De­risory at­ti­tude to­wards women is noth­ing new

Em­bed­ded mis­ogny has f lour­ished since 1916 NEVER AFRAID TO TACKLE THE STO­RIES THAT MAT­TER

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - JOE DUFFY

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.

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