On 25 May, Irish citizens voted decisively to repeal the 8th Amendment, a resounding rejection of the abortion ban and misogynistic ideas about women and our bodies. The Yes vote won a landslide 66% and in all but one county. The significance of this victory over decades of anti-choice misogyny and repressive Church control cannot be understated.
The protests in the wake of the trial – which forced the sacking of Jackson and Olding by Ulster Rugby and have prompted a review into the conduct of such trials in the future – are the beginnings of a movement against misogyny, against victim blaming and against rape culture. We can link this to the wider movement against sexism worldwide, in particular across South America with the ‘Ni Una Menos’ movement and in Spain, with tens of thousands protesting across the country after the recent clearing of the ‘manada’ (wolf pack) of the gang rape of a young woman. It is imperative we continue to build this movement to win the fight in ending sexism, misogyny and oppression worldwide.
In Spain, “I Believe Her” became “Yo Te Creo”, with thousands protesting the acquittal of five men accused of gang-raping a young woman. Less than two months earlier, 5.1 million workers had spilled onto the streets of Spain to strike against sexism on International Women’s Day. In Latin America the Ni Una Menos movement has refused to tolerate endemic murders of and violence against women. Millions globally have used the #MeToo hashtag and have broken a collective silence, sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.
The scandalous verdict given by Pamplona court in the case against the ‘Manada’ (the wolf-pack) rapist gang, has enraged millions of women, young people and a majority of men, as was seen in the massive demonstrations which took place around the country only hours after the sentence was pronounced on 26 April.
The trial has brought to the fore the prevalence of sexist and misogynistic attitudes that exist in the legal system and society in general. In Northern Ireland, over 94% of all rape trials have resulted in no conviction for the accused. The conviction rates for sexual violence are far lower than for any other crime. In the South only 19% result in convictions and 7% when the case is contested. As Suzanne Breen, one of the few journalists who have covered this trial in a fair manner, put it: “This was a case where it wasn’t always clear who exactly was on trial. Each defendant is rightly allowed their own legal representation. But a 21-year-old woman being cross-examined by four defence barristers over eight days pulls at your heart-strings…The young woman failed to secure the verdict she desired. She did not win, yet she has certainly not lost.”
The sexist attitudes that have dominated this trial show there is a need for special measures in order to ensure that victims of sexual violence receive justice. The example of specialised courts should be considered, as in South Africa and other countries, which provide judge and juries with training and have achieved a higher level of conviction and a less traumatic experience in court for victims of sexual violence.
This year marks the centenary of the first women in Britain and Ireland winning the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The political establishment and right-wing propaganda have been celebrating the introduction of the 1918 Representation of the People Act. But it cannot be forgotten that this Act was a deeply classist compromise, and aimed only to enfranchise a small number of property-owning women from the privileged elite in society, whilst simultaneously ignoring millions of ordinary working-class women.
When the twenty first century dawned young women in the US and much of Europe were being told that equality was within their grasp. They didn’t need feminism because capitalism was offering a glittering future based on growing prosperity and gender equality. Today that illusion lies in ruins.