August 26th, 1970, the United States. 24th October 1975, Iceland. 3rd October 2016, Poland. 19th October 2016, Argentina. On each of these dates, in each of these countries, thousands of women went on strike to protest inequality in the workplace, the home, and other arenas. The concept of withdrawing labour, whether domestic or industrial, either directly affecting capital and its power relations, or more symbolic in nature, is by no means a novel concept. It is one which has been tried and tested, both powerful and effective.
On a rainy day in October last year, thousands of brightly coloured umbrellas filled the streets of Poland, from Warsaw to Krakow, Lodz to Gdansk. The approximately 98,000 people who gathered on that day were protesting the proposed implementation of a near-total ban on abortion, after almost 40 years of liberal abortion legislation and access. Three days later, with public pressure building and support for the pro-choice movement growing, the bill was voted down.
Though abortion remain highly restricted in Poland, with, for example, many doctors refusing to perform abortions on the basis of conscientious objection, the activists who gathered on that day in October in Poland were fighting to cling on to the abortion rights they still held. In Ireland, we are fighting for these rights, rights we never had. That said, in terms of social context, Poland and Ireland are each countries deeply impacted by systems of Catholic hierarchy and stigmatising perspectives on female sexuality. In Ireland, the once unwavering power of the Catholic Church has been waning since the 1960s, now at unprecedentedly low levels. Poland, however, as a post-Communist country, has been described as experiencing an 'inverted sexual revolution', in the face of a still relatively powerful Catholic Church.
Comparisons between the Irish and Polish situation are fascinating. Ultimately, however, they teach us something. Rights are never just handed out, they must be fought for. And, vitally, people power works.
Inspired and educated by Black Monday, among other actions of women across the globe, Strike4Repeal was launched this January, calling for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. The Eighth Amendment, inserted in 1983, seven years before I was born, equates the life of a pregnant person with the life of a foetus, and limits abortion in Ireland solely to circumstances where a 'real and substantial risk' to the life of the mother exists. The impact of Ireland's abortion laws and the Eighth Amendment has been far reaching, affecting maternal rights, preventing those carrying foetuses with fatal abnormalities from accessing abortions, resulting in the deaths of women in Ireland, and forcing people (those who can) to travel overseas.
At 26, I'm far too young to remember what was dubbed 'The X Case' in 1992, when a young 14-year-old girl, faced with an unwanted pregnancy following a rape, was almost denied the right to travel to access an abortion by the Irish State. In 2012, when I was just beginning to get involved in pro-choice activism, came the death of Savita Halappanavar, denied a potentially lifesaving abortion, having been told that 'this is a Catholic country'. In 2014 came the 'Ms. Y Case', when a young asylum seeker, pregnant as a result of rape in her country of origin, was denied an abortion and forced to undergo a C-section. More generally, 12 people a day are forced to flee our shores to access abortions, asylum seekers living in hostels and hotels are denied the right to even leave the country, and those accessing abortions in Ireland face up to 14 years in prison. The situation is intolerable and unforgivable.
The only way by which we can conceivably begin to change this situation is by repealing the Eighth Amendment. The Citizens' Assembly, due to wrap up discussions and report back in March, represents, in my view, the view of Strike4Repeal and many others in the pro-choice movement, merely a delay tactic. Despite the fact that opinion polls indicate that a significant majority of the Irish population are in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, and that Ireland has incurred damning criticism from EU and UN human rights' bodies, both current and previous Governments appear unwilling to touch the issue. What are they afraid of? Who is this 'Middle Ireland' they speak of? If the figures indicate a willingness to hold a referendum on the issue, why don't we? It boils down to this: why ask 99 people when you can ask an entire country? Our patience is wearing thin - the time for change is now.
Since launching Strike4Repeal, we've received an enormous amount of international support and solidarity, from the UK to the US, Berlin to Rojava. Students in secondary schools and universities across Ireland are striking, businesses are shutting their doors, groups outside Dublin are hosting a range of events and gatherings. A project undertaken by a small group of activists just a few months ago, we are so inspired and energised to continue this battle.
So, on the 8th of March in Ireland, on International Women's Day, strike. Though not a traditional industrial strike, whether in Ireland or abroad, take the day off work, forgo domestic chores if possible, wear black, ask local businesses to close their services in support. Show your solidarity with women in Ireland, women in Iceland, women in the US, women in Argentina, women in Poland, women around the world, and get ready to fight.
Fiona Dunkin is a member of Strike4Repeal. For more information on Strike4Repeal, go to their Facebook page or email them at email@example.com
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org