Gender Policies: An annoying necessity or fair and forward-thinking?

This month marks three years since the beginning of #WakingTheFeminists and the movement is still going strong. In July Irish ten theatre organisations, in collaboration with #WakingTheFeminists, launched their Gender Equality Policies. These organisations worked together to comply with individual policies that were tailored to the work they do. They have all committed to regular reviews and reporting of the results of these reviews. The organisations involved include two festivals (Cork Midsummer Festival and the Dublin Theatre Festival), three venues (the Abbey and the Gate in Dublin, and the Everyman in Cork), four production companies (Corn Exchange, Druid, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Rough Magic) and the Lir Academy. The policies were launched by the Minister of Culture Josepha Manigan in the Lir Academy on the 9th of July 2018, and the event was widely reported. This included an article from the conservative Breitbart website. I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give them the clicks but here’s a screenshot.

by Thomas D. Williams, P. D. `| 10 Jul 2018. Ireland’s feminist culture minister is pushing a policy to ensure that half of all plays staged in Ireland are written by women within five years as part of a broader “gender equality” campaign. Minister Josepha Madigan launched the aggressive quota drive on Monday at the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts at Trinity College to make sure that women are equally represented on theatre boards. She seeks an immediate commitment from theatres and arts festivals to guarantee that half of all plays commissioned will have female playwrights within five years.

This (male) journalist writes about gender equality (or “gender equality”) with breathless terror. Its an “aggressive quota driven policy” that the Minister is “pushing”. In reality, the initiative did not come from the government and as the policies are a list of aims and objectives, I’d hardly consider it aggressive. (The other thing that fascinates me is the photo they’ve chosen to illustrate the article. Are they dramatic witches? Do they equate all women with witches or just the aggressively feminist ones?) He seems to find the idea of gender quotas insulting, a step too far, almost a personal affront.

This reaction against quota-driven policies is not unusual. To be honest, they made me a little uncomfortable at first. The idea got under my skin in a way I found hard to explain. It annoys me that they’re necessary and I hate the idea that women need quotas to achieve success. I think most people react badly to the idea of needing special treatment. Nobody wants to be told or to think that we achieved something for any reason other than our own skills and abilities. We all want to succeed based on what we do, not who we are.

Then I remind myself how far the scales are tipped in favour of the men and I stop feeling bad about quotas. And that little niggling voice at the back of my mind telling me that quotas mean women aren’t good enough, that maybe there are some things that men are just naturally better at? I remind myself that that’s just the patriarchy talking and I am free to ignore it.

In order to get equal treatment, women currently need special treatment. Decades of research, not to mention my own lived experience, demonstrate that men and women are treated differently, their ideas are given different value, their work is given different worth. The research work that #WakingTheFeminists published in November 2017 demonstrated the inequalities that exist in Irish theatre. That research is available to download here.

Gender quotas aren’t giving women a leg up or tipping the scales in their favour. The scales have been weighted in men’s favour since the dawn of time and quotas are a way of trying to correct. Their aim is to make things fair for everybody. Reminding myself of this makes me less distrustful of the idea of quotas and gender policies. Reading the published policies also helps. They all list small and spectacularly sensible changes. They include things that we already accept, like equal pay for equal work. They all aim to establish a gender-balanced board, something that equally benefits men and women.

The policies are all different. The Abbey’s is a short and to-the-point one-pager, the Lir’s is 11 pages with a table of contents at the beginning. Druid’s policy starts with just acknowledging that there is a problem and it’s great to see that written down and recognised.

Among long-established companies with decades, and in some cases over a century of experience, the Lir stands out as the youngest company, less than ten years old. It also has the longest and most comprehensive policy. Their inclusion and dedication to the project it wonderful to see. Their policy goes further than the others, mentioning non-binary people and recognising the need for childcare facilities. None of the other proposals mention the challenges faced by parents. They will be responsible for teaching students how to treat people; those students will go on to create the Irish theatre of the future.

The policies make me excited about the changes we could see in the Irish theatre landscape over the next five years. I’m interested in seeing new work by female artists, and if that means we hear a little bit less from the male point of view for the next little while, I’m ok with that. The Lir also commits to looking at the female canon with “a view to championing productions of classical works by women at The Lir or on the stages of participating theatres.” which I think could be really interesting. I don’t think the policies will adversely affect the work these organisations do or the art they produce. If they do, I can live with less good art if it means the people making it are happier and healthier and feel more supported and recognised and represented.

I hope these changes in the theatre world will ripple outwards into the wider society. I hope that they will demonstrate that recognising gender inequality exists and setting out some steps to combat it is not difficult, that it will not adversely affect your business, that men will still exist and still have a role in society. I also hope it results in some really great art!

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Art and censorship

On April 23 2018, Maser’s Repeal mural was removed from outside Project Arts Centre for the second time. You know the one I mean. It was commissioned by the Andrea Horan of the HunReal Issues in 2016 and since then it has appeared in hundreds of profile pictures, on t-shirts, in windows, on badges and stuck to lamp posts around Dublin and beyond. I’ve often seen it above articles about the referendum in Irish and international press. It was only on the wall in Temple Bar for a couple of weeks but it has spread across the world.

In 2016, Project were told to remove it because they didn’t have planning permission. When the date for the referendum was announced, planning permission was no longer necessary and it went back on the wall. Less than a week later, they were told to remove it again. This time it was the Charities Regulator who had taken issue, and in a very murky reading of the Charities Act deemed the mural not in line with Project’s charitable purpose, and told them their charitable status was at risk if they did not cease “political activity”. Project is an arts centre. Their purpose is to present and develop contemporary art. They presented a mural by Maser, an award-winning artist that has displayed work around the world.

RepealBook

A week after Project received the order from the Charities Regulator, author Una Mullally was told by Dublin City Council that they were canceling her event in the International Literature Festival Dublin. The event was a panel discussion with contributors to Una’s Repeal the 8th Anthology. The anthology is a beautiful collection of stories, poems, essays and photos about the repeal movement and the effect of the 8th amendment. (Available in all good bookshops now!) The reason given by Dublin City Council was that they could not give a platform to one side of a referendum debate. That makes some sense, but the festival programme was announced on April 11th, two weeks after the date for the referendum was set. If Dublin City Council had a problem with the event, why was it programmed? To pull it after tickets were sold feels reactionary and I wonder if the disciplinary action that Project were threatened with affected the decision making process.

But censoring art doesn’t make it disappear. Maser’s mural is everywhere. Since Project painted over (most) of their mural last month (an act that Artistic Director Cian O’Brien described as “defiant compliance”), the image has already popped up on the Amnesty building and currently adorns the windows of Panti Bar. That gorgeous Repeal heart is not going anyway.

AmnestyRepealHeart

The cancelled Repeal event took place last Monday, though not as part of the Literature Festival. Smock Alley Theatre, where is was scheduled to take place, offered to host it as a separate event. I am very glad they did because it was a great discussion. Censorship and gate-keepers came up, as well as stories about people being bullied or shamed into silence by those in power. There were also readings and performances from pieces in the book and it didn’t feel at all like a political meeting.

I’ve been to a few events in the Literature Festival and the referendum has come up more than once. I’ve seen lots of Yes badges and Repeal jumpers on and off stage, perhaps in a show defiance against the cancellation and perceived censorship. Pushing back against censorship is so important. The alternative is a climate of fear that becomes more fearful with each act of censorship and before long, people start to police themselves.

This week, Not At Home, a touring art installation about women who travelled for an abortion, had venues cancel on them days before they were due to exhibit. This is particularly egregious because one of the aims of the piece was to share the stories of women who had been silenced by shame and stigma. Now their voices are being silenced again. The venues quoted the same Charities Act that was used against Project Arts Centre as their reason for cancelling the event. The venues didn’t wait to be told if they were in breach of the law, they pulled out in case it became an issue. In Galway a publicly-funded organisation and two private venues pulled out of plans to present the exhibit. It was supposed to take place at Crawford College of Art and Design’s gallery (in partnership with UCC and Cork Opera House) but the invitation was withdrawn at a late point. The Gallery cited Charities Regulator guidelines and a wish not to “jeopardise” its charitable status or “become a focus for such controversy”.

NotAtHome

Does this mean that artists now have to  wonder if the art they want to make will be acceptable to venues, or if they might decide it’s not worth jeopardising their charitable status for? What happens if artists don’t feel able to take that risk and instead avoid political issues or “controversial” opinions. It’s not that long ago that talking about abortion or calling for repeal of the 8th amendment was considered a controversial opinion. It’s because people spoke up and refused to be silenced that we get to vote on that issue this week.

Art has to be allowed to be political. It has to be able to explore controversial territory and rail against the status quo. Good art helps spread ideas. It opens minds and helps us see things in new ways. It makes change possible because it shows us new ways of doing and thinking and being. Artists need to be supported and encouraged to do that. We have brave venues that are willing to support risky work but we need more of them, especially outside Dublin.

We should all do what we can to support anyone who speaks up against injustice, whether they are artists or journalists or whistle-blowers. We need to listen to them and do what we can to amplify those voices.

A Yes Vote on May 25th is one way to change the status quo a little bit, and a way to thank those who have spoken out.

VoteYes

Together for Yes

At this stage (18 days from the referendum), you probably have to be living under a rock to be online and not know what Together for Yes is; particularly after their huge crowd-funding campaign when they raised half a million euros in seven days. But in case you missed all that, Together For Yes is the National Civil Society Campaign to remove the 8th Amendment from the Constitution. It’s an amalgamation of lots pro-choice organisations who have come together to get a yes vote in the referendum on May 25th.

TogetherForYes

This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make Ireland a safer place for pregnant women and to give the women of Ireland control over their own reproductive rights. This yes vote is my no means a done deal. The vote will be very tight and we all need to do our bit to get it over the line.

And really, it should be a yes vote. The only reason to vote no is if you are against abortion in all circumstances and cannot imagine any possible scenario where abortion might be the right and necessary choice. If you feel that’s true, beyond any reasonable doubt, then vote no. But if you do feel that sometimes abortion is an acceptable option, for women who are pregnant as a result of rape for example or when the woman’s health is at risk because of her pregnancy or if there is a diagnosis of fatal foetus abnormality, then you should vote yes. Do it for those women.

And it you know that a yes vote is the only compassionate option and want to see Ireland embrace the compassionate choice, there’s lots you can do to make that happen.

1. Vote! And encouraging others to vote.
Tuesday 8th of May is the last day to register to vote. The form must be stamped by a Garda and be with your local authority by 5pm today. There is still time to get registered, but not much. All forms can be downloaded here.

If you already have that sorted, the most important thing is to go out and vote on May 25th. It’s a Friday. The polls will be open from 7am until 10am. And encourage other people to do it too. We’re a small country, every vote really does count. We cannot assume anything about how this vote is going to go so please talk to friends and family, figure out how and when you’re all going to vote on May 25th.
2. Go canvassing or have the chats at work or at home.
Together for Yes have local groups all over the country going out knocking on doors and talking to people about why they should vote yes. Find your local group and give them a hand. It will mean giving up a few evenings and maybe having a few awkward conversations but it will move us towards a yes vote.

If you can’t go canvassing, maybe have a conversation with work colleagues, friends of family. See how they’re feeling about the referendum, suss out if they have any concerns and maybe make sure they have the correct information. Big areas of misinformation seem to be the fact that the law as it is currently does harm pregnant women, even in a wanted pregnancy and those unrestricted 12 weeks. “Unrestricted” is not the right word to use. A woman will still be making that decision with her doctor, and right now women are buying abortion pills off the internet and taking them up to 12 weeks, which is to my mind is more unrestricted and more dangerous than doing it with the support of a medical professional. Together for Yes have all the facts.

3. Wear a Together for Yes or Repeal badge, t-shirt or a jumper.
If you aren’t able to canvas or feel uncomfortable initiating conversations about the referendum, for whatever reason, wearing a badge is a great way to support the cause and let conversations come to you. Wearing your political intentions on your chest whether it’s a Together For Yes badge or a Repeal jumper tends to get your a few smiles and nods and might even start a conversation or two. It’s a gentle way to support the campaign but there is a great solidarity in seeing all the badges around the place!
Badges and other supportive paraphanilia is available from shops in Dublin, Cork and Galway and from the online shop.

4. Donate.
Donating to Together for Yes will help them to print leaflets, hold events and do things like the Conversations Tour which is bringing Together for Yes around the country for the next two weeks.

We need this change to the constitution and we can all do a bit to make it happen. The vote is less than three weeks away. We are ready for this change, we’re been ready for a while. We just need the last little push to get it over the line.

Tackling climate change

Climate change is a hard topic to get your head around. It’s depressing thing so we avoid thinking about it. It can make you feel powerless. I don’t know much about climate change but I know it’s happening and that we are causing it. And because it’s caused by us, we also have the power to fix it.

We are already seeing the effects of a changing climate in Ireland. Last month we had a major weather event that put the country under lock-down for two days. The Beast from the East was compared to the heavy snowfall of 1982 but just because this has happened before doesn’t mean climate change isn’t to blame. Climate change causes these once in a generation events to happen much more frequently. We’d already had a status red-warning in October 2017 for Storm Ophelia, which started off as a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean. We don’t generally get a lot of hurricane warnings in Ireland. These aren’t the first extreme weather effects in Ireland but they do seem to be becoming more frequent.

Lahinch

A week before Storm Ophelia the Citizen’s Assembly gathered in Malahide to discuss climate change. The topic they had to consider was “How the State Can Make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change.” This was an extremely ambitious proposition. According to the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index, a report of countries taking action against climate change, Ireland ranked 49 out of 59. It was the worst performing county in Europe, dropping 28 places from the previous year. We have a long way to go before we can hope to be considered a leader in tackling climate change.

All the presentations from the Citizens’ Assembly are available here and here. (Links to the agendas for the two weekends, the recommendations and the presentations slides are here.) It is a wonderful information resource if you want to learn more about climate change and it’s effects. If you are not sure if it’s real or that human activity is to blame, this presentation should convince you otherwise. It’s also demonstrates what the rising temperatures mean for the future.

I like the Citizens’ Assembly. I believe putting a group of non-politicians in a room, educating them on the topic at hand and asking them to consider it from all angles before making their recommendations is a good thing. I admire those who take the time to ask questions and interrogate the issues. I love that it’s all streamed online and available to watch in any part of the world. (Except in areas of rural Ireland where the internet probably wouldn’t cope with streaming video.) But it is a process set up with restrictions, so while I was very optimistic about the kind of ideas that might come out of a Assembly with such an ambitious title, I was disappointed that the recommendations the citizens were asked to vote on were all pretty small, sometimes vague measures.

The Assembly focused on three areas – Energy, Transport and Agriculture. Members voted to accept all the recommendations by a high margin. The lowest vote was the 80% of Members who said they would be willing to pay higher taxes on carbon intensive activities. One hundred percent of the Members recommended that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change. The full list of recommendations can be found here. They included things like increasing investment in public transport, reducing food waste and taxing greenhouse gas emissions. They are all small changes but they would be better than nothing. Of course, the government does not have to take on any of the recommendations just because the Citizens’ Assembly says they should.

The two most dangerous myths around climate change are that it’s something that’s going to happen years and years from now and that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We have seen that it is already happening; we know that it’s a threat now. There are also a lot of things can we can do to stop it. All we need to do is reduce the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere and we can start doing that right now.

There were optimistic presentations at the Citizens’ Assembly about the changes to be made to tackle climate change. Brian Motherway’s presentation describes the low carbon home – a warm, well-insulated house with solar panels to heat the water and where the electricity bill is about €200 a year.

He describes how newly built homes, ones that adhere to building regulations, produce 30% less carbon on average than older homes. It doesn’t cost that much more to achieve this standard when building a home from scratch. However it costs more to add them later, so it’s really important that those regulations are not ignored as we struggle to keep up with the demand for new homes. The government needs to make sure that the regulations are met. The bad habit our politicians have of trying to keep the builders and property developers sweet could adversely affect the amount of carbon we produce in the future. There are lots of examples where playing politics could have a significant effect on our future climate.

We’re told that tackling climate change will mean giving up thing for the intangible, distant benefit of the not making the planet inhabitable. But having a warm, well-insulated house is a good thing. Creating renewable energy jobs in Ireland instead of getting all our carbon heavy fuel from overseas in a good thing. Better public transport is a good thing. Tackling climate change will have positive effects but it will mean making changes. Change is hard, we tend to resist it. However life of earth is going to change whether we like it or not and it’s better to make the change than have the change happen to you.

We can all do our bit to reduce our carbon emissions, but the big changes have to come from government policies and changes to transport and infrastructure. We need to tell the government that this is what we want and we are going to have to be willing to pay for it with our taxes. It has to be done. I want to believe in a kind, empathetic society that is capable of doing things for the greater good, even though it may be difficult and uncomfortable.

Tips for Taking Action from  Brian Motherway’s presentation:

- Start with strong, visible actions. - Our behaviour matters, but it's not about guilt. - It is about our decisions as a society. - Doing nothing is not an option!

The Citizen’s Assembly and Strike4Repeal

Last weekend, the Citizen’s Assembly met for the third time to listen to experts and discuss the issues around the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. I watched some of the proceedings online. The presentations are still available on the website. The whole thing looks like a staff think-in for a big organisation. Each table has a facilitator, who stood up to speak for the table. It seems to have borrowed the whole set-up from the business world. It’s an interesting entity as a part of democratic process. I like the idea of consulting experts, looking at statistics and having an open, informed discussion about the issue of abortion and reproductive rights but I wish it was happening throughout society and not just in a hotel in Malahide. It’s hard not to see it as anything other than a delaying tactic from a government that does not want to call a referendum on abortion. In the article in the Irish Examiner “Credit where it’s due… and that’s to 99 members of Citizens’ Assembly” about where things stood after the first two meetings it sound very likely that the Assembly are going to recommend a referendum be held, though the terms of that referendum are still up for debate. But I looked at the small print on the Citizen Assembly’s website and it doesn’t seem like the government have to follow the recommendations of the Assembly. The final line on this page says: “the Government will provide in the Houses of the Oireachtas a response to each recommendation of the Assembly and, if accepting the recommendation, will indicate the timeframe it envisages for the holding of any related referendum.” In short, don’t hold your breath waiting for a referendum.

The Irish government have a history of dragging their feet on around abortion. The only abortion referendum that I’ve voted on was the very confusing 2002 one when the government tried to overturn the results of the X case. You had to vote No to leave things as they were, and Yes to make things more restrictive. To confuse matters further Youth Defence came out for a No vote. They didn’t feel it went the wording went far enough because there was no mention of the protective of live for embryos before implantation. (In Irish law, life begins with implantation. That’s why the morning after pill is available though abortion is not.) The amendment was defeated by 51-49% but no legislation on the X case followed. It took 12 years and the death of Savita Halappanavar (and who knows how many other women) before the flawed Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill became law.

Savita’s family did us a great service in talking publicly about her unnecessary death, as did Amanda Mellet who took the case against the State to the UN Court of Human Rights, as did the women known as A, B and C who took the State to the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. These public cases make it difficult for the  government to ignore the concerns around reproductive rights. And the campaigners mean the public can’t ignore it either. Five years ago I knew nothing about the Eighth Amendment or how it restricted women’s bodily autonomy. Now everyone seems to have an opinion on it and that’s down to the amazing work of a whole host of campaigners, including many who campaigned against the Amendment when it was first proposed 34 years ago.

At the end of the summer, Una Mullally made a documentary for the Irish Times Womens’ Podcast called ‘The Year The Conversation Changed‘. It’s a really great listen and covers the massive shift in public perception around the Eighth Amendment in 2016. It covers everything from the Repeal jumpers, to Maser’s mural outside Project, to the Rose of Tralee getting political, and at least half a dozen other things that I’m forgetting because so much happened last year!

Things are changing. Attitudes towards abortion are not the same as they were in 1983 when the Eighth Amendment was voted into the Constitution or even the same as they were in 2002 when we last had a referendum on abortion. The government is slowly catching up with that fact, but not quick enough. We need a referendum and it needs to call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. There should be no replacement and no rewording that makes it impossible to vote for. To reword it would be another delaying tactic. We need to repeal the Amendment because the constitution is not the place to define medical care. And again there are wonderful activists making that position clear. This time with the Strike 4 Repeal on March 8th. There will be no referendum set before then, the strike will definitely go ahead and it feels important to tell the government that there is an appetite for a referendum and that referendum should call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Change moves slowly in Ireland, at least at government level. Don’t forget it took them six weeks just to form a government last year. It’s like change isn’t useful to them. It’s not what they want. Our politicians would prefer to be eternally debating things and flinging insults at each other than actually take a political stand or making bold changes. The lack of action on the homelessness crisis and the continued existence of Direct Provision is shameful. Enda Kenny’s strongest stance recently has been to keep things as they are – of course he’s going to the White House for St. Patricks’ Day, it’s traditional. They are meant to represent us but they need a push in the right direction.

Change is happening, whether they like it or not.