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(09-05-2009) Irish Feminisms and the Future

Facilitated by the Board of Women’s Studies

and Supported by the IFPA as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations

 University College Cork

 Saturday 9th May 2009

Brookfield Health Sciences Complex (College Road) Room G05


What is the future for feminism and the women's movement in Ireland? How can we build on what has been achieved since the 1970s while facing the challenges of the current economic situation?


9.30am-10.00am am Registration


10.00am- 10.30am. Welcome followed by Keynote Speakers:


Ailbhe Smyth (Women’s Studies UCD)and Therese Caherty –

IS FEMINISM NECESSARY? Why we set up Feminist Open Forum


 10.30 am – 11.15 am Session  I


Chair Liz Steiner-Scott


Orla O’Connor  (Head of Policy National Women’s Council of Ireland) 

 Opportunity for welfare reform or further reinforcement of structural inequality for women.


Angela O’Connell MA (PhD candidate NUIG)

  “…a consistent act of radicalism” – lesbian families in a changing society


11.15am - 11.30 am   BREAK


11.30 am – 12.15 pm  Parallel Sessions as below.


11.30 am - 12.15 pm - Session II - in main lecture theatre G05

Chair Dr Maeve Conrick


 Mary Crilly MA (Director, Sexual Violence Centre, Cork)

 What has changed, if anything, in responses to sexual violence in the past twenty-five years?


Nusha Yonkova MA, MSc. (Anti-Trafficking Project Coordinator, Immigrant Council of Ireland)

 Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution – The Experiences of Migrant Women In Ireland. (April 2009 report)


 11.30 am - 12.15 pm  - Session III – in  BHSC_Room 104

Chair Dr Maire Leane


Ann Daly PhD

  ‘A craze for spaying’: gynaecology in Ireland 1860-1890. (The paper will briefly relate aspects of the issues involved to the Neary case.)


Martina Hynan M.Phil

 Joining the Dots ..… Birthing Experiences and Maternal Identity


12.15 am – 1.15 pm Session IV and Book Launch


Catherine Conlon MA (Ad Astra/Crisis Pregnancy Agency PhD Scholar, Women’s Studies Centre, School of Social Justice, UCD)

 Critical Reflections on ‘Crisis Pregnancy’ Research


Book Launch


Ann Rossiter’s book, Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora: the ‘abortion trail’ and the making of the London-Irish underground, 1980-2000, was published recently.


Ann Rossiter PhD (Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group (IWASG and Irish Abortion Solidarity Campaign (Iasc)).

 Anne will speak on her book and it will be formally launched.


1.15pm – 2.00 pm  LUNCH


2.00 pm-3.15 pm Session V


Chair Dr Orla O’Donovan


Patricia Kennedy B.Soc.Sc., M.Soc.Sc., PhD (UCD)

 Changes and Continuities in Maternity Policies: Comparison of Maternity Legislation in Estonia and Ireland


Anne Coakley PhD (Carlow College)

 Gender,Care and the Labour Market; The Changing Partnership between the State and the Family


Jen Dewan  PhD (Columbia NY)

'If You're Not In, Then You Can't Win': Feminist Activism and Social Change in Ireland.


3.15 p.m. -3.30 p.m.  BREAK


3.30-4.30 Round Table Session


An opportunity to discuss issues raised during the conference, to input ideas from the floor and perhaps to discuss any follow-up.


Biographies and Abstracts




Why we set up Feminist Open Forum


Feminist Open Forum was set up by Therese Caherty and Ailbhe Smyth in October 2008 to provide a new space for feminists to get together to discuss issues and ideas, to debate fresh views and perspectives, and to act strategically for change. Since then, there have been several meetings, a workshop and a rally, all in Dublin. In our presentation, we’ll talk about the personal and political reasons why we started FOF, and the Forum’s aims and activities so far. We hope to have a productive discussion with activists at the conference about how FOF can develop nationally to involve women all over Ireland.    


Therese Caherty is a journalist working and living in Dublin. She is co-founder of the Feminist Open Forum, a new space for feminists to get together to share views and experiences, to discuss current political issues, and to strategise and plan actions for change. FOF meets monthly.


Ailbhe Smyth is a feminist activist and educator. She lectured for many years in UCD where she directed WERRC, the Women’s Education, Research and Resource Centre. She is chair of the National Lesbian and Gay Federation, and is an active member of the People Before Profit Alliance. Currently, she works as a consultant with community and voluntary sector groups.  



Anne Coakley

 Gender,Care and the Labour Market; The Changing Partnership between the State and the Family

  Framing the analysis in the context of  the changing  economic landscape, this paper explores the  transitions  occurring in gender, care and the labour market .

  EU funded investment in childcare from the 1990s aimed to promote gender equality in the labour market in particular to facilitate women’s participation in paid work.   Unlike the high investment public provision model  found in Nordic countries, Ireland belongs to a group of countries including Australia and Canada where the  private market model is the focus of state funding on  childcare together with  direct cash subsidisation for parents. 

    In many European countries a state partnership with the family has evolved  sharing the responsibility of childcare.  Over a decade of extensive economic growth in Ireland, the lack of public investment in childcare as an investment in children represents a lost opportunity.  It also means that in these uncertain economic times the Government can further distance itself from a childcare service that is largely located in the private market.   This paper examines the changing partnership between the state and the family in the context of rising unemployment and further changes in migrationpatterns across Europe.  


Dr Anne Coakley is a lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at Carlow College.  Her research interests and publications are on gender and the welfare state, mothers and poverty and on transitions in gender, care  and the labour market.




Catherine Conlon MA (Ad Astra/Crisis Pregnancy Agency PhD Scholar, Women’s Studies Centre, UCC)

 Critical reflections on Crisis Pregnancy


Since deciding to research the issue of abortion among Irish women for my MA (Women’s Studies) Minor Thesis 1993-1994, I have continued to focus on the broad topic of crisis pregnancy in my research to date.   Between 1995 and 1998 I was a member of the Trinity College Dublin multi-disciplinary research teamwho conducted a large-scale government funded study entitled ‘Women and Pregnancy Study’ culminating in the publication by Government Publications of ‘Women and Crisis Pregnancy’ (Mahon, Conlon and Dillon, 1998).  This study recommendations’ were the basis for the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. Between 2003 and 2006 I was commissioned by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency to undertake two pieces of research on issues in counselling and support services for women facing a crisis pregnancy (Conlon, 2005) and on the development of services for women concealing a pregnancy (Conlon, 2006).  Ten years after the publication of Women and Crisis Pregnancy, this paper sets out to explore some of the insights, understandings and questions that have arisen for me across all of these projects, unified by a focus on the situations faced by women faced with a crisis pregnancy in contemporary Ireland.  It is intended to be both reflexive and critical and to consider whether the knowledge generated through this research activity of mine has had any transformative impact on Irish women who continue to be subject to one of the most oppressive abortion regimes in the world.


Catherine Conlon graduated with an MA in Women’s Studies from UCD in 1994 and has since worked as a social researcher both within the university sector at Trinity College Dublin (Department of Sociology) and WERRC/WSC, University College Dublin, as well as in the public sector as Research Officer at the National Council on Ageing and Older People. As Research Co-ordinator at WERRC 1999-2006 she worked on a range of projects in the areas of social policy, gender and equality, gender and health, and women’s adult education. She is currently engaged in PhD research involving women concealing pregnancy with funding from UCD's Ad Astra programme and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency Fellowship programme. 



 Mary Crilly MA

 Violence Against Women in Ireland -26 years in the frontline


 I  have worked in the area of Sexual Violence since  1983. In that year  there were 260 cases of sexual crimes   reported to the Gardai.  In 2007, there were 1200 cases of sexual violence reported to the Gardai.  In  1983 the population was 3.5 million people. Now it’s over 4 million. Does this mean that there is an increase in Sexual Assaults or just more reporting.  Either way Ireland has the lowest conviction rate in Europe at 8%. Have attitudes changed towards victims or are they still deemed responsible for the behaviour of the perpetrator.      Let us  look at the  figures / developments and see what if anything has changed over the past 26 years.


Mary Crilly is a founder member and Director for 26 years of The Sexual Violence Centre Cork (Cork Rape Crisis Centre).   A feminist activist she has witnessed and been party to much of the change in Irish society and institutions over those 26 years.  She is most noted for her tireless campaigning for policy and legislative change in the fields of sexual violence, sex trafficking, domestic violence and human rights.  She is active at local, regional, national and international levels.  Side by side with activism is her commitment to ensuring the provision of the highest quality services to victims of violence.  She has received several honours for her work.  In 2007, she published,   Sexual Violence in Ireland. The Criminal Justice System A guide for Victims.  In 2008, Mary made the time to undertake the Masters Programme in Women’s Studies in UCC and for her thesis, researched the issue of Gender Proofing in City and County Development Plans.



Ann Daly PhD

 ‘A craze for spaying’: gynaecology in Ireland 1860-1890. (The paper will briefly relate aspects of the issues involved to the Neary case.)


As the nineteenth century progressed, the medical profession’s interest in the workings of the female body expanded. Increasingly, it believed that the functions of the female body – both physical and psychological – were inextricably linked to her reproductive system, in a way that had no correlation in men. The aim of this paper is to explore this medical preoccupation with the female body, specifically the uterus and how the Dublin Medical Press corroborated this medical hypothesis of femininity. The paper will firstly begin with a brief introduction to thenineteenth century medical journal – the Dublin Medical Press and outline its significance as a primary source. The paper will then explore the medical definition of the female body as pathological, and how this definition validated conventional ideas of femininity and women’s sexuality and ultimately lead to an increase in invasive gynaecological surgical procedures on women. The medical profession in the nineteenth century perpetuated the belief that sex and reproduction were more fundamental to female nature than to the nature of males. Puberty, menstruation, childbirth, the menopause, among other notable fundamentally female milestones, were estimated to influence the female body and mind in ways that had no correlation in men. The reproductive role of women was idealised and given new centrality but paradoxically femininity was, by definition, a deviation from the standard of health represented by the male and not only were her biological functions defined as diseased, they were also the breeding ground for a medley of psychological disorders. These beliefs, centred on the premise that the female’s physical and psychological disorders derived from her reproductive system and that pathology defined the norm of the female body, legitimised and sanctioned the medical authority over women. The ovary, fallopian tubes and most especially the uterus of women became pathological and were promoted by the Dublin Medical Press and other medical sources as indicators of the overall malady of women. These biological body parts became synonymous with the flawed female system that necessitated the surgical intervention of medical science. The paper will explore the alarming rise in gynaecological surgery in the 1870 and 1880’s and attempt to explain this increase. Finally (and briefly) I will juxtapose the nineteenth century preoccupation with gynaecologiocal surgery with the recent scandal in 2003 entries on the disgraced former consultant Dr. Michael Neary, who was struck off the medical register in 2003 for unnecessarily removing women’s wombs. The level of peripartum hysterectomies (carried out within six weeks of giving birth) in Drogheda was 20 times above the national or international average. Between 1974 and 1998, 188 of these types of hysterectomies were performed in Drogheda, 129 of them were by Dr. Neary. This paper will conclude that the medical profession has not learnt from the mistakes of the past. The medical profession has policed itself and the failure of this practice is clear to see in the Neary case.


Ann Daly is a recent PhD graduate from NUI Maynooth. She is currently teaching history in second level (Ratoath College)and taking undergraduate tutorials in Maynooth. Her thesis, entitled The Dublin Medical Press and Medical authority in Ireland 1850 – 1890, looked at contemporary medical journals as a portal to exploring women's lives in nineteenth century and how the medical profession increasingly saw their role as moving far beyond the art of healing, defining their remit as moral guardians of society.



Jennifer Dewan PhD

 'If You're Not In, Then You Can't Win': Feminist Activism and Social Change in Ireland

 Ireland is a drastically different place than it was when the ad hoc committee called for the establishment of a National Commission of the Status of Women in 1968.  The economic boom beginning in the 1990s only heightened the larger structural impacts of social change wrought by modernization over the past few decades.  The success of the Irish economy (and indeed the success of the women's movement) led to the restructuring of social relations indicative of late capitalism, and this in turn has altered the conditions of possibility for feminist activism.  The women's movement — if indeed it can be called a 'movement' — has changed dramatically since the 1970s.  By the mid-1980s, feminist activists had successfully publicized many previously stigmatized issues from divorce to abortion, strategically lobbied the government for equality and contraception legislation, and gained funding for a variety of women's services.  However, conflicts over divisive issues disallowed any long-term cohesiveness from forming, and the history of the women's movement is marked more by fragmentation than cohesiveness. 

The diversification and professionalisation of the women's movement allowed it to become 'mainstream', integrated into the workings of the state in the form of 'state feminism'.  Networked to but existing beyond this 'mainstream' feminism is an entire realm of political practices that at times functions as only implicitly feminist.  On the ground, feminist practices and subjectivities are fragmented and decentralized, existing in a diverse array of local and community groups, activists, practices, and ideologies.  Activists no longer attempt to create a unified 'social movement' in a traditional sense, but practice 'movement activism' where groups and individuals coalesce into campaigns at particular moments for important issues. It is clear both from the activity of mainstream organizations associated with 'state feminism' and from the proliferation of local and community groups and activists focused on bettering women's lives in ever different ways, as well as the networks formed between and among these strands, that activists continue to 'practice politics' around women's issues even if the conditions that underlie those practices have altered in response to larger economic, political and social changes in Irish society. This paper will explore some of these aspects of the feminist politics and their relationship to the conditions of late capitalism to better understand feminist practices and subjectivities now.


Jennifer K. DeWan's  paper is part of a larger dissertation research project on feminism, political activism and social change in Ireland, based on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Cork.  She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in New York City in May 2008.  She is currently editing her dissertation for publication.   



 Martina Hynan M.Phil

 Joining the Dots ..… Birthing Experiences and Maternal Identity

 “Connect or Join the dots: to understand the relationship between different ideas or experiences." 


Etymology: from a children's activity in which a picture can be seen when you draw lines to connect numbered dots” Keywords: Narratives, maternal identity, visual culture, feminist theory.


During the past year I have worked as an artist-in-the-community with a group of women in Co. Clare exploring ways of telling their birth stories visually, this has resulted in the creation of Keeping Mum, a community art project, offering participants a creative and supportive environment to reflect on their birth experiences.  We have completed the research and development phase of Keeping Mum.  During this time the women re-engaged with personal memories of giving birth and have created individual artworks representing a specific aspect of their experiences.

   In this paper I would like to share my reflections on the development of Keeping Mum and also suggest ways of deepening and broadening this project. Coming from both an art and women’s studies background allows me the opportunity to create connections across visual culture, feminist theory and body politics.  I believe that it is by creating connections, by ‘joining the dots’ that we will create a comprehensive narrative one capable of reflecting our many and varied experiences of being mothers in Ireland today.


Martina Hynan is a feminist visual artist living in Ennis, Co. Clare. She is currently working as co-ordinator and artist with the community-based art project,  “Keeping Mum”, exploring ways to share birth stories visually. The experience of becoming a mother in 1998 has shaped much of Martina’s research interests surrounding birth and motherhood. She has taught Women and Visual Culture as part of the Women’s Studies Programme at NUI Galway. She ran the feminist art workshop ‘Drawing on Feminism’, as part of this year’s International Women’s Day Conference, hosted by the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Banulacht, at Croke Park, Dublin.

She is actively involved with Birth Choice Clare and the Clare Women’s Network.

Martina has an M.Phil in Women’s Studies from Trinity College Dublin and a BA (Hons) from the University of Wales.



 Patricia Kennedy

 Changes and Continuities in Maternity Policies: Comparison of Maternity Legislation in Estonia and Ireland

This paper draws on path dependency theory to explore continuities and change in maternity protection legislation in relation to time (leave) and money (benefits) in Ireland and Estonia in an attempt to contribute to comparative literature on maternity policy. The choice of countries allows for the consideration of the relationship between religious ideas and political ideologies and the development of social policies. Both societies have changed unrecognisably in the last eighty years since they achieved independence, Estonia in 1918 and Ireland in 1921. Ireland has changed from an economically depressed, inward-looking protectionist state to a thriving outward-looking Celtic Tiger economy and member of the European Union, now facing the challenges of the global economic recession. Estonia experienced a brief period of independence, followed by 50 years of Soviet occupation and re-independence which then enabled the country to become a member of the European Union. Both are small countries on the periphery of powerful colonising eastern neighbours. Both countries inherited the germs of social policy from their former overlords. Drawing on path dependency theory this article explores critical junctures which have shaped maternity policies for the future. It shows that in both countries, despite major changes and ‘explosions’ continuities persist. It suggests that path dependency may be a useful theory as we go forward in highlighting the current economic crisis as an ‘explosive moment’ which will undoubtedly shape policies for women in Ireland and raises issues in relation to future continuities and change.


Heili EinastoMA in Gender and Culture from Central European University (Budapest), additional studies in International Women's Univeristy in Hannover (2000), University of California, Los Angeles and University of Turku, Finland. She is currently a lecturer in Tallinn University.

Patricia KennedyB.Soc.Sc., M.Soc.Sc., PhD  is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, School of Applied Social Science, UCD.  She is currently involved in European research project funded by DAPHNE on the prevention of sexual and gender based violence among refugee/ asylum community.





Angela O’Connell (NUI Galway)

 “…a consistent act of radicalism” – lesbian families in a changing society

 At the height of the economic boom known as The Celtic Tiger, Ireland had the second highest per capita Gross Domestic Product in the European Union. Despite this national wealth, however, women were still experiencing poverty as a result of gender discrimination, including a gender pay gap of between 11% and 14 % (NAPinclusion, 2007 – 2016) compounded for marginalised women by a myriad of other forms of ongoing discrimination.

During its period of economic growth, Ireland introduced equality legislation covering the nine grounds of gender, marital status, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion and membership of the Traveller community.

The Towards 2016 Review and Transitional Agreement 2008-2009 sets out a vision for the future of an Ireland based on ‘a strong commitment to social justice and equality’ and the National Women’s Strategy 2007 – 2016 commits itself to promoting gender equality, recognising that legislation alone cannot achieve this without systematic positive action. In its Strategic Plan for 2009 – 2011, the Equality Authority stresses the importance of maintaining a focus on issues of equality and discrimination at a time of economic crisis.

Now that Ireland faces into a major international recession, those groups that are already vulnerable are the same people who will be worst hit by declining employment, budget cuts affecting public services and welfare, and inevitable reductions in funding for social equality initiatives. Lesbian women with children are vulnerable to discrimination on multiple grounds by virtue of their gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, and may also experience discrimination because of disability, age, race, religion and membership of the Travelling community.

The issues facing lesbian families saw few changes during the period of economic growth, with little progress made on addressing gaps in legislation covering access to fertility services; registration of births, adoption and guardianship of children born within lesbian relationships; marriage, separation and custody; and inheritance. While some movement was noted on the first of these, with a number of clinics in Ireland opening their doors to lesbian clients, opportunities to introduce non-discriminatory legislation on any of the issues including this one have been ignored, delayed or side-stepped by successive governments.

Still, lesbian couples (and single women) go right ahead and have children, exercising what I have come to call a resistant autonomy – making informed moral and practical choices to achieve self-actualisation in a society that continues to deny them recognition or rights.

My paper looks at how the women I talked with in my research on lesbian families live out their choices, by their actions rather than by direct political activism redefining family norms, challenging legislation and policy, and providing new models of gender, kinship and family structure that can inform and transform the future of mainstream society.


Angela O'Connell is currently writing up a PhD in Women's Studies at

N.U.I. Galway. She obtained her M.A. in Women's Studies in 2000 and her B.A. in 1985 from U.C.C. Angela previously worked in the University sector for ten years in Adult Education, Women's Studies and Equality, and now does freelance consultancy work in the community sector.  She lives in County Cork with her partner and 4 sons.


 Orla O’Connor (National Women’s Council of Ireland [NWCI])

 Opportunity for welfare reform or further reinforcement of structural inequality for women.


The current economic and employment crisis is showing the urgent need to create a modern welfare system which is flexible to the reality of women’s and men’s lives. While there is an opportunity to ensure that a feminist agenda is placed at the centre of reforming the welfare system, there is also a danger that women may be pushed back into traditional caring roles and further dependency. 


This paper will argue that the economic recession has brought into the spotlight the need for welfare reform which has been long argued for by the women’s movement in Ireland. The current social welfare system, characterised by a male breadwinner model has consistently discriminated against women. This model does not meet the reality of women’s lives, reinforces the unequal distribution of care work between women and men and continues to enforce women’s economic dependency.  Gender segregation is deeply rooted in Irish social policy and the consequences of this segregation are illustrated in women’s experience of poverty and economic dependency.


Central to a feminist analysis must be the creation of an ethic of care into the welfare system. For example the response to the current crisis in pensions presents a clear opportunity to make changes to social policy which could eradicate the cumulative discrimination against women in their older years and to redistribute some of the wealth in Ireland.


Orla O’Connor is Head of Policy with the National Women’s Council of Ireland. In that role, she is involved in a broad range of representational work, policy development and analysis. She has led negotiations for the NWCI in two national social partnership agreements, Programme for Prosperity and Fairness and Sustaining Progress and is involved with the Fingal Centre for the Unemployed.



Ann Rossiter

 Ann will speak on her book: Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora: the ‘abortion trail’ and the making of the London-Irish underground, 1980-2000


Ann Rossiter

Dr Ann Rossiter is a long-standing feminist who has been involved in the Irish Women's Abortion Support Group (IWASG) and Irish Abortion Support Group (Iasc - as in the Irish for 'fish' ) for many years. She is from Bruree, Co. Limerick and has lived in London for nearly half a century. She has also been an activist in feminist groups concerned with women and the Irish National Question, such as Women and Ireland and the London Armagh Group. The latter was set up to oppose the treatment of republican women prisoners, in particular the practice of strip searching. She has written a number of articles and essays on these subjects and holds a doctorate in the history of the encounter between Irish and English feminists during the years of 'the Troubles'. She taught Irish Studies for over a decade at various institutions, including Kilburn Polytechnic (now the College of North West London), Birbeck, London Metropolitan and LutonUniversities.



 Nusha Yonkova MA, MSc (Immigrant Council of Ireland)

 Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution – The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland.


Nusha will speak about the report, published by the Immigrant Council of Ireland in April 2009,whichpresents stark evidence of the trafficking of women into and through Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation.  It shines a light on the reality that large numbers of migrant women are being sexually exploited in indoor prostitution in Ireland.  Drawing the experiences of these women, the report illustrates the severe emotional, physical and psychological harm that women who are trafficked and sexually exploited in Ireland endure.  This report was written by Carmel and Patricia Kelleher, of Kelleher Associates, Monica O'Connor and Dr Jane Pillinger.


Nusha Yonkova

Nusha Yonkova joined the Immigrant Council of Ireland in 2004, firstly in the Communications Department, then as an Information Officer consulting and supporting migrants. Nusha was appointed Anti-Trafficking Project Coordinator in 2007.  In addition to her present work, Nusha participates in the European Women Lobby’s project Migrant Women of Europe “Equal Rights, Equal Voices”.  In June 2008 Nusha was elected to the Executive Board of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI).  She has recently become a member of the National Observatory for Violence Against Women in Ireland. Nusha holds a Masters of Science Degree in Engineering from the Technical University of Varna, Bulgaria and a Masters of Arts Degree in Intercultural Studies from DCU

Women's Studies

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