Strike 4 Repeal is more a press campaign in revolutionary costume than a revolution

Opinion: A social-media campaign and an afternoon of protest won’t overhaul the Eighth Amendment

Leah Morgan at the Irish Times Debate 2017  final at Bolton Street. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Leah Morgan at the Irish Times Debate 2017 final at Bolton Street. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Strike 4 Repeal movement stages acts of resistance in the form of protests and walkouts in more than 50 locations in Ireland and abroad today. A question for Irish women should be whether these once-off acts of radical resistance, coinciding with International Women’s Day, can build into the kind of committed and long-term action that a successful campaign to Repeal the Eighth will require.

I support a repeal of the the Eighth Amendment, but the tragedy of a novel action is that it can only really command attention once – when the novelty has worn off, we must still be able to maintain the energy to continue to resist governmental torpor, without the social buzz. Resist, but don’t count this as your decade’s dose of class struggle.

This energy must be harnessed into a movement that pushes beyond single issues. A successful social-media campaign, an afternoon’s worth of feet on the ground and a few closed businesses will not sadly not overhaul the Eighth Amendment.

The key to resolving this struggle in favour of a society in which women’s rights are not treated as fringe politics is active and long-term political participation.

We must look beyond this single-issue demonstration to where women should be in Irish society, commanding attention for our rights, day-in-and-out, without having to work for months to market the idea to the general public that our rights are being repressed.

The history of Irish women’s politics is one of marginalisation. Though representation is increasing, the 1:4 ratio of women to men in the Dáil at the moment is an all-time record. Women, nominally equal, are not equally represented, and our rights and our rights to our bodies are not equally understood and respected.

The Strike 4 Repeal movement is a spur to action for a day, more a press campaign in revolutionary costume than a revolution. When an entire political establishment seems convinced that delay tactics and Constitutional Conventions can keep us waiting forever (or at least, until the next Government takes office), we must commit to a constant revolution.

We must not seek to influence Irish politics; we must seek to make it. We must look beyond a single day’s action.

Our Constitution imposes a political nature on women’s bodies. Choosing to have an abortion, under any circumstances, is a healthcare issue that has become toxically political. We must act to make policy that removes the political cast from personal care.

Our current Government is too uncomfortable to deal with women’s healthcare. They would see it defined by dogma because they’re unable to legislate for it in a manner that makes it politically attractive. However, suffering does not acknowledge political creed. When too poor to travel, when contraception is not freely and shamelessly available, when doctors cannot clearly advise, women suffer. Women must involve themselves in every aspect of the political process, from relentlessly lobbying their current TDs to running for office themselves.

The women of Ireland should be making informed policy at the very centre of Irish political life – and not just protesting outside it. The Government as it stands has proven, time and time again, that it does not act in the interests of Irish women.

We cannot defeat that attitude with gesture-politics alone. On gender-lines alone, women have more than 50 per cent of the say in how this democracy is run. We are accountable in who we chose to represent our interests.

We must elect politicians committed to real gender-equality. Even now, we have let the same seven TDs who watched the Eight Amendment pass hold office without truly answering to us – seven men, including Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan.

We must not let this day of action fill us with the false catharsis of protest, and lead us to sit comfortably on our trending-hashtag laurels while real policy is being decided elsewhere.

This strike is far from where the pinnacle of our actions in direct democracy should be. Great media attention for the cause is not enough. Lobbying to influence policy is not enough. The Eighth is our current struggle, but we must look beyond it too.

We must commit to the everyday, humdrum strike, to constant demonstration, to deeply unfashionable, dull-as-ditchwater political action. We must represent ourselves, elect ourselves, and ensure that the rights of Irish women cannot be ignored again.

Leah Morgan of the Solicitors’ Apprentice Debating Society of Ireland took top prize in the individual category at the The Irish Times Debate 2017, speaking on the motion ‘This House believes the women of Ireland should strike to repeal the Eighth Amendment’

Leah Morgan was the recent individual winner of the Irish Times Debate 2017.

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