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Ireland to Strip Maternity Law of Sex-Based Language. 'The Countess' Objects

"The era of no debate on the conflict between women’s rights and trans rights is over in Ireland."

Ireland to Strip Maternity Law of Sex-Based Language. 'The Countess' Objects

Irish grassroots women’s advocacy group The Countess have launched on June 15, 2022, a campaign to raise awareness among the public of a government proposed legislation to remove the words woman, female, mother and girl in maternity protection laws, which they say is being rushed through without allowing enough time for debate.

The group created a campaign video, called #TheseWordsBelongToUs, featuring the very personal stories of 15 women whose lives have been profoundly affected by being born with female anatomy. The women featured either have their own maternity rights denied, or are women whose mothers have been failed by the Irish government.

The poignant stories include 86 year old Eilish, who would have been her mother’s 22nd child had all her siblings lived. She recounts the horrors and the grief endured by the women who lived at that time.

Another testimonial features a young woman who says she was forced to travel to England for an abortion, in the same year that gender self-ID was made legal in Ireland, while others recall the misogyny they experienced as working mothers.

The Countess’ advocates say that the Irish state has exacted a huge price from women and mothers for the simple fact of being women and mothers, and the attempt to erase the words that are used to describe women and female issues “will not be tolerated.”

“These are our words. We are proud to be called by them,” the video finishes.

The Irish government is planning to remove all mention of the word “woman” from maternity protection legislation, as well as the words “she” and “her” in reference to being female, while stating that males can breastfeed.

Laoise de Brún, founder and CEO of The Countess, told 4W that similar “stealth” tactics were used in 2015 when the gender recognition act passed quietly by piggybacking on the highly popular marriage equality legislation. “The government is planning to pass the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 by July the 2nd with limited time afforded to discuss the consequences for women,” she said. “Buried in the depths of the general scheme of the Bill are amendments that remove women from the Maternity Protection Acts.”

A debate is (finally) sparked

The Countess campaigners were recently flung into the spotlight when they were denied access to the Annual General Meeting of Ireland’s biggest women’s representative group, the trans-inclusive Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), on June 9. The Countess' group says that they wanted to ask the NWCI members what they thought about the proposed language changes and whether they objected to them, but they were denied the opportunity.

However, a hugely popular radio host featured the story of The Countess’ exclusion from the forum on his radio show, drawing intense interest among the Irish public. The topic was kept alive on the radio show for three consecutive days, indicating a strong desire for open debate on trans issues, which the Irish public have largely been denied. The state broadcaster, RTÉ, received massive backlash for the extended and sometimes heated debate, which featured a balance of people for and against the proposed changes, including a number of trans-identified men, women and individuals claiming non-binary identity.

Some of the most strident criticism came from the organization Dublin Pride, who released a statement claiming that their official media partnership with the broadcaster was to be terminated as a result of the “triggering” discussions. The statement raised questions about the relationship between the LGBTQ+ pressure group and the taxpayer-funded state broadcaster, and to what extent the partnership has influence over programming choices. The backlash served to highlight the intense opposition to discussion – even reasoned, balanced debate – that is a feature of transgender rights’ campaigners’ strategy.

The genie is out of the bottle

Founder and CEO of The Countess Laoise de Brun stated that “the era of no debate on the conflict between women’s rights and trans rights is well and truly over in Ireland. Finally, we are discussing the obvious issues for women and children if any man, at any time, can identify into a female-only space, place or service.”

"These are our words. We are proud to be called by them. They are our birthright. We have paid a high price for them. Generations before us were punished for them. They do not belong to the State, they belong to us. As of this week, the genie is out of the bottle and the public are discussing this at the school gates, in the workplace and in the pub.”

RTÉ, the broadcaster, has been called before a parliament committee next week. The committee members claim they are offering “the opportunity to visibly stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community.” RTÉ have so far defended their airing of the radio show.

*Many thanks to Rose Kelleher for co-writing this article

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