This week women in Iceland fantastically left work at 2.38pm to protest the gender pay gap. Women employees make 14 to 18 percent less than males in Iceland, which essentially means after 2.38pm they are working for free. What an excellent way to draw attention to the issue and encourage change, I applaud this movement massively. This somewhat radical move demands urgency for change, as oppose to waiting lamely for time to close the gap – 50 years is the estimate they were given. How great it is to see so many women rally together for their rights and being brave enough to revolt, even at the risk of their job. I hope this encourages employers to look closely at the injustices that happen within companies and resolve it, fast.
This is not the first time Icelandic women have gone on strike. In 1975, the women of Iceland went on strike refusing to work, cook, clean or take care of the children. They did this to remind society of the importance of their role within it, highlight the issue of their low pay and the low value placed on their work inside and outside the home.
The following are quotes taken from an article I really enjoyed reading, written by Annadis Rudolfsdottir, a woman who took part in this strike. The empowering passage featured in The Guardian (link below) details the strike;
“A radical women’s movement called the Red Stockings first raised the question: “Why don’t we just all go on strike?” This, they argued, would be a powerful way of reminding society of the role women play in its running, their low pay, and the low value placed on their work inside and outside the home. The idea was bandied about, and finally agreed to by the committee, but only after the word “strike” had been replaced with “a day off”. They figured this would make the idea more palatable to the masses and to employers who could fire women going on strike but would have problems denying them “a day off”.
“It was, in all seriousness, a quiet revolution.” It was this sense of togetherness, the calm and quiet determination, that most women remember from that day.”
A woman speaking at the speech versed: “Men have governed the world since time immemorial and what has the world been like?” she asked in her deep, gravelly voice. Answering herself, she described a world soaked in blood, an earth polluted and exploited to the point of ruin. A description that seems truer now than ever.”
“Iceland’s men were barely coping. Most employers did not make a fuss of the women disappearing but rather tried to prepare for the influx of overexcited youngsters who would have to accompany their fathers to work. Schools, shops, nurseries, fish factories and other institutions had to shut down or run at half-capacity”
“But what did Icelandic women gain by all this? For many it was a wake-up call. I, like many women of my generation, became a feminist that day at the ripe old age of 11.”
(See full article here https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/oct/18/gender.uk)
Inspired by this move women in Poland recently followed in their footsteps by taking to the streets on what was called ‘Black Monday’. Thousands of women across the country demonstrated in solidarity by wearing black and abstained from going to work to protest the new abortion ban laws. Under the existing law, abortion is banned except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger., the fetus is irreparably damaged or the pregnancy results from rape or incest. The new proposal would make all abortions illegal in all cases with 5 year prison sentences for any woman seeking an abortion and any doctors who perform them. The protest was successful with MP’s rejecting a near-total ban on operations. Although this week there are new proposals to outlaw abortions in cases where foetuses are unviable or badly damaged. This new proposal is resulting in more street protests on Sunday through to Monday in the country.
Similarly in Ireland there is an ongoing battle for women’s reproductive rights in the ‘Repeal the 8th Campaign’. Ireland’s totalatarian abortion laws have been described as archaic, even the United Nations Human Rights Committee have deemed the laws as a violation of human rights. The 8th amendment in Ireland’s constitution rules; “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Which means the fetus’s life is equal to the mother’s. In practice this not necessarily true as often the foetus’s is given superiority to the mothers.
In 2012, Savita Halappanavar died in hospital due to doctors refusing to terminate her pregnancy. 17 weeks pregnant, she went to hospital with backpain only to discover she was miscarrying. Having asked for a termination, over the course of three days, she was refused and told “this is a Catholic country”, after spending the next two and a half days in agony she miscarried and subsequently died herself the following day from septicemia. This would not have happened had doctors given her life priority and granted the termination in order to save her life.
Although at the time the law stated termination was allowed if “a pregnant woman’s life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide”. At the time of her death there was legal uncertainty regarding the precise circumstances in which this exception to preserve the life of the mother would apply in practice. Since then, pro-choice groups have pushed a change in the law with this year seeing an enormous amount of support from women (and men) all over the country rallying in support to #Repealthe8th and make abortions legal.
So many women are sharing their stories of being forced to bring a pregnancy to term even though they have been told the baby will not live. The emotional trauma, mentally and physically, that these women are put through by the state is criminal. (Read some stories here: http://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/tag/why-im-marching/ ) But not every woman has the money to travel to England to get an abortion and are forced to continue with their pregnancies. Others who do make the scary and lonely journey, can face enormous debt on top of the trauma of having to travel to another country, a lot of the time in secrecy, to do a very painful thing.
A wonderfully, haunting video entitled ‘We Face This Land’ was made by pro-repeal group, Repeal Project. In the video women read a poem by Sarah Maria Griffin.
It is a powerful video that overwhelms moves me to tears every time I watch, in particular these lines which I find most poignant;
“A body is a body is a body is a body is a body is a body is a body
Not a house. Not a city. Not a vessel, not a country
The laws of the church have no place on your flesh
A veterinarian will abort a calf if a cow is falling ill. How is it that livestock is
worth more to this land than us”
There was hope for change in Ireland, following the successful outcome of the same sex marriage referendum last year, but unfortunately the government are contradicting our optimism. This week it was decided that the earliest we can hope for a referendum on the matter will be 2018, most likely later in the year, if even. In that time frame, if, for example, it was held in October 2018, that’s 105 weeks away – at least 11 women each week that have to leave the country to have an abortion.
That’s at least 1,155 women. Not including the women who are emotionally scarred for life, not only because of the grief of losing a baby but being forced to continue their suffering, and the babies, by bringing it to term. It actually disgusts me how women’s rights are completely overshadowed here and by who? Old men and women in power (who are not of age where this could affect them) who are afraid of losing votes from more old men and women who are past the age of relevancy to their bodies. It’s disgraceful.
I don’t live in Ireland now but plan to return soon, I was so impressed watching, from afar, the turn out for the Repeal the Eighth protest last month. I’d love for us to take example from our friends in Iceland and Poland and go full throttle on strike. If every pro-choice woman in Ireland refused to go to work and took to the streets, I’d hope the government would have a lot more urgency in their resolution rather than make us wait another two years. I not only hope, I’d bet on it.
Sign the Repeal the Eighth amendment petition here: http://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/repealthe8th/
Search ‘We Face This Land’ on youtube to watch video in full.
Author: Shaunna Lee Lynch
About: I am an Irish writer, performer, avid day dreamer, generally enthusiastic, hip hop enthusiast,living in Hong Kong.