Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

A cloudy day above number of buildings' walls ripped apart with building materials scattered on the ground
Penelope Norman
Penelope Norman
1st of July 2022

 

I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.

I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’

In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)

This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.

One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,

 “O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”

 

She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,

 

“his words replete with guile

Into her heart too easie entrance won:

Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold

Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound

Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d

With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”

 

Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.

In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,

 

“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of יהוה —
creating them male and female.
יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”

In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,

 

“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”

 

This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.

A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,

 

“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”

In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.

At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.

I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.

 

 

Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Gender-Based Violence: Starting, Supporting and Sustaining the Conversation

Gender-Based Violence: Starting, Supporting and Sustaining the Conversation

Gender-Based Violence: Starting, Supporting and Sustaining the Conversation
Woman with tape over her mouth making a silence gesture
Brianna Walsh
11th of March 2022

Some names have been changed to respect respondents’ requests for anonymity.

 

“I think Ashling Murphy has brought out the best and worst in people.” (Sophie, 25)

The month’s mind of Ashling’s tragic death has passed, however, the emotional fallout from the murder of the 23 year old primary school teacher will likely stay with us a lot longer. Since her death, there have been two more notable instances of assault by men against women across public spaces in Ireland. All the while, new developments emerge in the policy arena around how to prevent gender-based violence (GBV) and support victims. Now more than ever, it feels apt to consider the fraught response to this case and the lasting impression it may leave.  As our landscape for change becomes more and more influenced by the media, and in particular, social media, the impact for conversation is significant. While the wave of advocacy in response to this case is welcome, when the issue is as sensitive as GBV, how we talk to each other matters even more. Important questions arise, questions that have an array of potential answers. Each has the power to inspire or isolate, engage or exclude. The legacy of Ashling Murphy’s murder lies not only in its grievous circumstances, but in the context of her death and the discussion it must spark and sustain. Fixed in an Irish and global history of gender inequality, whether this case proves pivotal for progress may depend on how consciously we choose to respond in the modern age.  To capture the ongoing conversation, I attempted to engage, speak and most importantly, listen to young men and women in Ireland, advocates and organisations working in this field. The goal was to explore the consequences of how we communicate in 2022, and how this dialogue can be mobilised to ensure inclusive, effective change going forward. In doing so, a door has been opened into the minds of young people and experts. Behind this door lies a range of thoughts and feelings, beliefs and insights into a perennially controversial issue; men’s violence against women. 

You are invited to step in. 

 

“My initial reaction was kind of like, oh no, not again” (Serena, 22)

 

“[there was] disbelief in the beginning… then I kinda caught myself and said, why don’t I believe this? This isn’t new?” (Deirdre, 24)

 

“We’ve heard this so much over the last two years” (Matthew, 22)

 

These initial impressions of Ashling’s death are chilling. As respondents attempted to encapsulate something “so, so tragic and so, so sad”, there was an underlying current of grim tolerance throughout these interviews. A sense that while shocking, there is little reason to be surprised. 

 

“244 women since 1996. We’ll see another Ashling Murphy, Sarah Everard… the problem isn’t going to go away.” (Deirdre, 24)

 

Each reaction, though striking, was immediate. As interviewees increasingly began to echo each other, one simple question remained: why? Why did this case make such an impact if this happens so frequently? Why, without knowledge of motive nor means, were we so quick to link a stranger assault to the wider issue of GBV? Why, and why now?  Everyone interviewed acknowledged this case as a tragedy and several drew reference to previous tragedies, such as the murder of Urantsetseg Tserendorj last January in the IFSC. However, the impact Ashling Murphy has had is marked, spurring unusually charged sentiment throughout Irish media and society.  Ashling was painted the perfect victim. Young, Irish, innocent, out for a run in broad daylight. “I think the reaction from everyone has been very emotional, which is understandable… we’re 23, we’re students, we graduated as a student last year, I have a friend who’s a teacher… everyone knows an Ashling Murphy, even if you didn’t know her” (Sarah, 23). Serena emphasised the way Ashling was depicted in the media, along with the uniqueness of her death; “I think the way Ashling Murphy’s case was worded definitely had an impact on the way people view it and I know this is terrible to say, but you hear about domestic violence cases more so than murders in Ireland so it’s going to catch people’s attention because it’s quite an extreme case.” Emotions were high and a surge of activism ensued. Social media was alight with six poignant words: She Was Going For A Run. Women shared their own stories of safety, their experiences of assault. Keys between fingers and catcalls on streets. Organisations continued to campaign for change. We were igniting a long-overdue, wider dialogue around gender-based violence. Yet, there were early indications that this advocacy could divide us further.  Making the links between everyday acts of misogyny and an isolated, acute incident like this one is a difficult task. In a media landscape that is increasingly polarised, nuance can get lost in the pressure to take a stance, defend an opinion, and allocate blame for such an incomprehensible crime. This impact is observed most fervently in the #NotAllMen rhetoric that rears its head regularly during these discussions:

 

“Why is it that when a woman is attacked, all men are implicated in somehow being responsible for the crime, but when a woman attacks a man, no such thing happens to women… when men are attacked by men, we only implicate the individual in this case. Men as a whole aren’t implicated. Why the double standard?” (Miguel, 27)

“There are certain words that trigger men and kind of the general population, like feminism, misogyny, patriarchy, you know, toxic masculinity… I also think there’s a huge amount of really complex language being used which completely alienates a very big proportion of society who maybe aren’t as articulate or don’t want to read several paragraphs on ‘why men are bad’”

“There’s a responsibility that does need to be taken by men – that is a huge burden on someone, a huge thing to take on, to say, well my gender keeps killing people, my gender keeps catcalling people in the street, but I’ve never done it – what can I do about it?” (Sophie, 25)

 

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, assessed the connection between the two. While this “stands alone as a tragedy, there is a parallel…” The response to this case was less about the detailed circumstances of this murder, and more to do with the memories it aroused. 

 

“My sense is it’s not that Ashling Murphy’s death has caused women to be afraid, it has reminded them to be afraid… more and more people started to realise this was the ultimate nightmare but it wasn’t the only nightmare…a lot of people know that abuse doesn’t normally start with murder, it starts with something [small], the abuser gets away with that and so on and so forth until they hit the boundaries…”

“This is a remembrance by women that they are right to be afraid.”

 

Merely by nature of Ashling being a woman, and her perpetrator a man, this case forced us to think about what can happen to women, what does happen to women, at a disproportionate rate in our society. We were forced to consider the fact that she was “doing all the right things”, and still fell victim to an attack. This consideration alone is indicative of injustice. We rarely apply these expectations to male victims in similar circumstances, which in itself tells us that while we don’t know exactly what happened, we make assumptions based on a history of entrenched gender inequality. 

 

“I suppose because we hear about [misogyny] so much, we immediately assume certain kind of factors, when obviously as the story unfolds we get more details” (Matthew, 22)

 

Deirdre reminds us that in trying to assess how and why Ashling died,“you can’t draw a straight line from one to the other, it’s a spider’s web.” It could have been random, psychotic, as likely to happen if it had been a man going for a run. But it also could have happened because Ashling was physically weaker, because there are patriarchal, implicit biases that rendered her an easy target, microaggressions that have an array of consequences; whether that’s upholding traditional, religious values, perpetuating stereotypes, normalising violent behaviours, or making it harder for men to access mental health support. We “jump to the conclusion that this [happened] because she was a woman” because we have no choice but to consider the likelihood that that could be true. We don’t have the privilege of ignoring gender-based factors that could have contributed to this case, like we do with other murders. We don’t know why this happened, which means we can’t really rule any motive or influence out. 

 

“It’s not a nice outcome that her death has sparked this kind of conflict between people.” (Serena, 22)

 

That being said, cultivating constructive conversation around these complex ideas is easier said than done, especially through media platforms. The way we talk about this specific case in the wider context of GBV can still have adverse impacts. Even seemingly positive campaigning can swiftly turn sour. Respondents highlighted how our reaction could affect other victims of GBV, victims who aren’t in as ‘worthy positions’. Those who are wearing the wrong thing, who are out at the wrong time, who are sex workers or domestically abused. The way Ashling’s death was sketched implied “that she didn’t deserve this to happen”, as though others conceivably do. 

 

“Sometimes with domestic assault or cases of rape… they might say [the victim] was walking down a dark alleyway or you know, a young girl had sexual intercourse with her uncle instead of saying, you know, an uncle raped his niece.” (Serena, 22)

 

Sarah regarded our quick reactions as dangerous in this context; “maybe there’s merit in attention being drawn to [gender based violence] here, but I think it hurts those conversations more.”

 

“Saying there’s a continuum of male behaviour that leads to murder, I think that pushes men away from wanting to talk about misogyny, because you’re basically saying I could end up there… and if I’m not addressing that I’m okay with murder, which is not the case… I don’t think that’s a good tactic.”

 

She hoped for more practical discussions around the prevention of stranger assaults specifically and making space for these strategies to be heard. She admitted that voicing this opinion was daunting for her, especially online; “if it is a conversation, don’t use her death to have it – then I can’t disagree with you.” It’s true that at times like this, inaccuracies can be perpetuated by the media that spark temporary fear rather than long term reform. Ryan Hart, an advocate against domestic violence whose father abused and eventually killed Ryan’s mother and sister in a murder-suicide, informed me that 11% of women are killed by strangers in the UK, while 89% are killed by someone they know.  “One thing that really annoyed us about our [case] is that we didn’t know we were victims… domestic violence and homicide was portrayed as one off – out of nowhere.” “That’s why we didn’t know what was going on… [nobody thinks their] father is someone who is going to hurt them…very little attention is paid to true risk areas for women. If the media is not doing a good job at portraying the truth about what is going on, you have a distorted viewpoint [about the] red flags of domestic homicide… I’d like to see the same amount of attention when people are killed by people they know at home.” Noeline explained how the privacy and complicated nature of domestic violence cases mean they’re less likely to be reported on, despite being more prevalent; “one of the attributes of this [case] is its absolute simplicity.” Matthew echoed her thoughts;

 

“there’s a [need] for the media to start [making this issue] omnipresent until a point that it is eradicated… There are so many issues in Ireland in the last few years that become like Ashling Murphy, like ok, it’s really sad, next problem… [there are others] not given enough attention at all…”

“It shouldn’t be as quick. I know, obviously, there’s an issue of trying to sell news, [but] there should be that moral question of there’s a general problem here, what are we, as a media outlet, as the framers of all these stories, what are we going to say about it?”

 

In considering the impact of what we say and how we say it, it’s easy to see how this conversation can become overwhelming, fast. We recognise how complicated it can be to speak up, to engage, or simply to listen and learn what to do next.  Staying silent isn’t an option either. In fact, many of us can’t afford not to have this conversation. This leads us to the ‘how’? How should we talk to each other in a way that is open, conscious and inclusive? How can this discussion best be mobilised to effect positive change for gender equality in Ireland and elsewhere?  One thing we’re lacking is adequate data to help us understand the “web” of causes underlying gender-based violence. Participants struggled to grasp the roots of this issue, theorising patterns of misogyny, suppression of men’s emotions, and a patriarchal “sense of entitlement” as possible reasons for why this keeps happening. An issue described by our government as an “epidemic” and which Noeline observes is relatively class-less compared to other crimes, efforts to “understand what’s driven someone to do this and how we can stop it” appear futile if we are not collecting enough evidence around cause and effect.  Practical and policy responses were suggested, with UCD Student Union’s Darryl Horan citing the need for increased refuge accommodation across the country and SAFE Ireland’s Miriam Kivlehan welcoming the announcement of a single ministry to tackle women’s safety. This is something that the organisation has advocated for years, to address GBV holistically across areas including justice, health, housing and social protection.  Preventative approaches included earlier interventions in education systems to ensure everybody understands the intricate, historical depth of gender inequality, in Ireland and internationally. Within politics, there could be greater female representation and within the media, better portrayals of gender-based violence, domestic abuse and potential innovative solutions. Within the justice system, greater accountability for crimes may be necessary.  Most evidently, we need to re-assess how we speak to each other. When asked about these barriers to communication, Ryan Hart contends that it’s “not helpful to tell people what they can’t do.” It’s actually more effective to tell people what they can gain. 

 

“Any abusive man is miserable… [our father was filled with] resentment, paranoia, he was jealous and bitter, never proud of us or himself… he missed out on a huge amount because of the way he chose to behave.”

“Life without responsibility is dull… without it, you will never [achieve] meaningful happiness. It’s not entirely selfless – men have a lot to gain from understanding gender-based violence.”

 

The way we behave affects everyone. It can benefit everyone, or it can harm everyone. There’s no way to avoid having this conversation, so we’re going to have to try our best to manage it. To take our time, to take away the blame and the boundaries. To accept that we may say the wrong thing. To include and at the same time, hold each other to account. Ultimately, to respect each other. In every domain, every relationship, every way.

At UCD’s vigil in remembrance of Ashling Murphy, Darryl Horan paid heed to the amount of people who approached him and “asked frankly, what’s next?” Men and women alike. Despite divergence, heartache, anger and frustration, there is also hope. There is a bigger picture, within which we are all integral. There is a call to action, if only we choose to listen.

 

Continue the conversation:

Write for STAND News here

Read more articles for International Women’s Day here

Talk to us on: Twitter @stand_ie

Instagram @stand.ie

If you are affected by the issues raised in this article, reach out to:

Women’s Aid here 

SAFE Ireland here 

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre here 

Men’s Aid Ireland here 

UCDSU Welfare Officer here 

 

 

Imagine Equality Campaign Link

Featured Photo from Pexels .

This article was supported by: STAND News Editor Conor Courtney and Engagement Coordinator Aislin

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IGHN Student Outreach Podcast With Shubhangi Karmakar

IGHN Student Outreach Podcast With Shubhangi Karmakar

IGHN Student Outreach Podcast with Shubhangi Karmakar

8th of March 2022

Soundcloud image link

Click the image to listen

 

This podcast episode is brought to you by a syndication partnership between STAND News and the Irish Global Health Network.

 

In this episode, we speak to Shubhangi Karmakar! Shubhangi (she/they) holds a medical degree and a MSc in Molecular Medicine from Trinity College Dublin. She has particular interests in psychiatry, science communication, and advocacy for underrepresented groups, such as disabled persons and those in the LGBTQ+ community. She is currently working as an academic intern at St. James’ Hospital.

 

 

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The Ubiquity of Violence: Our Cultural Blindspots are Costing Us Lives

The Ubiquity of Violence: Our Cultural Blindspots are Costing Us Lives

The Ubiquity of Violence: Our Cultural Blind-Spots are Costing Lives

Hand with 'Stop GBV' written on it
Sibéal Devilly initials

7th of March 2022

 

I cannot imagine the lived experiences of those who belong to marginalised communities. In a systemically racist and xenophobic culture, the fear I feel as a white, abled cisgender woman is minimal relative to the experiences of those who live in bodies even less respected in Ireland. I do not have the layers of fear many do, and I do not wish to speak on the experiences of others but on the systemic problems of gender-based violence (GBV).

The refusal to recognise the relevance of microaggressions in the culture of this country contributes to our inability to properly address gender-based violence. The idea that there is a relationship between cat-calling or rape jokes, and physical GBV, is one that the boys’ club of Ireland refuses to accept. The fact that 97 per cent of UK students surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment seems to escape men who regard rape as appropriate material for a joke. That this actually may have happened to women appears irrelevant – as though the pain of others should not prevent men from doing and saying as they please. The reality is that these jokes normalise the compartmentalisation of violent rhetoric and the real-world treatment of women. Globally, one in three women have been subjected to violence in their lifetime, 65 per cent of women have experienced GBV either directly or indirectly, and 40 per cent of women surveyed reported feeling less safe in public spaces since the COVID-19 Pandemic began.

Again and again, as these stories of women being brutally and often fatally attacked come to the forefront in the media, sympathisers recite the same list of facts; those same lists we were taught as children would protect us. It was bright. She was dressed correctly. She texted a friend. She had headphones in. She was polite but not too polite. On and on it goes as though we must preempt reactions to assault with justifications of the victims’ own actions. As though it is the victims of assault who are responsible. As though women walking or jogging or running must qualify the living of their lives as well as doing the right things, following the right rules, doing what they were told was right. The truth is, women can and often do move through life doing what they are taught is right to protect themselves and still, those carrying out the violence are not centred in the conversations. Those attackers, those assaulters, those murderers: they are in the wrong. The reactions rarely highlight the wrongs carried out at the level of specificity that the victims’ actions are defended. Let’s be clear. Men shout at, grope, grab, assault and murder women. Men dismiss fears as silly, men use and abuse positions of societal and physical dominance to enact violence on women that keep us suppressed. And rather than justify their complicity in systems that uphold this power, they say, again and again, that it’s ‘not all men’ and perpetuate the need for sympathisers to justify the actions of a victim.

The truth is, as we have seen, heard, said, and screamed that the rules we were taught about staying safe are simply not working. They’re not working because victims aren’t the ones at fault. I’ll repeat that: women aren’t the ones at fault. Regardless of what they are wearing, where they’re going, who they tell, and whether it’s a scorching summer’s day or a dead winter’s night, nobody should fear for their lives in modern Ireland. No one should have to rethink exercising, socialising, grocery shopping, or anything else women already limit themselves to daylight hours to do. And where do these rules lead us? Don’t get the bus, get a taxi. And then you hear stories about rogue taxi drivers, so you should book a taxi, not hail one off the street. And even then, I have had countless moments of sheer panic when a taxi driver takes a different route than I expected. In the same way that you can dress modestly and be shouted at in the street, you can do all the right things and still end up dead. The actual problem is the inability of those who the system suits to see the connection between micro-aggressions and murder when it comes to women’s safety. The problem is the people enacting the violence.

The solution to this is not to bash men as a group. The solution is to tear down the systems which lead not only to male violence against women but also lead men to have so little space to express themselves and their vulnerabilities that they become violent and harmful to themselves and others. On the subject of solutions, however, neither does the answer constitute the asking of men how they would feel if it was their sister or girlfriend or anyone else in their lives experiencing such violence. We are not just sisters or wives or daughters or mothers. We are not our relationships to men. It’s time our society reflected on the idea that women are people regardless of how they relate to men and that nobody ever gets a free pass to act violently towards others. It’s not that you can’t be violent because you see your sister reflected in another person. It’s because it’s not okay to carry out violence on a person, whether you relate to them or not.

Often when issues in society are highlighted, people immediately demand solutions to problems. I would first like to say that we can point out societal issues without being experts on the answers. That being said, when I lived in Canada, I had a few experiences surrounding how we might address some of the routine micro-aggressions carried out by men. In one instance, a builder working in a different part of the building passed remarks about a young woman who was behind the counter of a cafe I worked in. A few of us as staff of the cafe put in a complaint with the construction company carrying out the work, and within a week we received confirmation that he had been terminated from the project due to the complaint. When I recounted this story to Irish friends, it was met with surprise. Somehow, the prevailing opinion was that because it was non-physical meant that he should not have been reprimanded. However, taking these incidents seriously is A) clearly possible through employment law or harassment clauses in contracts and B) the first step in addressing GBV in adults who are otherwise unlikely to engage with education measures proposed to address it.

Along with the need for changes in how we permit citizens and working professionals to behave towards women, we need a change in state systems that uphold violence against women and marginalised groups. An Garda Síochána was established upon the foundation of the state under the premise of Irish people policing Irish people. Since then, Ireland has changed. It has become a more diverse, more secular, and more accepting place. The Gardaí have not kept up with this development. The behaviour we have seen from Gardaí in recent years, from Dara Quigley’s treatment to cancelled domestic abuse call-outs, to a garda responsible for a rape inquiry receiving 15 reminders without taking action. These actions by Gardaí reinforce to women that our safety is not a priority and that our concerns are not taken seriously until it is too late. It is increasingly clear that the culture of Ireland needs to change, and the systems which currently exist are simply not working. They must be torn down and rebuilt.

The barriers to accessing domestic violence assistance are too high for all women in Ireland but are especially high for those migrant women who live in the country. Language barriers, immigrant status, and not having family support all contribute to difficulties in accessing these services. In 2020, 22% of women who used Women’s Aid’s One-to-One Support service were from migrant communities. 27% of women who contacted their Domestic Abuse Information and Support were from migrant communities. These figures are particularly stark when one considers that migrant women in 2019 made up approximately 6.3% of the population of Ireland. It is necessary to bear in mind that while women are all affected by gender-based violence in this country on some level, for some, it is far harder to get help than others. And in a country that is slow to recognise the experiences of those it doesn’t see reflected in the mirror, it is the hardest.

It is time for us to recognise the disregard not only for women’s safety but for the safety of those who do not fit the paper chain cutouts we made in school. It is time to recognise that the underbelly of aggression in this country extends far beyond the microaggressions we brush off daily. This ripples through to many groups who don’t see themselves represented in state or cultural systems in this country. They are not considered by those in positions of decision-making or power, much less included by them. It’s time to recognise that the culture of Ireland has changed since the foundation of the free state and that the systems that uphold the old Ireland must be changed if not torn down and started anew.

 

Further Resources:

Hush Dialogues: @hushdialogues on Instagram (and their team members’ Instagrams)

Gorm Media: @gormmedia on Instagram and Twitter

The Liminal: a book which ‘challenges all who read it to reassess privileges and socially ingrained biases that have allowed institutionalisation to repeatedly happen in Ireland’ Available at: https://www.tallav.com/products/the-liminal-notes-in-life-race-and-direct-provision-in-ireland

Women’s Aid Ireland

UN Women: https://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/infographic/violenceagainstwomen/en/index.html#home

 

 

Imagine Equality Campaign Link

Featured Photo by Byron Sullivan from Pexels .

This article was supported by: STAND News Editor Olivia Moore and Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Global Health Talks With Ambassador Nicola Brennan

Global Health Talks With Ambassador Nicola Brennan

Global Health Talks with Ambassador Nicola Brennan

7th of March 2022

Soundcloud image link

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This podcast episode is brought to you by a syndication partnership between STAND News and the Irish Global Health Network.

 

In this episode, we speak to Nicola Brennan, Ireland’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, South Sudan and Djibouti, currently based in Ethiopia. She shares candidly her journey from her first development position in Indonesia to her current role as Ireland’s Ambassador. She talks about the policy priorities of the Irish government, how gender equality is firmly embedded in her team at the Embassy, what it is like to be a woman leader and her hopes for the future.

 

 

Imagine Equality Campaign Link

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Gender Based Violence: When Borders are Blurred

Gender Based Violence: When Borders are Blurred

Gender Based Violence:
When Borders are Blurred

Lit candle protected by hand
Ellen Coburn

15th of February 2022

 

When I think of the concept of freedom, a number of thoughts come to mind. Birds in flight, chains being broken, open fields, having the right to speak our minds, make our own decisions, wear what we want, look how we want, do what makes us feel happy and healthy, having the freedom to think what we choose and go wherever we want to go, all while knowing that our safety is not in jeopardy.

Feeling free and feeling safe are concepts that are inherently interdependent. I believe they need each other in order to harmoniously coexist. But what happens when our freedom, our fundamental human right, is violated? What happens when we no longer feel like we can go to work, be alone, go out with friends, exercise or simply leave our homes because we feel as though these freedoms may come at the cost of our safety or even our lives? These questions are unfortunately not hypothetical. They are the morbid reality that floods the minds of women across the world. Gender Based Violence has become a deep and intractable iceberg that has lodged itself in our society and shows no signs of melting without intervention. This brutality against women is a pandemic. Our safety and our freedom is undeniably under threat.

On the 12th of January 2022, Ashling Murphy went for a run along the Grand Canal in Tullamore in broad daylight and never returned home. But it does not matter what she was doing or at what time of day she was doing it. What matters is that Ashling Murphy should be alive. On that day, Ashling became a victim of the silenced pandemic. A pandemic that has already destroyed the lives and freedoms of hundreds of Irish women.  

Each year, the Sakharov Prize is awarded by the European Parliament to honour exceptional individuals who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. In 2014 this prize was awarded to Denis Mukwege. As a gynaecologist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Denis Mukwege has dedicated his life to treating women who are victims of sexual and physical violence perpetrated by men in times of war. He has become the world’s leading specialist in the treatment of violence against women and is a global campaigner against the use of this violence as a weapon of warfare. Despite numerous attempts on his life, Mukwege continues to fight against Gender Based Violence and in doing so, promotes societal and cultural change in a country in which brutality against women has been used as a pawn in a deadly game of war for over two decades. (Source: NobelPrize.org)

 

Denis Mukwege, Sakharov Prize Laureate 2014 at the European Parliament on March 26, 2015

 

Denis Mukwege, Sakharov Prize Laureate 2014 at the European Parliament on March 26, 2015

 

But what is the relevance of discussing Denis Mukwege? As someone who grew up in Ireland, I believe that many of us are highly accustomed to ignoring our problems. Ignorance hides in the shadows of our culture. We hear about international atrocities and civil unrest or even about socio-cultural issues that wreak havoc in neighbouring countries and yet, we take comfort in thinking that Ireland is somehow different.

We may agree that these problems are unjust, but in Ireland, these injustices are ‘their’ problems and not ‘ours’. We are safe because an entire ocean separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. But we are not safe. Gender Based Violence does not respect borders, nor does it differentiate peace time from war time. In fact, if there were no dominant traces of sexism, shame, harmful stereotypes or misogynistic attitudes in times of peace, then violence against women would not function so effectively in times of war. 

Even though the Democratic Republic of Congo is geographically detached from Ireland and Mukwege’s patients come from different cultures and circumstances to our own, what divides us becomes irrelevant when experiences become universal. The Congolese women I am speaking of have experienced the most heinous form of Gender Based Violence, just like Sarah Everard, Nadine Lott, Jennie Poole, Jastine Valdez and Natalia Karaczyn to name just a few. Just like Ashling Murphy. 

A sobering mirror has been held up to our society over the past number of weeks. The mirror has exposed the dominance and aggression that not all men, but too many men assert over women. The aggression does not have to be physical, it can and does occur in any form, at any time, by any person. Misogynistic comments and assumptions about women occur in everyday life. Harmful pornographic content, sexual harassment, behaviour that goes unchecked and words passed off as ‘harmless jokes’ all nourish the relentless beast that is misogyny. It begs the question: How has this behaviour become so entrenched in our everyday lives? Why is it normalised? Can we blame our legal systems? Institutions? Policymaking? Media? While I believe that there are a myriad of factors to blame, at its core, sexism is perpetuated by cultural values.

 

People lighting candles at a vigil for Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, Ireland.

Contemporary culture has become a breeding ground for allowing boys and young men to dehumanise and disrespect women. The consumption of film and television that glamorizes misogyny and encourages men to feel entitled to women has the potential to later manifest itself in consuming pornography that trades in the degradation of women. Being exposed to popular content of this nature from a young age establishes dangerous behavioural norms amongst men and creates unrealistic expectations surrounding female relationships and affection. On a wider cultural scale, society is guilty of trivialising Gender Based Violence through media framing, victim-blaming, and shaky legal frameworks. Therefore, if men are exposed to blatant sexism from a young age and subsequently grow up in a society that enables these misogynistic attitudes and behaviours then our society and our cultural values are brewing the perfect storm against the freedom and safety of women.

When violence is perpetrated against women, often the first questions that are asked are: What was she wearing? Was she drunk? What was she doing alone? Hence, it seems that the world we live in is still not tired of finding ways to blame women who are victims of Gender Based Violence as opposed to fixing the societal misogyny that costs them their lives. The death of Ashling Murphy is not an isolated incident. It is a deadly pattern that we have witnessed time and time again and until we decide to treat it as such, women will continue to be harassed, stalked, assaulted and murdered. Laws should be implemented and policies can change but until we acknowledge the foundation of Gender Based Violence – the sexist culture our society has enabled – the iceberg will not melt. Women will not feel safe. Women will not feel free. Denis Mukwege once said “We cannot operate against violence. We can only abolish it”. His words aptly encapsulate the pandemic of Gender Based Violence. If we cannot destroy the roots, the weeds will only grow back thicker.

It is so important to stay connected on issues such as Gender Based Violence that not only affect our society, but societies around the world. STAND will be launching a new campaign in Spring that seeks to take a look at issues that arise from Gender Based Violence from a global perspective. The campaign will explore how we can stay engaged, take action and raise awareness on Gender Based Violence so that we can understand and fight to abolish it on a global level. 

 

To find out more information on Gender Based Violence, listed below are organisations in Ireland and abroad that work to fight against it: 

 

Women’s Aid

Irish Aid 

Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence 

TUSLA

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Concern 

Imagine Equality Campaign Link

Featured Photo by BBC Creative on Unsplash .

This article was supported by: STAND News Editor Caoimhe O’Regan and Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Ideas Collective Participant Implements Public Health Awareness Programme

Ideas Collective Participant Implements Public Health Awareness Programme

Ideas Collective Participant Implements Public Health Awareness Programme

sibeal devilly

15th of February 2022

‘’In an unequal world, our response to COVID-19 cannot be one size-fits-all’’ –Médecins Sans Frontieres 

For public health interventions to be effective, they must be locally curated, and responsive to the realities of inequality. Even on a national scale, the Covid-19 pandemic has not been experienced by any one population homogeneously. How could we therefore think the solution to be any different?  

There is no easy answer to a public health crisis, especially in global terms. It would be a mistake to assume that the challenges faced by any given geographical region are faced by all. Rather, the public health determinants and barriers withholding the responses to the pandemic have demonstrated great geographical, cultural and political variance.  

Community Wellness Africa is an NGO based in Nairobi, Kenya and is currently running community initiatives in the Southwest County of Kisii. Robert Ogugu, the founder of the organisation participated in STAND’s Ideas Collective where he progressed to secure funding for his organisation in order to implement a Covid awareness raising project in Kisii County.  The Ideas Collective is an annual social incubator programme for students and graduates such as Robert. Thanks to his success in the Ideas Collective, and with the help of his team, Evelyn, Dave, Denzil, Trizah and Makepeace Njeri, Community Wellness Africa was able to initiate their latest project tackling community awareness and health education addressing Covid prevention. 

 

Denzil Okari of Community Wellness Africa, Mr. Thomas Omwenge, Director at St. Thomas Academy, and Mr. David Nchaga, Head teacher at St. Thomas Academy. Location is St. Thomas Academy in Kisii County, Kenya.

The organisation strives to promote the wellbeing of vulnerable communities in Southwest Kenya by adopting a public health approach in the implementation of their various grassroot projects. The focus of their Covid-19 awareness project is centred around preventive rather than curative responses to the pandemic. The project takes on a multi-level approach focused on community awareness campaigns as well as vaccination roll out. Robert and his team work in correspondence to what they believe are the pillars to sustainable public health development; healthcare, education and economic empowerment.  

By working in line with these interdependent pillars, Community Wellness Africa aims to provide an efficient and effective impact on the lives of the communities they work for and thus limit the danger of Covid-19 within the villages.  By focusing on health education and community sensitization, Robert and his team are not only working to limit the impact of the virus, but also to lessen the dependency on unguaranteed overseas aid as the only way of surviving the pandemic.  

In some rural parts of Kenya, access to the internet and communication services are minimal, and at that, extremely expensive. Community Wellness Africa focuses on overcoming barriers to accessing information and public health provision by adopting a specific cultural response. As many African countries face an array of financial, political and logistical barriers in accessing curative solutions to the pandemic, sufficiency in the supply of vaccines as well as the infrastructure needed to roll them out is a great challenge.   

Even with the help of donations from Europe and North America, the number of vaccines being sent to Kenya is simply not enough. “There are doubts whether these are genuine donations because sometimes the vaccines sent to Africa have a short expiry date, some expire while on transit to their intended destinations,” Robert explained.  

Nevertheless, the main challenge is the quality chain in place once these expiring vaccines arrive. “If help comes, I think it should come as a package, it should be complete with logistical considerations in place and vaccines should have long shelf-life dates. And at that, there should be adequate public awareness raising initiatives for faster vaccine uptake.” 

 

Denzil Okari of Community Wellness Africa giving a health talk during the implementation of the program. Location is Tracer Academy in Kisii County, Kenya

Prevention in terms of public health education is at the essence of the project in Kisii county. One of the most unique elements of the organisation however, is the curated approach they have taken in order for information to be accessed by the maximum number of people in the most equitable manner possible.  

Regarding using the radio as a primary means of disseminating information, Robert explained how radio and other social media channels have played both positive and negative roles in spreading information about the pandemic, especially in the Global South. Like most media, communicating through outlets such as the FM channels in Kenya is bound within a web of complicated power structures, political ties, and misinformation. “Radio and television sets are not accessible to all the people living in rural areas” said Robert. He further explained how in traditional communities such as those working with Community Wellness Africa “The father of the house is the owner of the radio and would prefer tuning it to channels that discuss local politics or play bongo music.”  

By targeting schools as the entry points to these rural communities, Robert Ogugu’s team is able to incorporate pupils, students, teachers, and other staff working in the education and health sector by encouraging them to take active roles as agents of health promotion. Linking in with the Covid-19 Facemask program, public health information and resources from the organisation’s workshops reach households more effectively, and therefore the wider population. “We definitely cannot supply the entire community with facemasks, but the few which we give out pass a certain message in that locality, that everyone should wear a facemask, and this is creating an overall positive impact. For example, those who participate in the programme and those who receive a facemask become agents of information and can share what they learned with their friends and family, thus leading to behavioural change in the community. This can be evidenced by by people adopting the wearing of facemasks when in public places, embracing handwashing hygiene, practicing social distancing, and getting vaccinated’’ explained Robert. 

Public health education and community awareness projects such as that being run by Community Wellness Africa are breaking the boundaries of inequity and inefficiency which continue to disable the success of other approaches to the Covid-19 pandemic. Good health and well-being are more than the absence of a disease. As expectations of services needed to provide curative solutions to viral diseases, such as Covid-19, continue to increase, locally curated and community focused responses are needed.  

 

Community Wellness Africa is currently fundraising to provide the communities in Kisii County with the services they need to respond to the pandemic. The team plans to install handwashing facilities in three of the schools under this program at a Cost of Euro 5,000 per school. 

If you would like to donate or partner in this project, please visit— www.communitywellnessafrica.org  or write to info@communitywellnessafrica.org    

 

Featured image is of Denzil Okari of Community Wellness Africa and Madam Marion, a teacher at Tracer Academy. Location is Tracer Academy in Kisii Country, Kenya.

All photos by Robert Ogugu.

This article was supported by: STAND News and Communications Intern Elaine and Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Costa Rica, Pura Vida in Practice

Costa Rica, Pura Vida in Practice

Costa Rica, Pura Vida in Practice

Volcano in Coasta Rica
Aisling Stevenson initials

2nd of February 2022

Costa Rica is known for a lot, but what many don’t know is its approach to sustainable living. We hear that word thrown around a lot these days, but what does it actually mean?

Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present, without affecting future generations in meeting their needs. To be sustainable is more important than ever, especially now with the current climate crisis we’re living in. The things we do now will affect the planet for years to come, that is why everyone should look into becoming sustainable.

An example of a sustainable country that we could all learn a thing or two from, is Costa Rica in Central America. A place I recently visited and noticed the different things they do to combat climate change, a beautiful, sustainable country, that is highly recommended.

Costa Rica is known as a green travel destination. It is an environmentally friendly country, the lush green country sides, extraordinary biodiversity, and the diverse tropical ecosystems help with being green too. Tourism and ecotourism are a major industry in Costa Rica, it is one of the main driving forces that sustains a large proportion of the population. The upkeep of the country, and the sustainability of it is paramount if they want to keep tourism afloat.

Costa Rica is small, around the size of Ireland, with a similar population too. Our differences are that it’s warm in Costa Rica, their sea is warm, and Costa Rica has 5% of the world’s biodiversity living there. From the unusual racoon like creatures, Coatis, to the amazing jungle flora that may only be present in certain areas of the country. When traveling from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side, you see a completely change in landscape. The Caribbean side is more humid with a flatter landscape, compared to the Pacific side, which has a lot more mountains. When I was there, I looked out to a valley near Monteverde, it was like I could have been in Switzerland. The lush rolling green hills, the blue sky. What makes you realise you’re not in Switzerland are the birds flying past you. You do not get Macaws and Toucans in the wild in Switzerland.

There are over 250 species of mammals in Costa Rica, from monkeys and sloths to manatees and jaguars. It also has around 900 different species of birds, and of course a range of reptiles such as crocodiles and iguanas.

Due to the diverse wildlife and plants, Costa Rica has 5.25% of its territory protected. The environment and conservation are extremely important there. Conversation being a national priority, with around 20 national parks, 8 biological reserves, various animal refuges, with over a quarter of the land being protected. From my experience of being there recently, one thing that stood out to me was the fact that you were not allowed to flush toilet paper. It had to be deposited in a bin next to it. Everywhere you went were signs in bathrooms reminding not to flush paper, do not leave taps running, do not flush too much, turn off lights when not in use. These are some of the measures in place to help with its sustainability. Some places that did this as the septic systems were not fully equipped to handle too much in them, without clogging. This is to help with sustainability, less waste going into the water and clogging pipes.

There are a total of 112 volcanoes in Costa Rica as it lays on the Ring of Fire. Additionally, Costa Rica has 12 microclimates from beaches, mountains, waterfalls, to volcanoes, earthquakes, tropical jungles, etc…

Nearly 93% of the electricity used there is from renewable resources, showing how truly sustainable the country is. Seeing the abundance of rainfall, and vast rivers, hydroelectric power is most commonly used with 78% of the population using it. 18% of the people use geothermal resources from volcanoes. Wind and solar energy are found to be used too.

In 2017 Costa Rica hit a milestone: for more than 300 days only renewable energy was used without any fossil fuels. This is an amazing feat. They planned to be completely carbon neutral in 2021. But that is still a work in progress, a goal of which I believe will be undertaken soon, especially with all sustainable resources already in place.

I truly believe we as a people could learn a lot from the way Costa Rica has challenged climate change, doing everything in its power to be sustainable and help the planet out. They have done a good job at it so far: we can see lush protected national parks, free-roaming animals, most of the country is protected, and recycling bins and signs up reminding people everywhere to live as suitably as possible.

 

Photo by Cosmic Timetraveler on Unsplash

 

 

This article was brought to you by Carlow's Student Weekly

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Abortion in Europe – is it really accessible?

Abortion in Europe – is it really accessible?

Abortion in Europe – is it really accessible?

female doctor dressed in medical gear
ellen mcveigh

15th July 2021

On 9th June, an open letter calling for the removal of all legal barriers to abortion access from the charity SheDecides was signed by 29 politicians, healthcare and women’s rights activists. The signatories included Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander de Croo, gender and equality ministers from France, Canada and Norway, and international development ministers from Sweden and the Netherlands. The letter called for a push to secure abortion access around the world as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affect women. “Lockdowns and pressures on health services have made it more challenging for women and girls to access essential healthcare services such as contraception, resulting in increased pregnancies and reduced access to abortion – even in countries where the procedure is safe and legal”, the letter stated. As access to abortion service is now superficially available across the island of Ireland, how do these issues play out a bit closer to home?

 

The letter highlighted the fact that even once abortion has been made legal, this does not always translate to it becoming freely accessible. Even when abortion appears accessible on a surface level, unnecessary obstacles can force people into a situation in which abortion is no longer an option. This includes mandatory counselling and waiting periods, lack of access to information and to telemedicine. The letter highlights the added barrier in many countries of anti-choice protestors who harass people seeking abortion services and the fact that many anti-choice groups are also powerful political lobbyists. As well as these more concrete barriers, many people seeking abortions also face huge stigma and discrimination, often exacerbated by ‘chilling effects’ caused by legal obstacles or by lack of accurate information. This idea of stigma and discrimination highlights the core of the SheDecides movement, which is that everyone should have the ability to make their own decisions about their body, and be empowered in these choices. The letter concludes with this statement: “we need a global campaign of factual and unbiased information so women and girls know their rights and have access to accurate information about their healthcare options”.

 

Despite the celebration this May of 3 years since we voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, people are still being forced to travel across the Irish Sea to access services that should be available at home.”

Pregnant people in Ireland know that this is the case. Despite the celebration this May of 3 years since we voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, people are still being forced to travel across the Irish Sea to access services that should be available at home. The Irish Times reported that in 2019 when abortion services became available in Ireland, 375 people travelled to the UK for an abortion. In 2021, even while a global pandemic made travel incredibly difficult, people have been forced to make this terrible journey. Claire Cullen Delsol of Terminations for Medical Reason Ireland (TFMR) told The Irish Times in May 2021 that “we have come across at least 30 people who have been forced to travel during the pandemic. They have to show that letter to strangers, who scrutinise it, asking if their reason for travelling is really essential. There have been women turned away who have had to reschedule and turn back”. Just as the SheDecides letter describes, the travel restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic have compounded the stigma and shame associated with travelling for an abortion, and added extra barriers to the access to abortion in Ireland.

 

In 2021, the promises of accessible abortion in Ireland have still not been fulfilled, and the pandemic has simply highlighted these inequities. The continued criminalisation of medical professionals who provide abortions creates a chilling effect on people who require a termination after 12 weeks, with the majority of those affected being people whose babies have been diagnosed with a severe foetal anomaly. TFMR are calling for the decriminalisation of abortion for medical practitioners, who they suspect are avoiding diagnosing these foetal anomalies for fear of reprisals in this grey legal area. Those who require abortions after the first 12 weeks are subjected to very strict grounds. While many of these are those requiring terminations for medical reasons, these regulations also affect those already most disadvantaged in society already. This could include those with poor access to healthcare, those unable to travel to their nearest abortion provider, younger people, often the very vulnerable people who the repeal campaign had aimed to protect. Geographical access is also spotty, with many maternity units still failing to provide abortion services. In the whole of Sligo, there are no GPs that offer abortion services.

 

According to a recent report sponsored by the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organisation (WHO), “there is an uneven or incomplete geographic coverage of abortion services both in the community and in hospitals, particularly in rural regions and in the west and north of Ireland.” The issue is exacerbated by the current mandatory 3-day waiting period, which for those who find it difficult to travel to access these services, or who did not realise they were pregnant until 10 or 11 weeks, this can sometimes push people over the 12-week limit.

 

North of the border, similar issues persist. Despite abortion services in Northern Ireland being available for just over a year, the lack of an effective strategy from the Department of Health has led to an uneven spread of services across the country. As separate health and social care trusts in NI are currently being forced to regulate their own abortion services, the South Eastern Trust were forced to withdraw these services due to lack of funding. As local abortion services are unavailable for a large proportion of people in Northern Ireland, pressure is being put on health minister Robin Swann to commission abortion services across all HSC trusts.

 

The possibility of accessible abortion services across Ireland was won by years of hard work and passion by grassroots activists, as well as the swathes of people who were forced to tell their difficult personal stories. As we begin to lift out of the pandemic, we cannot ignore the inequalities which this year has made so clear, and we cannot let another year go by without accessible abortion in Ireland.

 

 

Featured photo by JESHOOTS

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Xenophobic Ideas Spread Along with the Novel Coronavirus

Xenophobic Ideas Spread Along with the Novel Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus, which came to doctors’ attention in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, now has 75,000 reported cases and has claimed over 2,000 lives in China. The virus has spread outside of China, with cases reported in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany and the UK. There have been six reported deaths as a result of the illness outside of China – in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, France and the Philippines.

 

Understandably, fear is prevalent at the moment. We cannot help but recall previous outbreaks such as bird flu in 2003 and swine flu in 2009. In the midst of this recent outbreak, we might find ourselves more germaphobic than usual: flinching when a stranger in the street sneezes or keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer on your person at all times. While paying extra attention to hygiene is normal and even healthy, there is an insidious side to this newfound germaphobia. Xenophobia has often been a symptom of global outbreaks of infectious disease, and the coronavirus is no exception. 

 

There have been a plethora of reports of racism against people of Chinese origin since the coronavirus has entered the public radar. Even those who haven’t been to China for many years or are of a different Asian ethnicity entirely, have been targeted by the public and press alike. In France, a local newspaper came under fire after it published incredibly racist headlines such as “Alerte Jaune” (“Yellow Alert”) and “Le Peril Jaune?” (“Yellow Peril?”). French Asians took to Twitter using the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus in response to these headlines, as well as sharing racist interactions they had experienced in public. 

 

In the UK, many people of Asian backgrounds have spoken out about their experiences. A food writer from Burma posted photos on the Tube of people standing rather than sitting next to her, and Chinese-born Dr. Zhou recounted an experience he had in an elevator in Gatwick airport where a woman muttered to her husband, “they should wear their masks.” Dr. Zhou claimed that the woman clearly thought he was “fresh off the boat” in spite of the fact that he hasn’t been to China in two years, and therefore posed just as much of a risk as any white British person. As well as this, four separate racist incidents relating to the coronavirus have been reported to police in Yorkshire, where there have been two reported cases of the virus. Both the Chinese ambassador to the UK and the Health Secretary Matt Hannock have spoken out against such reactionary and hateful attitudes, Hannock saying, “this is not about one part of the world.”

 

Hostility towards Asian communities across the pond is just as, if not even more, harsh. Even usually reputable sources have been guilty of propagating an anti-Asian sentiment. In an Instagram post which was intended to inform students about common reactions to the threat of outbreak, the University of California Berkeley listed ‘xenophobia’ as one possible reaction. The post was quickly deleted and an apology was issued, but this did not subdue those who felt outrage at the university’s normalisation of the showing of animosity towards people based purely on their ethnic background. 

 

A doctor by the name of Eric Ding added fuel to the fire when he shared an unpublished paper about the coronavirus and its R0 which is supposed to measure the virus’s level of contagiousness. Although he deleted this particular tweet and the subsequent tweets pertaining to it, it managed to drum up a significant amount of hysteria surrounding the virus. A thread remains on his Twitter, however, and although he prefaced this series of tweets by saying, “First, I don’t like unsupported conspiracy theories, but [the origin of the coronavirus] is a lingering question…seafood market isn’t whole story”, the discussion in the following tweets belongs more in the camp of inflammation than information, at one point saying, “…I am absolutely not saying it’s bioengineering … I’m simply saying scientists need to do more research.” 

 

We have seen recently that xenophobia spurred on by the virus is not the only factor rendering the lives of Asian people in the States difficult; you will recall Trump’s restriction on Chinese immigrants and allegations of Chinese spies in the US. The circulation of xenophobic ideas masked as “information” about the virus only serves to reinforce already existing rhetoric villifying Chinese people. It’s important to note that this is not an isolated occurrence of this type of rhetoric; associations between Chinese people and uncleanliness have long been part of Western discourse, specifically in the US, and most often centred around Chinese food and eating habits. 

 

This is particularly relevant considering Wuhan’s food markets have been cited as the source of the virus. The food sold at these markets don’t always fit into Western norms, so there is often a tendency to view it as strange or disgusting. A perfect example of this is the ordeal experienced by Wang Mengyun, a Chinese vlogger who posted a video of herself enjoying fruit bat soup. This video was posted three years ago, but amidst coronavirus madness it resurfaced and was falsely claimed to have been shot in a “Wuhan restaurant”. In spite of the fact that the video was filmed in Palau long before the outbreak of the virus, the video caused fury and disgust online. It was described as “gruesome” and “revolting” by media outlets and Wang even received death threats. The backlash was so severe that she was forced to issue an apology for the video. Although China is thought to have issues around food regulation, this is a governmental concern and hardly the fault of individuals who choose to enjoy traditional menus – it does not justify the demonisation of Chinese people as a result of cultural ignorance. 

 

This attitude fits into a much larger discourse which associates foreigners with disease, a typical case of cultural “othering”. Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, discusses the connection between immigrants and illness: “People with a different national, ethnic or religious background have historically been accused of spreading germs regardless of what the science may say.” This can be seen in public discourse for as long as immigrants have been in the US. The New York Daily Tribunal was circulating similar ideas in 1854, writing that Chinese people were “uncivilised, unclean, filthy beyond all conception.” We like to think we have come a long way in accepting and embracing different cultures, but when xenophobia is perpetuated by popular media outlets and reputable sources, it is important to scratch beneath the surface – usually what seems like a simple tasteless comment is in fact contributing to a larger narrative that stigmatises people of certain cultural backgrounds. 

 

This was seen even more recently during the large-scale migration into New York in the 1920s, during which racial segregation in the city was justified by links that were falsely made between certain ethnic groups and germs. It was also evident during the HIV epidemic in the 80s, when Haitian people were discriminated against;and during the SARS outbreak of 2003, which saw the persecution of people of Asian ethnicity. 

 

In times of public emergency, it is far easier to assign blame than to think rationally. However, it is important not to let a scaremongering narrative surround an outbreak. Priscilla Wald warns against this in her book Culture, Carriers and the Outbreak Narrative. She explains that a sensationalist narrative can “influence how scientists and the lay public understand the nature and consequences of infection, how they imagine the threat.” 

 

During outbreaks, it is in everyone’s best interest to remain calm and compassionate. Not only does this facilitate the spread of helpful information, but ensures that we do not create another layer of xenophobic rhetoric which further marginalises certain groups in society during a period when, of all times, we must stand together. 

 

 

 

Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio

 

 

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Do you know how much sugar is too much?

Do you know how much sugar is too much?

Do you know how much sugar is enough for your daily diet? According to the guidelines given by Diabetes Ireland on sugar consumption by children and adults, no more than 10 percent of a person’s energy intake (calories) should come from free sugar. An individual requires 1,500 – 2,000 calories per day which is equal to 10-14 teaspoons of sugar.

How much sugar does an average adult need?
According to the American Heart Association, six teaspoons of sugar for women and nine teaspoons for men is enough. However, we easily cross these limits of sugar consumption to around 11 teaspoons and are unaware. Many processed food like cakes, cookies or donuts contain high level of sugar as well as calories.

Is sugar addictive?
Sugar creates the same impact on the brain’s Mesolimbic Dopamine System as drugs such as nicotine, cocaine and amphetamines. Sugar causes changes in people’s brain similar those associated with drug addiction.

How can I cut sugar from my diet?
Avoid added sugar to optimise your health. Replace your sugar cravings with fruits rather than processed food. Beware of the amount of calories you are consuming daily. Processed food is loaded with sugar, so read the content level on processed food packs before you purchase.

Understanding natural sugar and added sugar.
Natural sugar is different from added sugar, it can be easily found in fruits and vegetables they are healthier and more preferable for your daily diet than added sugar. However, added sugar comes from regular table sugar or high fructose corn syrup usually used in processed food.

Photo by Jennie Brown on Unsplash