Thursday, June 27, 2019

Catherine Drea

‘So when I read the list of elected representatives on our Council, of 32 members there were only two women. I wondered how they could possibly assert their presence in the chamber?’

SO I knew we were home when the Customs Officer who was supposed to be searching the van for Syrian refugees, stuck her head in the door and said, did ye have a great time? O we did, we did! Welcome home, says she with a big grin.

You would think the old Irish charm would wear thin, but it never does. You could be saluting people on the highways and byways of Europe and never a Buenos Dias or even a wink back. We were hardly off the ramp in Ringaskiddy but fellas were giving us the customary nod and women were smiling. It’s just how we are.

I rang a friend. What’s new? Well, she said, the usual, women being bullied, murdered and dispatched. Could it be any more depressing and in the rain too?

I began to catch up with the litany of pain expressed by Majella Moynihan, the Garda who was wrongfully disciplined for giving birth. A reminder, yet again, of what so many women have dealt with behind closed doors. There is something so heartbreaking about the bullying of a young woman by an established group of powerful men. Our police force! Men who were supposed to have our backs and protect us. But the inevitable breaking of the mother child bond, ruining her life forever, was devastating.

I remembered how a group of us in Waterford used to send flowers to the wronged and the marginalised women of Ireland in the 1980s. Eileen Flynn, the New Ross teacher, sacked for “having an affair with a married man.” Joanne Hayes in Kerry, wrongfully accused of killing her baby. And in the 1990s Roisin McAliskey, the pregnant daughter of Bernadette who gave birth in prison in England. It just went on and on.

But sending flowers was never going to be enough. It still isn’t.

We have to get more women into all of the rooms where ignorance of women’s bodies and hatred of women leads to such horror. If you are not around the table how can you really make the world a better place for women? We’ve been saying this for years but why is it still not happening?

Where were the women in the room when they were testing the efficacy of a range of common drugs? Apparently they only tested them on men and have no real idea what their impact on women’s bodies might be? Even though we are prescribed them all the time? Or who was it who finally realised that heart attacks in women happen in a different way and all the previous information and warnings were only relevant for men? Where were women when they designed crash test dummies only based on male bodies, shapes and weight. And by the way could we have a breast friendly seat belt designed sometime soon please!

It took Sheryl Sandberg, the most powerful woman in the Facebook room to address the special needs of pregnant women. It happened because she had to park miles away from the building where her next meeting was taking place. A heavily pregnant Sandberg had to run across three car parks to get there on time. Why don’t we have parking for pregnant women nearer to the door she suggested? Bingo. It changed because she was in the room.

During the last few weeks the Dáil has decided that mothers will have permission to breastfeed their babies anywhere as needed. There will also be special facilities for adoptive leave and a new Dáil creche. Would this have happened without women becoming more of a presence?

If women are a small minority, it is much too hard to sway the room. You need a critical mass of women to provide enough safety and numbers to effect change. So when I read the list of elected representatives on our Council, of 32 members there were only three women. I wondered how they could possibly assert their presence in the chamber? It reminded me of the sad image of a group of men from Waterford Council taking a stand against women’s right to choose during the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Why do we continue to vote for men who haven’t a clue about women’s bodies and lives?

It’s a good thing that Breda Brennan was elected Metropolitan Mayor! Straight away her first statement was to call for more inclusion and youth participation. She also wants to connect with carers and community groups. But we must have many, many more women in those rooms where decisions are made, to bring knowledge and experience of women’s real experiences to the table.

By the way, the top image of today was President Trump in another room full of men discussing policy on Maternity Care in his new Health Bill. Not a woman in sight! Sigh…

 

Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com

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By Catherine Drea
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