Choice Ireland was involved in organising the 2010 Feminist Walking Tour in Dublin on International Women's Day. Below is the text of the booklet produced for the tour and audio recording made during the tour. To see the locations mapped see Andrew Flood's Radical Dublin google map which includes the stops from the 2009 & 2010 tours marked with purple pins.
Hello and welcome to the 2010 Feminist Walking Tour!
Thank you so much for celebrating International Women's Day with us on the streets of Dublin. We are very proud that this is the third annual Walking Tour, and has been a huge success as a fun and informative afternoon for over 150 people each year so far!
The idea behind the FWT is to highlight a history which is so often neglected or forgotten. A history that has made Ireland what it is, and contributed to the social, political and cultural topography of Dublin for as long as the city has existed. That is, of course, the history of women: our past, our present, and our ever-evolving future.
Let's rejoice in the women seeking equality, let's lament the women who have been oppressed or erased from history's pages, and let's inspire the women who will blaze a trail for generations to come. Knowledge is power, so we need to make sure the stories of our mothers, daughters and sisters are not lost simply because they were not documented in statues, or recorded in libraries. From members of the Women's Land League and Cumann na mBan – so important in creating our republic – who were literally wiped from photos in political airbrushing, to the horror of the Magdalene Laundries (the last of which only closed in 1996), to the vital accession of immigrant women and their daughters, who will shape the Ireland of the future. Let's remember, let's talk, let's think, let's share...and let's walk!
This annual event is organised on a voluntary basis by Dublin-based feminist groups Choice Ireland, Rag, Lash Back, and friends. We are delighted you decided to come along, and hope you have a fantastic time.
Happy International Women's Day 2010!
Fleet Street (Amnesty International building) – Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation is a procedure in which a woman or girl’s genitals are intentionally cut, injured, partially removed or altered for no medical or therapeutic reason.
It is estimated that 2-3 million young women a year are subjected to this archaic and barbaric practice in the name of tradition or religion. And an estimated 100 to 140 million worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM (WHO and UN statistics). FGM is internationally recognised as a human rights violation, and the UN has now named February 6 as International Day Against Female Genial Mutilation.
The procedure is usually carried out on girls from infancy to 15 years of age, and is most common in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is often representative of deep-seated gender inequality and sexism, as women's genitals might be considered “dirty”, and where female virginity and lack of sexual desire are prized. There are different kinds of FGM, but the most common are the whole or partial removal of the inner or outer labia and/or clitoris, and sewing up part of the entrance to the vagina (which will need to be broken when the woman later has sex). The procedure is extremely dangerous and often leads to multiple health problems throughout the woman's life, including bleeding, infections, bladder problems, complications in childbirth, lack of ability to orgasm, cysts, and the need for further surgery.
The Irish Government has not yet explicitly legislated against FGM, insisting that it is adequately dealt with by the laws against assault. Advocacy groups like Akidwa are putting major pressure on them to confront the issue in 2010 - not only so it will never be practised here, but also to protect women from being removed from the state to have the procedure done overseas, and to legislate for those seeking refuge here from the threat of mutilation in their own country.
Ireland’s National Action Plan on FGM was launched in 2008. Its objectives are to prevent the practice of FGM; to provide high quality, appropriate healthcare and support; and to link up with the global campaign to end FGM.
Fleet Street - Irish Women’s Workers Union
“Without organisation you can do nothing. The purpose of this meeting is to turn you into a army of women.” These were the words of Countess Markievicz, addressing a meeting in September 1911 in the Ancient Concert Room in Brunswick (now Pearse) Street in Dublin.
At the beginning of the 20th century, working conditions in Dublin were deplorable. One-fifth of the people were unemployed, as labour was in surplus, and the few who were unionised came from skilled trades and were largely members of London-based unions. This changed in 1909 with the foundation by James Larkin of the militant Irish General and Transport Workers’ Union. By 1910, the ITGWU was claiming 3,000 members and was admitted to the Irish Trade Union Congress.
Women, however, remained largely non-unionised – despite their particularly dire working conditions. Larkin described conditions in the Jacobs biscuit factory as being so bad for the women that they were “sending them from this earth twenty years before their time”. Irish women in the weaving and textile industry were paid less than 1/3 of the wages paid to their more organised English counterparts and were fined for absenteeism and damage to cloth. Irish women also worked a six-day week, with little or no entitlement to holidays.
The women present at the meeting, many of whom were members of the suffragette movement, heeded Markievicz’s call and so the Irish Women’s Workers Union (IWWU) was born.
The IWWU and other unions played a vital role in the infamous 1913 lockout. On the morning of August 26th 1913, workers of the Dublin Tram Company walked off their trams, leaving them stranded in the middle of the road. They did this to protest their employer William Martin Murphy's threats to fire any members of the ITGWU. One of the first groups to come out in support of the tram workers were the women who worked as packers for Jacobs – led by the young Rosie Hackett.
By September 27th there were 24,000 “locked-out” for their support of the ITGWU. Within another two weeks the number had risen to about 30,000. The strike was a long and bloody one, with the striking workers enduring the direst poverty. It was clear, however, that the unions were fighting a losing battle and by mid-January 1914, the strikers began returning to work. The last group to return were the women of Jacobs, led by Rosie Hackett, who held out until mid-March. Hackett never regained her job with Jacobs, instead going to work as a steward for the IWWU.
In its 75-year history the IWWU fought many battles for Irish women. They won a significant victory in 1928, when the Dublin Box company tried to cut wages by five shillings, instead gaining an increase through strike action. For the first time in this company, union representatives were recognised.
The IWWU's work extended far beyond their initial goal of securing fair working conditions for Irish women. In 1930 the group challenged legislation that prevented women working at night, and it campaigned against the anti-women provisions of the 1937 Constitution. The group also campaigned in support of Noel Browne’s “mother and child scheme” of the 1950s.
Capel Street – LGBT women
There is a great richness of anecdote and oral history regarding queer women’s lives in Ireland, even without claiming these experiences with modern terms like “lesbian”, “bisexual” or “trans”’.
Early Irish history features women such as St Bridget. She was a bishop, dressed in male attire and occupied a male social role, with known female “bedwarmer” companions. A more modern example of love between women in Ireland was that of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. Under pressure to marry men, they escaped to North Wales in 1780 and settled there, becoming known as the “Ladies of Llangollen”. The revolutionary spirit of the early 20th century was strongly represented by lesbian-identified Irish women. Eva Gore-Booth – Countess Markievicz’s sister and an active member of the trade union movement in Britain – founded the magazine Urania in 1915, alongside Thomas Baty and her lover Esther Roper. Urania purported to do away with the binary gender system, seeing it as oppressive and calling for liberation from it.
1915 also saw the birth of Michael Dillon, one of the first documented transsexual people in recent Irish history. He was a transsexual man, the first to undergo many of what have become common medical procedures. Assigned female upon his birth in London to an Irish mother, whose family came from Lismullen, Co. Meath, he began transition at age 24.
After independence, the church state drove queerness underground – especially for queer women. Oral history is all that remains of the clandestine meetings that occurred between women, who weren’t even allowed into gay male establishments.
In the 1970s, the women’s liberation movement gained prominence worldwide. Irish queer women came back from the shadows and began campaigning for equality. Queer women have formed an intrinsic part of the fight for social justice and gender recognition, including campaigns for decriminalisation of homosexuality and legalisation of divorce, contraception, abortion and same sex marriage.
And yet, trans individuals are still not recognised legally by the Irish state in their identified genders; they consistently face discrimination in employment, access to welfare and healthcare. Queer cis women – those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth – face erasure in the healthcare system, where ignorance of their lives abounds.
Trans individuals of all identifications face violence and erasure by institutions, while out lesbians also face hostility and inappropriate attention.
Luckily, the modern LGBT rights movement in Ireland has started to slowly move away from privileging gay male identities. Women, trans and cis, lesbian, bisexual, queer, questioning and straight allies are part of the numerous organisations that fight for our visibility, rights and dignity.
A special thank-you to Katherine O’Donnell for allowing the use of her essay, Irish Lesbian History: Searching for Sapphists.
Listen to Ariel speaking on LGBT activism and particularly queer women in Irish history
Henry Street - Dunnes Stores
Ten Young Women and One Young Man
In 1984, ten young women and one young man – members of MANDATE trade union – started a long strike at Dunnes Stores in Dublin's Henry Street. They walked the picket line in support of their union's policy of solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle and of boycotting South African products. The dispute started when Mary Manning, a 21-year-old cashier, courageously refused to handle South African fruit . Mary and her colleagues became a household name in South Africa (and across the world). The strike lasted almost three years, ending only when the government agreed to ban the import of South African fruit & veg until the apartheid regime was overthrown.
In 1985 Nobel laureate Seán MacBride said: “Mary Manning and her colleagues have responded to the dictates of their consciences and have been prepared to make tremendous sacrifices in order to defend an ideal and a principle. We should salute them.”
Strikers Karen Gearon and Mary Manning met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in London while he was en route to collect the Nobel Peace Prize. Karen felt that this was a turning point in the strike: “We got massive publicity and he invited us over to South Africa.”
The strikers accepted the invitation and collected the fares from their supporters. But the apartheid regime did everything it could to stop them – first from even boarding the plane in London, and when they finally landed in Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg, it was greeted by the police and army and was sent back to Heathrow.
Karen Gearon says: “When we arrived back in Heathrow, we thought, 'Oh shit, we're going to get thrown out of here as well'. But they were there to bring us to a press conference. BBC, RTÉ, the works, were all there!”
Shortly afterwards, Karen and Michelle Gavin were invited to New York to address the UN Special Committee against Apartheid. There, Karen outlined how Gardaí had harassed and assaulted the strikers: ”In the early stages of the strike, we had a lot of police harassment. On numerous occasions there would be five women on the back door to prevent deliveries. The management inside would call the police, and there would be at least three policemen to every one striker. On a few occasions, some of the women strikers had to have hospital treatment for injuries caused by management and police violence.”
The full text of Karen’s statement to the UN Special Committee against Apartheid is available at: http://www.anc.org.za/un/ngo/sp101185.html
Ewan MacColl wrote this song : “Ten young women and one young man”:
Now Mary Manning of Kilmainham, a twenty one year old cashier,
Was put to the test the very next morning and she spoke up loud and clear.
“No I'm afraid I cannot serve you. That grapefruit's South African”.
“Some of us here are opposed to apartheid”.
Ten young women and one young man.
Well what a hell of a hullaballoo, the groans and threats and angry cries.
The management foaming at the mouth and the suits buzzing round like blue-arsed flies.
“You'll sell that grapfruit or be suspended, we'll tolerate no union ban”.
Little did they understand the will,
Of ten young women and one young man.
On June 30th, 2008, Dublin City Council erected a plaque outside Dunnes on Henry Street to honour the strikers.
16 Moore Street – Women of 1916
16 Moore Street was the final headquarters of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic declared in 1916. It was here that the leaders of the Easter Rising made the decision to surrender.
The surrender was delivered by Elizabeth O’Farrell, a nurse and member of Cumann na mBan (the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers). The bravery of her action should not be underestimated – several men carrying white flags had already been shot down. She made it through the British lines, however, and went on to bring the surrender order to the various rebel garrisons in Dublin.
Elizabeth O’Farrell was only one of many women who made invaluable contributions to the Rising. While the name of Constance Markievicz is well known, few of the others are remembered today. They include combatants such as Helena Moloney, Margaret Skinnider and Kathleen Lynn; adjutants such as Nora Connolly, Winifred Carney and Julia Grenan; and nurses such as Margaretta Keogh, who was shot dead while tending to a wounded Volunteer. In all, it is estimated that around 220 women took part in the Rising, but the deeply reactionary Free State ruling class made sure that their names – and the important roles they played – were largely forgotten.
The insult to O’Farrell’s memory is particularly egregious. In the original photograph taken of the surrender to the British Army, her feet and coat can be seen at Pádraig Pearse’s right-hand side. However, in subsequent reproductions only Pearse appears. Elizabeth O’Farrell was literally airbrushed out of history. And in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins film, the surrender is delivered by a man.
GPO – X and ABC cases
In 1992 a 14-year-old girl was raped by a neighbour and as a result of this rape became pregnant. Her parents, seeing the distress this was causing their daughter, sought to travel to Britain to allow her to terminate this pregnancy. They were doing what any parents would do – trying to relieve the incredible distress that their daughter was in.
While in Britain, the girls’ parents contacted the Garda Síochána to ask if DNA evidence from the foetus could be used as evidence against the rapist. Rather than answering this query, the Gardaí reported it to the Attorney General, who took out an injunction under the 8th Amendment demanding that the girl and her parents return immediately to Ireland. She was banned from leaving the country for nine months, thereby forced to carry her rapist’s child to term.
When this story was made public the nation was convulsed. People were appalled that a young girl in such appalling circumstances was being forced to continue a pregnancy, and thousands of ordinary people took to the streets. The High Court injunction was appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned it by a majority of four to one. The court ruled that a woman had a right to an abortion under Article 40.3.3 , the 8th amendment, if there was “a real and substantial risk” to her life. They ruled that this risk included the risk of suicide.
Twice, the government has put referenda to the people seeking to overturn this ruling – in 1992 and again in 2002 – and twice the Irish people have voted not to overturn it. Since then, numerous groups have campaigned for the government to bring in legislation in line with the ruling, but as of yet no legislation has been drafted.
Since the X ruling another young women, known as Miss C, found herself before the courts – another pregnant and suicidal victim of rape. Her parents did not want her to have a termination so they sought a court order to block the State, in whose care she had been placed, from allowing her to travel. Miss C's right to travel was affirmed by the High Court – but only on the basis that this abortion was one that would have been legal within the State anyway, due to the real and substantial risk to her life. In the 2007 “D” case, involving a 17-year-old in care who was carrying an anencephalic foetus, the High Court ruled that the right to travel was not limited to lifesaving abortions; however, incredibly the Supreme Court has yet to firmly resolve this issue.
More recently, three women have brought a challenge to the European Court of Human Rights arguing for their right to terminate their pregnancies in Ireland. The women, known as A, B and C, are making the case that Ireland has breached their human rights under Articles 2 (Right to Life), 3 (Prohibition of Torture), 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. One of the women was recovering from chemotherapy following a diagnosis of cancer and was unsure as to how the pregnancy would affect her health; another had been told she was at risk of an ectopic pregnancy. The third woman was recovering from a substance abuse problem and felt that another pregnancy would jeopardise her chances of being given back custody of her existing children, who were in state care. The case was heard before the court in Strasbourg on December 9th 2009 and a ruling is expected later this year.
O’Connell Street - Ladies’ Land League
The famine served as a catalyst for several Irish nationalist movements. One of these was the Land League, founded by Michael Davitt in 1879. By 1881, most of its members were in prison and their activities had been halted.
Fanny Parnell had founded a Ladies’ Land League in the US to raise money for famine victims and suggested a similar group be established in Ireland. Her brother Charles resisted the idea, feeling it would hold the organisation up to ridicule, but Michael Davitt agreed to its formation – arguing that women are “in certain emergencies, more dangerous to despotism than men”. The women obtained offices on O’Connell Street and undertook fundraising to support the organisation.
During the 18 months of its existence, the League encouraged farmers to withhold rent and resist evictions, raised considerable funds to support prisoners, and distributed wooden huts to shelter evicted families. By early 1882 they had five hundred branches, thousands of members, and according to the British had “made the country infinitely more ungovernable”. Meetings were frequently disbanded by the police and 13 of the women were imprisoned – as ordinary convicts, not political prisoners like the men.
Some of the imprisoned male Land Leaguers were shocked by the women’s revolutionary tactics. Anna Parnell later reflected “I think now that, added to their natural resentment at our having done what they asked us to do, they soon acquired a much stronger ground for their annoyance in the discovery that we were taking the Land League seriously and thought that not paying rent was intended to mean not paying it.” Following their release from prison, Charles Stewart Parnell, president of the Irish National Land League, and the other imprisoned Land League members forced the women to disband. Parnell never acknowledged the pioneering achievements and outstanding work done by his two sisters, Anna and Fanny, and the other women of the Ladies’ Land League. Anna never spoke to him again and Fanny later committed suicide.
Cathal Brugha Street – Irish Family Planning Association
1969 was a time when some parts of the world were enjoying a sexual revolution. In Ireland, however, a blanket ban on provision of contraception and an oppressive attitude to sexuality and sexual health made for a very different landscape.
That year, a group of pioneers set up the Irish Family Planning Association, with the aim of changing the social and legal environment in Ireland so that family planning services and information would be available to everyone.
These doctors, gynaecologists, teachers and social workers had seen firsthand the devastating consequences of multiple unplanned pregnancies on women and their families – the poverty, the heartbreak and the maternal deaths.
Opening Ireland's first family planning clinic, the organisation sidestepped the law by providing contraception for free with clients making a “donation”. Friends and relatives were enlisted to smuggle condoms into the country.
Since then, the IFPA has been at the forefront of sexual and reproductive health and rights. In 1973 the IFPA supported Mary McGee in her successful legal battle to import spermicidal jelly in order to prevent a pregnancy that her medical condition would not tolerate.
The IFPA performed the first vasectomies in Ireland, published the first Irish family planning guidebook, ran the first clinics for menopausal women and defied the draconian Health (Family Planning) Act 1979, which stated that contraceptives – including condoms – could only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription.
Despite significant developments in the last 40 years, there is still much work to be done to bring reproductive health services in Ireland in line with our European neighbours. Irish women are still denied access to safe and legal abortion services in this country. The affordability of contraception is still a huge issue. Access to sexual health services is difficult for many people, including young people, asylum seekers and people with disabilities. Sex education in schools is still patchy and inappropriate. There is no national strategy on sexual health and rogue agencies are allowed to intimidate women experiencing unplanned pregnancies.
The IFPA today, through its two medical clinics, continues to provide advice on contraception and sexual health, STI and cervical screening and post-abortion medical checkups. The organisation's 11 counselling services provide support to women experiencing crisis pregnancies. The IFPA provides family planning courses to doctors and nurses and also provides education and training to community groups and service providers.
T: 01 8069444 W: www.ifpa.ie Crisis Pregnancy Helpline: 1850 49 50 51
Seán MacDermott Street – Magdalene Laundry
The early 20th century was a tumultuous time for Ireland. The country had not yet recovered from the horrors of losing millions to the famine. There were new political agendas emerging, and a desire to reclaim an identity for the nation. The Catholic church, which wanted to bring back the traditional Irish identity, was a major influence on society and its leaders at this time. They constructed to silence those whose sexual behaviour or family circumstances contradicted an emerging image of Irish Catholic identity.
In this so-called “real Ireland”, women were expected to fit the mould of the “comely maidens dancing at the crossroads”. This was a widespread vision for the future of Ireland – so much so that women’s place as wives and mothers was firmly enshrined in the constitution. There was a culture of curtailing and punishing any behaviour by women that challenged this mould. This was consolidated in 1931 with the passing of the Carrigan Report and the Criminal Law Act of the same year. In the new “real Ireland”, illegitimacy was concealed and sexual crimes such as incest and rape were ignored. The men who perpetrated these acts were absolved of responsibility, while the women and children victims were left to carry the stigma.
Single mothers, people experiencing mental illness, or those who behaved in any way that deviated from social norms were hidden away from society. They were sent to mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries, mental asylums or industrial schools. The Laundries were originally set up to rehabilitate the many women for whom prostitution had been the only means of supporting themselves following the Great Famine. Quickly, however, they became a place to hide the shame caused by women who had become pregnant outside of marriage. The regime in the Laundries was almost prison-like, with women made to wash clothes and serve the local religious orders without pay and in very harsh conditions.
Pregnant women who entered the Laundries were forced to give their babies up for adoption and often never knew what happened to them. The church, which ran the Laundries, often sold the newborns to more “suitable” wealthy Catholic families in the US, Britain, Canada and Australia. Women who were put into the Laundries could not leave until a male relative signed them out and often lived out the rest of their lives in these institutions.
Over the 150 years they were in existence, an estimated 30,000 women passed through the Laundries. The last Laundry – on Seán McDermott Street – closed in 1996. Some of its prisoners, however, are still living there.
When Ireland ratified the 8th amendment copper-fastening the ban on abortion, few people thought it would affect women’s ability to access information or abortion services abroad. In the late 1980s, however, the British-based organisation Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) took a case to the courts arguing that not only was abortion illegal but so too was information about abortion services legally available in other countries.
The courts ruled in favour of SPUC, and the consequences of the “Hamilton Judgment” were far-reaching. Books were removed from public libraries; newspapers carrying ads for abortion clinics were impounded by Irish customs and women’s magazines carried blank pages where notices about abortion services had been removed.
Throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, organisations such as Open Door Counselling and the Well Woman Centre fought SPUC in the Irish courts for the right to provide abortion information, while the Trinity College students’ union took their challenge all the way to the European Court of Human Rights – and won.
Amid the fierce legal battles, a number of activist groups including the Women’s Information Network and the Dublin Abortion Information Campaign sought to circumvent the laws and get the information to the women who needed it. These groups placed stickers in phone boxes with clinic names, and set up a helpline which was run by volunteers from secret locations, including the Dublin Resource Co-op. The groups used any means available to publicise the number, including the chant “6774900 – women have the right to know”; they were often seen in camera shots on the national news wearing t-shirts or holding placards bearing the number.
In 1992, a constitutional referendum guaranteed the right to access information about abortion services abroad. Under the implementing legislation, however, counsellors cannot offer help in making arrangements beyond giving the woman a clinic’s phone number. The legislation only covers agencies that provide information on abortion clinics – a loophole that has allowed unscrupulous agencies with an anti-abortion agenda to use lies, manipulation and intimidation to dissuade women from having abortions.
One of these agencies, the WRC at 50 Upper Dorset Street, has been operating under various names for well over a decade. Choice Ireland has run a sustained campaign to have it and other rogue agencies shut down; the first in a long serious of demonstrations at the site began on International Women’s Day 2007. Choice Ireland’s campaign for legislation against these agencies culminated in a presentation to the Oireachtas committee for Health and Children in December 2009.
Parnell Street – Immigrant women
Ireland has seen an unprecedented increase in the numbers of women migrants overt the past twenty years, in part due to growing demand for domestic care and other traditionally female workers and the feminisation of global poverty,. Many women who move to Ireland may have positive and rewarding experiences; many face challenges as a result of their migrant status and their status as women, and some may experience extreme difficulties.
As migrant women’s forms of labour, such as cleaning and care work, are more likely to take place outside the regular economy, women are more likely to experience poor working conditions. Despite the high level of education many of them have, migrant women are over-represented in lower-skilled jobs. Restrictive immigration policies also force many women to enter the country as dependent spouses and to remain so – compromising their autonomy and independence, and leaving them more vulnerable to domestic violence and exploitation.
Countless women remain undetected when trafficked for labour or sexual exploitation. The fear of deportation prevents many women in vulnerable situations from accessing social or health services. Those who do often find themselves confronted with a lack of cultural sensitivity, a lack of understanding and even outright discrimination.
Migrant women are among those who suffer most acutely from Ireland’s coercive laws around reproductive choice: where their ability to travel is restricted, either by law or lack of resources, they are unlikely to access abortion services in Britain or the European mainland and so are more likely to opt for a dangerous “backstreet” procedure here or to carry through with a pregnancy for which they are unprepared.
A number of groups work directly with migrant women, raising awareness around issues that must be addressed and campaigning for migrant women’s right to self-determination and freedom to live with dignity, regardless of their country of origin or legal status. These include Cairde, Akidwa, Diaspora Women’s Initiative and the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.
Audio from the 20009 Feminist Walking Tour
Niamh from Choice Ireland about May 1971 IWLM Contraception train and struggle today for frees, safe legal abortion
Hilary from RAG introducing Bernie Howard of the Crinian Youth Project about anti Heroin movement
Combined audio from 2010 and 2009 tours on the Monto