I like the idea of Fianna Fail’s new women’s Dail candidate recruitment group, the “Markiewicz Commission”. Given that the party has such a low representation of women in the Oireachtas at present the Commission is timely and naming it after the iconic Countess who was one of the founder members of the Party is extremely appropriate.
Unfortunately, there is an elephant in the room whenever the issue of gender arises in Irish politics. Leave aside for one minute the views of those who feel that gender quotas should not be used – and there are valid reasons for and against – but there is a far more prevalent problem facing women in politics; the abortion issue.
The word I use to describe abortion is “insidious”, not necessarily due to my personal pro-life views, but because perhaps more than any other issue in our society, abortion has the ability to destroy friendships and families. When it comes to Irish politics, there is only one route for a female politician who hopes to succeed, and that’s the pro-choice one.
We don’t have to look very far for evidence of this. Just cast your mind back to last July, when Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton and Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames were unceremoniously ousted from the Fine Gael party when they opposed the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act. Regina Doherty TD took to the airwaves recently to complain about the Taoiseach’s failure to elevate any Fine Gael women to ministerial positions in the reshuffle. She was right, but her words would have held more weight if she hadn’t adopted such a mantle of silence in July.
The reason for the silence is abortion, and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with if the women’s movement is ever going to progress in any real way.
Ask any pro-life woman why she opposes abortion, and you won’t be handed a picture of a late-term abortion. Instead, you’ll hear about an aunt, or a friend, or a sister who experienced negative effects in the aftermath. Or you’ll hear about how even UK doctors are becoming alarmed at the increase in requests for sex-selective abortions. Or how easy access to abortion contributes to the misogyny of China’s One Child Policy.
In the light of these facts, it’s hard to see how abortion has anything to recommend it to a modern feminist – but therein lies the problem. Feminism itself has been warped by abortion. The once-exciting notion that women should be freed from the boundaries imposed on them and instead encouraged to reach their full potential has been replaced by an alternative, unappealing instruction. We’re now told that to be a feminist, you must be pro-choice. Anything less, and you are betraying the Sisterhood.
And if you decide to buck the trend and take the side of those women who found out too late that abortion created more problems than it solved, then you’d better be prepared to go it alone because the support domestically is scant indeed. For example, there is no place for a pro-life woman like me in the National Women’s Council of Ireland. Their former director Susan McKay had no time for members of the group “WomenHurt”, who tried to make the public aware of the regret they suffered following their abortions.
The NWCI campaign vociferously for a repeal of the 8th Amendment – as is their right, but not under the auspices of this group. All women in Ireland are not pro-choice and their national, tax-funded organisation should respect this.
But it’s not just about money. The attitude of the NWCI speaks of a deeper problem. It’s a sign that all women in Ireland aren’t the same, not really. Their opinions aren’t given equal consideration. Some of them make the grade as feminists that Countess Markiewicz would be proud of, and some will never get there unless they get past the strange pro-life notion that they’ve picked up along the way.
It’s quite clear that there is a lot of work to be done before the Oireachtas can be considered truly representative. We’re told that Fianna Fail’s new Commission will “make practical suggestions on how women candidates will be selected for the general election”.
That’s all very good but it won’t be enough. The real sea-change in gender politics in this country will come from those pioneers who are courageous enough to see the prejudice that exists between certain women in this country, call it out for what it is and then work towards creating a truly representative society, one that the earliest suffragettes would be proud of.
This article first appeared on TheLiberal.ie on 7th August 2014.