Derisory attitude towards women is nothing new
Embedded misogny has f lourished since 1916 NEVER AFRAID TO TACKLE THE STORIES THAT MATTER
WE SHOULD not be surprised that one of the main themes that runs through the Scally Report on the CervicalCheck scandal is that ‘many of the major controversies about maltreatment of patients or denial of reproductive rights in the Irish healthcare system have involved women being damaged’. The report goes on to condemn the paternalism bordering on misogyny that permeated an often maledominated medical profession.
After all, from the foundation of this State, women have been wiped from history, treated as second-class citizens or simply ignored.
This began with the event that led to our republic – the 1916 Rising. The role of the 77 women from Cumann na mBan, who were active in Easter week, was only fully recognised 100 years later in 2016. Thankfully no members of Cumann na mBan were killed in the Rising – but can anyone name a single one of the 45 adult women who died in Easter week 1916?
Yes, 45 adult women living in Dublin City centre were wiped out in the battles of Easter week – nine girls also died violently. There is not a single mention of them in most history books. There was not one event in 2016 to remember them. No memorial can be found to their lives in the capital.
The new State was founded on airbrushing women from history. Consigned to the dustbin, they were not allowed serve on juries. The 1936 Conditions of Employment Act gave the Government the power to control the number of women working in any industry. On marriage, a woman was dismissed from the civil service. No married women could be employed by the public service. This did not change until 1973.
That a woman’s place was in the home was even enshrined in our new Constitution in 1937.
Article 41.2.1 reads: ‘The State recognises that by her life within the home the woman gives the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.’ It’s still there! The Mother and Child Scheme – a basic step forward in 1951 in the abysmal health care of women and babies – was seen as a step too far. It was abandoned and the minister who proposed it was driven out of office.
EVEN though the treatment of women in mother & baby homes and Magdalene laundries has been well documented, the horrors visited on many of them will not recede with time. Every decade is littered with more examples of how badly women – individually and as a group – were treated.
Joanne Hayes’s treatment at the Kerry Babies Tribunal in 1984 was nothing short of abuse. But it did galvanise many women to take on our ludicrous contraceptive laws – which had been slightly loosened only four years previously. The Anti-D scandal revealed by the Staterun Blood Transfusion Board in 1994, showed how pregnant women had been given contaminated transfusions – and not told when it was discovered. Indeed the travesty was repeated. It is now reckoned that over 260 women have died because of this scandal. Many men who were subsequently dependant on blood transfusions also died.
Divorce was only introduced in Ireland in 1995, 100 years after our nearest neighbour.
So the CervicalCheck scandal was, as Dr Gabriel Scally found, ‘a system doomed to failure’.
But this derisory treatment of women did not begin with the establishment of CervicalCheck 10 years ago – it began with the first salvos of this nascent State in 1916.