International Women’s Day arrived in Dublin last Saturday as hundreds gathered on Molesworth Street for the National Women’s Council’s (NWC) ‘No Woman Left Behind’ rally.
A host of protestors and speakers gathered before Leinster House to discuss a suite of issues disproportionally affecting women in advance of International Women’s Day, which was on Tuesday, March 8.
Women, children and men congregated beneath Leinster House, holding placards and homemade signs that underscored how Irish society is currently failing women and non-binary people across many sectors.
Orla O’Connor, Director of the NWC, told the crowd that “a loud message is being sent to government of the need for change for women’s equality; the need for public childcare, for an end to violence against women, for a public and secular maternity hospital and to see women in all the decision making spaces.”
Speakers acknowledged a charge among people in Ireland, which had been sparked by outrage following the femicide of Ashling Murphy in January. One of the main issues was the need to address violence against women and the incoming new National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, which is being brought forward Justice Minister, Helen McEntee, was referred to as a positive step.
The need for a refuge for women and children in every county in Ireland was demanded on-stage and reflected on the banners of attendees, as nine counties remain without this vital resource.
“People are speaking out across the board. Us here today, students, parents, workers, our citizens in assembly are all concerned about the dangers posed by sexual violence and exploitation. Those who experienced the abuse are recognising their right to access support and services. They are calling out structures and systems that have been cruel and traumatising to them as they seek healing and accountability,” stated Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.
Jason Poole spoke about his sister, Jennifer, who was murdered by her boyfriend in her Dublin apartment last April. The only male speaker at the rally, he called for stronger laws and better education of the next generation, both in and out of schools, so that what happened to Jennifer would not continue as a repeated cycle.
Speaking on behalf of AkiDwA, a national network of migrant women living in Ireland, its CEO, Dr. Salome Mbugua, said that proper supports for victims of trafficking are “long overdue”, in addition to the National Plan Against Racism.
She stated: “We are still waiting for the abolishment of direct provision centres. Women and families deserve better. Women and families deserve privacy and dignity. Migrant women finally need to be on the table”. Dr Mbugua called for the inclusion of migrant women in the decision-making process, concluding: “We demand for an Ireland of equals”.
On the topic of inclusion, Geraldine McDonnell, of Pavee Point, mentioned the importance of representation of the travelling community in “spaces like today”, saying that involvement in the conversation was important for change to happen and asking the crowd not just to be allies today but everyday.
The National Women’s Council said that the new maternity hospital must be “fully owned and controlled by the State” when it is relocated from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus, while feminist and LGBTQ+ activist Ailbhe Smyth threatened that she would protest the building works if these demands were not met.
The Woman’s Aid Chair, who was wearing an orthopaedic boot, was met with an eruption of cheers at the conclusion of her speech when she said: “I’m wearing a very big boot today and I know exactly where to put it and so do you.”
The No Woman Left Behind rally had drawn some criticism in previous weeks for failing to include government ministers as speakers, while giving a platform to opposition party representatives. Ms O’Connor responded to this point by highlighting that just four of the 18 scheduled speakers were political representatives, describing Saturday as a “moment for government to listen”.