Feminism in the Republic of Ireland

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Feminism in Ireland has played a major role in shaping the legal and social position of women in present-day Ireland. The role of women has been influenced by numerous legal changes in the second part of the 20th century, especially in the 1970s.

Before second wave feminism[edit]

From 1918, with the rest of the United Kingdom, women in Ireland could vote at age 30 with property qualifications or in university constituencies, while men could vote at age 21 with no qualification. From separation in 1922, the Irish Free State gave equal voting rights to men and women. Promises of equal rights from the Proclamation were embraced in the Constitution in 1922, the year Irish women achieved full voting rights. However over the next ten years laws were introduced that eliminated women's rights from serving on juries, working after marriage, and working in industry. The 1937 Constitution and Taoiseach Eamon De Valera’s conservative leadership further stripped women of their previously granted rights.[1] As well, though the 1937 Constitution guarantees women the right to vote and to nationality and citizenship on an equal basis with men, it also contains a provision, Article 41.2, which states:

1° [...] the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

Women participated actively in the Easter Rising of 1916. Approximately 300 women[2] took part in the insurrection, many of whom were members of the Irish republican paramilitary group Cumann na mBan.[3] In advance of the 2016 commemoration of the Rising, several historians have researched and worked to correct the omissions. A government-funded project allowed Mary McAuliffe and Liz Gillis to document the stories of 77 women who were jailed for participating in the uprising. They were typically activists who had fought for social justice and equality in a variety of ways: land reform, labor organizing and women’s suffrage. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, a voting rights activist, told audiences during a speaking tour in 1917 that "it is the only instance I know of in history when men fighting for freedom voluntarily included women.[1]

A major shift after the execution of rebel leaders in 1916 was that the Roman Catholic church finally backed the cause for independence. The church was the most powerful institution in the country and exercised its power to shape the constitution. The first Free State government supported a pluralist state, but Eamon de Valera, who was not a supporter of women's emancipation, together with the church, enshrined Catholic and socially conservative teachings.[4] In 1932, the marriage bar was introduced in Ireland; it prevented any married woman from working in the public sector (but see further events below in "Second wave feminism" section).[5] Contraception in Ireland was made illegal in 1935 under the 1935 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act (but see further events below in "Reproductive rights" section.)[6]

Second wave feminism[edit]

Second-wave feminism in Ireland began in the 1970s, fronted by women such as Nell McCafferty, Mary Kenny, June Levine and Nuala O'Faolain. At the time, the majority of women in Ireland were housewives.

The Irish Women's Liberation Movement was an alliance of a group of Irish women who were concerned about the sexism within Ireland both socially and legally. They first began after a meeting in Dublin's Bewley's Cafe on Grafton Street in 1970.[7] They later had their meetings in Margaret Gaj's restaurant on Baggot Street every Monday.[8][9] The group was short-lived, but influential.[10] It was initially started with twelve women, most of whom were journalists.[11] One of the co-founders was June Levine.[12]

In 1971, a group of Irish feminists (including June Levine, Mary Kenny, Nell McCafferty and other members of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement) travelled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the so-called "Contraceptive Train" and returned with condoms, which were then illegal in Ireland.

In 1973, a group of feminists, chaired by Hilda Tweedy of the Irish Housewives Association, set up the Council for the Status of Women, with the goal of gaining equality for women. It was an umbrella body for women's groups.[13] During the 1990s the council's activities included supporting projects funded by the European Social Fund, and running Women and Leadership Programmes and forums. In 1995, following a strategic review, it changed its name to the National Women's Council of Ireland.

Also in 1973, the marriage bar was removed in Ireland.[14] It had been introduced in 1932, and had prevented any married woman from working in the public sector.[15]

McGee v. The Attorney General [1974] IR 284 was a case in the Irish Supreme Court in 1974 that referenced Article 41 of the Irish Constitution.[16][17] It concerned Mary McGee, whose condition was such that she was advised by her physician that if she would become pregnant again her life would be endangered. She was then instructed to use a diaphragm and spermicidal jelly that was prescribed to her.[18] However, Section 17 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935 prohibited her from acquiring the prescription. The Supreme Court ruled by a 4 to 1 majority in favor of her, after determining that married couples have the constitutional right to make private decisions on family planning.[18]

Prior to the Family Home Protection Act, 1976, a husband could sell or mortgage the family home, without the consent or even knowledge of his wife.

The Employment Equality Act of 1977[19] prohibited most gender discrimination in employment.

In 1979, the Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 allowed the sale of contraceptives in Ireland, upon presentation of a prescription.

A setback for second-wave feminism in Ireland occurred in 1983, when the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was passed, which recognized "the unborn" as having a right to life equal to that of "the mother".[20] As such, abortions could only be legally conducted in Ireland if they occurred as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the pregnant woman, and later due to legislation, this risk to the woman's life also included risk from suicide.[21] However, in 2018 the Eighth Amendment was repealed by referendum.[22]

Ireland acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985.[23]

Also in 1985, the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act, 1985 allowed the sale of condoms and spermicides to people over 18 in Ireland without having to present a prescription.

The Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act, 1986,[24] abolished the dependent domicile of the wife.

The Family Law Act 1988 abolished the legal action for restitution of conjugal rights.[25]

Second-wave feminism in Ireland ended at the end of the 1980s.

Employment[edit]

The marriage bar was introduced in Ireland in 1932, and prevented any married woman from working in the public sector.[26] It was abolished in 1973.[27]

The Employment Equality Act, 1977[19] prohibited most gender discrimination in employment.

The Employment Equality Act, 1998[28] upholds gender equality in employment.

In Ireland, the female employment rate stretched to 60.6% in 2007 before decreasing to 57.6% in 2009 and it continued to reduce over the next three years to rest at 55.2% by 2012. However, there was a small growth within the female employment rate to 55.9% in 2014, but men worked an average of 39.2 hours a week in paid employment in 2013 in contrast to women with 31.2 hours per week.[29]

Marriage and divorce[edit]

Prior to the Family Home Protection Act, 1976, a husband could sell or mortgage the family home, without the consent or even knowledge of his wife. Other important legal changes made to the family law include the Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act, 1986,[24] which abolished the dependent domicile of the wife; and the Family Law Act 1988, which abolished the legal action for restitution of conjugal rights.[25] Marital rape was outlawed in 1990.[30]

In 1996, Ireland repealed its constitutional prohibition of divorce; this was effected by the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1995, which was approved by referendum on 24 November 1995 and signed into law on 17 June 1996.

Politics[edit]

In 1990, Mary Robinson was elected as the first female President of Ireland. The second female president, Mary McAleese, was president between 1997 and 2011.

In December 2008, Senator Ivana Bacik organised an event in Leinster House in which all the women elected to the Oireachtas over the years were honoured.[31] Ninety-two women have been elected to Dáil Éireann, the first being Constance Markievicz in 1919. Directly prior to this, in 1918, she became the first woman elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, although in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy she did not take her seat.

Following the Irish general election, 2011 and a re-shuffle in 2014, four women were appointed cabinet ministers (the highest number of women in senior ministerial positions ever in Ireland): Joan Burton, Frances Fitzgerald, Jan O'Sullivan and Heather Humphries.[32]

Reproductive rights[edit]

Contraception in the Republic of Ireland was made illegal in 1935 under the 1935 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.[33]

McGee v. The Attorney General [1974] IR 284 was a case in the Irish Supreme Court in 1974 that referenced Article 41 of the Irish Constitution.[16][17] It concerned Mary McGee, whose condition was such that she was advised by her physician that if she would become pregnant again her life would be endangered. She was then instructed to use a diaphragm and spermicidal jelly that was prescribed to her.[18] However, Section 17 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935 prohibited her from acquiring the prescription. The Supreme Court ruled by a 4 to 1 majority in favor of her, after determining that married couples have the constitutional right to make private decisions on family planning.[18]

In 1979, the Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 allowed the sale of contraceptives in Ireland, upon presentation of a prescription.

In 1983, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was passed, which recognized "the unborn" as having a right to life equal to that of "the mother".[20] As such, abortions could only be legally conducted in Ireland if they occurred as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the pregnant woman, and later due to legislation, this risk to the woman's life also included risk from suicide.[21] (See below events in 2012/2013). However, in 2018 the Eighth Amendment was repealed by referendum.[22] (See below events in 2018.)

In 1985, the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act, 1985 allowed the sale of condoms and spermicides to people over 18 in Ireland without having to present a prescription.

In 1992, the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was passed, specifying that the protection of the right to life of the unborn does not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state.

Also in 1992, the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was passed, specifying that the protection of the right to life of the unborn does not limit the right to distribute information about services in foreign countries.

Also in 1992, Attorney General v. X (the "X case"), [1992] IESC 1; [1992] 1 IR 1, was a landmark Irish Supreme Court case which established the right of Irish women to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. However, Supreme Court Justice Hugh O'Flaherty, now retired, said in an interview with the Irish Times that the X Case was "peculiar to its own particular facts", since X miscarried and did not have an abortion, and this renders the case moot in Irish law.[34] (See below events in 2012/2013).

In 1993, the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act, 1992 allowed the sale of contraceptives in Ireland without prescription.

In 2012 the death of Savita Halappanavar, four days after a complete miscarriage, on 28 October at University Hospital Galway in Ireland, led to nationwide protests—which spilled over into India, Britain and many other countries—calling for a review of the abortion laws in Ireland. Partly in response to the death of Savita Halappanavar,[35][36] the Irish government introduced the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 (Irish: An tAcht um Chosaint na Beatha le linn Toirchis 2013. Having passed both Houses of the Oireachtas in July 2013, it was signed into law on 30 July by Michael D. Higgins, the President of Ireland; it commenced on 1 January 2014.[37][38][39] The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 [40] Act No.35 of 2013;[40] previously Bill No.66 of 2013[41]) is an Act of the Oireachtas which defined the circumstances and processes within which abortion in Ireland could be legally performed. The Act gave effect in statutory law to the terms of the Constitution of Ireland as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the 1992 judgment Attorney General v. X (the "X case"). That judgment (see above events in 1992) allowed for abortion where pregnancy endangers a woman's life, including through a risk of suicide. The provisions relating to suicide were the most contentious part of the bill. In 2013 Ireland's first legal abortion was carried out on a woman who had an unviable 18-week pregnancy and whose life was at risk.[42][unreliable source?] However many medical terminations had previously been performed in Ireland, including those at the University Hospital when complications had arisen in pregnancy, as it was and remains Irish law to save the life of the mother, if physiological threats to that life arise.[43]

In 2018, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which recognized "the unborn" as having a right to life equal to that of "the mother",[20] was repealed by referendum.[22]

Other women's rights issues[edit]

The Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012[44] bans FGM in Ireland.

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b The Sisterhood of the Easter Rising March 16, 2016
  2. ^ McCoole, Sinead. "Women of 1916". Irish Times. Retrieved 25 January 2018. 
  3. ^ "Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution" Press release, Collins Press
  4. ^ Why, 100 years after the Easter Rising, are Irish women still fighting? The Guardian, March 25, 2016
  5. ^ Galligan (1997). ""Women and National Identity in the Republic of Ireland"": 45–53. 
  6. ^ "The Train That Crashed Through the Anti-Condom Law". Worker's Solidarity (101). January 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "Irish Women's Liberation Movement" (PDF). Trinity College, Dublin. 
  8. ^ Sweetman, Rosita (7 February 2011). "The Matriarch Who Served up Stew and Social Progress". Independent. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  9. ^ "The Liffey Press Mondays at Gaj's: The Story of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement". The Liffey Press. Retrieved 2015-08-21. 
  10. ^ "Celebrating Sisterhood". Irish Times. 26 May 2010. Retrieved 21 August 2015 – via Newspaper Source - EBSCOhost. 
  11. ^ McCafferty, Nell. "Ireland: Breaking the Shackles". 1968: Memories and Legacies of a Global Revolt (PDF). pp. 216–218. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  12. ^ Kubiak, Klara (17 October 2008). "Farewell to a maverick in stilettos and lipstick; In memoriam: Late feminist campaigner June Levine with her husband, psychiatrist Ivor Browne". Daily Mail. Retrieved 27 May 2018 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  13. ^ NWCI History Archived June 17, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Patterson, Rachel A. "Women of Ireland: Change Toward Social and Political Equality in the 21st Century Irish Republic" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 8, 2015. 
  15. ^ Galligan (1997). ""Women and National Identity in the Republic of Ireland"": 45–53. 
  16. ^ a b "Constitution of Ireland in the departement of the taoiseach" (PDF). 
  17. ^ a b "The Library of Trinity College Dublin - Off Campus Access to e-Resources". Justcite.com.elib.tcd.ie. Retrieved 2018-05-07. 
  18. ^ a b c d "SIBÉAL". 
  19. ^ a b "Employment Equality Act, 1977". Irishstatutebook.ie. 1977-06-01. Retrieved 2018-05-26. 
  20. ^ a b c de Londras & Enright, Repealing the 8th: Reforming Abortion Law in Ireland (2018)
  21. ^ a b 30 July 2013 (2013-07-30). "Irish president passes abortion law". BelfastTelegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2015-05-19. 
  22. ^ a b c "Irish abortion referendum: Ireland overturns abortion ban - BBC News". Bbc.com. 2018. Retrieved 2018-05-26. 
  23. ^ "UNTC". Treaties.un.org. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  24. ^ a b "Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act, 1986". Irishstatutebook.ie. 1986-07-02. Retrieved 2018-05-26. 
  25. ^ a b "Family Law Act, 1988". Irishstatutebook.ie. 1988-11-23. Retrieved 2018-05-26. 
  26. ^ Galligan (1997). ""Women and National Identity in the Republic of Ireland"": 45–53. 
  27. ^ "Martindale Center | Lehigh Business" (PDF). Martindale.cc.lehigh.edu. Retrieved 2018-05-26. 
  28. ^ "Employment Equality Act, 1998". Irishstatutebook.ie. 1998-06-18. Retrieved 2018-05-26. 
  29. ^ "Irish women are more highly qualified and work fewer hours". Central Statistics Office. Retrieved 2013.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  30. ^ "Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act, 1990, Section 5". Irishstatutebook.ie. Retrieved 2018-05-26. 
  31. ^ Dáil Éireann - 90 Years of Parliamentary democracy. The Irish Times. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  32. ^ "List of Ministers and Ministers of State". Department of the Taoiseach. Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  33. ^ "The Train That Crashed Through the Anti-Condom Law". Worker's Solidarity (101). January 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  34. ^ Ruadhan Mac Cormaic (6 July 2013). "X Case judge says ruling is 'moot' in current abortion debate". Irish Times. 
  35. ^ "Savita Halappanavar effect". DNA India. 30 July 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  36. ^ "Ireland performs first legal abortion". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 23 August 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  37. ^ "Commencement Order and Regulations for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013". Department of Health and Children. 20 December 2013. Archived from the original on 20 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  38. ^ Brennan, Michael (2 January 2014). "Reilly criticised over abortion guidelines delay". Evening Herald. Retrieved 2 January 2014. 
  39. ^ "President Higgins signs abortion bill into law". Irish Independent. 30 July 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  40. ^ a b "Legislation Signed by President Higgins: 2013". Office of the President. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 3 August 2013. 
  41. ^ "Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 (Number 66 of 2013)". Bills 1992 - 2013. Oireachtas. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  42. ^ "Ireland performs first legal abortion". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 23 August 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  43. ^ "A pregnant wife's tragic death, a global outcry and the question: Was she really killed by draconian abortion laws?". London: Daily Mail. 17 November 2012. 
  44. ^ "Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012". Irish Statute Book. Office of the Attorney General. Archived from the original on 2016-05-31.