Tag Archives: UN

Máiréad Enright on reproductive rights in Ireland – past & present colliding

A belated link to a post by Máiréad Enright over at Inherently Human about symphysiotomya surgical procedure which breaks bones in the pelvic region to allow vaginal delivery:

“Symphysiotomy was thought to permanently enlarge the pelvis, and therefore, when carried out in a first pregnancy, it might remove the necessity for a woman with ‘disproportion’ to face repeated CS in future pregnancies. This was a particular problem for Catholic doctors. Contraception was practised in most developed countries, making repeat problem pregnancies less common, and non-Catholic doctors advised sterilisation after three CS. Irish Catholic doctors were unable or unwilling to do this. They were aware of criticism by colleagues who believed that Catholic religious structures disadvantaged patients. ” (from Jacqueline Morrissey, ‘The murder of infants? Symphysiotomy in Ireland, 1944-66″ (2012) 20(5) History Ireland, quoted in The Journal November 2012 “A history of symphysiotomy: the impact of Catholic ethics on Irish medicine”, here)

Many women who were given the procedure testify that they were not properly informed, did not consent and were not even told about the procedure during recovery.     This procedure was not performed in any other country where there was the capacity to provide safe C-sections.

The procedure was used until the 1980’s.  Since then, there have been court cases, a Report, an Independent Review, and now the group Survivors of Symphysiotomy have asked the UN Committee Against Torture to look into the Irish experience (see the SOS report here).  Máiréad’s post examines, in some fascinating detail, the Irish state responses to the UN Human Rights Committee [UNHRC]in a recent ICCPR review, with particular reference to the proposal for redress of women who received this surgery.

Her conclusion is both brutally clear and nuanced in its analysis:

At Geneva, the state delegation seemed poorly prepared to discuss institutional gender-based violence. The common sense that Ireland is ‘facing up to its past’ is self-satisfied nonsense. True, the papers are happy to print stories of oppression and violence suffered in an Ireland neatly consigned to some long ago time. But it has proven too easy to swat away public scrutiny of the administrative systems which the state has devised for the management of the Magdalene women, the subjects of the Ryan report, the children abused in national schools, the women subjected to symphysiotomy, and, soon, the women and children circulated through and confined in the Mother and Baby Homes. Those systems are structured by a strange intertwining of paternalism and penny-pinching. In ‘the past’, the Irish state was frankly committed to containing, disciplining and directing the conduct of those considered unfit to think for themselves, and at the lowest possible cost. Today’s redress policy is a softer, but no less threatening, echo of that grim political economy.via Ireland, Symphysiotomy and the UNHRC | Inherently Human

Grim is the word.  Those of you following the current debates over abortion law and practice in Ireland  will find this post a critically important piece of context, both historical and contemporary.

Once you have read the post described above, read another more recent post by Máiréad, over at Critical Legal Thinking.  This one describes what is known and not known about a recent case dealt with under Ireland’s abortion laws.  READ IT, please, if you have any interest in these issues.

Once you have done that you will know much more about the current state of the law in Ireland, you might have new insights into the state of the law in your jurisdiction, and you will probably want to know more about Máiréad Enright.  So,

  • follow her on twitter@MaireadEnright
  • learn about what she does at Kent Law School as a lecturer, here
  • anticipate what is sure to be a no holds barred Irish Feminist Judgments project here and here
  • virtually attend an Economic and Social Research Council seminar series she co-organizes – The Public Life of Private Law – here (because there is audio of so many things you missed)
  • read some of her work on SSRN here, such as Girl Interrupted: Citizenship and the Irish Hijab Debate (2011) 20 Social and Legal Studies  463,
  • and find more in the blogosphere by looking here (or, of course, any search engine, since she’s probably writing something right now)

Don’t waste time feeling inadequate either.

Sexual Violence – against men & boys in Conflict Situations (Report from UN Workshop)

Catching up on all the things the profs send for posting – my colleague Sean Rehaag sent this UN Workshop Report from  December 2013 via the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict) to me some weeks ago, sorry for the delay.  Looks very interesting. 

Much important academic work has been done both to deconstruct gender stereotypes and biological essentialisms, and to theorize women’s rights. In the fields of international activism, policy and practice on conflict-related sexual violence, however, the discussion about gender has been blurred with and frequently subsumed into a necessary struggle for women’s rights in the face of historical indifference to the widespread  subordination of women. Notwithstanding the importance of this struggle, the resultant discursive and policy  focus on sexual and gender based violence as a women’s rights issue has become, from a policy and  humanitarian perspective, a serious obstacle to prevention of and response to conflict related sexual and  gender-based violence against men and boys, as practitioners lack both awareness of the issues, and the  appropriate experience and skills with which to respond to male survivors.  The predominance of this paradigm is evident in the fact that in most people’s minds, whether in rural villages  in eastern DRC or in the corridors of power in key donor states, the field of ‘gender’, and the sub-field within  that of SGBV, is understood to be about women. SGBV scenarios are populated by male perpetrators and  female victims. pp8-9

Full report here.  Includes Key resources starting at p 22.  Slides from the July 2013 workshop, here.

Exec Summary here.