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Here’s a bizarre dichotomy to consider: corrective rape. Yes, raping a person to make them see the error of their ways. I wish I could tell you I’d made it up, but it seems it’s all the rage at home, in South Africa. Now take a moment to consider and remember the following women, all victims of corrective rape, all black, all young, all lesbians, all dead:

* Noxolo Nogwaza — raped, stabbed and stoned to death in an alleyway in Kwa-Thema, near

Eudy Simelane - murdered.

Johannesburg, in April, simply for being a lesbian. She was also a mother. Her eyes were pushed out of her skull, used condoms littered the scene, a paving stone lay near her crushed head, and there was a beer bottle against her vagina. She was 24. Her name means peace.

* Luleka Makiwane — contracted HIV when she was raped by a cousin hellbent on trying to “prove” she was a woman, not a man. Cock does that, you know, it sorts the women from the men. Luleka ultimately succumbed to Aids.

* Nosizwe Nomsa Bizana — gang-raped by five men, and now dead from crypto meningitis, believed to have been contracted during the attack, or possibly as a complication of the trauma she suffered.

* Nokuthula Radebe — strangled with her own shoelaces and found in an abandoned building with her pants pulled down and plastic covering her face, at the age of 20.

* Eudy Simelane — gang-raped, brutally beaten and stabbed to death at the age of 31 because she was a lesbian. Eudy was a talented footballer who had played for the acclaimed South African national women’s team. She worked with the handicapped and was an HIV/ Aids counsellor. Her naked body was found dumped in a ditch.

These are some of the 30-odd women known to have been murdered in my homeland in the last decade merely because of their sexual orientation. Countless more have been raped for being lesbians, a crime now dubbed “corrective rape” because the perpetrators seem to believe that a violent, demeaning shot from the old meat injection is all it will take to make lesbians see sense and realise that a penis is what they needed all along. This is precisely what happened to Millicent Gaika (pictured), a lesbian who was raped and beaten for five hours by a man she knew who said he was going to turn her into a woman.

Millicent Gaika after being repeatedly raped and beaten for five hours.

Yes, I know: it’s about as logical as suggesting a gang of gay thugs raping a straight bloke will change his sexual allegiance, but some people really are pig-ignorant, illogical and deluded, while bloated with dangerous machismo and immense hubris.

Stupidity and ego are a toxic combination. Some men think their love is all you need.

Let me get one thing straight though: on paper, South Africa is one of the most progressive places on the planet when it comes to gay rights. The country’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to stipulate that nobody may be discriminated against due to sexual orientation, or gender or race for that matter. South Africa was the first country in notoriously homophobic Africa (where 37 countries outlaw homosexuality completely) and the fifth country in the whole world to legalise same-sex marriage. There’s none of that civil union lark. Lest the First World feel smug, please note that 42 Commonwealth countries still have homophobic legislation on their statute books.

Equally, South Africa was the first republic to provide non-heterosexual people with the same rights regarding adoption and military service as heterosexual folk. We’re very proud of our constitution. Well, some of us are.

In the thriving cities and metropolises, being gay is pretty much accepted, while there are Gay Pride parades, and there is a thriving gay scene.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t always filter down to the boneheads on the street, to the cretins who see lesbianism as a direct affront to their manliness, an insult, a rejection of the lads, and something they must self-righteously fix with a brutal beating from their own beloved love truncheon. It’s a growing problem as the poison of homophobia seeps through the dust and the shantytowns.

Yes, rape as therapy.

Gay rights' protesters remember Eudy Simelane.

Countless women are raped each day because of their sexual orientation. One estimate based on calls to a Cape Town-based action group alone puts the figure at ten a week in that city’s informal sprawl. Last Thursday (5 May), a mere 13-year-old girl was raped in Pretoria’s Atteridgeville because she was open about fancying girls.

Yet, very obviously, rape is not a cure for anything at all, and being raped has never changed a person’s mind — except, perhaps, to confirm a woman’s suspicions that some men are barbaric and, in the case of gang-raped lesbians, to confirm that they were right all along.

Finally,  possibly ten years too late, the South African police are setting up a task-force to tackle the issue.

What is needed, however, is a complete change of mindset, a realisation that in every civilization since the beginning of time between three and ten percent of the population were gay. It’s seen in frescoes from Pompeii, in ancient Greek mythology, from Michelangelo to Marlene Dietrich, from Ottoman sultans to Oscar Wilde, from King Shaka to Billie Jean King… It’s frequently seen in the animal kingdom too. It was rife and widely accepted in Africa before the missionaries came.

And why should anyone care what another adult does with their own genitalia anyway? What goes on between consenting adults is nobody else’s business at all. Not that any of this is consolation to the families, friends and lovers of all the victims of corrective rape, or any salve to the jagged memory of Luleka, Nosizwe, Nokuthula, Eudy and Noxolo, whose name means peace…

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Get your body beach ready! Get your bikini body now!
What? Why? My body IS beach ready thank-you, lumps, pale skin, wobbly bits and all. I just want to swim, not to enter Ms South Beach. I’m not going out there to titillate the surfers. I simply want to build an enormous moat with the kids, skim perfect pebbles, and maybe look for interesting critters in the rock pools.
What I do want though is a new swimsuit. No, actually I want genuine fullblown swimming costumery, preferably Victorian, something that ends at my knees, that blooms over my bumps, that shovels up the ole boobs into a grand shelf and hides at least some of my sins.
I want to be comfortable.
I want it in stripes.
I want.

What I really want (from a 1950s Vogue photo shoot) only in Lycra, with support panels please.

I suspect Nigella Lawson wanted the very same when she tossed her languid, luscious self into the ocean off Australia dressed from head-to-toe (quite literally) in a startlingly unflattering black burqini. You’ve seen the photos taken by the paparazzi she was doubtless trying to avoid: our lovely Nigella plopped about in the waves looking remarkably like a clumsy sea lion with her button nose and shiny black roundy body, and I sighed in deepest sympathy, along with thousands of women on the curvy-to-morbidly-obese spectrum the world over.
Nigella, I feel your pain. I don’t want to prance about on the beach in the equivalent of Lycra underwear either.

Hold on a sec though: did I say I want a new swimsuit? Actually, I want a swimsuit full stop, with no “new” about it, for I currently don’t own one. Several years of swimwear shopping trauma, changing-room rage and scuttling to the water in baggy T-shirts worn over whatever I can borrow have brought me to this sorry point.
See, swimwear is not made for women like me and Nigella, women with hips and thighs and, dare I say, real-life labia. Swimwear is all bikinis and tankinis, with tummy-tucking ruching and breast-hoiking cups for those jugs, but I have yet to find a cossie for the classic pear: smallish on top but abundant down below. Equally, there’s nothing out there for the Nigellaesque hourglass either, unless she’s a size eight.

Nigella's burqini

The hot-pant style often suggested to us pears simply cuts straight through the meaty hip-thigh circumference like a rubber band, causing the sections above and below the elastic to bulge much like a squeezed balloon. The legs (often dumpy on a pear) are foreshortened, the bum oozes out and the body is often too short (we pears are long-trunked). Trying on a longer body and bigger size means the straps are too long and sad little boobs are left stranded, a couple of floppy fish sagging in spandex.
You can get two-pieces that are meant to do the job, with high-waisted bottoms to marshall the gut and a cute, padded bikini top — handy because two-pieces can be ordered in separate sizes for each half — but again, the bottom cuts straight through the leg at its widest point. There are great 1940s and 50s styled swimsuits out there too, but I just look squat in them all.

So I want a modern take on a Victorian swimsuit, only body-fitted, and with Lycra and support. All my friends want one too. It must end at my knees, lift my boobs, support my tummy and not go transparent when it hits the water. A cute frill (sewn down so it doesn’t billow in the water) or a bit of ruffle is optional. It must fit a size ten on the top and a size twelve… okay… size fourteen at the bottom, with a long body.
I have scoured the internet. The closest I’ve come so far is a picture of a cartoon hippopotamus doing ballet. It’s either that or a wetsuit.

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Now first things first. These are called SC-OH-NES. Not “scons” as my father says, bless his cotton socks (that are clearly not helping his pronunciation). Right then.

So I have had the opportunity go home sweet home for the first time in – gosh – almost three months (thank you obstetrics), and whilst there, I clearly had to raid my beloved and abandoned ingredients cupboard. I also did a biteen of shopping and picked up yumloads of fruit, strawberries included. I’ve been hankering for some old-fashioned sweets and treats of late and I figured let’s go with scones. And then I saw the strawberries being devoured by the family and thought strawberry scones! Well I beat off the offending gobbling family members with a rolling-pin and rescued the remaining fruits  from their evil clutches.

There’s something really nice about spending a morning out on the farm and coming back in to tea and strawberry scones before heading out again (or in my case up to my room to study) to tend to horses or planting veggies or fencing. It’s normally fencing actually. Not the swordy type, the wire and fence posts and those little U-shaped nail type thingys that I keep finding all over the shed. So much cooler really…

Anyhoo, these are really nice, a lovely light mixture and the strawberries work nicely.

Ingredients: (Makes 16-20 wedge-shaped scones)

375 g self-raising flour

200g unsalted butter

100g sugar

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 tsp of baking soda

150ml milk

100ml buttermilk

About 2 handfuls of strawberries – I used about 10 medium-sized ones – sliced.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line and grease a baking sheet or flat tin.

Rub the flour (with the baking and bread soda added in) and the butter together until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. You can give them a blitz in a food processor either, just don’t overdo it.

Mix in the sugar and give it a stir so that its evenly throughout the mixture. Add the sliced strawberries and stir.

Make a well in the middle and add your liquid, leaving about a tablespoon of it left. Mix it until it’s all combined.

Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead lightly.

Divide into halves, shape each half into a disc about an inch thick and cut into 8-10 wedges each.

Place on your prepared tray, brush each one with a little of the leftover milk (which you can mix with an egg if you want really shiny scones) and bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until golden on top!

Serve with clotted cream and an optional spoon of jam.

Sarah Nicholson is a medical student who, when not staring at medical books that weigh more than a small child, tends to wander around the kitchen spilling flour and devouring chocolate at a rate that could challenge Usain Bolt. Has a penchant for polka dots and puppies. Also runs the monthly Irish Foodies Cookalongs. Find her at Cake in the Country or at @cakeinthcountry on Twitter.

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Self-portrait with Monkeys (1943) - Frida Kahlo

Who needs or wants to know about the inner workings of other people’s relationships? About the minor detail of their lives? We may not need to know but we certainly want to know about some couples. Often the stormier the pairing, the more drawn we are to the drama. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, for example; or Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are a good example of a couple that excite curiosity. And because of their meticulous recording of their lives through art, as well as some artful myth spinning, we know a lot about a lot of their life together. They married each other twice. He – and then she – was serially unfaithful. Between them they notched up as lovers famous communists and actors, painters and photographers, including Leon Trotsky and Paulette Goddard. Rivera even had an affair with Frida’s sister, Cristina.

A joint exhibition of Kahlo’s and Rivera’s work was launched on Tuesday night at IMMA in Dublin. It is comprised of masterpieces from the collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman. At the opening we were treated to Mexican beer and margaritas and even a sparky mariachi band, who had their Irish-based compatriots singing along with gusto. The great hall was thronged with people, excited about this particular exhibition making its way to Ireland. It is a splash of carnival in a dull, grey country and we surely need that.

Our new Arts Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, gave his first major public speech since his appointment and he mentioned several projects with enthusiasm: a new Centre for Literary Excellence in Dublin; he also plans to set up an Arts TV Channel and he is going to prioritise arts education in primary schools. All good news.

Frida Kahlo lived her life in pain and her colour-rich paintings are an autobiography of her love-hate relationship with her physical self, her love for and nurturing of Diego, and her missed chances at motherhood. Rivera’s work is more monumental and political – they were both Communists – and his palette is often more muted than his wife’s.

Kahlo’s self-portraits – and there are many – are compelling: her gaze is head-on and she is often dressed in the vivid Tejuana style of dress she adopted, with elaborate neckpieces and braided hair. My favourite of these is Self-portrait with Necklace, a quiet, earlier piece, though the exhibition includes more well known works such as Self-portrait with Monkeys. Rivera’s stunning Calla Lily Vendors is also on show; he was a painter of the people and he delighted in ordinary scenes of workers going about their business.

The exhibition contains – as well as paintings – drawings, photographs of the artists, diary pages with sketches, collages and lithographs. It is a rich collection of artworks and there is no doubt that thousands of people will flock to it over the next few months, and so they should. It is well worth the trip to see such iconic work ‘in the flesh’.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Masterpieces of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection runs until the 26th June at IMMA. Admission €5, concessions €3.

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When I was little and we got the giggles in ballet class, the teacher told one of the big girls off for saying we had laughed so hard that we “literally hosed ourselves”.
We hadn’t, obviously.
But then we hadn’t had sex, been pregnant, given birth to children, or had hysterectomies yet either. Nowadays, one in four of us probably do “literally hose ourselves” every time we get the giggles. It kind of robs the joy out of life. We also hose ourselves if we try to sneeze and walk at the same time, or if we shout at our offspring, the very offspring who popped our poor bladders into our vaginas when the ingrates were in utero, ever after rendering us vaguely incontinent, then adding to the mortification by demanding we jump on the trampoline.

Oh, that'd be nice...

Jump? God knows, even dancing is getting embarrassing. Perhaps that’s why so few gals over 30 are found in night clubs: it’s not that we’re too tired, but that we’re scared of piddling a little while in the clutches of the boogie-monster. No one wants to be the old lady in the night club smelling faintly of wee and broken biscuits.
And as for exercise, if another gym bunny yells “cardio” at me I’ll scream. That’s why all my workout sweatpants are black. You try jogging with your bladder dripping every step you take. You try the step machine when every ten strides needs a change of knickers and a change of gyms too due to the sheer shame of it all. One optimistic bunny insisted we go outside to do some leapy little sidesteps. Did I say leapy? Should have said leaky…
“You obviously never did your pelvic floor exercises,” she said haughtily.
“I’m doing them as we speak,” I snarled back. I’ve been doing them ever since I gave birth at the age of 19, and then again at 27, and all the way through that second pregnancy, particularly after staying with a physiotherapist aunt who reminded me constantly, saying I’d be sorry if I didn’t.
A friend with four children of her own said memories of me post-birth had ensured she still does her own merry Kegels every day — she recalled how every time I stopped at a red traffic light I’d shout “Pelvic floors, ladies”, and we’d all start squeezing. I did it at traffic lights when on my own too, and sometimes I even did it at green lights for good measure. I did it, oh yes, and I still do

But for what? To be in my thirties and unable to run, or jump, or even dance with any feeling? To be terrified of tickling contests with my bloke or playful rugby tackles and bear hugs from my boys?
I never spoke about it because how could I? I didn’t want to tell the people I love that sudden movement makes me wet myself. I’d rather be on a pedestal than in the litterbox, and what woman wouldn’t?
I finally mentioned it to my doctor who said “pelvic floor exercises” then looked at me knowingly when I protested that I did, that I do, that I can (sort-of) stop my urine mid-flow so I know I’m pulling the right muscles. “Keep practising,” she said very unhelpfully, because if 20 years of traffic light Kegeling ain’t helped yet, then it ain’t going to, frankly.

The forecast is wet.


So I looked into it, and that’s when I discovered the one-in-four figure and realised I was not all alone in a corner with the old ladies, air freshener and a maxi-bag of incontinence pads. No, instead I am in the esteemed company of numerous mothers — whether they’d given birth by Caesarian or naturally, because it’s the hefty baby in the womb that juggles the bits down below. I am also in the company of hysterectomy patients, prolapse sufferers, and both overweight people and serious sportswomen (it’s the bouncing again, the hardcore gym-bunny bouncing!).
It seems to be a flaw in the very design and manufacture of women, and a mortifying one at that. Are you listening, God, because I’m shaking my fist, gently though so as not to pee myself?
Apparently, tragically one of the main reasons old women end up in nursing homes is incontinence.

 

But is it actually fixable? I don’t know. I know you can have an operation. I know it’s not always successful, and if it fails it’s not easily repeatable. I know online there are countless pelvic floor toners. I know they offer results in anything from two to twelve weeks. I know I bought one based on positive reviews, and it arrived on Monday, all parcelled up in surreptitious brown paper. I know it takes batteries and comes with a probe and now I know it makes me squeak if I set the power too high.
Yes, I am trying to fix my fanny by electrocuting it.
Bet that made everyone squeeze the old pelvic floor…
I’ll let you know how it goes, or maybe you’ll just hear my whoops of joy as a bounce ever higher on the trampoline.

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Here’s my guilty secret – I watch Coronation Street. Ever since the tram crash, I have been reeled right in. I’m not about to defend my viewing though – you can judge me whatever way you want to on that issue. I am, however, going to share an element of discomfort I have with a storyline at the moment and ask you what you think.

Here’s the synopsis:

Pretty, blonde Maria lands herself a job as PA to the (female) boss of the knicker-factory. A potential client – Frank – comes along with what could be a huge order vital to the continued existence of the factory. He’d like to view samples later that night in the comfort of his own home. Carla – the boss – despatches Maria to town to have her hair and nails done and to buy herself a new frock for the meeting. Maria buys a black frock and was  gorgeous and glammed when she arrived at Frank’s house.  I have no issue with what she did or didn’t wear. Personally, I don’t think it was appropriate for a business meeting – but I would defend Maria’s right to wear whatever she likes wherever she likes.

They had dinner, they had wine, they had chats, then Maria hoped they’d get down to business and Frank would sign the contracts she had brought with her. Frank hoped to get down to business of another kind. He had the hots for Maria and clearly wanted to play hide the sausage. Maria, for her part, had told Frank that she wasn’t interested and that she had a boyfriend. He didn’t seem too keen to no for an answer, though. We saw Frank and Maria on the sofa, Frank kissing Maria when clearly she didn’t want him to and we saw Frank’s hand on Maria’s thigh.  Maria pushed Frank off her and legged it out of the house.

Clearly, if this had not taken place in Soapland, it would not have been a pleasant experience for the woman involved.  In this scenario, Frank was out of line. I have no issue with that, but I am puzzled by Maria’s insistence that Frank ‘tried to rape’ her. Because I don’t think he did. I think he assaulted her, I am pretty sure he scared her, I’m fairly convinced she was shocked and shaken; I would suspect that he was using his substantial leverage – the possibility of giving work to the factory – to entice or persuade Maria to have sex with him. I am sure that Frank’s actions constituted an assault, but I don’t, however, think he tried to rape her.

Maybe if Maria hadn’t managed to escape when she did, Frank would have raped her – but who can say for sure?

Am I missing something? Or should Maria revise her statement and stop telling people that Frank tried to rape her?

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Himself and Herself

Amazing what you can come across in the children’s section of Dubray Books while innocently browsing for a small girl’s birthday party present. My luck was in on Saturday with this Dress Up Dolly book, starring Kate Middleton in a vest-and-pants combo not dissimilar to what you once saw on the back of Bunty. Her husband-to-be is depicted displaying a common form of patriotism, namely modelling his underpants on his national flag. He’s also got on shoes which are about twice the length of his face.

I’m surprised there’s any market for happy pair dolls this side of the Irish Sea. I certainly haven’t seen any mugs, teatowels or commemorative porcelain statuettes for the buying – but perhaps there really are children just slavering to get their hands on this lavish production. I haven’t seen the itinerary for the Royal visit in May, either – I don’t suppose anyone will. I wonder how alarmed the Queen would be if we were to wave her through the streets of Dublin with cutout dolls of her number one grandson in his underpants? I can’t quite see a smile creasing her lips.
Any Royal gear in your local shop?

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Wooden Heart?

We have one of the lowest percentages of forest cover in Europe (and it’s mostly Sitka spruce, though broadleaf trees now make up 20 per cent of new planting) though we’re supposed to be increasing from the current 7 per cent to 17 per cent cover by 2030. What we do have is owned and operated by Coillte. Two summers ago, the McCarthy (An Bord Snip Nua) report suggested a combination of asset disposal and privatisation of Coillte. Coillte was valued at e1.2bn in 2010, and, according to the Woodland League, a Swiss owned forestry company, The International Forestry Fund, has expressed interest in buying the lot. The chairman of the International Forestry Fund is Bertie Ahern, and his involvement, and the proposed sale, were well covered by the good old Sunday Tribune last year. Last month, the eTenders public procurement website carried a notice inviting tenders from economists to evaluate the assets of Coillte, so clearly it’s been decided that the maths have to be right before any further negotiations kick off.

The Woodland League is asking people to sign a petition against the proposed sale. But what would it mean for Irish forests if they were to be managed privately? When will we find out what’s going to happen to Coillte? At the moment, they have an Open Forest Policy, which means mile upon mile of hiking, cycling, dog-walking, orienteering, picnicking, birdwatching, swimming, tree-climbing, kayaking, canoeing, mushroom-spotting, all open to everyone. Could that really be threatened?

Sunday, March 6th, is the start of National Tree Week, so if you fancy willow-weaving, archery, den building and face painting down at Parnell’s house at Avondale in Rathdrum, get out and enjoy yourselves courtesy of Coillte. Leave no trace – as it says at the entrance to Avondale: leave only footprints, take only memories. Fingers crossed you’ll have the chance to be back again.

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The figures aren’t in yet for 2010, but in 2009 we welcomed a whole heap of little girls to Ireland. Sophie, Ava, Emma, Sarah, Grace, Emily, Katie, Lucy, Aoife and Chloe – welcome! You are the proud owners of the top 10 girls’ names in the State.
They are beautiful names. We hope you get to keep them.
We hope you get to grow up in a State that vindicates your human rights, Sophie. We hope you keep your good name, Ava. We hope your name is respected, Emma. We hope that it isn’t taken from you, Grace, as we manhandle you, small and scared and 14, through a legal system that strips you of your privacy and dignity. A system that replaces your beautiful name with a single letter.

The European Court of Human Rights

In 1992 we took another 14-year-old girl’s name from her and replaced it with a single letter, X. She had a beautiful name too. She had been raped. She had been made pregnant. She had decided to terminate her unwanted pregnancy.
She couldn’t do it here, of course. We have no truck with girls with letters for names whose experiences cause us to shudder. We are not comfortable with such discomfort. It is not for us.
X went to England.
Her parents supported her decision, but we did not. The Attorney General, who upholds the laws of our land, sought and got an order from the High Court stopping the nameless Ms X from leaving Ireland for nine months. She came back from England with her mum and her dad to contest the order. More time passed. We piled more pressure on the head of the 14-year-old we had stripped of a name. She had been raped. We had no shame.
She could take no more, the nameless 14-year-old. She wanted it all to stop. She was suicidal.
On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that “if it is established that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible”.
She remains Ms X to this day, but she is part of a chain of amazing women with letters for their names whose bravery and dignity will make a difference.
In 1997, we supplied another link in the chain of suffering. Another 13-year-old girl was raped and impregnated. She was in the care of the Eastern Health Board. She was in the care of the State. She was all our responsibility. She had no need for a name, so we called her C.
The EHB goes to the District Court to apply to take C abroad for an abortion. C’s parents challenge these orders in the High Court. The High Court rules that as C is liable to take her own life if forced to continue with the pregnancy, she is entitled to an abortion in Ireland by virtue of the Supreme Court judgment in the 1992 X case.
C still has to go to England.
Five years later, in 2002 Irish voters reject the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2002, which would have removed the threat of suicide as a ground for abortion and increased the penalties for helping a woman to have an abortion.
In 2006, another Irish woman loses her name.
Pregnant with twins, one of whom has died in her womb, the other with fatal fetal abnormalities, she has to travel to England to have a termination. Her name is now D.
She has been forced to leave her country to go to England. Now she must travel further, this Irish woman with no name, to whom the saddest thing has happened.
She tells the European Court of Human Rights that Ireland’s ban on abortion in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities violates Articles 1, 3, 8, 20, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Irish Government argues that the woman should have applied to the Irish courts to have an abortion. She could have been legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland, they argue. They don’t say where in Ireland. Europe agrees that domestic legal remedies had not been exhausted.
The alphabet is being exhausted too – the alphabet we use to protect ourselves from looking into the eyes of the real girls and women we are hurting.
In 2007 a 17-year-old woman in the care of the State finds herself with an anencaphelic pregnancy. HSE social workers challenge the right of a second Miss D to travel to England for a termination. Let her go, the High Court says. Miss D has a right to travel abroad for an abortion.
Two years before D was put in this position that thumped us in the solar plexus of our national shame, three more women were dealing with their own challenges and tragedies. It was back to the beginning of the alphabet.
And so we come to this Thursday, December 16th, 2010, when the European Court of Human Rights will issue a ruling on whether Ireland’s restrictions on abortion violate women’s human rights.
Since 1980 more than 143,479 women and girls have left Ireland to have an abortion abroad. The figure is not final – it rises every day. We have exhausted tens of thousands of alphabets. Now we have three more letters – A, B, and C. Three more women whose bravery, whose resilience, whose selflessness has carried us to the door of another decision on Ireland’s stance on abortion.
Listen to their stories, because every woman has a story. She is not a letter, not a statistic, not a footnote.
On Thursday the ECHR will rule whether the cases of A, B and C involved a transgression of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Applicant A was living in poverty. She was getting her life together after facing personal problems and was hopeful of being reunited with her four children, who were in care. She got pregnant. It was not planned. Another child was not what she wanted. It was the wrong time and might damage her chances of getting her existing family back together. She went to England for an abortion.
Applicant B had taken emergency contraception after unprotected sex. It didn’t work and she was told she also could be at risk of an ectopic pregnancy. She didn’t want to go ahead with the pregnancy at this time or run the risks associated with an ectopic pregnancy. She travelled to England and had an abortion.
Applicant C had battled cancer for three years. She had become pregnant unintentionally after the cancer had gone into remission, but had undergone a series of tests contra-indicated during pregnancy, while she was unaware that she was pregnant. C had not been able to find a doctor in Ireland who would tell her whether her life would be endangered by the pregnancy or if the foetus would be affected by the tests she had undergone. Given the uncertainty and the risks involved, she travelled to England to have an abortion.
These are the bare bones of these women’s cases. They do not do justice to the women or what they have suffered at the hands of a State that chooses to look the other way, as long as the other way involves a plane or a ferry to somewhere else.
The ECHR must decide whether Ireland has failed to vindicate the human rights of these three women.
If they decide this is the case, then we will no longer have need of the alphabet to save us from ourselves. Sophie, Ava, Emma, Sarah, Grace, Emily, Katie, Lucy, Aoife and Chloe can keep their good names. And we will have grown up.

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“every day, every hour, every minute and every second, somewhere in the world, women – irrespective of race, colour or religion – are being subjected to violence and abuse”.

When I was just a child my father extended the hand of friendship to a woman he knew only slightly; a customer who regularly came into a shop he ran in Dublin. Suspecting that all was not entirely well he overcame his natural reticence and indicated to her that if she ever needed a friendly and sympathetic ear he would be willing to provide it.

Shortly afterwards, at 2am one morning, this woman arrived at our house with her three young children in tow. She had once again been beaten by her husband but now, for the first time, she had somewhere to turn. My parents asked no questions. They merely opened their home to this woman whose own family had disowned her for marrying a man who they believed was no good. Several of us vacated our beds and shared with our siblings to make room for these late night callers. The next morning they left with hardly a word but returned several times over the years until finally this woman mustered the courage to leave her abusive husband. What was extraordinary to me was the fact that this woman was a professional with a good income of her own and the financial if not emotional wherewithal to leave anytime she chose to. I have never forgotten her story.

We have probably all encountered the scourge of domestic violence, even if unwittingly. The veil of secrecy that still conceals this dysfunction in our society is to this day preventing women, and indeed many men, from seeking the help and support they so desperately need for themselves and their children. Today in the Irish Times Health Plus supplement I was given the opportunity to highlight some of the work being done by Women’s Aid and Avon here in Ireland and to specifically draw attention to an extraordinary poster exhibition taking place in the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield until December 10 2010. I’d be delighted if you followed the link and read my piece. For those interested in visiting the Lighthouse Cinema here is information on the poster exhibition, as compiled by Anthea McTeirnan in the Irish Times today.

“More than 400 posters highlighting the issue of violence against women, curated by former Garda Colm Dempsey, are on show at The Light House Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin. The exhibition is part of Women’s Aid “One in Five Women” 16 Days Campaign, which runs until December 10th.

Director of Women’s Aid, Margaret Martin, says the exhibition highlights the facts that “every day, every hour, every minute and every second, somewhere in the world, women – irrespective of race, colour or religion – are being subjected to violence and abuse”.

“In an era when we are overloaded with images, words and sounds, the powerful graphics in these posters can help us realise the enormity of living with someone who abuses you. For women who are experiencing abuse, they also reach out to show that help is available and they are not alone, that support is available.”

The free exhibition is open to the public and runs daily from 2pm-8pm. The Women’s Aid national freephone helpline is at 1800-341900. womensaid.ie

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