- 24 May 18
The large group effort took place during rush hour on O’Connell Bridge and lower O’Connell Street.
For many in Ireland, Margret Atwood’s feminist novel The Handmaid’s Tale has been a frequent reference point regarding the protest against the 8th Amendment. A quick recap: a dystopian city in America has fallen to a zealously religious government. The story follows the movements of chosen women, whose sole purpose is to carry children to help rebuild society. They are special because they can bear children but they offer no other purpose to their community.
It’s likely that you can see how this feeds into Ireland’s debate.
From 5pm onwards, crowds of young women gathered on O’Connell Bridge. Red capes tearing in the wind and heads covered in the white Dutch style caps, they processed in twos to the lower end of O’Connell Street. A crowd gathered to watch and people were curious, asking questions. What was the reasoning behind this?
Speaking to Keishia Taylor of ROSA, she informed us that the Handmaids, representing the lifestyle that some prominent ‘Vote No’ spokespeople actually represent “ - no contraception, no tampons, evil literature! All these ridiculous things, a list of things that the Catholic Church has actually tried to ban and the ways that they’ve repressed women.”
On O’Connell Street, the red cloaks would collide with another group of supporters “who represent Liberation,” I’m told. “Youthful energy, colours - this is the potential that women can achieve if we achieve freedom and leave the legacy of the Catholic Church behind.” Decked in LGBT flags, Repeal jumpers and posters calling for passers-by to vote ‘YES’ tomorrow, the second group represent the freedom and choice Irish women and LGBT citizens would gain if the 8th is repealed.
The two sides making for a striking image against the bright sunlit street. Posters carrying different tones, different wishes for women. A gathering this close to the referendum also took place in a swell of both Together For Yes and Save The 8th supporters - which led to some tension as supporters of the protest engaged with several figures trying to counter-protest the demonstration.
An American biker stands behind the row of young women, trying to hold his own sign over their heads. “Life ≠ Equality” stands out on his back and he smirks as an older gentleman wearing a ‘Yes’ badge tells him to “Cop on and let the women speak. You Nazi!”
First forming in 2013, ROSA have been on the forefront of political issues in Ireland, organising numerous marches and protests in aid of the cause. More recently, they organised a sponsored walk from the Spire in city centre out to Dublin airport to represent the ten women a day who travel for access to abortion. Rita Harrold, also of ROSA, tells me that over 300 people made the walk out - “I expected a big crowd at the Spire but so many of them came with us on the way. It was an overwhelming outpouring of support.”
The main attitude these campaigners carry, is that asking politely - as they have been told to do in the past - has never been the most effective way of galvanising change in Ireland. Action speaks louder than words.
“People haven’t given us want is wanted and we started out campaigning for a referendum six years ago. The campaign and actions of the opposition have brought out this misogynistic and aggressive behaviour in some people. We always get small but vocal opposition and we know they’re there - but they’re a small minority surrounded by an overwhelming majority,” Rita explains. “There’s been great response to our protest yesterday already too. Young and older people are tired and we want change. It’s time we built this new society for ourselves.”