MinisterRepeal the 8th

Feminist futures– what we need to do to remove the barriers to women’s equality

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Feminist futures– what we need to do to remove the barriers to women’s equality and ensure full equality in our future?
#FemFest December 2nd, 2016
Minister Zappone

Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to #FemFest and the afternoon session on Feminist Futures.

I am delighted to be here with all of you today – young women (and men), our future leaders. I get a sense standing here, that each of you in this room – are committed to change Ireland so that we could live in a Republic where all women and men are equal and free.

2016 is an Iconic Year for Ireland – The Irish Proclamation – written 100 years ago – began with the words “Irishmen and Irish Women” Inclusive – in order to summon the country to strike for its freedom; a country that would guarantee equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.

The women of 1916 – Roll Call – Countess Markeivicz, Julia Grenan, Mary Spring Rice, Molly Childers, Kathleen Lynn, Rose McNamara, Elizabeth Farrell to name a few – are standing with us today.

This morning’s sessions discussed the role that young women played in the events of 1916. In the previous session, the issues facing young women today were debated.

I will be focusing my remarks on planning for our feminist future. On what needs to be done to remove the barriers which exist to prevent true equality and how we can pursue full equality between all in the future.

First, we need to identify what needs to change;
Envision that change and believe that it is possible;
And then, we need to increase the pace of change.

Are there things that need to be done so that we have a genuine Republic of Equals?


The evidence is overwhelming. Another Roll Call:
– Only 16% of those who receive a Full Contributory Pension are women.
– There were 46,137 calls to violence against women helplines last year.
– 70 years – the average life expectancy for Traveller women, is 11.5% lower than that of women in the wider population.
– 10 % is the number of women on the boards of listed companies in Ireland.
– The gender pay gap has widened.
– Migrant women and women asylum seekers face additional barriers in access to health services.
– The legal status of prescribing contraception to young women under the age of sexual consent (17) is confusing and unclear, and can and does result in unplanned pregnancies.
– 3,451 women from Ireland travelled to UK from Ireland to access Abortion services and approximately 4,000 women in total travel abroad for an abortion every year. Girls and women who are unable or cannot afford to travel abroad do not have access to abortion.

This Roll Call is only part of the picture – as we all know.

Do I believe that change is possible? Of course!

After almost 15 years of advocacy of which the last was spent actively campaigning and canvassing for the successful Referendum victory on marriage Equality on May 22nd 2015 – I can now finally live in this country – as a married woman – married to another woman. And I do not think that it is not an exaggeration to say that all of us here helped to make this change possible.

So – let us begin to draw on the values and principles of feminisms; – or with words of Eavan Boland;
‘to find a voice where we find a vision’

The vision for me is a Republic where all women as men are free
to be who they wish to be,
to determine their own identity,
to create family in the way that is best for them,
to find work at the highest level they desire,
to make meaning,
to create alternative cultures,
to defend and fight for human rights and for their own rights
to ensure that the values of love and care
remain at the heart of our culture.
I believe that at the core of the feminist movement lies the collective imagination of a new world and a new way of being-in-the-world.

But the change also needs activities that challenge the present social structures of politics, education, family, religion and the economy so that the new vision becomes part of history;

I wish all young women in Ireland feel empowered to use their own voice and agency to pursue the change they need and desire for themselves and future generations of Irish women.

This is why I am thrilled to see so many young women here today at #FemFest – the commitment that you are showing to our Feminist future where women and men are fully equal – is evident. The same is true for the thousands of young women (and men) I have encountered marching the streets of Dublin, campaigning for change in our constitution for women’s right to access abortion in this country.

My hopes are high for the future for women of Ireland as I watch your passion and advocacy.

I will be with you all the way through this journey.

Since moving to Ireland in the mid-eighties, repeal of the 8th Amendment has been a key personal commitment of mine and I have carried that commitment with me into Cabinet this spring.

As a committed, passionate and seasoned campaigner I believe that if we were to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment now, it would not succeed, and once spent, the momentum towards repeal and reform will be difficult to rebuild. This is why I am supporting the process that we have started with Judge Mary Laffoy at the helm.

I understand and share the impatience of many for the change. For many, the time for a referendum is now; the time for talking is over.

However, although the recent polls to show a popular desire for change, the consensus to which they point is narrow. To be sure, there is support for allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, as well as risk to life, but the levels of support for a truly liberal, autonomy-based right to choose are either low or not clearly discernible from the polls.

I believe women in Ireland deserve nothing less.

Thus, holding a referendum now with an unclear popular consensus (and no real political consensus) would be unwise and jeopardise our vision for change.
Winning a referendum requires more than a good argument. It requires a good public knowledge base, factual counter-points to misinformation, and an extensive and organised canvassing effort across the country with clear and broad political support.

We are not there yet, but I firmly believe that the Citizen’s Assembly offers a path to take us closer by providing a setting for a respectful, well-informed and empathetic national conversation on what, if anything, we want the Constitution to say about abortion, how we want politicians to take responsibility to ensure the law respects women’s autonomy, and also how we ensure medical professionals’ ability to do their work according to best international practice.

To succeed in its complex and challenging task, it will need participation from across the spectrum; from the NGO sector, medical field, from academics and from international experts but most importantly from women and men with first-hand experience of the complexities of the 8th Amendment.

This is how I believe the Citizens Assembly can build up a body of knowledge and help shape the future referendum campaign so that it does not descend into the level of the bitter, myth-laden abortion referendums of our past.

It can become a means of holding the political establishment—including myself—to account on the referendum.

And most importantly, it can help us to achieve change not only for women in ‘extreme’ situations, but for all women.

And although access to abortion for all women is vital to women’s equality- our work will not end with the successful Referendum on Repealing the Eight Amendment.

And hence, I want to close my remarks by emphasising the importance to recognise the diversity of women’s lives in Ireland today, accept that diversity and work towards genuine equality between genders and different groups that together makes us a society.

I wish to work with you to achieve full equality for all women; including

Women who are raising their children without a partner
Women who want a career and cannot take a job because the cost of childcare
Women who feel trapped in a man’s body
Women who are bypassed in promotions
Women who are raising a child with disabilities and cannot access services in their communities
Women who are excluded in society due to their race or ethnicity
Women who cannot access health care due to their culture
Women who work 3 jobs and yet cannot afford to pay their bills
Women who have mental health issues and feel isolated
Women who are subjected to violence in their own home and communities

We need to hear all their voices to find our collective vision for a truly inclusive Feminist Future.

We need to aspire to a country where all the women of Ireland in their great diversity of class, race, ethnicity, ability and sexuality have the same opportunities for happiness, well-being, work and a bright future for their children (should they choose to have a family)

I look forward to the panel discussion on Feminist Futures that is to follow.

1,580 words approximately 13 minutes

Note to Minister from NWCI
• Speech should be between 10-15 minutes
• #FemFest is a major National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) conference for young women aged 16-24, discussing the importance of the women of 1916, the barriers young women face today and planning for a feminist future.
• The second panel, before which Minister Zappone will speak, will focus on the feminist future – what we need to do to remove the barriers to women’s equality and ensure women have full equality. Many of the speakers on this panel will focus on repealing the 8th amendment.
• It would be great if the Minister could speak about the importance of feminism for young women, and what a good sign it is that so many young women attend on the day.
• Overall, #FemFest aims to provide a fun and engaging space for young women aged 16-24 to engage with issues from a feminist perspective

Session: FUTURE
Starts after lunch break at 13.30
What is our feminist future?
Introduction: Niamh Allen, NWCI (Head of Development at NWCI)
Chair: Anna Cosgrave (feminist activist. “The brains” behind the Repeal Project)

Sarah Griffin, (author of ‘Not Lost’ and ‘Spare and Found Parts’. She is
also a poet)
Rosemary MacCabe, freelance journalist and blogger
Ellen Coyne, journalist with the Ireland edition of The Times. She
recently published an investigation into rogue crisis pregnancy agencies,
which resulted in new legislation going before the Dáil.