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My Body My Rights

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By Chloe Hutchinson

amnestycampaign

It should be a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. It is a deeply personal decision that she should be able to make irrespective of the opinions of the government or the Church. Unfortunately, this right, which many of us take for granted, is not given in many parts of the world, including to our neighbours across the sea in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Whilst it is part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has a devolved government that has control over many things, including reproductive rights of its citizens. This means that Northern Ireland is not included in the 1967 Abortion Act meaning that it still follows the laws in the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act – passed in the Victorian era! It is illegal for both women to administer, and for others (like doctors) to supply, drugs with the intent to cause an abortion. Breaking this law – as stated in the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act – is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

Even though it is a criminal offence to have, or aid, in an abortion or causing a miscarriage, this law is rarely enforced. In fact in March 2013 the Alliance for Choice published an open letter signed by 100 men and women admitting to obtaining or taking abortion pills which are illegal in the region. None have been arrested. This just shows how outdated this law is and how public opinion (and to some extent government opinion) is behind more progressive reform.

One of the most problematic parts of Irish abortion legislation is the 1983 Constitutional Amendment, which actually takes the law backwards from 1861 rather than forward. It states that the right to life of the unborn child and the mother are to be treated as equal by law. This reduces the woman to no more than a vessel.

Under current legislation, last updated in 2013, abortion is only legal in two cases: 1) when there is a real and substantial risk to the woman’s life through both physical complications and the threat of suicide (but not in cases where the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest) and 2) when she can afford to travel to England where the operation is carried out (and it is in accordance with our laws). In 2012 around 4,000 Irish women travelled to England to have an abortion, 124 of whom were under the age of 18. Furthermore post-abortion care is provided for by the state in Ireland. This is hypocrisy and essentially says that abortion is acceptable if you are rich thus reinforcing the class gap. Women with money travel, women without money have children.

Whilst economic barriers are in place for many of these women, all of them face the cultural and social stigma surrounding abortion. It carries a very heavy stigma and many live in fear of discrimination and exclusion from neighbours, work colleagues, friends and even family that may discover that a woman has had an abortion. Religion is incredibly important in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland where 84% and 43% of the population is Catholic. The link between the state and the Church is a key reason for the pro-life policies even when the public are calling for pro-choice.

Just because it is legal to have an abortion does not mean that anyone has to have one. It merely gives the opportunity to women who want to. The decision is incredibly personal and affects the individual more than anyone else, therefore their choice should be the most important factor to take into account. It is the choice of the individual, not of the Church.

In gaining access to an abortion on the grounds that her pregnancy is a real and substantial risk to her life (whatever that actually means), women are forced to share their decision again and again, perhaps with up to 7 GPs and doctors. Obviously this takes time; surely action should be taken as quickly as possible when there is a significant risk to life?

This lack of access to free, safe and legal abortions often forces women to take horrific action into their own hands in desperate attempts to cause a miscarriage. Starvation, throwing themselves down the stairs, coat hangers – just some of the things that are tried.

In 1992 a 14 year old, who had been raped by her neighbour, was prevented from travelling to Britain for an abortion after the family asked if the DNA could be used in the trial against her rapist. In 2012, a miscarrying woman was refused a potentially lifesaving abortion because “Ireland is a Catholic country.”

I think we can agree that these laws are outdated, in fact almost medieval! But what can we do?

  1. Continue to campaign for comprehensive, factually correct sex and relationship education across the whole of the UK, not just for England.
  2. Put pressure on your local MP to bring it up in Westminster – whilst the policy is not made in Westminster their influence can have an outstanding impact, especially as there is a public consultation ongoing at the moment until the 17th January 2015
  3. Educate yourselves and others about current legislation and options available – share information.
  4. Get involved in Amnesty International’s “My Body My Rights” campaign – #MyBodyMyRights
  5. Directly support organisations like the Abortion Support Network through donations or volunteering (if possible).

Authors note:

This blog post was inspired by the phenomenal talk on the “My Body My Rights” campaign at Amnesty International Student Conference at the start of this month.

 

 

Male “Guardians” in Saudi Arabia

Author:

 

By Amy Callaghanurl

There are issues with women’s rights everywhere. These issues include, but are certainly not limited to; the ever-present wage gap, the continued effect of sexism encountered by women in their day to day lives, and, of course, the fact that in Saudi Arabia women still need the permission of their male guardian to do pretty much anything.

It’s a fact that women’s rights in places like Saudi Arabia are horrific. We hear shocking news stories all the time, most often about the driving ban, which is perhaps the most well known issue in the UK and US. But the human rights issue goes far beyond that. The guardian system means that  women are assigned a male ‘guardian’- usually their father, brother or husband – and this ‘guardian’ basically has total control over the woman’s life. Women can’t study, work, travel, even go to the doctor without the permission of their guardian. Good grief. It all sounds a bit Victorian, doesn’t it?

My question, though, is about the cultural restraints on women. Sure, there is legislation in place regarding the guardian system, and the driving ban, and we know Saudi Arabia is not hesitant to punish harshly for breaches. But does a cultural aspect play into it at all? Even if the legislation was slackened, would women feel comfortable making the most of new freedoms?

The answer, according to the wife of a Saudi journalist, is no.

In June, in one of my classes at school, I got the opportunity to listen to a Saudi man – a journalist. He worked for a magazine – talking about issues in Saudi Arabia. At first glance, he seemed reasonably progressive. He spoke about how he wished women’s rights were more like how they are in the UK, where he apparently spends a lot of time. Yet scratch the surface and his answers to certain questions seemed slightly evasive and indirect. And one of the things he said which surprised me most was about his wife.

He seems like a nice husband, don’t get me wrong. His wife travels with him to the UK, and when in the UK seems to enjoy all the freedoms of a UK woman, like being allowed to drive, for example. Yet her husband told us that she had said, despite being perfectly happy to drive in the UK, that she wouldn’t drive in Saudi Arabia even if it was legal – and even if, 5 years after it became legal, it was a widely accepted practice.

Hmmm. That just doesn’t fly with me. I’m sure, of course, that there are women who wouldn’t feel comfortable, initially, driving. But after it became commonly accepted, I’m pretty sure women would gladly be driving about, enjoying their new (and overdue) freedom. In addition, the prolific campaign Women2Drive which asks that the ban on women driving be lifted (started by Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman and activist) has garnered a lot of public support, not only overseas but, more tellingly, in the Saudi community, with many women driving cars in towns in Saudi Arabia in protest of the ban. So clearly, Saudi women do want to drive.

Another statistic reflecting the relative progressiveness of women in Saudi Arabia is the fact that 60% of university graduates in Saudi Arabia are Saudi women. That’s right, 60%. Saudi women make up the majority of graduates – showing a keen thirst for learning and knowledge, and the gaining of skills – yet they only constitute 18.6% of the nation’s workforce (as of 2011). What happens between graduating and a career? Where do all the intelligent, capable, eager Saudi women go? The most likely answer is, their male guardian won’t let them work – they’ve had their chance to go and study, and now they should be satisfied with staying in the home where they belong.

Yet even the fact that they want to study shows that Saudi women want to progress. They don’t want to stay locked in the same rights-restricting jam. Give them the freedom to do these things themselves – no male permission needed – and they will. And the country will be better for it.

Myself as a Man-hater

Author:

By Yas Necati

Someone told me recently that they thought I hated men. They couldn’t provide a reason why, but seemed convinced, somehow, with no evidence, that this was the truth.

So I just thought I’d make it clear here (although if you read my blogs, you probably already know): I do not hate men. I LOVE men. There are a few that I dislike, but there are a few women I dislike. I don’t have a problem with these select few for their gender, rather their principles. It is not men I am against. It is the patriarchy I am against. Male-domination, male-privilege, not men.

If I EVER do ANYTHING that implies that I hate men, please call me out on it. Because I don’t hate men and I don’t want to give that impression. If I’m acting in a way that suggests man-hating then that is not only offensive but it is wrong.

I’m not here to promote gender-bashing, I’m here to promote equality. I’m not here to promote discrimination, I’m here to promote acceptance. I’m not here to promote separation, I’m here to promote cohesion. Most importantly –

I’m not here to spread hate. I’m here to spread love.

Ellen Page – LGBTQ+ Superwoman!

Author:

ellenpage

By Yas Necati

“And I am here today because I am gay,” she said, with no sense of triumph or glory. It was just a fact. It was just a part of her identity, and I salute Ellen Page for simply stating her sexual orientation like it was no big deal. Because it shouldn’t be a big deal. Ellen’s ‘coming out’ wasn’t flamboyant or dramatic, it was simple and honest. In that moment she gave us a glimpse into what the future will hopefully be like for LGBTQ+ youth. A future in which people could say they are gay just as easily as anyone else could say they were straight.

Ellen, I am writing this post because I am gay. Pansexual, to be precise. I’m far from heteronormative. Today I bought my first lesbian lifestyle magazine. Inspired by your speech, I marched into Foyles, picked up a copy of “Diva” and took it home. I wasn’t ashamed to pay for it at the till and I wasn’t even ashamed when reading it whilst waiting for my pumpkin Korroke (recommended!) in Yo! Sushi.

As you said in your speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s ‘Time to Thrive’ Conference, “There is courage all around us.” I see courage every day and I’m inspired by it. I hope, with tiny steps towards accepting who I am, I can harness that courage as well.

Thank you Ellen Page. You’ve inspired me to go out and make a change in my life today. You’ve inspired me to be strong and brave and face up to something I never would’ve had the guts to do before. I was not ashamed. You’ve inspired one young woman to buy one magazine and move towards accepting herself… and I’m sure you’ve inspired thousands more. You’re an absolute icon and the fact that you have been honest about who you are will hopefully inspire other young women to do the same. So thank you for that. You’re truly admirable.

Here are a few highlights of Ellen Page’s speech. Please listen to it in full on Youtube. It’s one of the most beautiful and heartfelt things you will ever hear.

“There are pervasive stereotypes about masculinity and femininity that define how we’re all supposed to act, dress and speak and they serve no one.”

“The simple fact is this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another.”

“If we took just 5 minutes to recognise each other’s beauty, instead of attacking each other for our differences, that’s not hard. It’s really an easier and better way to live, and ultimately, it saves lives.”

“We deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame and without compromise.”

 

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