Tag Archives: equality

#HomeToVote

I don’t think I’ve ever been as amazed by any social phenomenon as I’ve been by the #HomeToVote hashtag on Twitter.

Today is the day Ireland goes to the polls to vote on whether we should allow people who are twenty-one and older to run for President (currently, one has to be thirty-five or older to run for that office), and whether we should extend the rights and protections of civil marriage to same-sex couples. They are both important issues, but I think the latter is the one which has drawn so many people home, and which has seen over sixty thousand people register to vote for the first time.

Honestly, I’m flabbergasted by the whole thing. In the best possible way.

In a little over twenty years, we’ve gone from a country where homosexuality was illegal to a country where thousands of people are streaming home for a flying visit simply to vote – let’s hope! – that same-sex partners can get married, and be considered equal under the law and the Constitution to their heterosexual brothers, sisters, cousins, coworkers, and friends. I have seen arguments to suggest that holding a referendum, or a popular vote, on an issue which should be one of human rights (and therefore above a mere vote) is an inappropriate thing to do, but in Ireland, we have no other way of doing it. To amend our Constitution, we must hold a referendum. And to give same-sex couples the same rights as everyone else, their right to marry must be enshrined in the Constitution. It does make me uncomfortable that I, as part of the heterosexual ‘majority’, have the power to essentially bestow a human right upon my fellow citizens, but I hope that – should the ‘Yes’ vote carry – it will be seen as solidarity, as brother- and sisterhood, and not a patronising gesture.

In any case, whatever happens today, I have never been so emotionally moved by any electoral or referendum campaign, and I have never been more amazed at the people of my country, and overwhelmingly the young people of my country, at that. I will be so proud to take my place in line today (for queues are forming at polling stations! I’ve never seen the like!) and cast my vote, in the full and certain knowledge that I am living in a democracy, and that the people – when they truly rise up and claim it – have power beyond measure.

It almost makes up for the Eurovision. Almost.

Image: irishexaminer.com

Image: irishexaminer.com

Why I’m Voting ‘YES’

The world is building up to an overwhelming crescendo again. I know it’s not just me; anyone with any sense of compassion will have been overwhelmed by the news from Nepal in recent days, and by the reality of what’s happening in Baltimore, MD. That’s not to mention all the ongoing crises in the world which will continue to rumble, even when our eyes are turned elsewhere. Not, it sometimes feels, that it really matters whether we’re watching or not – the brutalities of the world seem like so much entertainment, to some people.

So, in an attempt to distract myself from all this negative horror, I want to talk today about something which means a lot to me, and which – to my mind – is a little shaft of light in a darkening world.

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

In about three weeks’ time, the people of Ireland will be called upon to vote in a Constitutional referendum to decide whether or not Marriage Equality (or Same-Sex Marriage, if you insist) should be made legal in our jurisdiction. The campaigning has been ferocious, and at times vitriolic, and as one would expect in a debate like this, issues which have nothing to do with the central question have been brought up for discussion, distracting from the real matters at hand. Sometimes, this has made me angry, and at other times it has made me glad I live in a democracy where people are entitled and expected to air their views and have them at least listened to, if not agreed with.

I don’t normally make my own political opinions public, and I don’t normally bang on about what way I’m going to vote in any particular election or referendum, but this time I think it’s important that people say which way they’re leaning, and explain why. I will be voting ‘YES’ on May 22nd, and I’m proud to say so. I will be voting in favour of legislating for legal civil marriage for same-sex couples – or, making every citizen of Ireland equal under the law when it comes to being married and having that marriage recognised by the State – and I can’t wait for my chance to exercise my franchise.

There has been a lot of talk in Ireland over the past few weeks about how this vote will affect children, if it’s passed; how it will (apparently) rip children from their mothers’ arms and place them in the households of legally-married gay couples, and how distasteful that would be, and how it will deny every child the ‘right’ to be brought up in a loving home with a mother and a father. It will destroy the fabric of society, we’re told by those on the ‘NO’ side, undermining the legitimacy of marriage itself, forcing religious people to act against their conscience, leading to a future where children are left lost and rootless and families begin to crumble.

It’s all nonsense.

There are already gay couples living peacefully in Ireland, bound legally as civil partners – but these relationships don’t have the same protections under the law or the Constitution as marriage does. There are already families headed by two adult partners of the same gender. There are already children born to, and being lovingly raised by, gay parents. The only difference that this referendum will make, if it’s passed, to the children of gay couples is this: it will make them more protected, more secure under the law, and safer. Currently, if a child is the biological offspring of a lesbian woman in a civil partnership, and if that woman dies, her partner has no legal right to parent the child whom she loves as her own, and whom she has raised as her own. If the women were married, the child would be secure in her family, knowing that nobody can take her from the parent she has known and loved all her life if anything should happen to her biological mother. Currently, if two men are civilly partnered and one of them dies without making a will, his partner (and, possibly, their children) cannot automatically inherit his estate, as would happen with a married couple. It’s as if, sometimes, people can’t imagine children being lovingly raised by two people who happen to be of the same gender, and they can’t imagine how on earth a child could be raised well, and roundly, and with loving support, by anyone other than a woman and a man. They can be. They are being. It’s perfectly possible. What a child needs, most fundamentally, is love, not two differently-gendered parents. If they happen to have a mother and father, great. If they don’t, they’ll be fine – so long as they’re safe and loved.

The notion that every family headed by a married man and woman is ‘happy’, or functional, or loving, or abuse-free, is outdated and naive, but it seems to be a notion that the ‘NO’ side are clinging to. I am lucky; I was raised in a happy family with a set of parents of opposite gender. I am married to a person of opposite gender to myself, and we are happy. But this doesn’t mean that every family with a mother and father is happy, just because the parents are of opposite genders. Children are battered and beaten every day by their mothers. Children are abused by their fathers. Children live in squalor and horror under the veneer of ‘respectability’, and nobody bats an eyelid because their family are ‘good people’. If the people campaigning against this referendum truly cared about children’s welfare, and if that was really their core concern, they’d shut up shop and join the ‘YES’ side, because nothing else makes sense. We are trying, as a country, every day, to protect the children who suffer at the hands of their biological, heterosexual parents – our system isn’t perfect, but we’re working on it. How, then, we could consider not passing a referendum which would give more stability to already happy and functional families – ones headed by same-sex parents – is beyond me.

But this referendum isn’t about children, really. It’s about equality. It’s about this country looking its gay citizens in the eye and saying ‘You and I are equal under the law in all things, and I’m going to vote to make sure your rights are as protected as mine.’ If it’s passed, this referendum won’t force churches to marry gay people in religious ceremonies. It won’t force anyone to do anything against their will. It will make life easier and more stable for hundreds of children, and it will be an acknowledgement that every person has the right to be involved in a loving, committed relationship recognised by their State if they so choose.

I’m voting ‘YES’, and I hope the majority of my fellow citizens will be with me. It won’t save the world, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Friday Flash

Can I just say how much I giggled at this morning’s Google doodle? I might even have air-punched, just a little bit.

Image: independent.co.uk

Image: independent.co.uk

Instead of following its own colour-coded design, this morning Google used a rainbow pattern, presumably as a comment on the controversy raging over the Sochi Winter Games and the statements made by the Russian government regarding gay people over the last few weeks. I, for one, think this is amazing. The Google doodle, that is, not the ignorant comments. Surely the spirit of the Olympic Games is one of unity, sportsmanship, peace and equality?

So, what part of that means excluding gay people?

Anyway.

I hope the Games take place without incident, without violence, without shows of hatred. I hope they highlight the ideals of fair play, equality between nations and peoples, and the unifying power of sport. I hope they show the world how great human beings can be.

In this vein, this morning’s Flash! Friday challenge was to take this wonderful image:

Panathenaic Stadium during the 1896 Olympic Games opening ceremony. Image: blogs.oup.com

Panathenaic Stadium during the 1896 Olympic Games opening ceremony.
Image: blogs.oup.com

and the prompt word ‘envy’, and craft a story around them. The kicker? As with every Flash! Friday challenge so far this year, the story had to be between 140 and 160 words. Easier said than done.

So, I came up with this:

The Spirit of the Games

He passed through the throng unseen, trying to understand. A huge, hard-packed racing ring led into the unknowable distance. Tiers of chattering people – even women – rose high all around. Unfamiliar flags fluttered overhead. That particular feeling – the only thing he recognised about this place – was in the air. Expectation. Competition. Conquest.

But where were the offering fires? The temple to Zeus?

‘Stop!’ he instructed a passerby, but the command was ignored. Confused, he looked down at himself, oiled and ready. He was unused to being overlooked, accustomed more to greedy stares, flashing hatred, raging jealousy. He thrived upon it. It drove him to win.

But where should he go? There were no slaves to direct him. He could not see the athletes’ enclosure anywhere.

Then, a cheer rose from the crowd. He turned. A group of men, oddly dressed, thundered toward him.

‘Wait,’ he said, hands raised. ‘Please!’

But they passed through him, scattering his shade to the gods.

**

I’m off to stretch my writing muscles, oil up my typing fingers, and get my brain around the high-jump of my MS of ‘Emmeline.’ I started inputting my ‘final’ edits yesterday, thinking ‘Oh, yes! This’ll be a breeze. No problem whatsoever. I know exactly what I want to change, and I’ll get through them in about an hour.’

Famous last words.

Of course, what has happened is that every sentence I read has something in it that needs tweaking. Just slightly, but enough to take up precious cogitatin’ space.

As Captain Oates, my dear old friend, once said: I may be some time.

It’s the Little Things

Lots of things in life bother me. I’m one of those people where ‘the river runs close to the surface,’ if you know what I mean; I am emotional, and sometimes I find myself shedding a tear where other people would go unmoved. If I’m honest, I like this aspect of my personality, though I know it upsets my loved ones at times. I like the fact that I feel things deeply, even though it’s painful; it makes me feel connected to myself, and to others.

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

At the weekend, I was standing at traffic lights waiting for a chance to cross the road in safety. Facing me, coming in the opposite direction, was a set of young parents and their two boys, probably aged about seven and five. I’m not a parent, but I’m more than aware of how boisterous and energetic children of this age can be, and these two little boys were no different from the average kid. One of them started pressing the ‘Walk’ button repeatedly, as children do, and the other was prancing about from foot to foot, singing a little song to himself. Just as I was thinking what cute children they were, I witnessed a show of anger from the parents that left me reeling. The children were shoved and shouted at, and the boy with his hand on the ‘Walk’ button had it forcibly removed. The singing child was yelled at and told to shut up. As they started to cross the road, one boy dawdled, his attention caught by something in one of the idling cars, and his father grabbed him and shoved him across the road with what I felt was unnecessary force, shouting at him all the way. In no point was the child in danger – the green ‘walk’ signal was lit, and the cars were not moving. The physicality was extreme and unwarranted, I thought. I glared at the man, and said, very clearly, ‘there’s no need for that!’ as we passed one another on the road – he ignored me, of course. I hardly expected anything else. I’m fully prepared to accept that my actions may not have been appropriate; it’s not for me to say how anyone else raises their children, and I know that. Having said that, I watched the two little boys as they reached the far side of the road; from being the curious, singing little things they’d been at the beginning of this scenario, now they were both crying and angry. The whole family was furious with one another, and it radiated from them like steam from boiling water.

I walked home feeling so sad at what I’d seen. It stayed on my heart all day, weighing it down.

There’s a poem called ‘Children Learn What they Live,’ which played on my mind for most of the rest of the weekend. It begins: ‘If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn; if a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight; if a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.’ I’ve often read this poem and it has always been clear to me how perceptive and true it is. It makes me wonder how a parent thinks treating their child with aggression can lead to anything but pain, or how they think that a child is going to grow up as a happy, contented and secure adult if they’ve felt bullied and belittled all their lives.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that the family I saw was abusive, or anything like that. Every family has its bad moments, and perhaps I simply happened to be there at the wrong time for this particular family. I’m also not saying that children shouldn’t be corrected when they misbehave; teaching a child how to negotiate the world with respect for themselves and others is a vital part of parenting, and discipline is part of that. For the record, I don’t believe in physical discipline of children, but I know opinions differ on that. I feel, too, that correcting a child’s misbehaviour with appropriate discipline is different from using them as punchbags for an adult’s own feelings of anger or upset or frustration; the latter is inexcusable.

Of course I would love to see a world where no child would ever know aggression, whether it’s verbal or physical, but we’re all aware of how realistic that dream is.

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

I have a huge amount of sympathy for parents who, under pressure from every corner, find raising their children difficult; it’s not easy to find the money and the time and the energy to parent energetic, never-sleeping, inquisitive little people. There are going to be times when tempers boil over and anger reaches flashing point and things are said which will be regretted later – but it’s really important to express this regret, and ‘mend the fences’, and reassure the child that they are still, and always, loved. Love is such a little thing – such a short word, and so often bandied about – but at the same time it’s the single most important thing a parent can give their child. I’d go so far as to say it’s the single most important thing one person can give another.

I would love to see a situation where every child was afforded an education, the chance to learn how to read and write fluently and confidently, and the knowledge that – no matter what – they are loved. Imagine the generation of happy, compassionate and intelligent people we would raise.

Imagine the difference it would make to the world.

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

 

 

 

 

Freedom

Just another word for nothing left to lose? Well. I’m not so sure about that.

It was, of course, the Fourth of July yesterday; I’m not American, so for me it was just another day. I know, though, that the Fourth of July is a holiday held dear all over the world, and one which is remembered, if perhaps not observed, in many countries. It got me thinking about the idea of freedom – what it means, the implications it has, why it’s important, and whether it’s possible to achieve a world order in which everyone is free, all at the same time – and so today I thought I’d take a short ramble through my thoughts on the issue. Will you join me for the walk?

Image: footage.shutterstock.com

Image: footage.shutterstock.com

Freedom can be used with a lot of prepositions – freedom from, freedom to, freedom of – so, clearly, it is a concept with many facets. It means different things to different people, and freedoms expected in one culture may not be expected, or even desired, in another. Freedom is not a ‘one size fits all’ – one culture should not impose its own notions of freedom on another, I think – and, in that sense, it’s difficult to speak of a freedom that can encompass the world. In my opinion, nobody should live in fear, under oppression, or with the expectation that their liberty may be removed at any time, without warning; however, in order for this to happen, I think the world would have to change so much that it’s hard to see a way for it to become a reality. Freedom can be a threatening force to some – we all know of political regimes in which the powers that be keep an airtight hold on their citizens’ daily lives for fear that granting them an inch of liberty might spell their own downfall – and some people are interested only in a freedom that applies to them, and them alone.

Why are human beings so complicated? And so cruel, sometimes? I don’t think I’ll ever figure that one out.

For some terrible reason, humanity seems to have developed in such a way that it can only function if some of the world’s population is oppressed. Our economic systems are designed to keep certain people down; western consumer culture has trapped generations of people – often, people who live ‘far away’ and who are, therefore, easy to forget – in a spiral of poverty and overwork; certain religions and cultures deny people the freedom to gain an education, to drive a car, to live where they wish… the list is endless. It takes a greater brain than mine to come up with a way to solve these problems, I fear. It causes me a great deal of guilt when I compare the life I am privileged to lead with the life of a person who is exactly like me, but living in a different country or under a different set of beliefs, and whose life is vastly different to mine as a result of mere geography.

Can a world be forged in which we are all, to echo the great phrase, created equal? Obviously, I know every person is intrinsically equal to every other human person, simply by dint of being alive, but anyone taking a look around our planet can see that the idea of equality between peoples is, in a lot of places, nothing more than a beautiful dream. I fear too much change would be required to make it a feasible reality everywhere. Sadly, there are people who would fight tooth and nail to protect their own freedom, and that of their families and loved ones, while not caring what happens to others. But if we are not all free, to whatever extent we wish it, is there any point in any of us being free? And how free are we, really, in a world where we’re bombarded with messages about how we’re not good enough, and how we must buy and acquire and hoard more and more, and how happiness is only achievable when a particular total appears at the end of our bank statements? There are many forms of oppression, though some are far more insidious than others.

In order for freedom to be extended to all, I think a lot of people would have to give up some of the things they’ve always taken for granted, and governments all over the world would have to prove themselves trustworthy and incorrupt, and we would all have to agree on what the word ‘freedom’ actually means. Because of this, I’m not sure we’ll ever see universal equality, though it’s certainly something we should never stop striving towards. I am very grateful for the freedoms in my life, and for the fact that so many of those who’ve gone before me have paved the way for me to have the life I’ve got. What more selfless act can there be but to take action which will guarantee a better life for people you will never meet, or know? What better example to follow?

I hope all of those who celebrate the Fourth of July had a wonderful day yesterday, and I hope that people all over the world took a moment to reflect on their own freedoms, and to be grateful for them. I know I did.

Happy Friday, and I hope a wonderful weekend, full of happy things, awaits you.

Woman Power

So, I’m alive. I’m awake. I’m functional, even. I’m a little bit late with the blog post, but what’s that between friends? I hope you’ll forgive me.

If you can't forgive me, then maybe you'll forgive this cute kitten in a bonnet. Image: fourms.catholic.com

If you can’t forgive me, then maybe you’ll forgive this cute kitten in a bonnet.
Image: fourms.catholic.com

Yesterday was a hard day. Doing a 10K walk is not necessarily difficult in itself – I’ve often done long walks before – but the extra complicating factor in yesterday’s Mini Marathon was the heat. Yesterday felt like one of the hottest days I’ve ever lived through, even though I’m sure it wasn’t. But if you take a hot, dry, bright day and add upwards of 40,000 people all in close proximity to one another, it’s going to feel ten times hotter than it really is. There was a lot of perspiration going on. So much for the old maxim that ‘horses sweat, men perspire, and women only glow’: this woman right here sweated litres yesterday. Sorry for the gross image, but it has to be done!

It feels great to have completed the Mini Marathon, and I’m very glad I did it (with a lot of encouragement from my lovely mother-in-law), but I must admit that the build-up to it was nerve-wracking. I wondered if I’d be able to do it, and I worried about letting people (and myself) down if I failed. I worried that I wouldn’t be physically or mentally able for it – walking for pleasure, which I do every day, is a different thing from walking in a sporting event like this one, despite the fact that the participants weren’t in competition with one another – and I feared I wouldn’t be up to the task.

But I was. I did it! I have a lovely shiny medal now to be proud of, and my father-in-law and brother-in-law were kind enough to take high-resolution, sharp-focus photographs of me as I came away from the finish line so I’ll have those to admire in perpetuity, too. The cameras looked big enough to be capable of taking photographs of deep space, so I’m sure they captured every open pore and strand of sweaty hair, not to mention the lobster-red of my face. Thanks, guys!

Something which struck me yesterday was the amount of women who walked and/or ran the Mini Marathon in memory of someone else, and in honour of someone they loved. People wore images on their t-shirts, lovely photographs of lost children or friends or parents, sometimes with a note of their age and what had claimed their life but sometimes not. I found myself very moved by some of these memorials, especially those in memory of babies who hadn’t managed to survive being born too prematurely. I was awed by the strength of these women, the mental and physical power it took to undertake something as strenuous as yesterday’s event while also carrying the weight of memory and loss. I’m sure they were taking part in order to raise some money for all the excellent charities and causes out there, and I hope they managed to raise as much as they wanted to. Nowadays, there’s not a lot of extra coinage sloshing around, and things like this – really worthy things like this – are suffering.

Anyway.

Women are amazing. So are men, of course, but today I want to celebrate women and how strong and fantastic they are. I’m very proud to be one, and I’m proud to know so many wonderful women and to have taken part in an event so full of strong and capable women yesterday. I’m glad to live where I live, and I’m glad to live at this time in human history, where my life is important and my personal sovereignty is respected and my opinion is listened to and my vote is counted. I’m proud of the women who’ve come before me, and I hope I’ll leave the world in as good a state for the women who come after me.

Image: envisionus.com

Image: envisionus.com

Happy Tuesday!

An Important Day

So, in case you’ve missed it (or you haven’t used Google yet and checked out their doodle), it’s International Women’s Day today. Happy IWD!

Image: swc-cfc-gc.ca

Image: swc-cfc-gc.ca

In a lot of ways I wish this day wasn’t necessary. I’m not naïve enough, however, to think that it’s not still needed by women all over the world. I am lucky (and I know exactly how lucky I am) to have the luxury of a life where I am cherished and loved, and where I live each day free from terror. I don’t have to worry about violence, either from a family member or a government agency or any other institution; I don’t have to worry about overt (or covert) sexism or discrimination. Having said that, Ireland isn’t a utopia in terms of its treatment of women, by any means. There are women in my own country who struggle with issues like this on a daily basis. Some of these women don’t even realise that another option exists, because they are denied that knowledge. There are women living in poverty, and trying to raise their children with very little. There are women living with abusers, there are women who are trained to see themselves as being nothing more than workhorses, and sexism is still alive and well (though, perhaps, more skilfully hidden).

However, I know that Ireland, particularly in comparison with some other countries, is a pretty good place to live. Nobody has any money any more, of course, but we all manage to rub along reasonably well. Despite that, I’m very glad and grateful to live here, and I appreciate the way I was raised, the education I had, and the encouragement I was given to strive and achieve. I’m also grateful for the fact that I lived most of my life in blissful ignorance that girls and boys were any different, or that boys, apparently, were able to do certain things that girls were not. My parents raised my brother and I with exactly the same opportunities and love, and made it very clear that we were equals, both in their eyes and in plain, common fact. I’m not sure they’re even aware of how huge a service they gave both their children; imbuing us with this sense of ‘we are equally important, equally loved, equally capable’ has benefited both of us. It gave my brother the respect for women that he exhibits to this day, and it gave me the sense that I was valued and important. My parents taught me that I mattered, and I wish more parents would give their daughters this sort of love.

We weren’t raised in a rich household – my parents both worked (even though my mother scheduled her hours around our schoolday, so she was always at home when we finished classes for the day), and my brother and I both worked at weekends from the age of fifteen or so, to earn what we needed and (as it turned out) to save for university. Our parents didn’t have the chance to access the same levels of education that my brother and I did, and they are immensely proud that both my brother and I earned graduate university degrees. We couldn’t have done that without their support and encouragement. I may never have developed my inner, burning need to learn without my parents, who raised me without telling me there were any limits on what I could do because I was a girl. My parents did raise me with traditional values – including the importance of keeping a home, caring for children, respecting myself – but I’m grateful to them for that education, too. I’m grateful to them because they didn’t just teach me those things, and then consider me ‘educated’. Despite the fact that they had their misgivings about me going away to university, they recognised the need in me to learn, and they supported my choices. From an early age they read to me and encouraged my schoolwork; as I grew up, they listened attentively as I told them all about my university work. Finally, they sat misty-eyed and proudly clapping as I received my doctoral scroll. They were proud of me all that time.

I know not every woman in the world gets this sort of background. I wish they did. If they did, I have a feeling a lot of the world’s problems could be excised at a stroke. I also wish more men in the world could be raised as my brother was, and that there were more men in the world like my brother right now. If events like International Women’s Day could show parents the value of raising their children with love, respect and tenderness, encouraging their dreams and celebrating their successes, regardless of the child’s gender, then I’m all for it. Perhaps that’s why I wish there was no need for International Women’s Day, though – it’s a shame we can’t just have ‘International Achievement Day’, celebrating everyone’s achievements equally. As much as I am in favour of encouraging young women, I hate the thought that we might be guilty of encouraging our daughters at the expense of our sons.

We are all important. We are all equal. We all matter.

Image: lotusinspirations.blogspot.com

Image: lotusinspirations.blogspot.com