Mother and Baby Home survivors failed by our state once again

Mother and Baby Home survivors failed by our state once again

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Mother and Baby Home survivors failed by our state once again

fka twigs in concert
deepthi suresh stand news

9th March 2021

 

The release of the long awaited mother and baby report earlier this year has been utterly harrowing. 9,000 babies died in the 18 institutions investigated, which is 1 in 7 of all children born. Roughly 56,000 mothers gave birth in these institutions up until they closed in 1998. The report, while informative, has been laced with controversies and miscommunication. Having autonomy over one’s body and one’s choices is a personal freedom we may take for granted. Yet in the not so distant past women were degraded, abused and shamed in institutions that sought to conceal them and separate them from society.

 

Arch Bishop Gillmartin of Tuam quoted in the Sunday Independent 1925 stated that ‘The future of the country is bound up with the dignity and the purity of Irish women.’ Women’s potential impurity formed a threat to the formation of Ireland’s identity. Women’s bodies and their sexuality were scrutinised and shamed by a patriotic, pure, catholic nation. The Commission’s report into the Mother and Baby Homes is a blatant concealment of the fact that women were under the thumb of the Church and the State. As Fergus Finlay stated in his piece for the examiner on the report, ‘The Catholic Church ruled us — formed our attitudes, told us what we were allowed to think. And politics was supine in front of the Church — not on its knees but on its belly.’

 

The findings the commission have drawn from the report are utterly abhorrent. It is stated that women were not ‘incarcerated’ and were ‘always free to leave’. However in the same paragraph the commission states that ‘most had no money and nowhere to go’. The contradictory nature of these statements are discrediting the suffering of the women who had no choice and no voices at this time. The belittlement and misogyny these women faced is repugnant. For the commission to state that they had to carry out work which they ‘would have had to do at home’ is presumptuous and degrading. Furthermore, it is found that women in some institutions such as Sean Ross had to carry out work ‘that would be considered unsuitable to women’. Again the language here is sexist and discriminatory. It leaves one to wonder whether we have really changed our attitudes towards the place of women in society. There is blatant disregard for the abuse of residents which has been described as ‘minor in comparison to the evidence of physical abuse documented in the Ryan Report’ [source]. The commission finds no evidence of abuse of children in county homes yet proceeds to describe unsafe sleeping arrangements where infants shared wards or even beds with adults.

 

There was very little evidence found in the report that children were forcibly taken for adoption. Yet the commission states in the same sentence that ‘mothers did not have much choice.’ 97 % of ‘illegitimate’ babies born were sent for adoption in 1967 alone, the highest rate in the world at this time. If we were to look at a 1920s departmental inspector report into Pelletstown in Dublin it is stated that there was a ‘system of baby farming indulged’ for ‘an immediate monetary consideration.’ This report is included in the commission alongside evidence that one of the main complaints from mothers in this institution was having had ‘no choice but to place their children for adoption’. Legal adoption was not introduced in Ireland until 1953 and even after that women had little choice in the matter.

 

There are numerous heart-rendering examples of this is from the video dramatization of some of the survivors’ stories from the report. A 14 year old girl, Peggy, who became pregnant in 1956, did not know what sex was or what conception involved. She was told she had had her fun and this was her payment. She never gave permission for her child to be adopted. Her child was taken to America. An 18-year-old girl in the 1970’s describes being told by a priest that she should go to a mother and baby home and give her baby up for adoption to ‘avoid causing embarrassment to her family’. When she arrived at the mother and baby home, she was examined by two members of staff who told her that girls like her ‘could have anything’. One witness in the 1960’s describes being harassed by a priest who ordered her and her daughter into his car and drove them to a mother and baby home where she was locked in a room and was threatened to sign adoption papers. With the intervention of her father, she was eventually released but the priest continued to harass the family, threatening guardianship procedures against them. ‘Part of me died the day my son was taken. I became a sad, empty shell of a girl’, said another witness. PJ Haverty was a resident of Tuam mother and baby home for seven years before being fostered. In his interview for The Irish Times in 2018 he described the cruel mistreatment of his mother, how they made her leave the home a few days after giving birth and denied her access to her child. He describes how she returned to the home every day for five and a half years in an attempt to reclaim him, only to be told that he was to be fostered out. For the commission to conclude that there was no evidence of women being forced to give their children up for adoption is a travesty of justice. To quote Catherine Connolly TD, ‘we either believe the women or we don’t.’

 

Another finding the commission drew from their research is that there was ‘no evidence of discrimination’ in relation to decisions made about adoption or fostering of mixed-race children and children with disabilities. However, the commission uses the terms ‘casual and unthinking racism’ as well as ‘negative bias’ to describe the treatment of mixed-race children. Terminology used in the documentation of 237 mixed raced residents of Pelletstown institution is unacceptable, with phrases such as ‘half caste’, ‘coloured’ and ‘sallow’ being used. Doctors who certified children for adoption often also used derogatory statements to describe such children. Examples include ‘Unfit for adoption on account of colour only.’ And ‘Healthy. Half caste child. On account of above will be unfit for adoption.’ The records of St Anne’s Adoption society, Cork in 1956 state that ‘where the child is coloured, adoption is practically impossible.’

 

In the earlier decades of the investigation it is found that degrees of intellectual disabilities were classified as ‘idiot’, ‘imbeciles’ and ‘feeble minded’. The Commission identified 941 institutional records of women in Pelletstown and Bessborough where it is noted that they had a mental illness or intellectual disability. Dr. Meaghar, master of Holles Street maternity hospital in the 1970’s wrote about being often asked about whether psychiatric conditions were ‘transmissible’. He also noted that the general consensus was that children with a physical or mental disability should not be adopted even though in his words, ‘these are the children that clearly need the best adoptive home’. A 1968 Sunday Independent report stated that ‘only coloured children’ were ‘available’ for adoption as almost every ‘eligible’ child found a home in 1967. The fact that the commission concluded that racism and disability did not lead to discrimination in the placement of children for adoption or fostering is contradictory to the evidence published in their report. Spokesperson for a group representing mix-raced children in Ireland, Conrad Bryan has spoken up about the inaccuracy of this finding stating ‘the testimony we’ve given has basically not been believed’. The victims of such discriminatory abuse have been invalidated and insulted by a report which was meant to enlighten and empower them.

 

“The commission found that where babies died in the mother and baby homes while their mother was in the institution, ‘it is possible that she knew the burial arrangements or would have been told if she had asked and that no other family member is entitled to this information.’ This is a disgusting attempt to continue concealing information.”

 

The lack of information surrounding the burials of the 9,000 children who died in these institutions is reprehensible. In the early to mid-19th Century many deceased infants were sent to be dissected for medical research. It was legal for ‘unclaimed bodies’ to be used in medical research under the Anatomy Act 1832. The medical colleges who took the deceased from workhouses, mother and baby homes and so on had to inform the Department of Health each time they took a body. Sally Mulready spoke on Prime Time in 2014 about her brother John who died at 2 months old in St. Patricks, Navan Road in 1948 of ‘inanition’ or ‘failure to thrive’. John was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in 1950, 2 years after his death. He had been taken for medical research as an anatomic subject to Trinity Anatomy House. Sally says that her mother Sheila was more than likely unaware of this and did not give consent. From 1940-1965 in Dublin alone 460 infants who died in mother and baby homes were dissected for medical research.

 

The commission found that where babies died in the mother and baby homes while their mother was in the institution, ‘it is possible that she knew the burial arrangements or would have been told if she had asked and that no other family member is entitled to this information.’ This is a disgusting attempt to continue concealing information, dismissing the rights of the survivors and their families to information that will help them to piece together parts of their lives that have been missing for decades. The case of Tuam is particularly horrific. In 1975 historian Catherine Corless sought to find out more about the burials of children who died in the home from 1925-1961. No records were available in the public library. Upon questioning some locals she was told a story about skeletal remains being uncovered by children in the 1970s in a disused septic tank in a nearby housing estate, marked only by stones. Nearly 800 infants died in Tuam and there is no burial records for them. Only two were buried in their family plots and a significant amount of the remaining children were buried in a mass grave. Others born in the Tuam home were also potentially illegally trafficked. Peter Mulryan, who lived in Tuam until he was four and a half is still awaiting answers about his sister Marian who ‘died from convulsions’ in 1954. There were no records to prove that a doctor confirmed her death and there is no burial information. There is still so much information missing and still so much accountability lacking. The survivors need to be heard, recognised and vindicated by all culpable parties.

 

Possibly the most disgraceful finding of the report is the preposterous notion that ‘the institutions provided a refuge.’ The Irish Free State was born in 1921 and aimed to adopt a new, unique culture of conservatism and ‘purity’. The church preached about the importance of pre-marital virginity and warned of the ‘sexual dangers’ of dance halls, immodest dress, mixed bathing and other sources of perceived ‘temptation’. There was a contraceptive ban which was not fully lifted until 1985, when people could finally purchase condoms and spermicides without a prescription which had previously been required under The Family Planning Act 1979. Divorce was illegal in Ireland until 1996. There was a heavy catholic influence in politics and there was strict censorship including the prohibition of discussions about abortion, birth control and blasphemy. The Kilkenny Conference of the 1970’s poignantly conveys the control the church. The conference aimed to establish an Irish equivalent to the New Covenant United Methodist Church (NCUMC); a single organisation with representation from all parties involved in providing for single mothers and their children. Fr John Charles McQuaid, who had a heavy influence over the State at the time highly opposed the formation of a nondenominational organisation. Fr Barrett alleged that the Kilkenny conference was conceived by people who ‘lacked experience’ and whose views differed substantially from the ideas of the Catholic Church. His accusations were wrong; they were trained social workers, many of whom had worked with unmarried mothers. They aimed for co-operation and expansion of resources, not to overrule the authority of the Church.

 

The ideology behind mother and baby homes glorified religious salvation, domesticated training and prayer and penance for mothers ‘sins’. For instance Galway County Council excluded unmarried mothers from the central hospital as they apparently deterred ‘respectable’ women. Kilkenny, in the same fashion sent unmarried mothers to Thomastown hospital, clearly discriminating against them [explain discrimination]. Mother and Baby Homes were not mentioned in cabinet during the first 50 years of The Irish Free State. The institutions had no qualified social workers or counsellors until the 1970s. In the earlier years in particular the Department of Health favoured persuasion over compulsion with regards to improving the shocking living conditions of mother and baby homes. They had the power to inspect the places where children were born and cared for after birth, under the 1934 Maternity Homes Act. The power to prosecute lay with the local authorities and no home was ever prosecuted for their negligence and abuse. Up until the 1960’s these homes survival rates did not increase, they reduced. This was known to both national and local authorities and was recorded in official publications. Major shortcomings were revealed by DLGPH (Who?) in the 1940s in Bessborough and yet closing the home was never considered.

 

Societal attitudes stem from the Government of the time. The economy was run with conservatism, there was slow economic development meaning people, particularly women, were more dependent on their parents as jobs were scarce in the 1940’s. Crude laws around the use of contraception meant that families were large, the largest in the developed world at this time. The men who impregnated these women contributed nothing to their livelihoods and failed to respect stand up for them. Yet society, shaped by the state and the church, both governed by men, never put the blame on the fathers. They were guarded and protected and told that the women were the ones who had committed the ‘crimes’. In 1972 a mother and baby home survivor, Bridget, was raped by her father. She relays her horrendous experience of labour and how the nun’s mistreated her cruelly, remarking, ‘if you lay down with dogs you’ll get flees.’

 

Societal attitudes shifted in the 1980’s. Most Mother and Baby Homes had closed by the 1970’s internationally. There was a shift towards modernism and acceptance of new attitudes (towards illegitimate births?) with the introduction of TV in the 1960’s. This continued to evolve in Ireland with the broadcasting of seemingly controversial Late Late Show interviews and programmes such as ‘Women Today’ airing in the late 1970’s. Society was changing and the level of control the church had was dwindling. Cherish was formed in 1973 by a group of single mothers, led by Maura O’Dea Richards, to help other mothers in the same situation. Tragedies such as fifteen year old Ann Lovet’s death while giving birth next to a grotto in 1984, forced the issues of the Mother and Baby Homes to be brought to light. In 1973 an unmarried mothers allowance was introduced. The status of illegitimacy was removed in 1987. The Last Mother and Baby Homes closed in 1998.

 

The commission’s report has failed these women. They were utterly neglected by the State, by the Church and by the institutions that purported to protect them while abusing them, concealing them and shaming them. The way in which unmarried mothers and their children were treated in the last century is unscrupulous. They deserve justice, sincerity and a commitment to giving them the answers about their past which they should rightfully know. 550 survivors bravely told their stories on video for the report, these reports have now been deleted by the commission. This is unjust, unfair and unacceptable. Specific groups decided by an interdepartmental group will receive compensation. A form of enhanced medical card will be provided to residents who stayed in the homes for 6 months or more. The Heads of a bill for the advancement of information and tracing legislation are being worked on. New laws will be drafted to provide access to birth and early life information for all survivors including those adopted. There are plans for original files and documents to be publicly accessible in a national memorial and in record centres as well as a number of scholarships in memory of all the children who died in the institutions. Draft legislation is currently being considered by the Oireachtas Children’s Committee around the excavation of burial sites, such as Tuam in order to identify every child and rebury them respectfully. These changes are welcome and necessary, but they need to come into effect sooner rather than later, to avoid extending the pain of the survivors any longer. ‘The conditions we were in were worse than prisoners. Prisoners have rights but we had no rights at all.’ Resident A.

 

Art by Eimear O’Dwyer

FKA Twigs and believing women

FKA Twigs and believing women

 

ARTS + CULTURE

FKA Twigs and believing women

fka twigs in concert
deepthi suresh stand news

5th March 2021

 

“No one is gonna believe me” were the painful words FKA Twigs uttered in an interview with Louis Theroux, where she detailed the harrowing abuse she endured at the hands of actor Shia LaBeouf. The famous avant-pop singer-songwriter, born Tahliah Barnett, filed a lawsuit against LaBeouf last December, alleging sexual battery, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence. This sent shockwaves through social media despite his very public displays of violence and recklessness in the past.

 

Twigs made the courageous decision to go public with her story in order to help others recognise the warning signs of domestic abuse that she experienced with LaBeouf. These red-flags arose at the very beginning of their relationship during a so-called honeymoon phase where she describes “intense love bombing [and] big displays of affection”. This is a tactic used by many abusers to gain trust, love, and admiration from their victims. When the abuse started, it was gradual, chipping away at her self-esteem and testing her physical and emotional boundaries. Then his anger escalated and anything as innocent as eye contact with another man sent LaBeouf into a fit of rage that could last days. For Twigs, this was a nightmare with no escape, not even in her sleep, where he would regularly wake her up accusing her of masturbating or lusting over other men. This emotional and physical abuse escalated on Valentine’s Day 2019 when LaBeouf drove erratically through the desert, threatening to crash the car unless she professed her love to him. Fearing for her life, she tried to escape at a gas station but he “threw [her] against the car and attempted to strangle her violently”. Twigs endured abuse like this for months on end till she eventually escaped with the support of her therapist, friends, and family.

 

These revelations shocked the public and led to an outpouring of support from fans and other celebrities such as Sia, Margaret Qualley, and Olivia Wilde. Yet, unsurprisingly, the excuses for LaBeouf’s behaviour began flooding in, along with the stench of misogyny. Many, including Shia himself, pointed to his history of addiction as an excuse for his violent behaviour. However, Women’s Aid has taken a strong stand against this rationalisation of abuse, saying it is the perpetrator alone who is responsible for their actions, highlighting that there are many struggling with addiction who are not violent. The actor’s poor mental health has also been used to justify the insidious abuse he inflicted on Twigs. However, no research actually finds a connection between mental health problems and becoming an abuser. So, why are these text-book excuses still being used to absolve abusers of guilt? Why do we not afford the same empathy to their victims? Then there are some who simply believe him because he is Shia LaBeouf. They believe him because he is a man and he is a powerful one. This phenomenon is dubbed “himpathy” because we are inclined to believe men while vilifying women and labelling them untrustworthy.

 

“As a society, we often place the blame on female victims of abuse, asking them insensitive questions such as “Why didn’t you leave?” as if they had a choice.”

 

The actor’s violent past against women seems to be conveniently overlooked by the people who have chosen to discredit Twigs’ statement. It doesn’t seem to matter that his former girlfriend Karolyn Pho filed a lawsuit against him alleging abuse. It seems irrelevant that he was caught on a video saying “I would have killed her” about his ex-wife during a violent altercation. Like so many other powerful men, his successful career is enough to absolve him of any guilt in these situations. People often choose to defend the behaviour of their favourite celebrities because it’s easier than confronting the fact that their hero is a monster. The same response occurs every time allegations are made against a big star in Hollywood. Ignoring the violent pasts of figures like Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski means that we can keep the happy memories of our favourite TV shows and movies at the expense of countless women who are victims of their crimes. This is why so many fans of the accused’s films have come to his defence. But Shia LaBeouf’s resume is not evidence of his innocence.

 

As a society, we often place the blame on female victims of abuse, asking them insensitive questions such as “Why didn’t you leave?” as if they had a choice. FKA Twigs shut down this question from multiple interviewers including Louis Theroux and Gayle King. She rightfully asserts that this pushes a narrative that women are responsible for the abuse inflicted upon them. Instead, she reframes the question, imploring interviewers to ask abusers “Why are you holding someone hostage?”. People who have no first-hand experience of abuse may not understand how difficult it is for victims to escape. Leaving is often the most dangerous part of an abusive relationship with more than 70% of domestic violence murders happening after the victim has gotten out. Black women like Twigs are even more vulnerable with 51.3% of all Black adult female murders being related to intimate partner violence. It is not as easy as walking out the front door when you have a figurative gun pointed at your head. The process of leaving LaBeouf was a gruelling one, where she had to “gather enough of [herself] together” to successfully get out. She did this by going to therapy twice a week, receiving help from her close friends, and moving back to London. Thankfully, Twigs could afford the financial costs of these steps, which is a privilege she recognises many other women are deprived of.

 

Twigs’ story is shifting the conversation around domestic abuse. She is using her traumatic experience to eliminate the stigma surrounding victims and shut down language which blames them. It is time we start listening to women like FKA Twigs and stop protecting men who have already shown us their true character.

 

 

Featured Photo by Andreas Meixensperger on Flickr

 

What Biden’s executive orders mean for Transgender lives in America

What Biden’s executive orders mean for Transgender lives in America

 

DIVERSITY + INCLUSION

What Biden’s executive orders mean for Transgender lives in America

the transgender flag
deepthi suresh stand news

4th March 2021

 

On the day Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, he signed a flurry of executive orders that reversed many of the discriminatory policies implemented by the preceding Trump administration. Included in these timely executive orders is the restoration of rights to transgender people and all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Following on from an administration which stripped away the rights of transgender people, it’s clear that Biden has a real opportunity here to make lasting change when it comes to protecting transgender rights into the future.

 

From day one Biden has made quite an impact, but there is still a long way to go to address the damage and chaos caused by Trump that directly affected the lives of transgender people in the US over the past four years.

 

By doing all he could to narrow the legal definition of discrimination on the basis of sex, Trump denied trans people their rights and essential protections across multiple policy areas including military, healthcare and education.

 

In July 2017, through a series of tweets, Trump announced that the United States Government would no longer allow or accept transgender people serving in the US military. In April 2019 the ban came into effect, despite a number of legal challenges and objections from human rights activists.

 

What did this mean for aspiring trans military service members? Essentially, any person who had already transitioned to a different gender, was in need of hormone treatment, or was diagnosed with ‘gender dysphoria’ was now banned from enlisting in the US military.

 

Within one week of becoming President, Biden had already signed executive order 14004 ‘Enabling All Qualified Americans to Serve Their Country in Uniform’, reversing Trump’s military ban, meaning that those who identify as transgender will now be allowed to join and serve in the military in their self-identified gender.

 

According to the White House, ‘‘President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity.’’ The executive order also calls for the immediate identification of any service members who were ‘‘involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity.’’ This executive order will have a major impact on the lives of trans people whose dreams and goals of serving in the military will no longer be put on hold because of discriminatory government policies.

 

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a rule was finalized by Trump to rescind protections against discrimination for trans people when it comes to access to healthcare and health insurance. By only accepting that ‘sex discrimination’ refers to discrimination faced for being male or female, protections for transgender people against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity would no longer have existed.

 

Deputy Executive Director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, explained the precarious nature of this decision to The New York Times, highlighting how ‘‘[t]his rule opens a door for a medical provider to turn someone away for a Covid-19 test just because they happen to be transgender.”

 

In the historic Bostock vs. Clayton County case in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights, covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

 

While Trump’s Justice Department did little to uphold this ruling, Biden, within less than 24 hours as President of the United States, signed executive order 13988 ‘Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.’

 

President of the Human Rights Campaign Alphonso David has called this executive order the most ‘‘substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president.’’ He also highlighted the undoubtable impact of Biden’s actions: ‘‘By fully implementing the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Bostock, the federal government will enforce federal law to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and education, and other key areas of life.’’

 

“The Equality Act, which was just passed by the House on February 25th, would officially amend the Civil Rights Act to specifically include protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”

 

A massive step towards essential transgender representation in government was also made when Biden announced Dr Rachel Levine as his nomination for assistant secretary of health in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If confirmed, she will become the first openly transgender person to be Senate-confirmed for a governmental role. This is a hugely important development, particularly considering the attempts of the HHS to dismantle healthcare protection for trans people during the Trump administration.

 

President and CEO of GLAAD Sarah Kate Ellis welcomed the announcement and told The Hill: ‘‘Under Secretary Azar, HHS rolled back healthcare protections for transgender Americans and regularly engaged in policy attacks on other marginalized communities. With Dr. Rachel Levine’s nomination, HHS is now set to be home to the first transgender Senate-confirmed federal official, a truly historic and deserved piece of visibility for transgender Americans.”

 

Although the executive orders signed by Biden are a welcome first step when it comes to tackling gender identity discrimination in the US, the question must be asked about what can be done in the long-run to ensure the rights of trans people are promoted and upheld?

 

If Biden is serious about making lasting changes when it comes to the preservation of rights and enhancement of protections for trans people, he will have to work with the Senate and House of Representatives in order to pass legislation through Congress and ensure that the crucial developments being made now cannot be easily revoked by other presidents in the future.

 

The Equality Act, which was just passed by the House on February 25th, would officially amend the Civil Rights Act to specifically include protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. However, passing the bill in the Senate could prove more of a challenge. Although Vice-President Harris has the tie-breaking vote, both Democrats and Republicans have fifty seats each meaning there is no guarantee that the bill will secure the requisite number of votes to pass.

 

Something must be done. The rights of US citizens are at stake. Now is the time to push forward and establish universal protections and laws so that the rights of transgender people will never be questioned or invalidated again.

 

 

Featured Photo from Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

Why you should watch- It’s a Sin.

Why you should watch- It’s a Sin.

 

DIVERSITY + INCLUSION

Why you should watch- It’s a Sin.

photo of the characters from it's a sin
deepthi suresh stand news

3rd March 2021

 

With lockdown continuing, there is an endless list of series and movie recommendations to entertain us in this time of boredom. From murder mysteries to reality houses, we can easily switch off our brains and mindlessly watch. However, lockdown also creates a new-found pressure of productiveness, It’s a Sin is a series that will not only make you laugh but will also educate you on a topic avoided in most mainstream medias.

 

It’s a Sin is a 5-episode long series found on Chanel 4 detailing the lives of a group of friends in the LGTBQI+ community in London during the 1980s. Their lives are laid out in these five episodes, hitting hard the reality the UK AIDS crisis really had on this community and what they lost. A series with a light-hearted tone, but dealing with such a devastating diagnosis, can be quite hard to pull off, but It’s a Sin really allows you to fall in love with these quirky characters, only to worry about them all when the threat of AIDS comes to London.

 

“Everyone can contract HIV. Some babies are born with it. But in the 1980s, it was only the gay community who were shamed for it.”

 

The UK Aids crisis was a period borne from misunderstandings and uneducated rumours. At the time of its arrival in the UK, AIDS ran rampant in the gay community, and those infected were hidden away. Being that it affected mainly gay men, there was an internalised sense of shame and guilt brought onto the homosexual community that excluded them from the rest of the society. This association also led to medical advances and understanding of the condition not being made a priority, as it was believed it only infected the gay community. There is the wide majority of people in our society to this day that still think only people from the LGBTQI+ community can contract HIV.

 

Everyone can contract HIV. Some babies are born with it. But in the 1980s, it was only the gay community who were shamed for it.

 

Speaking as an ally of the LGBTQI+ community, I would like to say that this series creates an insightful portrayal of the struggle these characters faced, a struggle to be recognised and cared about in their own society. While watching the series, there is an anger that builds in you. You want these characters to live healthy, fear-free lives, with no worry of this virus, but slowly you realise this crisis was called a crisis for a reason. It is disheartening to watch as the extent of the damage suffered by these communities was also ignored, as it was friends and families from these underrepresented communities that primarily experienced the condition.

 

The series truthfully reveals to us how excluded and ostracised the community was made to feel in the UK, and sheds light on the treatment received by those infected, where 1980s societal standards could not allow for compassion for a man who slept with another man.

 

As we live through our own pandemic experience, It’s a Sin should be at the top of everyone’s recommendation list, as although it has its sad moments, it creates such colourful characters, reminding us all of the humanity behind the AIDS crisis.

 

 

Featured Photo from @LukeCustardtv on Twitter

 

Crashing into the heartening Korean Wave (Hallyu)

Crashing into the heartening Korean Wave (Hallyu)

 

ARTS + CULTURE

Crashing into the heartening Korean Wave (Hallyu)

children playing in rubble in Yemen
deepthi suresh stand news

2nd March 2021

 

Hallyu is a Chinese term that, when translated, literally means ‘Korean Wave’. It is a collective term used to refer to the phenomenal growth of Korean culture and popular culture overseas. The wave includes everything from music (K-pop), movies, online games, and Korean cuisine, to name a few. In 2012, President Obama, on his third visit to South Korea, even referred to the term in his speech at the Hankuk University, which struck a positive chord among the students on an otherwise policy laden speech. The rapid growth and spread of Hallyu has been a blessing for South Korea and helped to pave the way to develop its ‘soft power’.

 

I ventured into watching K-Dramas thanks to the uncertain times all of us were forced to face since early last year. Amidst lockdown, while stuck at home with nobody around, streaming websites became a friendly place to escape. ‘Crash Landing on You,’ as the title suggests, was an unplanned accident. What caught my eye was the fact that the story was about South and North Korea. The hugely successful show is a pleasant adventure that allows you to savour precious, heartfelt moments of romance, family, friendship, and food!

 

So, what is the show about?

A South-Korean heiress/business executive crash lands in North Korea after her paraglider is caught in a freak tornado. She ends up falling out of a tree, straight into the arms of a North Korean army captain. The captain, instead of turning her in, agrees to keep her safe and help her return home. The popular series- whose writers include a defector from the North- has earned worthy praise for its nuanced portrayal of North Koreans who were often otherwise depicted as stereotyped drab caricatures. It is interesting to note that the North Korean writer in the writing team had until 2004 served with the Supreme Guard Command, the elite security force which protects North Korea’s ruling Kim family. He was even assigned to work overseas. On one such trip back to Pyongyang, he found out that one of his friends in Moscow had reported to their bosses in Pyongyang what he had said in a private conversation which would have got him into trouble. So, he decided to defect alone, leaving behind his wife and son in North Korea, explains BBC Korea’s Subin Kim. Kwak had spent time learning about filmmaking in the 1980s. The North Korean film industry was booming back then because of the then-leader Kim Jong Il’s well-known love of art. Kwak, having undergone part of his resettlement process in South Korea, had mentioned his skills in filmmaking and was soon referred to a famous filmmaker by South Korea’s spy agency, and the rest has been history.

 

“the writers have taken enough interest and care to showcase an eye-opening account of the village life involving a group of women who eventually prove to be loyal to each other hence succeeding in squashing the typical portrayal of North Korea as an emotionless place.”

 

There are numerous daily chores and habits we take for granted, like a hot shower in the winter months. But for a North Korean, bathing in winter meant hanging plastic sheets over a tub of hot water to create a steam bath. ‘Crash Landing on you’ brought back childhood memories of a North Korean defector Noel Kim who says, ‘ That’s how I took a bath my whole life, especially in winter when water is scarce’ in a YouTube video. Most defectors have said that the drama is 60 per cent accurate in portraying North Korea and has been thus garnering praises across Asia and the United States. The show carefully ensures to treat with respect the otherwise easy material for stereotyped comedy wherein a wealthy South Korean woman is forced to live in a North Korean village. Therefore, the writers have taken enough interest and care to showcase an eye-opening account of the village life involving a group of women who eventually prove to be loyal to each other hence succeeding in squashing the typical portrayal of North Korea as an emotionless place. Some of the scenes from the TV show depict the marvel and surprise North Korean defectors may experience. These scenes are not portrayed to show the materialistic life of Seoul but rightly points at something much more than that, which is sheer excitement. The elites of Pyongyang proudly modelling various European designer goods takes the viewer to a completely different side of North Korea. The rich-poor divide is a harsh reality, and it seems as though it is no different in North Korea as well.

 

Although this sensational drama got most defectors excited, some have accused ‘Crash Landing on You’ of glamorising North Korea. A common example cited is that the villagers in North Korea seem to have plenty of food but, food shortages have been a recurring problem. Characters of K-Dramas are often featured eating together and scenes are rarely edited allowing mundane real conversations to carry forward the narrative. Korean dramas are extremely slow-paced and often actors miss out on their breaks. Hence, ‘eating scenes’ are conveniently added to the screenplay which allows actors to eat scrumptious meals albeit on-screen. Despite, the occasional criticism, this show brings in a fresh take on the portrayal of North Korea and encourages the audience to understand the complex yet lovable and relatable people and is a must watch if you have the time!

 

Crash Landing on You is available on Netflix and you can watch the trailer here.

 

 

Featured Photo from Netflix

 

Superpowers, state responsibility and the search for peace?

Superpowers, state responsibility and the search for peace?

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Superpowers, state responsibility and the search for peace?

children playing in rubble in Yemen
olivia moore

1st March 2021

 

There is a living hell, and more than 12 million children live there.

 

2 million are acutely malnourished. Consequently, 85,000 may have died between April 2015 and October 2018. A percentage of 100,000 suspected fatalities recorded in 2019. Not just children. Mothers and fathers too. A few out of the 20 million experiencing food insecurity, a further 10 million at risk of famine.

 

Individuals reduced to figures. Because there are too many children in Yemen.

 

The armed conflict in the Middle Eastern state is widely reported as the largest humanitarian crisis in today’s world. Rooted in an Arab Spring uprising, the conflict broke out as a result of political transition that ironically aimed to bring stability rather than strife. When Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi replaced long-standing, authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, he entered a breeding ground for further division. Weakness materialised in the face of this bacteria, from jihadi attacks to a separatist movement in the south and persistent loyalty to Saleh from security personnel. All in the wider context of corruption, unemployment and food security.

 

This political void was quickly filled. Expediated by the Houthis, the Shia Muslim minority movement took control of the centre of the northern Saada province and neighbouring regions. The group found support in disillusioned ordinary Yemenis, both Shia and Sunni, alongside Saleh’s staunch security force. The coalition attempted to seize the entire country, forcing Mr Hadi to flee overseas in March 2015. Since, they have retained occupation of the capital Sanaa and north-western Yemen. Their surge is believed to be militarily backed by Shia strength Iran. In response, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states initiated an air campaign, specifically aimed towards defeating the Houthis, ending the Iranian sway in Yemen and reinstating Mr Hadi’s government.

 

Trump utilised the last of his foreign policy power to label the Houthis a terrorist group, a move that has since been revoked by Joe Biden. It proved another potential rung in a long ladder that according to the UN, threatens an inevitable trajectory towards “famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years”. As the conflict ensues with strikes from both sides, the implications upon civilians are perpetuated and the question of third country intervention and cooperation appears increasingly important. Ireland, small as we may be, cannot escape responsibility, especially in taking a recent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC).

 

But what scope do we have to respond to grievances in contexts like Yemen? Countries wherein jus cogens violations are taking place; breaches of peremptory norms from which no derogation is permitted given the fundamental, human rights-based values they withhold. What responsibility do we share as an international community and to what extent can this duty feasibly be enforced?

 

“While some may be wary and others doubt the sufficiency of state practice to support a legal right to collective countermeasures, the law is falling further and further behind in the era of an ineffectual Security Council.”

 

The Council’s programme of work for February sought to examine issues around climate security and COVID-19, as well as situations in Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Somalia. For many, the branch of the world’s largest international organisation may be looked upon as a beacon of hope in tackling some of humanity’s most devastating conflicts. Radhya Al-Mutawakel, for example, a Yemeni human rights defender, has welcomed Ireland’s new membership to the body, having observed the country’s commitment to independent investigations into Yemen under the UN Human Rights Council. Quoted by RTE News, she “expects Ireland to be like a quiet fighter for accountability.”

 

Amid a questionable structure however, it is doubtful whether any voice championing answerability will be heard, especially a quieter one! Reality reflects slow development, if not paralysis of the UNSC, the organ who finds its peacekeeping powers under Chapter VII of the UN Charter stifled by the vetoes of the five permanent members. Bolstering this inefficiency is the lack of any international, legal alternative to restore international peace where the Security Council leaves vulnerable lives at risk. The creation of the 2001 Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (ARSIWA) provided prime opportunity to establish a legal basis for third-party, interventionist countermeasures in cases of grave violations. Despite real impetus for development in this kind of state responsibility, the consequent, clumsily worded document cast the law in stone, without clearly defined guidelines for legitimate interference.

 

“Rocked by a dream”, the set of norms that the codifiers envisioned would apply to any breach of international law was hindered by political concerns. Fears that the system would be abused by certain actors with ulterior, often economic motives. Caution that meddling would constitute intrusion upon state sovereignty or negatively impact innocent civilians. While valid reasons to be wary, it is contended that rather than face these questions head on, the drafters succumbed to an awkward formulation that failed to circumvent such considerations and clarify the content of multilateral responsibility. As a result, the victims of transgressive states were left hanging in the gap.

 

The impact of this lacuna is illustrated by the dilemma that ensues for an international community who are eager to aid in practice but blocked by superpowers in the Security Council. Without UNSC approval, such states find themselves facing ultimatum: break the law and intervene or don’t intervene and break the law.

 

In 1998, a cohort of Western Allies, grouped under the umbrella of NATO, operated air strikes in efforts to cease the blatant violation by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) of its humanitarian obligations towards the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. A move rooted in good intentions but baseless in international norms. Russia had failed to authorize the Security Council’s decision to take measures under Chapter VII. The implications of tiptoeing that “thin red line” of international legality played out 12 years later, where Western Allies faced the same dilemma in Syria and as a result were reluctant to act militarily in the humanitarian crisis without valid permission.

 

Nonetheless, from NATO’s intervention in Kosovo to Switzerland’s 2011 freeze of Colonel Gaddafi’s assets in Libya, the efforts of non-injured states to hold certain states accountable continue despite this risk. In February 2012, US Secretary of State Clinton called for “friends of democratic Syria” to unite against President Al-Assad; “faced with a neutered Security Council, we have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future.” The Group, which has at least sixty participating states, has repeatedly endorsed the unilateral sanctions adopted by the EU, the Arab League, and others against the Syrian regime.

 

While some may be wary and others doubt the sufficiency of state practice to support a legal right to collective countermeasures, the law is falling further and further behind in the era of an ineffectual Security Council. Whether the solution should involve internal reform of the UN system or increased efforts to invoke international legal responsibility, the demand for change is imminent. Ireland’s seat on the Security Council may feel promising, but for vulnerable children in Yemen, it is about time we stop making promises we can’t keep.

 

 

Featured Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid on Flickr