A campaign has been launched urging the public to strike if the Government does not hold a referendum on abortion. Sarah Harford looks at the plans and the historical precedent.
In the wake of the recent Women’s March which captured global attention, the men and women of Ireland are now being encouraged to go on strike. The Strike 4 Repeal campaign was launched last week and is calling on Irish people to take a day off work or school on 8 March in solidarity with the Repeal the Eighth movement.
“We came together as an ad-hoc non-affiliated group of activists, academics, artists and trade unionists, out of frustration and anger with the prolonging of calling a referendum by our cowardly government,” said Avril Corroon, spokesperson for the campaign.
Speaking to The City, she noted that “the state refuses to act on the issue despite urgent calls from the United Nations and the guidelines of the World Health Organization”. The group hopes that the strike will “bring together empowered and energized people” and “put political pressure on the government to call a referendum”.
The strike is planned for International Women’s Day, but organisers say that it is an inclusive demonstration for everyone who is interested in repealing the Eighth Amendment. Supported by several feminist and pro-choice groups across the country, Strike 4 Repeals video campaign has reached over 430,000 views so far.
— Strike4Repeal (@strike4repeal) January 23, 2017
The Eight Amendment
Ireland currently has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which was introduced in 1983, provides that the right to life of an unborn child is equal to that of the mother. This legislation can only be changed through a public referendum.
As the debate around this issue has risen, the government has stated that there will not be a referendum until the Citizen’s Assembly has completed a report on the matter.
The assembly is an independent forum of Irish citizens which was established in order to discuss and make recommendations on constitutional issues to the Oireachtas. The Citizen’s Assembly is still in progress, which means that there will not be a referendum until at least 2018.
“The state refuses to act on the issue despite urgent calls from the United Nations and the guidelines of the World Health Organization”
Speaking in the Dáil last October, when a bill proposing a referendum was defeated, Minister for Health Simon Harris defended this decision, saying that it was “a complex and important issue”.
“Tabling a referendum bill is the easy part”, said Harris. “Telling the Irish people what would replace that constitutional amendment in law or elsewhere, is the difficult work we now must do.”
“It cannot be ignored that there are significant policy and legal issues involved in changing the Eighth Amendment – simply deleting it opens up major questions for our existing laws and the future legislative framework which would apply.”
So if it is unlikely that a referendum will be held this year, what could Strike 4 Repeal achieve? Each year, the March for Choice – organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign – has grown in support, with an estimated 20,000 people marching in Dublin last September. Will the same number of Irish people participate on March 8, disrupting their usual working day?
Avril Corroon says that the response to the campaign has been “outstanding” in the past week: “We’ve been contacted by groups, individuals, businesses, colleges and secondary schools students from all over Ireland looking to self-organise actions and take part on the day.” Reaction on social media has been mixed, however.
This strike, however, is not without precedent. In October 2016, women in Poland went on strike to protest the tightening of their country’s abortion laws.
Over 30,000 people boycotted work and marched through Warsaw to rally against a government proposal to fully restrict abortions in all cases. Dubbed “Black Monday”, the strike demonstrated the high levels of support in the predominantly Catholic country, and as a result, the bill was dropped.
Perhaps the most successful women’s strike occurred in Iceland in 1975. Many shops and businesses were forced to close for the day as 90% of the female population boycotted work and home duties in protest of wage discrepancies and employment practices that were discriminatory to women.
The day became known as “Women’s Day Off”, and led to several changes in Icelandic legislation. Five years later, Iceland became the first country in Europe to elect a female president, and now has the highest level of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.
If Strike 4 Repeal gains similar momentum, then it could potentially change the discussion around abortion and the Eighth Amendment in Ireland.