Women’s event hears calls for repeal of the Eighth Amendment

National Women’s Council of Ireland holds special Rising centenary ‘soapbox’ in Dublin

Sabina Higgins  speaks at the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s 1916 centenary ‘soapbox’  in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Sabina Higgins speaks at the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s 1916 centenary ‘soapbox’ in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Repealing the Eighth Amendment, which gives effect to the State’s abortion ban, was a major theme of a “soapbox” event organised by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) in Dublin on Saturday.

From the bandstand in St Stephen’s Green, more than 40 speakers addressed themes of gender equality, gender-based violence and the unequal treatment of women with disabilities and women of colour in Irish society.

Now in its third year, the event draws inspiration from early feminists who started their campaigning on a soapbox on city streets.

This year’s special centenary soapbox remembered the women of 1916 and other women who have shaped modern Ireland.

NWCI said the location of this year’s soapbox held special significance, as the bandstand at St Stephen’s Green was held by rebels led by Constance Markievicz during the Rising.

Opening the event, NWCI director Orla O’Connor called for the repeal of the Eighth amendment, an end to violence against women and affordable childcare for all in Ireland.

Sabina Higgins, wife of President Michael D Higgins, also spoke at the event for her third time.

Speaking of a “globalised world of capitalism” and an “empire of greed”, Ms Higgins said there was no doubt that inequality in the world was the cause of great poverty.

“Eight hundred million people are now at this minute hungry, starving, in danger of death, as climate change, desertification, conflict comes to bear on them.

“That is the world that we are in and that is where our sisters suffer more than anybody. In these circumstances, it is women who bear the brunt of it.”

Gender inequality and gender-based violence were “the biggest cause of the misery in the world”, she said.

Speakers

Other speakers included Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, writer Louise O’Neill, campaigner and member of the Council of State Ruairí McKiernan, Independent TD Clare Daly and activist Ailbhe Smyth, of the Repeal the Eighth Coalition.

Ms Bacik said it was “shameful” that in this centenary year only 22 of our TDs were female.

She said there were still huge issues that needed to be tackled for women.

Repealing the Eighth Amendment would be the “burning issue” for the next few years, she said.

She described the Amendment as an “immense contradiction” in a country that had allowed marriage equality by popular vote.

“I hope that my own daughters will not have to fight the same battle that I’ve been fighting, that many of you have been fighting, all of our adult lives.

“It’s appalling that that’s still the case.”

GP and broadcaster Dr Ciara Kelly said that as a doctor who saw pregnant women every day, she had come to understand that for the many who face a crisis there is a “deeply private, deeply personal and very difficult decision that sometimes they have to make”.

She respected and supported the women who chose to have their babies in those circumstances, but she also respected the women who travelled for a termination.

“People say that hard cases make bad laws, but the truth of it is this: our bad laws continue to make hard cases.”

Activist Suzy Byrne said she wanted women’s organisations to end their silence around the treatment of women and men with disabilities, including those in care homes.

Ms Byrne said: “I don’t see women’s organisations and groups breaking the silence about the fact that women and men in Ireland in 2016 have no choices in their lives, have no expectations, are told not to have expectations and are legally not given any right to services about their lives, about who looks after them, where they live and how they live.”

The Córus Choir also performed throughout the afternoon.