Let’s talk about sex work…in Northern Ireland

By Helen McBride

In 1999, Sweden passed the Law against Procurement of Sexual Services, criminalizing the purchase of sex, which punishes johns but not prostitutes. Worldwide, the law is considered a progressive way to improve the lives of sex workers while also combating the root causes of exploitation in the industry. Currently up for debate in Northern Ireland’s government is a similar measure, a new law, titled the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which seeks to limit human trafficking in Northern Ireland. Clause 6 of this bill emulates the Swedish model in an attempt to criminalize those who pay for sexual services. Problematic, however, is the lack of distinction made between individuals who choose to become sex workers and those who are trafficked.

The Consequences of “LAD” Culture: “Drinking, Football and F**king”*

By Helen McBride

I was initially motivated to write this piece as a response to the controversy over an anonymous post on a Facebook page, “UW Crushes,” associated with students at the University of Wyoming that read “I want to hatefuck ___ so hard. That chick runs her liberal mouth all the time and doesn’t care who knows it. I think it’s hot and it makes me angry. One night with me and she’s going to be a good Republican bitch.” While the outcome of this storm has been problematic due to legitimacy concerns over who posted the offending comment, the story prompted me to visit the current debate over “LAD” culture in British and Northern Irish universities.

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead?

By Helen McBride

A week ago, Saturday Night Live paid tribute to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who passed away earlier that week. The SNL sketch featured Fred Armisen as Ian Rubbish, a Johnny Rotten type, whose dislike for the British monarchy and government inspired punk-rock gems. However, as we learn in this “documentary,” when Margaret Thatcher came to power, Rubbish’s reaction left his band, the Bizzarros, and fans scratching their heads. Expecting Thatcher to be “Rubbished,” Rubbish instead did a 180 and wrote songs praising Thatcher. What in world had come over Rubbish? Well we learn soon enough that his “love” for the Iron Lady developed because, wait for it, she reminds him of his mum. So there is no changing his mind. SNLs tribute reflects a myriad of responses to Thatcher’s death. Not surprisingly, the stormy reaction across Britain and Ireland over Baroness Thatcher’s death hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention. The decision to commemorate or celebrate her death in Northern Ireland in particular, was bound to produce a split in opinion. The relationship between Northern Ireland (and the Republic of Ireland for that matter) and Thatcher has always been tense. Recent revelations from former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson about Thatcher’s supposed mistrust of the Irish, and her equally naive and ridiculous Cromwellian solution to the “Troubles” (i.e. to simply move all the Catholics to the Republic) is just the latest in this deeply complicated relationship. Yet, the polarized responses to her death reflect not only her conservative policies that still influence British politics, but also reveal cultural norms and beliefs regarding gender and politics. Thatcher may have reminded Rubbish of his mum, but this reduced Thatcher to being a mum, not a politician, judged not for her (controversial) policies, but for her inability to fulfill feminine expectations.

The Bid to Criminalize Northern Ireland’s Women

By Helen McBride

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.

Helen Goes to a TED Talk

By Helen McBride

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.