Are women in Ireland ever going to have their human rights respected and vindicated?
It is time to get angry again. This time really, really angry
Jess Morris during the Strike Repeal the Eighth March on O’Connell St, Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Most people were horrified when they heard about the hundreds of baby deaths in the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway. Listening to and reading the commentary, one would think this abuse of women’s rights happened in some dim and distant past and could not happen today. It can and it does. Why are we still putting up with it?
More than 60 years after Ireland ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and 32 years after the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, women’s rights are neither respected nor vindicated. In fact, nowadays, women’s rights are abused on a daily basis. This is happening every day to our daughters and granddaughters. It is not good enough,
Early this month the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) published its observations on Ireland’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports. These observations were scathing about the efforts made by successive Irish governments and State agencies to eliminate discrimination against women and respect and vindicate women’s human rights since the last report in 2005. So little progress has been made in this area that it is time to ask if civil servants, people working in State agencies, and politicians are merely neglectful, seriously incompetent, or downright malevolent.
Cedaw identified 58 aspects of Irish life and legislation that “adversely affect women” and prevent them from enjoying “human rights and freedoms”.
The committee wants domestic violence criminalised and the Garda“trained to identify, investigate and prosecute cases of gender-based violence”. At present, according to the Central Statistics Office, the Garda “do not record domestic violence incidents separately from other assaults”. The committee wants organisations that provide help to women on the receiving end of domestic violence, to receive more funding. Perpetrators are getting away with virtually no punishment. In four recent cases involving biting, brutal beatings and threatening to kill, perpetrators received suspended sentences. In another case a man was given a community service order when he “ferociously” beat his ex-girlfriend while his children watched.
The UN committee found that the “terms of reference for the statutory investigation established to investigate abuse in Mother and Baby Homes is too narrow and does not cover all institutions, and “may not address the whole spectrum of abuses perpetrated against women and girls”.
In relation to symphysiotomy, the UN committee found that “no effort has been made to establish an independent investigation to identify, prosecute and punish the perpetrators”.
In relation to childbirth, Cedaw was concerned that “the State party has a policy of having three births per 24 hours for every bed in maternity wards, which does not respect the normal birth process”. They were particularly concerned that “child delivery is highly medicalised and dependent on artificial methods to accelerate the process. Article 40.3.3 (also known as the Eighth Amendment) must also be amended and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy must be repealed “in order to legalise the termination of pregnancy at least in cases of rape, incest, risk to the physical or mental health or life of the pregnant woman, and severe impairment of the foetus, and decriminalise abortion in all other cases,” Cedaw found.
Why are we putting up with this stuff? I was, am, a feminist. I did the marches in the 70s and 80s. Why has so little changed in this island of, seemingly, as far as women are concerned, perpetual, endless, sorrow? Are we just used to it? Everyone who cares about their daughters and granddaughters needs to read this report. It is supposed to be widely disseminated by the Department of Justice and Equality, to every agency, at local, regional and national level. Has this happened? Not so far. Is misogyny so deeply rooted? It is time to get angry again. This time really, really, angry.
Jacky Jones is a former Health Service Executive regional manager of health promotion and is a member of the Healthy Ireland Council.