As some of you may know, along with being a member of the Born & Bred team and a full-time student, I am also an abortion and women’s rights activist. International Women’s Day is usually a busy time of year for me, but even more so this year as we could participate in person.
Over International Women’s Day week, I attended some amazing events including the Homeless Period Belfast, Period Party, Alliance 4 Choice’s abortion doula launch, Lucht Cabhrach and Reclaim the Agenda's IWD event. But on the 8th March (actual International Women’s Day) I was invited by ROSA to speak at their Out of the Shadows & Into the Streets rally outside Belfast City Hall. I was terrified, there was no way I could possibly speak in front of people. My hands go shaky from being in a crowd never mind speaking to one. I have never done anything like this before and after years of watching powerful women speak at these rallies, I felt so intimated. I am so passionate about abortion rights and fight gender based violence, I knew this was something I wanted to do, I just wasn’t sure I was ready yet. However, with the support of the wonderful members of UU Pro-Choice I felt that maybe this was something I could do.
That Tuesday I was so nervous walking towards city hall, there wasn’t that many people there at the start so I was feeling okay, but as more people gathered I whipped out the rescue remedy. My partner Rueben, our UU Pro-Choice Jordanstown Rep and our own wee Leanne all came down to support me and within no time it was my turn to speak.
I did it, and it felt amazing. I felt so empowered speaking about these issues that made me so angry.
Photo by Amanda Doherty
All the speakers where incredible and so inspiring. I felt honoured to be speaking at the same rally as so many amazing women. I am still so proud of myself and am still in shock that I could do it without fainting or puking. I now feel no matter how scared you are of doing something, if you are passionate about it, you will push through.
I just wanted to thank Ann from ROSA for inviting me down to speak and thank you to Amanda Doherty who took these beautiful photos from the evening. Finally a massive thank you to my UU-Pro-Choice Team, the Born & Bred Team and my boyfriend for encouraging me to go up there and do it.
Photo by Amanda Doherty
I have popped my speech below if anyone wants to take a wee read.
Hiya, I am Dearbhail and I am the Belfast Rep for Ulster Universities Pro Choice Society.
When talking about gender based violence people often think of physical domestic abuse, an awful case of violence that is so distanced from their own reality. But as many of us know the reality is so much more.
We know gender based violence takes many forms.
A lack of reproductive healthcare for women and people with uteruses is gender based violence.
We should not have to suffer in pain to be told ‘this is part of being a woman’, to have to fight for medical staff to take us seriously.
Why do we have the burden of taking contraception with extreme side effects, but when the male alternative is tested the trails are stopped due to these same side effects.
WE DESERVE BETTER HEALTHCARE.
A lack of free period products is gender based violence.
No person should have to experience a period without these essential products. Our own health minister Robin Swann recently stated that ‘period products are not classified as healthcare products as menstruation is not a healthcare issue’, yet many experiencing period poverty resort to unhygienic, risky, temporary measures putting themselves at risk of infection and even toxic shock syndrome. THIS IS A HEALTHCARE ISSUE! Why are they taxed? Why are they classed as a ‘luxury’ item as this is something we NEED throughout our period? The average cost for period products throughout a person’s life is currently sitting at £4,916. Why are we faced with this ridiculous financial burden all because of the way we were born?
WE DESERVE TO HAVE A FREE DIGNIFIED PERIOD.
A lack of abortion services for women and pregnant people is gender based violence.
No one should have to travel to seek healthcare. Yet many still do despite abortion being decimalised over 2 years ago. The whole of the western trust is currently sitting with no abortion services, forcing them to travel and placing many in financial difficulties. We should not have to rely on organisations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service & Alliance for Choice for support, all because our government won’t step up. Those who can access an abortion here are met by protesters outside hospitals and clinics, preaching and handing out false information. Many end up in fake abortion clinics such as Station healthcare, who delay women and pregnant people from accessing abortion care, often to the point of outside the 10-week window that our healthcare providers are forced to work within.
The reality is even harder for people of colour. When forced to travel for abortion care, they are often faced with racism at airports, questioned about their emigration status and reason for travelling. Making the whole experience even more challenging.
We need free, safe, legal, local abortion serves now, across all our trusts.
We need safe zones outside of all hospitals and clinics now.
We need easy access tele-medication, allowing people to choose to have their own abortion in the safety of their own homes.
We need clear and trusted information on how to access abortion healthcare from the NHS.
In the words of Gloria Steinem, ‘if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.’
WE DESERVE FREE SAFE LEGAL LOCAL ABORTIONS.
A lack of sex and consent education is gender based violence.
Our current sex education is failing us. Teaching absence instead of consent. Placing the responsibility on young women to save themselves for marriage. Scare mongering tactics, showing images of serve cases of S.T.Ds. And little to no education around sex education for LGBTQIA+ students.
With the current system that is in place, young people are not equipped for adult life, to understand their bodies, their sexual health or to have respectful relationships.
We need proper education, not only in schools but also university, to reverse the damage that has already been done. These classes need to mandatory.
WE DESERVE SAFE SEX AND CONSENT EDUCATION
Rape culture and victim blaming is gender based violence.
We are told to watch our drinks, carry rape alarms, to not wear anything too revealing, and walk home in groups. But we all know none of this matters. Because the only thing that causes rape is RAPISTS.
Last year more than 120 cases of spiking were reported. Students are scared for their own safety on nights on. This not only is ruining a normal student experience, but is also interfering with our studies, with many students needing time off and counselling after being spiked. Being spiked has many physical, emotional and mental effects on people.
The PSNI can hand out as many leaflets as they like, telling us to be ‘smart’. But we are done being victim blamed.
WE DESERVE TO FEEL SAFE ON OUR STREETS AND NIGHTS OUT
Being subject to misogynistic views
Being slut shamed
Sexism in the workplace
The attempted closure of Regina Coeli House
A lack of reproductive healthcare
A lack of free period products
A lack of abortion healthcare
A lack of sex & consent education
Rape culture & victim blaming
ALL OF THESE AND MANY MORE ARE GENDER BASED VIOLENCE.
We ask our government, our schools, our police service and our healthcare system to do better and break this mould.
For our mothers, sisters, children, friends, community and future generations.
WE DON’T JUST DESERVE BETTER WE NEED BETTER.
Go raibh maith agat.