Posts Tagged ‘ireland’

It's a budget Jim, but not as we know it

On Monday the Greeks once again rioted in protest at the IMF/EU austerity measures imposed on their country. Today, a solitary man in a crane fires tennis balls over the gates of Leinster House in protest at the chainsaw budget about to be visited upon us (in an hour or so). Both the Greeks and the Portuguese have called one day general strikes whilst our trade union leadership baulks at the idea of a one day national stoppage. Looking on, the IMF and the Europeans must wonder while the Irish hate the cost-cutting programme they are forced to endure for the next four years, they are going to lie down and take it on the retrospective rebel chin. We can roar and rant and yelp all we like about the 1916 heroes, but when Fianna Fáil hand out the gimp suits almost a hundred years later, we fling them on and happily await instructions for the metal rings, belts, buckles and laces, to fasten securely.

There’s a horrible fatalism in the air, a sense of resignation that we are going to have to go through all this pain. There's nothing quite like being IrishIt’s like the British political masochism of the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher promised harsh medicine to cure the sick man of Europe, i.e. the UK. This appealed to something deep inside the British psyche which has been shaped by comely matrons, smacked bottoms, nurse-knows-best, this-will-hurt-me-more-than-you mentality. Perhaps it’s why so many in the UK embraced or put up with Thatcherism. Are we Irish, despite our pro-European leanings, more like the British than we like to imagine?

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict.” Major General Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation Commander in DRC.

Margot Wallström, Mary Robinson & Colm O'Gorman at the Royal Irish Academy Yesterday

Yesterday, during a briefing organised by the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence, a characteristically calm and measured Mary Robinson spoke movingly of a recent visit to Eastern Chad. She had travelled there with a group of woman leaders specifically to meet with women who had fled the conflict in neighbouring Darfur and to hear from an NGO undertaking trauma counselling with them. All of the women had horrific stories to tell. Mrs. Robinson described the experiences of one in particular whose village was “attacked by men on horseback and planes from the sky”. Without hesitating this woman grabbed her twin babies and ran as far and as fast as she could. Leaving her babies under a tree, she returned to find that her husband had been murdered and her daughter raped. She herself was brutally gang raped on her return. Showing incredible fortitude this woman crawled back to rescue her babies and took them to safety over the border.

Enraged by this, one delegate challenged the NGO to collate this evidence to build a criminal case against the perpetrators and hold them accountable. This would prevent further horrors. The NGOs response was that their funding had been cut to such an extent that this was simply not possible. Mary Robinson and many others are convinced that holding perpetrators accountable for such actions is far more affective in addressing and eradicating gender based violence in conflict than simply fire-fighting and living with the consequences of shattered societies.

According to the Irish Joint Consortium on Gender based Violence, up to 90% of causalities in contemporary conflict are civilians, most of them women and children. Violence against them is often sexualised.  Peace brings scant relief. Crime rates and violence against women and girls soars after war as returning combatants inflict their trauma and frustration on them.  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, it is estimated by the UN that over 200,000 women have been raped since the beginning of the war.

Dr. Thelma Awori

Dr. Thelma Awori is a consultant on gender and development and a board member of a number of prominent African civil society organizations. She says, “Women continue to pay a heavy price in both conflicts and post-conflict situations around the world. Too many women have become shocking statistics of one horror or another, be it rape in Eastern Congo; acid thrown in the faces of girls walking to school in Afghanistan; impunity for crimes against women in conflict-affected countries. When women stand up and make their voices heard in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation they often face security risks, they are denied seats at the table, and are excluded from planning and resources that determine their futures.”

Women, so often the victims of conflict, have little input into its resolution. One in forty peace negotiations have a woman present and, according to www.unifem.org, just 2.5% of signatories to peace agreements have been women. Although many post-conflict countries now have much improved female representation in government, unequal participation in parliament, civil society and business means that women’s voices are largely absent.

After listening to the experiences and perspectives of women from conflict zones, the UN unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000. This resolution addresses the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognizes that the contribution women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building is significantly undervalued. The UN has called for equal and full participation from women as active agents in achieving peace and security and has officially endorsed the active participation of civil society groups, in particular woman’s organizations, in peace processes and peace talks. A key element is the call for an end to impunity in relation to conflict-related violence against women.

All nation states, including Ireland, whether they are affected by conflict or attempting to resolve it, must now implement the resolution and are legally obliged to take responsibility in four key areas in relation to women, peace and security.

  1. The protection of women and girls during conflict
  2. The participation of women in decision making in relation to prevention, management and resolution of conflict.
  3. The inclusion of gender perspectives in conflict analysis and training of military and civilian personnel in peacekeeping. (Women account for just 5.7% of the Irish permanent defence forces and just 2.5% of peacekeepers serving in conflict regions worldwide are women according to the UN. Yet, these women perform a vital role in winning the trust of local civilian women who are more likely to report gender based violence to them)
  4. Gender mainstreaming in the UN implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889

A high level task force of UN heads of agencies is progressing the implementation of resolution 1325 along with the Civil Society Advisory Group, co-chaired by Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and Bineta Drop, Executive Director, Femmes Africa Solidarité.

Mary Robinson was in Dublin in her role as special advisor to the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence. The consortium is comprised of 16 bodies, including human rights, humanitarian and development organisations, together with Irish Aid and the Defence Forces and is charged with formulating Ireland’s implementation plan (due by March 2011). In the midst of our deepening crisis it may seem that Ireland has little to offer the rest of the world in any respect. Yet there are areas in which we are still well regarded and one of these is conflict resolution. Ireland has a role to play in a wider EU context as one of a handful of countries developing an implementation plan.

As a northern European nation with a recent history of conflict, a close connection with NGOs operating in the worst conflict zones and a respected peace-keeping role we are uniquely placed to help rebuild some of the most damaged societies on the planet. The focus in achieving this has now been place firmly on the experience and role of women in the process. Joint Consortium Chairperson and Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’ Gorman, is certain that “Ireland can play a key role in working to eliminate gender-based violence”. Our plan will be the result of a long, complex and “unique globally” process requiring “civil society and the state to work together.” The final stage involves consultations with women living in Ireland who have been affected by conflict and whose experiences and opinions will feed into our final plan.

The Irish plan is not being developed in isolation. We have a unique opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and avoid the pitfall of implementation deficit disorder. Mary Robinson believes that, “Ireland is well positioned to prepare an exemplary plan”. We are in a position to draw on our recent experience of conflict on the island of Ireland.  But, in addition, there is now a strong working relationship between a number of government departments and NGOs on the issue of gender-based violence.  This can be leveraged to produce a strong and effective plan that protects women in conflict and gives them a meaningful role in conflict resolution”, she adds. A strong plan alone is not sufficient. Colm O’Gorman stresses the importance of incorporating an effective mechanism for monitoring and evaluation into the process.

Sitting alongside Mary Robinson yesterday was Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She spoke of the role of Resolution 1325 in “establishing a context to put women into the picture for peace and security issues” and views the initiative as an integral part of a wider plan to tackle sexual violence. The adoption of the resolution amounts to a clear admission that not enough was being done to eradicate what is still “a tactic in most areas of conflict”. Margot Wallström stresses that, “this is not a women’s issue rather a security and human rights issue and one relevant to wider society”. She believes that, “It is vitally important that Ireland gets its plan right.  Having a plan would greatly bolster Ireland’s human rights record and, by involving the widest range of stakeholders and putting in place strong monitoring, the plan would be very significant in advancing the protection of women in conflict.”

The five point agenda adopted by the UN in this respect and reflected in any plan focuses on: fighting impunity; empowering and supporting women to move from being victims to becoming agents for change; mobilising leaders; deepening our knowledge of the incidence and effects of sexual violence in conflict; and co-ordinating and harmonising UN efforts to tackle and prevent such actions. Mary Robinson wants to see the Security Council “use all of the tools available to it – naming & shaming, freezing assets, sanctions, visa bans – to implement policy”.

This is a two-way process and Ireland can benefit hugely from participation. As Colm O’Gorman eloquently puts it, “Ireland is very progressive when we are out in the wider world. What is it that stops us translating those values back into our own society?” Mary Robinson emphasises the importance of treating our involvement as a “cross-learning process”. Ireland has already participated in a ground-breaking cross learning initiative on women, peace and security with representatives from Liberia and TimorLeste, chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, first Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - President of Liberia

Ireland should look to Liberia and other African nations such as Rwanda when it comes to gender representation in government too. Mary Robinson passionately describes a meeting in the Angie Brooks centre in Liberia where she witnessed “the expectant enthusiastic faces of young women who wanted desperately to be involved in the political process”. Their participation makes a difference. Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pledged to tackle the scourge of rape using new legislation that came into force the day after her inauguration in 2006. “I know of the struggle because I have been a part of it,” she said. “I recall the inhumanity of confinement, the terror of attempted rape.”

Little value is placed on women in many conflict and post-conflict zones. Rape and sexual violence are often treated as the lowest crime on a scale of war horrors that puts death and torture at the top. There is no link made between the perpetration of these acts and the way in which they impede the building of a working, healthy society. Any economic consequences are disregarded. When soldiers in DRC were asked what they felt the cost of raping a woman was they answered perhaps the loss of a goat or a few days in prison. For this reason Margot Wallström is keen to measure the economic impact of intergenerational rape and sexual violence. Women, often the backbone of an economy, become totally depressed and are impeded from assuming their traditional coping role. Peacekeepers are now advised to assume rape and be watchful for the early warning signals. Although prepared to report the rape of children, many women are still too ashamed or disillusioned to report their own experiences. Resources can also be thin on the ground. Liberia has asked for help in developing an anti-rape campaign. Finally, attitudes have to change. In the past “enticement” was too often considered a legitimate defence.

This shift in focus has already produced results and Margot Wallström attributes the arrests of a number of players on charges of perpetrating and facilitating such crimes to the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions. Change is essential. Dr Thelma Awori is adamant that “communities rebuilding after conflict cannot afford to omit more than 50% of their population in these efforts. To do so would mean institutionalizing inequality and that is a recipe for further conflict and instability.” There is still a long road to travel but by developing and implementing a strong, workable and measurable plan Ireland has an opportunity to help create a better and fairer world.

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Once upon a time, during the mid-1980s, I was a fresh-faced and enthusiastic young undergraduate and subsequently post-graduate student at UCD. In 1987 I, along with 300 of my peers, two-thirds of them men, graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Back then, as now, many graduates from my class entered the big accountancy firms around Dublin and were delighted to have the opportunity to gain experience and carve out a lucrative career as an accountant. I, along with about a hundred others, decided to stay on at UCD and study for a master’s degree, an MBS in marketing in my case.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

We were intelligent and eager and we operated in a perfect meritocracy. Those that worked hardest and proved to be the brightest would graduate with the best degrees and, perhaps more significantly in the midst of a deep recession, would have the best chance of securing employment here in Ireland.

I thrived in this environment. I enjoyed the subjects I was studying and found that the combination of written exam and thesis based research suited me well. I graduated first in my class and was awarded a research fellowship for my thesis on the policies and strategies adopted by financial institutions in attracting lump sum investments. I was for that brief time first among equals and it felt good. I was hired as a business consultant by a small Dublin firm and all was well with the world. Then reality bit hard.

My male bosses were very fair & decent blokes. They treated me very well and if there was a tendency at the end of a working day for “the lads” to head down Leeson Street then I didn’t really mind it. I was happy to go home or meet with my own friends to be honest. However, some of the clients were an entirely different matter. I frequently attended meetings where I was simply ignored. I was criticised for “my” choice of biscuits. I was even complimented on the “typing and presentation” alone of one business plan that I had compiled in its entirety. I was rarely spoken to directly; clients always addressed themselves to my boss or any random male colleague that happened to be in the room. Once when I went on a business trip with my boss, who was at least a decade my senior, our bags were put into the same bedroom. He at least had the grace to look as mortified as I felt.

It came to a head one evening when I arrived at a client meeting and the male client handed accounts spreadsheets out to everybody in the room – except me; I was the lead consultant on the account and it was not an accidental oversight. I walked out. I didn’t care about the consequences and I fully expected to be fired the next day. I was called to the boardroom – and given a pay rise. The guys I worked for were genuinely decent and valued my input. However, I needed more varied experience and left to work for a major multinational. There, I was on the receiving end of a disguising, filthy phone call from a male colleague in relation to something I was wearing one day, I had to campaign to have a “girly” calendar taken down from the wall of the warehouse – a place I had to visit every day, and on one memorable occasion I found myself alone with a male business associate in what I believed to be a very compromising, dangerous situation, one  in which I felt the need to beg to be taken back to my place of work.

After a couple of years I applied for a job in the female dominated market research industry and there I thrived. I rose to the position of Client Service Director in the London office and my success there took the sting out of the occasional casual incident of sexism perpetrated by older male clients. I can honestly say that Irish men were far more prone to this behaviour than their very professional UK counterparts in my experience. One particular star in the Irish business community used to refer to myself and my female colleagues as “the spice girls” and reply to his emails during our presentations. As I progressed I was responsible for many younger male members of staff and I was always conscious of treating them with respect. I strived to never make a casually sexist remark or pass them over in favour of my female co-workers.

Therefore, and bearing these experiences and many more like them in mind, you will perhaps forgive me if I just can’t see the “funny side” or “bit of craic” in the treatment of these 13 unfortunate women working for PWC in Dublin. It’s tough out there in the testosterone fuelled business world. In my experience by merely being young and female (yes ageism is alive and well too) these women will start out at a disadvantage and will need to strive to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. This horrible, undermining, casually sexist behaviour must be taken seriously and cannot be condoned. I am perfectly prepared to be accused of being a humourless old harridan if that’s what it takes to raise awareness of this issue and eradicate such inappropriate behaviour from the workplace. I really hope we succeed but we’ve not come very far in the past twenty-five years sadly.

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A symbolic marriage cake in favor of allowing ...
Image via Wikipedia

Next weekend a March for Marriage for lesbian and gay couples will take place in Dublin. Yesterday a friend asked me if I was going on it, I think she was rather surprised by the snorts of derision that escaped from my mouth.

While I  support the rights of people to celebrate their relationships and be recognised by the state and others I have always questioned the rush that same sex couples have taken in seeking marriage rights.   I’ve also been stunned by the leaders in this rush coming from Ireland’s second wave feminists.   Instead of questioning the roles and expectations created by the institution of marriage many see the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from the institution as a human rights issue.  Suddenly marriage became the goal  and symbol of success.

Marriage has previously barred women from employment, excluded us from claiming social welfare, participation in FAS schemes, a reason for being paid less, and a host of other rights and entitlements. Those who did not marry were castigated as a drain on the state, as not behaving appropriately, they also do not get the same rights to protection in cases of domestic violence.  Marriage was considered permission for rape until the early 90’s.

Is it a case of tax individualisation and the end of the marriage bar making it ok  now? On the non legalistic issues that surround marriage regarding women losing their identity and being seen as a couple instead of individuals, of women who don’t marry being seen as less valuable?  How have these issues disappeared from feminist debate? And what of the stigma that still exists regarding marital breakdown?  This issues are not historic or relics. For many women the pressure to marry remains very real, and now we are seeing a pressure to marry (and I include entering into civil partnership) created in the lesbian and gay community.

The impact of civil partnership and cohabitation legislation inferring rights and responsibilities on relationships is untested and far-reaching.  The Department of Social Protection will soon be able to infer that people in same sex relationships living together are co-habiting, sharing incomes and responsible financially for each other whether they want to be or not.  Many people may not want that to happen (including because they don’t want to be open to financial abuse or control by a partner)  but that’s one legacy of ‘equality’.

We’ve already had the debate on women taking their husband’s name on the Anti-Room and I am aware that for many marriage is a romantic and very meaningful occasion . I wish that my intention not to marry and questioning the clamour would garner as much respect.

Some campaigning for marriage rights  use the language of other oppressed groups in their fight – and continue to do so, this saddens me greatly.  The exclusion from the right to marry can in no way be compared to the way in which black people were excluded in South Africa.

The impact of civil partnership and marriage rights on the ways in which lesbian and gay lives and relationships are lived is now beginning to be explored internationally.  Julie Bindel’s column last week on this is a warning of things to come. Academic articles will no doubt follow. It will be interesting to see how Civil Partnership’s change the ways in which lives are lived and viewed in Ireland.

Will lesbians and gay men who choose not to enter into civil partnerships be seen as ‘loose’, a drain on the state, ‘behaving inappropriately’?  Will Paddy Power give me odds on this?  I bet not because I predict within 3 years there will be articles and debates appearing about lesbians and gay men who are ‘not the marrying kind’, refusing to commit,  castigating them as refuseniks.  Civil Partnerships will be seen as status symbols and indicators of success.  And the campaign for marriage will continue because the quest for ‘normality’ dressed up as equality will persist.

I’m still mystified as to when Marriage became a feminist goal. Maybe you can explain it to me?

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A County Line

In the bad old days I worked for an advertising agency with offices sprinkled as far as the plane can fly, and a small London-based division of cool hunters. Fascinating, actually, how they worked, paying bleeding-edge types all over the world – let’s say a DJ in Mexico City, a graffiti artist in Tokyo, an independent bookshop owner in Boston – a small fee to make intermittent reports of sightings and soundings. These were totted and plotted to show burgeoning trends. Anyway, the coolhunters visited our Dublin office one day and gave a brilliant presentation on what was coming down the tracks – Kidults, I remember, was one theme, and another was Neighbourhood Pride. I love DalkeyThis was in the days when Londoners were just starting to wear Hoxton, Hackney and postcode t-shirts. But to the audience in the Irish office, the neighbourhood pride thing was old hat – well, county pride was, anyway. This is the country that produced decathlete Tom Kiely, who won his Olympic gold medal in 1904 competing “for Tipperary and Ireland”; where county football and hurling teams are supported with more love and consistency than the national soccer team; where people identify themselves not only by their county of birth but by their parents’ and grandparents’ counties of birth. There are times when pointing out that your grandfather was a Mayo man, or that your mother, though a Leitrim woman, was born in Offaly, can be a shortcut to acceptance, a diversion from argument, or the explanation of a character trait or stray pronunciation.

This time next year, the Greens promise, we’ll have our own postcode system, costing the exchequer up to 15 million euro to implement, with a corollary cost to businesses who have to reprint their stationery and add an extra field to their customer databases. Soon, there’ll be a vintage feel to addresses without the alphanumeric code, and an eBay market for those copy books with blank county maps on the back, when inevitably, efficiently, we move, as is intended in the UK,  to a system of postal delivery which depends solely on the code, and from which street names, townlands and counties are deleted. The chairman of the Royal Mail, the BBC reported, said that

some people might get upset as counties were part of the country’s heritage, but insisted they were no longer necessary for business and administrative purposes.

Serious types point out that the county system in England and Wales is already a complete mess, with the original geographical counties overlaid with non-corresponding local government “counties” in 1972, and later by lieutenancies in 1997. In the same way that television regions don’t necessarily match reality – in Dublin when I was growing up you might just as easily have got BBC Cymru instead of BBC Northern Ireland – UK postal addresses can be a nonsense. What’s North London, and what’s Middlesex? No-one but local government officials and the Royal Mail can get their heads around (plucked at random) why people living in the village of Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire must use “Fowlmere, Hertfordshire” in their postal addresses.

In Ireland, did our county lines falter, historically? They must have, somewhat. I grew up with a vague notion of having one lot of antecedents from somewhere in Kildare, but when I fell gratefully on the online census returns for 1901 and 1911, the reality turned out to be Wicklow. Specifically, the West Wicklow town of Dunlavin, which, as it’s near the county border, is frequently referred to as being in Kildare. But maybe the mapped border has changed over the years, and Dunlavin has played German jumps over it. A postcode would pin it down and put paid to that larking about. There are other issues than cost, confusion and county pride – Conradh na Gaeilge says that if postcodes do come into existence here, they should be based on Irish placenames rather than English ones. In other bilingual countries, they use numeric postcodes only; but dropping even, say, a WX or SO denomination would divorce the postcode even further from the place it represents.

Is your chest puffed with pride in your native county, or is it just an administrative area as it was originally created? Was I just sucked in by the GAA’s ask not what your county can do for you campaign, and the guy scrawling I Love Louth on the beach?

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Lucinda Creighton.


No not her politics (for the moment) but the reaction to her from the media, from Fine Gael head office, from her party leader?

On Tuesday afternoon when she made her speech at the MacGill Summer School (not a lot of women speakers and very few in the audience) I read  snippets reported through twitter and found myself fairly shocked to agree with her. On the matter of donations to political parties she questioned if those indebted to the state and supported by NAMA should be tapped up for donations from political parties.

Specifically she was referring to the Fine Gael party fundraiser at the K Club last week and the subsequent coverage. She mentioned Fine Gael being perceived as FF lite.  And she made a number of other points on political reform and standards which is the theme of the summer school.  I believe that links between political parties and builders over the past twenty years has a huge part to play in the state we are in so I heard those bits and thought it was good to hear someone say it!.

Of course the media (who have been feeding well from the middleclass and fairly male MacGill trough all week) were only delighted to stir up the post heave trauma for another run out and reported with glee the challenges made to Fine Gael (and therefore Enda Kenny) in Lucinda’s remarks.

I’m no fan of Deputy Creighton’s politics as a quick trawl elsewhere will show but I find myself wondering if some of the media’s reaction to her would be different if she was male.  It’s not just male journalists that seem to have a problem with her either. There’s lots of use of terms like ‘feisty’, ‘blonde ambition’, ‘stilettos flying’, ‘ambitious young lady‘ in reports and columns on Lucinda’s speeches.  If you read the speech you’ll see there is discussion of the whip system and her views on it’s effects on democracy – there’s little comment anywhere else on this.  She also reflects on press officer control, trust in politicians and the issue of political dissent.

When John McGuinness was sacked as a junior minister and has subsequently spoken out regarding the troubles in Fianna Fail there has been much about his business background and experience, large local vote, political dynasty etc.  Not a lot about his dress, hair colour or gender.

The last straw for me was whilst watching Tonight with Vincent Browne’s review of newspapers on Tuesday night. There was a cackle fest amongst presenter and panel on Lucinda’s speech but no analysis of what she actually said, loads of personal commentary and most of it disparaging.  Nothing on the farce of developers being bailed out and supporting political parties and a golf club on dodgy financial knees being the the place for the support.

Lucinda is not the only woman to have faced challenging treatment from the media recently. Tanaiste Mary Coughlan has also received a lot of  attention in the past eighteen months. I’m not so sure she’s getting the rough time entirely due to her gender though. Competence surely has much to do with the matter?

On her blog yesterday Lucinda was not surprised at the coverage and has had enough of the blonde ambition and stilettos too.  I doubt this means that she will be coming out all radical feminist on us anytime soon. Is her media treatment related to her gender or possibly a symptom of the poor quality of discourse and political thinking in her party that whenever  she says something she’s going to be noticed ?

I hope to return to the issues of gender and dissent in future posts as it’s not restricted to party politics or blueshirts but would be interested in hearing and engaging with the views of others.

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A few weeks ago, I had a fascinating conversation with an aunt of mine. She is the only girl in a family of strapping big brothers, so when she told me that she’d had a sister who had died in infancy, I found it really sad. As it turned out, this was the tip of the narrative iceberg. Her own mother is an unequivocal feminist and rabid socialist, who was best pals with Luke Kelly and always involved in politics. Apart from the infant daughter who died, she had another child with severe physical disabilities who passed away. If all of this wasn’t enough to be getting on with, her husband was frequently away in England working to try and make ends meet. Times were hard.

As my aunt and I strolled along in the summer sun, she literally stopped me in my tracks with the next part of the story. Her mother was well into her forties and began complaining of stomach pains. In the absence of periods and feeling off colour, she took herself off to the hospital. Eventually a doctor examined her, and with little warning, pronounced her pregnant (which had happened during a home visit from her husband). Lying in the bed, distraught, Mrs. X blurted out “Doctor, I simply CANNOT have any more babies, I can’t”, before bursting into tears. She opened up to the doctor about the pain of losing her two dead children and he decided that he would do some further tests. She was kept in for a couple of days and returned home soon after. In the weeks that followed, it was clear she was no longer pregnant.

When I quizzed my aunt about this – was the doctor wrong in his diagnosis of pregnancy? Was it just the menopause playing havoc with her body? – she insisted that an unspoken understanding had passed between her mother and the doctor, who took it upon himself to assist in ending her pregnancy. This was a Dublin hospital in the early 1950s in De Valera’s Catholic-gripped Ireland. How could this be? When I asked her if she thought it was an abortion, she shrugged and simply answered, “Maybe, who knows?”. But it was certainly something that neither doctor or patient even acknowledged to each other, let alone spoken of to someone else.

Unlike the relative Penny referred to in the comments of this post, Mrs. X seems to have been given a choice – albeit a taboo and illegal one – about her reproductive destiny.

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