I am Founder & Director at Hollaback! Belfast. I have a Master’s Degree in History and Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of Wyoming. My academic work focuses on the role of women in post-conflict societies, with a particular focus on grass roots activism. I write for a number of feminist leaning blogs, am active in local feminist groups in Northern Ireland and an active speaker on Women & LGBTQ rights.
Under the backdrop of International Women’s Day, parties on opposite sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland have come together in order to attach an abortion amendment to Stormont’s Criminal Justice Bill. Paul Givan of the DUP and Alban Maginness of the SDLP have tabled an amendment that would prevent private clinics from performing abortions, and restrict the practice to the NHS. It seems typical of political parties here to unite on a non-existent threat. The Marie Stopes Clinic, of which this amendment is undoubtedly the target, has always maintained an agreement to carryout medical procedures only within the legal framework that exists in Northern Ireland. Terminations are provided in Northern Ireland up to nine weeks gestation and only when the life of the pregnant women is at risk. Yet the motivation for this amendment has been a response to what Givan calls “the challenge that was presented when the Marie Stopes clinic opened in Northern Ireland and that revealed a loophole that private clinics are wholly unregulated.” This amendment will effectively criminalize the Marie Stopes Clinic, and with it, the women who need access to its legal services.
Prompted by the UN Committee against Torture in 2011 to set up an inquiry, the Irish government has released a report on State collusion with the Catholic Church in the treatment of girls and women in the work houses known as the Magdalene Laundries. These Laundries were run by four Roman Catholic orders of nuns.
The laundries were institutions started by the Catholic Church in 1922, in which thousands of vulnerable women were incarcerated. While in reality those sent to the laundries were products of poverty, homelessness, and dysfunctional families, the myth of the “bad girl” and “fallen woman” sent to the laundries to reform has persisted. Those that were sent to these institutions spent months or years in hard labour, with no access to education, little respect and in many cases lived in constant fear. Work included doing laundry for hotels, hospitals and prisons.
Last month, British journalist Suzanne Moore published an article in the New Statesman about female anger. The main point of her article was how, in her opinion, women tend to turn anger in at themselves instead of projecting it outward and targetting the source:
“We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape—that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
While invoking the image of “a Brazilian transsexual” was not her intention (I can only assume), Moore has unleashed a heady storm of controversy. Moore’s seemingly flippant use of the phrase has been seen by the trans community as offensive.
The TEDxBelfastWomen event was the first of its kind to be held in the new Skainos building in the East of the city, as part of the Skainos urban regeneration project. TED is a non-profit organisation that aims to spread ideas. Started 25 years ago, it has broadened its scope to include more than the original Technology, Entertainment, Design and added the ‘x’ element. The x marks independently organised events that stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.