

Photo via Pixabay

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For Earth’s Sake: our environmental crisis interpreted by young artists

For Earth’s Sake: our environmental crisis interpreted by young artists

Do you, like I, find the constant influx of news on our environmental crisis hard-hitting? The exhibition For Earth’s Sake by youth activist group Young Friends of the Earth (YFOE) is an opportunity to see the crisis from new, unique perspectives. It runs at In-spire Galerie in Dublin until Tuesday 16th of July.  I attended the opening last week and gathered some insights from some of the artists involved.

Thomas Morelli has always been interested in art. As he explained, the Teletubbies were his first muse. Speaking about his watercolour, Adult volcano, he said: “ the fundamental role of capitalism in causing the climate crisis left me very depressed for a while. Adult volcano communicates my idea that most of us must work far more hours than we are designed to. This plight we face, by living under capitalism, leaves no room for our creative instinct to develop.”Morelli went on to explain that children are open, curious and far more in touch with their creativity. “This part of ourselves that is us at our best is knocked out of us by adulthood,” he added.

Thomas intends to continue making art to get people around him thinking about his ideas and to talk about the climate crisis – which he does well with his other work on display here, Paint planets. 

“Nowadays, Nature is made, not grown,” explains Martina Dubicka, another young artist on display at the exhibition. “So much of the nature around us is artificial, calculated and planned.” Her work, Glass Natura is a digital video projection, made up of two pieces she combined. Martina explains that this piece was a way for her to communicate her thoughts on how we are making the natural world almost unnatural. “Nature is no longer growing of its own accord, frequently. Such as flowers which have been subject to some sort of human manipulation instead.”

Martina has always been interested in the natural world and visual art. But it was when she joined YFOE that she became an environmental activist. This was also when she realised that she needed to incorporate her environmental activism into her artwork.

For Earth’s Sake, is an opportunity to inspire yourself and engage with the visual conversation on the climate crisis. It is the first ever art exhibition organized by Young Friends of the Earth, and will run in In-spire Galerie until July 16th.

Find out more about the exhibition: https://www.youngfoe.ie/what-we-do/art-exhibition.html

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A year of Greta

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Sudan: protesters for democracy massacred

Sudan: protesters for democracy massacred

Protesters demanding a civilian rule to be implemented in Sudan were violently repressed by military forces, last month, in a massacre that was condemned by the UN.

On June 3rd, thousands of Sudanese protesters – who were staging a sit-in in front of the Army’s headquarters in the capital Khartoum – were violently broken up by military forces leaving over a hundred people, including children, dead or injured. Approximately 40 bodies were pulled from the Nile River following the attack.

Protesters were demanding that the government should be turned into democratic civilian rule. Currently, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) is governing Sudan. They took power when President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup after a 30 year presidency, following mass protests towards the end of his reign.

However, the people of Sudan lost trust in the TMC governing the country. They believed the government should be civilian led, causing protests which eventually led to the massacre.

As well as people being killed there have also been assaults, rapes and sexual assaults happening to men and women. Sudanese children have been killed, detained and sexually abused.

One person who was killed in the massacre was Mohamed Mattar, a London’s Brunel University graduate. He was protecting two women at the protest when he was shot. He has become a known figure of the massacre, with many people turning their profile pictures a steel blue as it was his favourite colour. This blue has also become a symbol of solidarity for the Sudan protests.

While there has been a rise in the media coverage of the protests and the massacre in the last couple of weeks, there has been very little ‘western media’ coverage. The spotlight was shone on the situation when singer Rihanna posted about the massacre and the violence happening in Sudan on her Instagram; from here the media coverage and awareness about the situation has risen drastically.

Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called on Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) to allow an investigation into the bloody crackdown. About a week after the event, protesters came back to continue the sit-in, after the country’s military rulers admitted that abuses were committed during the attack of the camp.

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Image courtesy of Getty/Brendan Smialowski/AFP

 

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Can consumers control the conduct around climate change?

Can consumers control the conduct around climate change?

In the drive to discover how to best tackle climate change, researchers have explored why the trend of sole responsibility being placed on consumer behaviour is not only wrong but harmful and how consumer responsibility can be applied.

In recent discourse about climate change, increasing responsibility has been placed on consumers to recognize their impact on the environment and to turn the situation around. The push for individual recognition of their role in the fight against climate change marks an important change in the conversation. 

It has become increasingly clear that rather than the responsibility being shared by consumers and organizations to improve their environmental outputs, it has been more so shifted onto consumers. This trend of shifting away focus from corporate behaviour and focusing on that of the consumer, begs the question: can there be significant change, when for each small good the consumer does the overwhelming bad of the corporation counteracts it? Or is it a “two steps forward and ten steps back” situation?  

It has been theorized that organizations often create problems in order to provide a specific solution that furthers their own interests. The problem of climate change is one that already exists, framing the problem as largely an issue of individual consumption is not only wrong but harmful. 

While little actions are being taken in the right direction by individuals, giant actions are simultaneously being taken in the other by bigger entities. Straws are a perfect example: plastic straws having a negative impact on the environment, and especially marine life, businesses have pushed consumers to invest in reusable straws to lessen their impact.

However, behind those reusable straws, one must question the waste incurred in the process of its production, delivery methods and the packaging it comes in. Independent environmental consciousness is undoubtedly a good thing, still, there is a necessity to ensure the efforts of the individuals are not being invalidated by organizations.

The responsibility for environmental consciousness should be borne by all, on all levels. The consumer can fight climate change by their choices, but unless there is a big push for big corporations to take action to limit their own environmental impact, progress to a more sustainable society will be minimal.

Consumers have such an influence over the general market, by thinking consciously and acting accordingly, consumers can change the conduct of corporations. If we demand not only green products but also green means of production, and support brands who supply it, that would be a giant step in consuming our way out of climate change.

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash 

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