Women On Women’s Rights: With Wendy Lyon

Posted: August 29, 2012

In this series on advocates for women’s rights, we meet women around the world who blog about women’s challenges in different countries.

Wendy Lyon is an Irish feminist blogger who is a part of the colla-blog Feminist Ire; Ireland, while being part of Europe has a very distinct history and its own challenges for women, especially due to the continuing role of organized religion. Over to Wendy!

How did your interest in women’s lives and feminism begin? Was there a particular moment/period in your life when you started identifying as a feminist? 

I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember. I attribute a lot of it to the books I read as a child – I always liked books with strong female characters, who stood up for themselves and wouldn’t allow themselves to be restricted by traditional gender roles! I also come from a family where political issues were very much a part of dinner table conversation, so I developed strong views at a pretty early age.

What according you are the major challenges that impact women in your country today?

Ireland is unusual in the Global North for the fact that women’s subordination is actually written into our Constitution. Article 41 privileges the marital family as the fundamental unit of society, and identifies the primary role of the woman as housewife and mother. Article 40.3.3 further subjugates women by ranking our lives as no more than equal to the lives of foetuses. So patriarchy is written into the very foundation of Irish laws. This is reinforced through an educational system which is still heavily controlled by the Catholic Church. Although young people are increasingly rejecting Church teaching, its influence is still unacceptably strong.

Another major issue is the austerity policies being pursued by the Irish government, which are having a devastating impact on working class Irish women and families. Unemployment is nearly 15% and the safety net is being eviscerated, so people are being forced to survive on lower and lower incomes. Costs have not decreased in a lot of areas, such as child care and health care (unusually for Western Europe, Ireland has no universal health care at the primary care level) and the cost of sending a child to school has actually increased over the past few years, thanks to cuts in the education budget which parents have to compensate for. So women, and particularly those with children, are really struggling to cope economically.

And finally, Ireland has only recently become a country that people migrate *to* and there is now a category of particularly marginalized women who are denied access to even the limited employment and social benefits available.

Why do you blog about these issues? What does it give you? What do you feel it gives others?

I blog because there are things that I think need to be said. There is too much of a tendency in Ireland for group-think, where people just accept what people around them are saying. There is a failure to critically examine our assumptions, and this allows a “consensus” to be created by those who dominate the discourse. We see this within the Irish feminist movement too, which particularly concerns me. I don’t blog just for the sake of disagreeing with the consensus, but I do hope that it helps people think about things a bit differently and at least realise that the consensus isn’t necessarily right.

Do you face criticism (online/offline) for your views? How do you deal with it?

Sometimes, but my response is: if I’m wrong, show me the evidence!  

Are there any of your own blogposts that you are especially proud of/happy for having written?

There are two that I am particularly happy with. One of them is called Abortion laws and maternal mortality rates – deconstructing the anti-choice spin. It’s an analysis of claims by the Irish anti-choice movement that Ireland’s low maternal mortality rate is somehow linked to its extreme anti-abortion law. I put a lot of work into that one and I think it really shows in the finished piece.

The second one is called What happens to the victims? and it’s about how trafficked persons are failed by the approach of treating anti-prostitution laws as the solution to human trafficking. That’s not an original idea on my part, of course, but I haven’t really seen a lot of analysis from the particular angle I took.

Your favourite feminist blogs? (At least one from your country if possible) 

I couldn’t really say that I have any favourite Irish feminist blogs – we started Feminist Ire precisely because we weren’t happy with what was out there! Most of my favourite blogs wouldn’t be “feminist blogs” per se, but blogs that address the issues I’m concerned with from a facts-based, evidence-based perspective – such as rightswork.org, which looks into the actual research on human trafficking.

Also, the European Pro Choice Network is a great resource for news and research on reproductive rights around the globe.

*Photo credit: Noeleen Reilly

Previous Interviews In The Women On Women’s Rights Series:

Shifani Reffai (Sri Lanka)

Athambile Masola (South Africa)

Deborah Russell (New Zealand)

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