Magdalene Laundries

The Church, the State & the oppression of women

By Emma Quinn

In 1922, the Southern Irish State was born into poverty and a backward economy. The Catholic Church was the perfect crutch for its limp ruling class to prop itself up and assert its power and authority over the working class. It was also the tool to provide needed services like healthcare and education in the absence of a strong welfare state.

The alliance of church and state has played a particularly gruesome role in the oppression of women which continues today. This is despite the church being seriously weakened in society following child sex abuse scandals, the horrific revelations from Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes.

“…duties in the home”

The first port of call for the newly formed state was a determined attempt to confine women to a domestic role – article 41.2 of the constitution (which still exists today) enshrines sexism and inequality into the Irish state.

“The state recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”

Anti-women legislation has punctuated every decade since the formation of the state; laws which have deprived women of rights, including bans from jury duty and on contraception, prohibitions for women in work places and the 8th amendment which criminalises women who access abortion in this state.

Women’s sexuality was shunned and shamed, from the founding of the state single mothers were socially reviled and still today live in deprivation rates 230% higher than the general public. Sexism and shame over women’s bodies has seeped into the education system and is still evident in the lack of sex education today, the lack of resources for domestic and sexual violence against women and the judiciary system.

Right to choose denied

Despite a sea change in attitude amongst ordinary people and a growing demand for Repeal the 8th, the state and the political establishment continue to bury their head in the sand when it comes to abortion rights. The newly cobbled together government of Fine Gael and independents backed up by the dinosaurs of Fianna Fail, are determined to kick the issue of Repeal the 8th to touch and to bury it in an unelected “Citizen’s Assembly”.

It’s crucial that struggle for reproductive rights is fought hand in hand with a battle for a secular public healthcare system, not only is the current system backward and Catholic influenced, it is massively underfunded and overcrowded. Rhona Mahoney Master of the National Maternity Hospital recently observed  “The Annual Hospital Reports of the 1920s have striking similarities to my own, chronicling increasing activity and inadequate resources”

Women’s oppression

Across the world if you are a woman you are more likely to live in poverty. In Ireland women are the lowest paid workers, bear the brunt of years of austerity cuts and the housing crisis, and on top of that are faced with childcare costs that are out of reach for most.

The backward Irish state and the capitalist system internationally provide no solution to sexism, homophobia, racism and massive wealth inequality – which has resulted in 1% of the world’s population presiding over 99% of the wealth.

An end to all oppression can only be achieved by an active and organised struggle of women, the working class and young people – which can overhaul the rotten capitalist system and put the enormous wealth that exists into democratic public ownership using it to build a socialist alternative, a society that is based on need and not greed.

 

 

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