The overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote in the Republic of Ireland which was announced on Saturday 26th May was a huge step forward for the rights of women in Ireland. The overwhelming majority with which the ‘Yes’ vote was won was inspirational and moving; a point of pride for the women of Ireland. The secretary of state Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have made it clear they are keen to move the legislation on abortion through Parliament as quickly as possible.
The majority with which the “Yes” campaign won provided the women of Ireland with a sense of solidarity from both other women and Irish men. When broken down the ‘Yes’ vote crossed gender, generation and socio-economic boundaries. Young, old, men, women, people from all backgrounds voted ‘Yes’. The most significant statistic from this referendum, I believe, is the most popular reason ‘Yes’ voters gave for voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment. In an exit poll carried out by RTE, 84% of yes voters said they chose to vote this way in order to give women choice (62% of voters overall). In short, the people of Ireland voted to trust women and ensure that each woman had the freedom to choose for herself.
This victory for the rights of women has brought attention to the fact that Northern Ireland is now the only area of the UK and Ireland where a near blanket ban on abortion continues to exist. Calls have been made by British MPs, from both the Conservative and Labour parties, to repeal the Offences Against the Person Act in Northern Ireland which would allow the process of decriminalising abortion to begin. Those who oppose abortion in Northern Ireland have claimed that Westminster has no business making this decision for Northern Ireland.
Trusting women is a lesson yet to be learned from some political leaders in Northern Ireland. Most notably members of the DUP. When asked about abortion, these DUP members continually justify their anti-choice stance by presenting the incredibly weak and factually incorrect ‘floodgates’ argument. Not only is this idea that the number of abortions will rise dramatically once abortion is decriminalised easily disproven, but it fails to address the fact that Northern Irish women already access abortion in the UK. As many as 3 women a day travel to Great Britain to have an abortion or take abortion pills at home. In addition to this, this weak argument also ignores the fact that the decriminalisation of abortion is about choice. The decision whether a woman decides to carry a pregnancy to term or not is her decision, and hers alone.
The decision of the Irish people in the Republic to give women choice highlights that the old idea of pro-life versus pro-choice is an oversimplification and inaccurate understanding of the abortion debate. The pro-choice and pro-life perspectives are not mutually exclusive. It is not impossible to personally feel that abortion is not a choice you would make but recognise that other women have different circumstances and therefore will make different choices. To argue that you don’t personally agree with abortion and therefore it should be illegal is not simply pro-life, it is anti-choice.
Presenting a personal moral opposition to abortion as a reason to maintain the criminalisation of abortion is simply not good enough. The women of Northern Ireland deserve better.
On Friday the 25th May the people of the Republic of Ireland didn’t simply choose to repeal the Eighth Amendment, they choose to provide women with the healthcare they deserve, they chose to give women bodily autonomy, to give women choice and dignity. The Republic of Ireland has chosen to trust women and it is time Northern Ireland does too.
By Aoife Clements (Edited)
If you would like to get involved in the campaign to decriminalise reproductive healthcare in Northern Ireland please contact Alliance For Choice or if you would like to financially support access to abortion please contact Abortion Support Network.
WRDA understands and recognises that abortion is a healthcare issue that impacts trans men and non binary people as well as cis gender women. We advocate for the reproductive rights of all pregnant people.
I was very much a reluctant member when I joined the single parent club 8 years ago.
There are a multitude of different routes that take us into single parenthood, often they are difficult journeys strewn with pitfalls of heartbreak, loss, grief and a sense of powerlessness. My journey was a special cocktail of all of these.
Anyone who has overcome an unexpected life transition will tell you that feeling sad and overwhelmed is a legitimate response. However, there is a major source of anguish that need not be accepted as part and parcel of becoming a single mother. And I’m finally learning to reject it and fend it off at every turn – The unwelcome opponent is stigma.
The shortage of positive representation and perpetual characterisation of single mothers as social pariah no.1 is our greatest adversary, but it’s one worth fighting. We’re fighting a narrative that tells us we’re the dregs of humanity, breeding rioters and future inmates, sponging off the system, wearing our pyjamas to school drop off, stealing our friend’s husbands, the list goes on. Before I was a single parent I never thought I harboured these negative attitudes. But when I abruptly found myself as a single parent I wondered why I felt such a sudden lack of confidence and a sense of failure and shame. All of this I struggled to articulate or understand in the beginning but I felt it nonetheless.
Stereotypes aside, let’s deal with reality. One in four families with children in the UK are headed by a single parent and there are 13.6 million single parents in the States. It’s plain and simple, we are mainstream, we are not a tick box called ‘other’ and we aren’t going anywhere.
This year we have celebrated 100 years of Women’s right to vote, with that milestone in mind it may be surprising to learn that only in 1987 were rights granted to [what was then called] ‘illegitimate’ children, nineteen eighty seven! Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was charting and we were only beginning to acknowledge the rights of single parents and their children.
As Feminist discourse (rightly) infiltrates the news, matters affecting single mothers (and indeed mothers in general) are often excluded from the conversation or indeed considered irrelevant altogether. With 90% of single parents being women, surely the single parent struggle for equality should be a priority for feminism?
With confidence, we the single parents, those who love and support us and, I would argue, the women’s movement in general, need to speak up and ensure that the single mothers pursuit for equal opportunities and inclusion is an integral part of the conversation. We must challenge the narrative that we are the broken version of a ‘real’ family. Because we aren’t broken and we don’t need fixing. What we need is representation, we need cheered on as we learn to hold our heads up high and we need equal opportunities, so we can participate fully in public life and flourish.
The best part of a decade has passed and I’m no longer a reluctant member of the single mum club. In fact I’m a proud, flag flying advocate wanting to challenge the stigma that makes lone-parenting so unnecessarily difficult. James Baldwin said “the victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”
I fully intend to become a threat to the stigma surrounding single mothers and to name it as that. I want to see single mothers portrayed as the resourceful and resilient people we so often are. And I want to encourage and promote new ways of existing that mean we are still able to have aspirations outside of family life.
It hasn’t been easy to find spaces where these conversations are happening, but they are, dig enough and you’ll find them. With the intent of amplifying voices and uncovering some hidden gems I’ve started a platform affectionately named ‘Tod’
‘On Your Tod’ is for those occupying the void between the nuclear family and singleness – A positive, progressive and empowering space for the oft vilified Single Parent. A website is in the works, but for now ‘Tod’s presence is purely on social media (Facebook and Instagram) where you’ll find regular posts celebrating our heroes, challenging stigma and sharing wisdom from academia, trailblazers and wise souls.* I’d be delighted if you joined the conversation and gave ‘Tod’ all the love via likes, shares and follows, there is much work to be done.
*for those who would like to lend their talents (writing, illustration or web design) please contact Alli at email@example.com
Bold Women Blogging is a public submission blog. Posts do not necessarily represent the views of WRDA but rather operates as a platform for open discussion to encourage younger women’s participation in social and political issues. To find out more visit this page.
WRDA is one of a network of organisations that have come together to form the Childcare For All campaign. This campaign calls for universal, child-centred childcare that meets the needs of children, families, childcare workers and providers and benefits society. We have developed a Childcare For All charter setting out a vision of a childcare system that is affordable, accessible, flexible, high quality, and which supports children’s education and development. Childcare should be available to, and suitable for, children of all ages, those with a disability, and those living in a rural location. Childcare provision should enable parents to access and stay in paid work or education and training. We want to see the value of childcare work recognised with decent pay and terms and conditions.
The Campaign will be launched on Tuesday 1 May 2018 at Stormont. Keep posted for further information or, to register your interest in attending the launch, contact Aoife.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
I want to start this blog by saying that in the past year I’ve had more contact with the National Health Service than I’ve ever had in any other year, and certainly more than I would have liked, and while there are undoubtedly criticisms I would level at various elements of the service overwhelmingly I feel happy and grateful to live in a country that has an NHS, I value it highly and I feel strongly that it should be defended against those who seek to corrupt it with privatisation. NHS care, at its best, makes a huge difference in many lives every day and all of us know people who wouldn’t be able to live as they do without it. This story is not a criticism of the NHS nor of the numerous NHS staff who are truly doing their best with what they’ve got right now. It is only the story of one incident and a consideration of what this might tell us about the experience of women in the hands of healthcare services in the NHS and elsewhere and how a gendered and stereotyped approach to those women impacts upon the care they receive.
At the end of last year I was with my mum when she had a fall that resulted in a serious injury. It wasn’t a simple fall, she was attempting to pull my recently-disabled dad’s wheelchair over the threshold going into the venue of an event they were supposed to be attending when the wheelchair tipped over backwards, with my dad in it, and landed on top of her. Watching this I felt sick. I’d had enough time in hospitals this year already and I couldn’t gauge how serious her injuries were. Dad is a big man and she inherited her own mother’s brittle bones so I knew it was serious. Immediately things started moving. A group lifted dad in his chair, people who claimed to have some kind of first aid knowledge encouraged her to move herself and she refused. I wanted to get hold of my sister. I needed to know what was wrong with my mum. I was so angry she hadn’t asked for my help with the wheelchair, I’d asked her to call me when she arrived but she hadn’t and I was waiting less than 20 feet inside when I saw the accident happen. When my sister arrived she went into shock, my unflappable sister who doesn’t cry cried and panicked and asked me why mum wasn’t moving – could she? I answered honestly. I didn’t know if she could move. I only knew that she had terrible pain at the base of her spine and if she was refusing to move that was good enough reason for me to leave her where she was until she had proper help. I trusted her. If I had been the one to call the emergency services there would have been no doubt that she needed an ambulance, I could see that very clearly.
I didn’t make the emergency call. Somebody from the venue staff did and must have painted a picture very much different to what I saw. They didn’t send an ambulance. They sent a paramedic car to administer some pain relief and get her back on her feet, as well as making sure dad was okay. I insisted he did get checked out, though he was adamant he was fine. It had only been six months since his stroke and a bump to the head on his blood thinners could cause a haemorrhage. All of this went round in my head while I questioned what kind of injuries my mum was dealing with, and somewhere in the background as I tried to comfort dad I could hear her voice, irritated and sarcastic, “If you want me to wail and cry and beat my hands off the floor I can do that – is that what it takes?” The paramedic attending mum had asked her to rate her pain on a scale of 1-10 and she had responded that whenever she tried to move it was an 8.
“I don’t think so, you’d be crying if it was that bad!”
She didn’t say her pain was 100 out of 10, or 12 out of 10, she didn’t even say it was 10 out of 10. She evaluated her own pain, as she was asked to, and rated it as being 8 out of 10 specifically when she was trying to move. Considering the pain and the distress that she was experiencing, lying on the floor in a public place at the feet of her husband’s wheelchair, trying not to think about the kind of permanent damage that might leave her unable to walk, and at the same time hoping that his blood pressure wasn’t rising in panic and leaving him in danger too, this seems to me to have been an eminently reasonable response.
My mum reacted in that situation as so many of us would. She was in a public place, her recently disabled husband was beside her unable to help, her daughters and many people she knew were around. She was trying her very best to retain a sense of calm and control and dignity, and to protect my dad from the panic I know she felt, while still communicating very clearly how serious she believed her injuries might be. But her reaction didn’t match up to the gendered expectations of someone who was supposed to be her care provider and his prejudice had a tangible impact on the care she received that night. A moment’s consideration of my mum’s present circumstances could have illuminated why she might respond as she did, and why that response might seem entirely appropriate to her, or even the idea that she might be reacting strangely because of the shock. Surely it was part of his duty of care to her to take her estimation of her own pain seriously and to consider why his expectations may not be being met in this case? But he couldn’t divorce any of that from his own perception of a pretty blonde woman who wasn’t crying.
(Picture Credit: motherjones.com)
He continued to question her representation of her pain for some time, including, of course, asking her to compare it to childbirth. At this point he had no idea whether we were her biological children or whether we might have been born by caesarean, and at any rate having never actually given birth himself it is unclear to me why he thought that his conception of what that might be like would be a more useful tool for determining her pain level than listening to what she was telling him – 8/10 when I try to move should have been good enough. The gendered approach that he insisted on was entirely inappropriate and unhelpful and the decision he made not to trust my mum’s assertions of her own pain levels and not to take seriously her concerns about the severity of her injuries caused so much unnecessary additional distress, not only to her, and significantly delayed her getting access to the care and treatment she knew she needed. So much time was wasted while he attempted to cajole her into just getting up and moving about, as though he seriously thought she would be willingly lying in a doorway if she was capable of doing anything else. Throughout this time mum was given an incredible amount of heavy-duty pain relief and she continued to assert firmly that movement was unbearable for her, that the pain made her frightened. Very clearly she felt that she had to stay still to keep herself safe, her fundamental instincts told her that much, yet in the end she lay on that floor for over an hour before an ambulance arrived to take her to hospital.
I went with mum in the ambulance. Someone else took dad in their car, my sister went home with friends who promised me they would look after her tonight. I’d already got a change of clothes and an overnight bag for the hospital, I’d called work to say I wouldn’t be in tomorrow and my boyfriend was going to stay at home with my dad who couldn’t be alone. We had settled into crisis response mode, mum’s determined will to stay calm had allowed us to do what we needed to. As I waited with her in ambulance arrivals that calm that she’d been battling to hold on to disappeared. She was shaking and crying and struggling to catch her breath, so terrified that any of the ill-advised attempts at moving her might have resulted in serious damage to her nerves or spinal cord. She asked me to find out if they could give her something to calm her down and when I asked I was told that she’d had so much pain relief this evening that it wasn’t possible for them to give her anything, and still the pain had only been lessened and not taken away. Throughout the night whenever it was possible to give her more pain relief they did, at one point they had to adjust the position of her bed by about 15 degrees and she screamed in a way that made me want to scream too. Repeatedly she was tapped and poked to make sure that she had feeling in her arms and legs and had no pins and needles. In the middle of the night when a doctor came to give us the results of the scans and started by saying that it was bad news we were both terrified, but when he went on to say that she had fractured her spine I honestly felt relieved. We already knew that, and really it was the best we were hoping for. I couldn’t understand that anyone would be surprised.
To offer some context on the extent to which my mum wasn’t exaggerating about her pain that night, the first day in hospital it took her, myself and her physiotherapist twenty minutes just to get her out of bed, and when she was discharged a week later she went home to three months wearing a back brace, relying on carers calling four times a day for all her personal care and meals, sleeping in a hospital bed and taking oxycodone, an opioid painkiller, every day. A little research for this piece has confirmed that mum’s injury was not a surprising or unlikely one in the circumstances, it could have been predicted and her concerns absolutely should have been taken seriously. Given the paramedic who first attended her had the benefit of knowing her age, and the fact that she was taking calcium tablets for osteopenia, as well as her repeated assertions about the intensity of the pain she was experiencing, there really wasn’t a good excuse for the dismissive attitude he took to her representation of her symptoms.
Ultimately mum was so lucky, and I am so glad, that she had the strength and the confidence to trust herself and to stand up for herself when faced with such doubt from someone who was supposed to be an authority, but really she should never have had to bear so much of that responsibility in the circumstances. This story serves as a reminder for all of us of something we’ve probably already found out, that as women we have to represent and defend our own interests at all times, sadly we can’t always trust that anyone else is going to do this for us, even when they should. Hopefully it might also encourage us to consider what we expect of those who look to us for help or support in so many situations and how we can better respond when our expectations are not met, as necessarily sometimes they will not be, to ensure that we don’t allow these prejudices to do the real harm that we know they can.
Author: Lauren Donnelly, WRDA Volunteer
Belfast has a problem with Rape Culture. Eating lunch, buying clothes or even just walking down the street, women in this city are met with a barrage of misogynistic material. Violence against women is made light of and women’s bodies are used as room dressing. We have a high rate of violence against women and the way women are presented in pop culture is part of the problem.
In February 2018 the David James Kerr clothes shop was called out on its misogyny for this poster showing the lower portion of a couple having sex. The owner responded to the suggestion that the image was demeaning to women and inappropriate in a clothes shop by posting ‘its only a toilet door FFS’ on social media. The pornographic image is degrading and it is outrageous that the shop’s Instagram feed shows a pic of a child posing in front of it. The toilet icon above the poster is also deeply concerning, It shows a male character looking over a stall divider at a female character. This is an image of a man assaulting a women and it is being casually displayed in a clothes shop. This shop is popular with children.
Some have tried to dismiss this as a bit of fun or just lad culture but this kind of behaviour has real world consequences. In 2016 there were 3,160 reported sexual assaults in NI including over 800 rapes. Crimes of this nature are notoriously underreported and so we know this is only the tip of the iceberg. NI clearly has a problem with men’s attitudes to women and sex. Educating young men about the basic concept of consent is an uphill battle when this kind of imagery has been in their faces and infecting their sub consciousness since they were children.
The décor of Made In Belfast, a trendy restaurant in the Cathedral Quarter is more subtle in its misogyny. They display vintage looking prints of women in their underwear across from a giant mirror with the words ‘treat me like a piece of meat’ printed on it. Northern Ireland definitely has a problem with rape culture if we consider this appropriate room dressing for a restaurant. Pairing these items together evokes the age old trope that women are somehow asking to be the victims of sexual violence. The pervasiveness of images and messages like this in our society creates the impression that misogyny is acceptable.
In 2017 Ribs and Bibs restaurant on Botanic advertised its bargain lunch with this catchy slogan, ‘ya can beat the wife but ya can’t beat a 5 pound lunch!’. The restaurant’s initial response was to try and gaslight people who found making fun of domestic violence objectionable by telling them to ‘get a life, it’s a bit of wit’ on social media. This did cause a substantial backlash and Ribs and Bibs eventually said it would discipline the employee responsible but that person still thought it was okay to try and use domestic violence as a marketing tool and their boss thought this was witty. Northern Ireland has a shockingly high rate of domestic violence (one call to the PSNI every 18 minutes in 2016) and maybe part of the problem is that as a wider society we don’t take violence against women seriously enough.
That is the common thread running through all these examples, that we as a society do not take violence against women seriously. Women are abused by partners, assaulted and treated like a piece of meat. Our bodies are disrespected and denigrated and our privacy and safety are compromised. Some of those actions are illegal, all are morally reprehensible but we are not going to make real progress in tackling them as individual issues unless we dismantle a culture which thinks it is okay to use them to sell us stuff.
The next time you’re out shopping or grabbing lunch and you see rape culture looking back at you, point it out to the proprietor and let us know on twitter and Facebook. No more women hating in public spaces.
Bold Women Blogging is a public submission blog. Posts do not necessarily represent the views of WRDA but rather operates as a platform for open discussion to encourage younger women’s participation in social and political issues. To find out more visit this page.
Under the Pensions Act 2008, every employer in the UK must put certain staff into a pension scheme and contribute towards it. This is called ‘automatic enrolment’. If you employ at least one person you are an employer and you have certain legal duties.
The minimum contribution that an employer and employee pay into the pension scheme is increasing from April 2018. The Pensions Regulator (TPR) is contacting employers about the increase in the minimum contributions, that employers and employee must pay into an automatic enrolment pension scheme.
When does the increase take effect?
The minimum contributions are due to increase over two phases. The first increase is from 6 April 2018, and the second from 6 April 2019. The first phase of the increases was originally due to start from October 2017. However, in April 2015 these dates were changed by the government to start from 6 April 2018.
Who does this apply to?
All employers must make sure they pay at least the minimum contributions into the pension scheme. If employers are already paying above the increased minimum amounts, there is no need to worry or make any changes.
What are the minimum contribution rates?
|Date effective||Employer Minimum Contribution||Staff Contribution||Total Minimum Contribution|
|Currently until 5 April 2018
|6 April 2018 to 5 April 2019
|6 April 2019 onwards
What are the next steps?
Ensure the pension supports the automatic increases in minimum pensions contributions. If a pension scheme does not increase its minimum contribution levels in line with the legal requirements, it will no longer be a qualifying scheme for existing members and cannot be used for automatic enrolment
Understand how these changes will affect the organisations, eg ensure that any new funding bids allow for the increase In the contribution.
Employees should know what is happening. There are no additional duties under automatic enrolment for employers to advise members about these increases, however they may wish to do so to help minimise queries, or reduce the number of workers subsequently leaving their schemes. Employers should still be mindful of the need to consult their members if changes are made to the minimum contribution levels before the 6 April changes to contribution rates.
Will the pension provider communication directly with the members? They should at least provide template letters.
Click here for further information about the changes.
If you are aged 18-35 and have something to say, we want to help you get heard! WRDA will be launching a brand new blog called Bold Women Blogging on Friday 2nd March 2018. Bold Women Blogging will be a space where the next leaders of NI Feminism can voice their views on any topic related to gender.
The final decision on what gets published rests with the Communications and Membership worker
If you are interested in submitting a piece to the blog or want to find out more please email Megan on firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to include a contact number, little bit about yourself and if you would like to post anonymously.
Following the disappointing High Court decisions on the cases brought by Chris and Henry Flannagan-Kane and Grainne Close & Shannon Sickles many of us will be asking what the next steps are for Marriage Equality in NI. Stephen Donnan from the Rainbow Project will be answering those questions and explaining a bit more about the Marriage Equality campaign at an event organised by WRDA. Read More