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Sign up for feminist economics workshops

15 May

fem economics flyer


















BFN is running our first ever short course and the topic is feminist economics. Just over a year ago we hosted Dr Conor McCabe from the School of Social Justice at UCD to deliver an international women’s day lecture on this theme and what he shared had a room full of people with our minds fairly blown by ideas that we hadn’t ever heard articulated before. In the midst of as era where the global political and economic elite are punishing people for their greed, preaching austerity and claiming there is no alternative, it’s vital that we take a feminist look at where their ideology places women.

These workshops will be designed to equip us as an activist community to break through the ‘jargon’ that can keep economics so inaccessible and help us start to create a language of resistance that will mean something to people feeling the destructive effects of the cuts and debt created by the banks. Conor will be taking us through the issues in an accessible way and creating lots of space for discussion. The goal is that everyone gets the chance to learn something and that collectively we start to work out what that knowledge can mean when we use it politically!

You’ll notice there are 2 sessions on each day – it will be the same workshop repeated. We’re trying to cater for both people with daytime availability and those with evening availability. You can choose which session suits you best but we’re limited to 20 per session so get your name down fast by emailing

5/12/19 June 3pm or 6pm Realta Civic and Social Space, King Street Belfast

BFN is changing the way we organise…

6 May

So we’ve just realised we’ve been doing this feminist organising thing for over 4 years now and that is quite a long time.bfn logo

In that time we’ve met in cafes, pubs, living rooms fortnightly, monthly, once in a blue-moonly. In the past 2 years we’ve been very lucky to have had the meeting space provided by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency that has allowed us to settle and stabilise and increase our productivity and membership.

More recently, it’s been the feeling that it’s time for a change. The monthly activist meetings aren’t proving to be where the magic happens. Ideas are being generated all the time because the BFN membership are extremely engaged, creative and passionate people but the structure we currently operate within isn’t allowing all of those ideas to be translated into actions.

And so at the residential in February the participants came up with a plan – we need to open up the space for more people to step up and make things happen by creating sub-groups. At a follow up meeting in March someone expressed a preference for the term ‘groupettes’ and it has kind of stuck. (Think ‘suffragettes’ rather than 1950s girl group!) Each groupette will need 1 or 2 people to lead – leading in this context means making it happen. Planning and facilitating meetings, getting the word out, having some goals of things you want to achieve, inviting others in to get involved with the activities you plan. Right now we have vacancies to lead for ALL of these groupettes except Direct Action which is already up and running. Have a look at the list and see where your feminist calling might be taking you:

– Direct Action

…taking feminism to the streets, capturing the public attention, mobilising a response at short notice when something needs a feminist challenge, pushing the boundaries, channeling the righteous feminist anger, tapping into the feminist funny-bone…

– Lobbying and campaigning

…keeping an eye on public policy and legislation that needs to be informed by a feminist voice, engaging with public bodies and reminding them of their equality and human rights duties to women, writing to public representatives and mobilising the wider membership to campaign on issues that need a collective voice…

– Media and communications

…looking for opportunities to engage with the mainstream media, writing to papers, responding to requests to speak on the radio or TV, being proactive and sending out press releases on issues that affect women, taking on social media duties, updating Twitter and Facebook pages and maybe even helping make this website less crap (please!)…

– Fundraising

…kind of an obvious one – get creative about how we can find the resources to do more of the stuff we think is important, being familiar with common funding streams for grassroots groups and writing applications, getting creative about how to harness wider community support through fundraising activities and events…

– Peer support

…organising safe women-only social space with a  focus on supporting and taking care of each other, providing a relational focus for members who want to feel more a part of a feminist community, recognising that sexism and patriarchy leads to painful experiences that many members need to share and be understood, organising social time like movies, pub nights, discussion groups…

– Events (including FemFest)

…proposing, planning and organising a couple of bigger events each year, contributing side events to conferences or festivals such as International Women’s Day or Culture Night, events can be everything from the intensely political to the playfully creative, we are committed through funding to host an activist training event and a FemFest mini arts festival in this financial year so we need a team to get things moving on those straight away…


So we’re recruiting at least 5 organisers to volunteer to take on these roles. At this point in the life of BFN we really believe the only way to expand beyond our current level of activity and achieve more is to have people step up and get more involved in this way. We know it’s not for everyone and that many members have life circumstances that just won’t allow them to take on the increased commitment. That’s OK. Thank you for being part of this feminist challenge in your own context. But out of our 1200 or so Facebook members and everyone else who has been involved in various ways, we’re really hoping we can find that handful of people who can take this activist community further.


Finally we’re also looking for a coordinator. At the last meeting it was agreed that a coordinator is necessary to be a point of reference and accountability for all the groupettes as well as for public/press enquiries and to help new people figure out what we’re about and the best way for them to engage. This will be a rotating role with 1 person holding it for 6 months before handing it over to someone else – it needs enough time to give consistency but not so long that the person gets burnt out. So if you’re a pretty well organised person, good at keeping lots of balls in the air at once and motivating people to get shit done then please think about volunteering for this one.

As for our monthly general meetings, we’re going to stretch those out to quarterly meetings, and they’ll consist of a mixture of exploring a theme through guest speakers, discussion etc and getting updates from the groupettes on all the work that’s been going on. It was raised that having lots of parallel activities going on might make it harder for new people to get involved so we’re going to make better use of all the communication available to us, particularly using this website more, starting an email list and making sure all activities go up on the Google calendar for everyone to see and choose what they want to come along to. This is quite an experiment for BFN so we’ll be happy to take all the feedback you have about how well it is working along the way.

This does mean there’s no May meeting – we will aim to have a general meeting near the end of June but on one condition: we have to have all 6 of the groupettes assigned to volunteers and up and running before then. On your marks, get set….GO!

If you’d like to volunteer for any of the roles above please fill in this form and someone will be in touch.

BFN response to human trafficking bill

1 Nov

Today we submitted a response to the Justice Committee’s consultation on a private member’s bill on human trafficking and exploitation. We were specifically commenting on the implications of a clause that would criminalise the purchase of sex. Let us know what you think.



Belfast Feminist Network

Response to the proposed Trafficking & Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill

Belfast Feminist Network is a community collective representing the views of over 900 people. Established in April 2010, the group is committed to providing an open and inclusive space for discussions of gender inequality in Northern Ireland. Belfast Feminist Network has been responsible for organising a range of public events on issues affecting women’s lives such as rape and sexual violence, political participation, reproductive justice and human trafficking. We have engaged a number of MLAs and Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive at these events, most recently welcoming the participation of MLAs at the launch of our anti-rape campaign “The way I see it.”

This response to the proposed “Trafficking & Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill” reflects a number of discussions involving Belfast Feminist Network (BFN) members, through the medium of our online community, through our monthly group meetings and at a public meeting which we hosted in October 2013.


As a feminist group, the members of BFN welcome the focus on human trafficking in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has been highlighted by women’s organisations and human rights bodies for some time as an issue that has devastating consequences for women. A global commitment to address human trafficking has led to the introduction of new legal frameworks and directives at the European and international level. It is obviously important that our own legal frameworks develop in order to strengthen the domestic law protecting people from this abuse and providing access to both support and justice for those who have been victims. BFN would have expected draft legislation to be brought forward by the Department of Justice in the near future. The current private member’s bill brought by Lord Morrow contains a number of important provisions with regards to tackling human trafficking but also raises some significant problems. In particular, the inclusion of Clause 6 that would criminalise those who pay for sexual services brings a dimension to this bill that conflates all sex work or prostitution with human trafficking.

We are concerned about the creation of a hierarchy of victims when it comes to human trafficking, fuelled by sensationalist interest in sexual exploitation, that hides the prevalence of trafficking for other purposes. There is already an assumption that the majority of human trafficking in Northern Ireland is for sexual exploitation due to the fact that detection rates of this type of trafficking are higher. This does not mean other types of trafficking are not rapidly proliferating – it simply means we haven’t been looking for it to the same extent.

The provision within Clause 6 is based on an ideology that claims to be able to reduce sexual exploitation through reducing demand for prostitution. Attaching criminal sanctions to the purchase of sexual services is a contested model of reducing the demand for prostitution. The positive evidence for this having an effect on the number of purchasers comes from jurisdictions that enjoy much more gender equal social, political and cultural contexts than Northern Ireland. The evidence that this approach has more of an impact on human trafficking than approaches that favour liberal legislative frameworks is also conflicting.

In general, BFN does not presume to have the expertise to speak to the effectiveness of the Bill in terms of the provisions for dealing directly with victims of human trafficking in all of its forms. The expertise in this area lies with frontline service providers and statutory agencies supporting victims and pursuing perpetrators. Campaigning organisations like Amnesty International are also vital due to their strategic involvement in national and international monitoring bodies and insight into global trends in trafficking activity. However, we would like to comment further on the problems presented by Clause 6 and recommend that the Assembly does not support the Bill in its current form.

The Complexity of Prostitution: Challenging false dichotomies

Despite the extreme marginalisation of sex workers and the lack of space for their voices to be heard, when this is possible through research, blogging or sex worker advocacy organisations, it is clear that sex workers are not a homogenous group. In debates about how to legislate the sex industry in order to reduce harm, a false dichotomy is often held up which seems to suggest that there are only exploited victims on one side and a ‘privileged few’ on the other, who willingly participate and could leave at any time. This is of course not the case. Women and men involved in selling sexual services have a range of experiences that lie along a complex spectrum and that may change and develop over time.

BFN has consulted with service providers who support sex workers through addiction outreach services. They have expressed that there is a great deal of resistance to restrictive law from those involved in sex work that is rooted in:

–          Suspicion of moral crusades by people who are religiously motivated to end what is seen as sexually immoral.

–          Suspicion of the ‘rescue complex’ that seeks to label all sex workers as victims in need of saving from a terrible life.

–          Anger that no consideration has been given to the practical impact of restrictive law that may not criminalise them directly but criminalises activity they are involved in and therefore forces them into working conditions that are more dangerous.

It is obvious that Lord Morrow’s Bill contains all 3 of these elements and therefore it is unsurprising that many involved in sex work would be unhappy about its imposition.

BFN recommends that new laws governing the purchase or sale of sex in Northern Ireland should not be introduced without the meaningful participation of those whose lives will be affected by it. The marginalisation of this diverse group of people is not an excuse for progressing legislation without their direct involvement.

Evidence based law and policy

It is our understanding that the Assembly seeks to promote evidence based policy and law-making in Northern Ireland. Fulfilling this aim requires a commitment to evidence gathering in our own jurisdiction as well as learning from others. In the area of prostitution there is a great deal of value-laden research. Much of what is available from other countries has been produced to support an already agreed policy position. We are aware of positive evidence that supports the success of the Swedish or ‘Nordic’ model of criminalising the purchase of sex. However, just as much material exists to suggest that this model is not as successful as is often promoted. The most significant issue comes when we look at testimony from Swedish sex-workers who are increasingly coming forward to talk about how the introduction of the Swedish Sex Purchase Act in 1999 has resulted in them becoming further marginalised.[1]

When similar legislation was proposed in Scotland by MSP Rhoda Grant, the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project (SCOT-PEP) submitted a consultation response that provides a useful overview of the international research reflecting the negative impact of criminalising the purchase of sex. In particular they noted the problems with assuming it will reduce trafficking for sexual exploitation pointing to the fact that this analysis is too simplistic. They state:

” It is often claimed that targeting the clients of sex workers will fight trafficking. In fact, the evidence suggests that such an approach can have precisely the opposite effect.  Criminalising demand and imposing prohibition creates a black market which serves as a financial incentive for traffickers and is therefore a flawed and dangerous logic. Sex workers and their clients are best placed to identify potential victims of trafficking. Criminalisation will make clients and sex workers less likely to report a potential trafficking victim or to refer them to agencies who can offer them support.”[2]

The reality in Northern Ireland is that, regardless of the balance of competing research from other countries, we know next to nothing about the nature of prostitution in our own jurisdiction. We have no reliable information about the number of women and men (including those who are transgender or have a transgender history) who are involved in selling sexual services, the conditions under which they are involved in prostitution or their views on what would help reduce harm and exploitation within the sex industry.

BFN recommends that no attempt to criminalise the purchase of sex should be progressed without access to adequate information about the nature of prostitution in Northern Ireland. The study soon to be undertaken by the Department of Justice provides an opportunity to improve the data available. BFN recommends that this research should also encompass a needs assessment in order to ensure sex workers views can be heard.

The potential impact on sex workers: Tackling marginalisation must come first

Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s Bill is presented as a means of reducing prostitution but is not accompanied by any measures whatsoever that focus tackling the marginalisation of sex workers. With no commitment to improving services for sex workers or facilitating their participation in policy making that effects them, there is no way to monitor the impact of law or policy changes. There is a serious concern among those who do attempt to deliver services to people selling sex that making the legislative framework more restrictive than it currently is will have the effect of driving prostitution further underground. Evidence from Sweden suggests that the creation of a ‘black market’ in sexual services has made sex workers more vulnerable to manipulation by criminal gangs. Sex workers we have heard from in Northern Ireland have expressed fears that their ability to remain independent and autonomous when they work may be at risk if Lord Morrow’s Bill passes. This could force them to engage in activities that are more under the control of paramilitaries.  Criminalisation of the industry makes it harder for sex workers to engage with the police and health services, and results in less reporting from clients if they think someone has been exploited. In an attempt to reassure nervous clients, sex workers tend to engage in more risky decision making about which clients to take on and where to work. Swedish sex workers have reported that the climate of fear created by the Swedish law has reduced the time they have to make decisions and assess risk when engaging with a new client, something that can lead to them ending up in harmful situations they may previously have been able to avoid. Although not criminalised themselves, sex workers in Sweden have reported experiencing an increased ‘stigma’ when they try to access health services, with an expectation that they do not ‘deserve’ support unless they are willing to leave prostitution.

In order to properly understand the potential impact on sex workers, there has to be meaningful engagement. BFN believes this level of participation does not mean a 12 week consultation on a bill that has come about without any understanding of their lives and their needs. When a marginalised group will be disproportionately affected by a change in law or policy, they have a right to be involved in the process. Meaningful engagement means a commitment to improving services, creating an accessible infrastructure for service provision, adopting a harm reduction approach that is non-judgmental, listening and assessing needs and removing the stigma. If we increase the criminalisation of prostitution without a commitment to any of those things it is dangerous and irresponsible law-making.

Particular attention should be paid to the fact that prostitution is an area that engages a disproportionate number of migrant women who face multiple barriers to accessing services, often in the context of fear around their immigration status. Those who have been sexually exploited, forced or coerced often face a punitive approach when engaging with the immigration and asylum system with problems having already been documented around the National Referral Mechanism and its inability to successfully identify victims of human trafficking. Without significant commitments to tackle the factors that make it extremely difficult for these women to escape exploitation and get access to justice and support, a more restrictive legal framework could further exacerbate these barriers.

BFN recommends that the Northern Ireland Executive adopt a joined-up approach to tackling the problems associated with the sex industry and sexual exploitation, in accordance with the commitment in the Programme for Government to cross-departmental working. The first step should be developing a strategy for tackling the marginalisation of all those who sell sexual services.

The reality of tackling demand

BFN are supportive of the vision of a Northern Ireland that is unwelcoming to traffickers. However, the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking in Human Beings suggests that tackling the demand for trafficking can be achieved through educational, social, cultural and legislative means. We will not tackle exploitation with law alone. The Swedish model itself is not simply a law but includes measures like feminist education in schools. Nordic countries consistently score highly on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report with Finland, Norway and Sweden finishing 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the 2013 report. Northern Ireland has a very different cultural context with more indicators of gender inequality such as poor representation of women in public life, more restrictive law pertaining to reproductive choice, a more conservative approach to sex education in schools, higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage for women and poorer conviction rates for rape and sexual violence. Introducing law wholesale from another country with no understanding of the importance of context would be at best naïve. Without a significant shift in culture and the status of women in Northern Ireland, the motivation of clients involved in buying sexual services is unlikely to be reduced.

BFN recommends that departments of the Northern Ireland Executive consider the full range of cross-cutting measures necessary to effectively tackle gender inequality in Northern Ireland.

Socio-economic factors

For the service providers we heard from, economic pressures were the key issue pushing women into the sex industry. While tackling demand is important, the reasons women participate in prostitution will not simply go away. We have heard reports of women returning to street prostitution on an ad hoc basis because of cuts to benefits, and the struggle to make ends meet. Some see it as a safer option than going to loan sharks, which is often their only other option. If we really care about helping women out of prostitution then we should be committed to policy and law that recognises their socio-economic rights such as the right to welfare and the right to an adequate standard of living, protected in international law. The austerity policies dominating the current approaches of some parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly make any move to impose further constraints on vulnerable women seem quite hypocritical. We recognise that sex work should not be viewed as a desirable option for women with very constrained choices. We would love to see a society founded on gender equality where women are not subject to the level of degradation that fuels the exchange of intimate sexual services for money, placing them at risk of abuse. We are deeply aware of the problems associated with the fact that there is very little real choice exercised by someone in serious poverty. However, the fact that some women feel it is an option that helps them cope at a particular point in their lives means that we should respect the choices they have made and commit ourselves to ensuring they have more choices in the future. While many of us would prefer that no woman ever had to engage in prostitution we must remember that many women who do would resent any attempt to enforce a label of ‘victimhood’ upon them.

BFN recommends that the Northern Ireland Assembly should not support the Bill in its current form and should call for the removal of Clause 6. The important debate that this has opened up about the sex industry should not be swept aside. This should be seen as an opportunity to bring forward measures to engage with those involved and develop services, policy and a legislative framework more suitable to their needs.



Launch of “The way I see it”

6 Dec

(story told by an actress)

Rape prevention needs to focus on perpetrators

Belfast Feminist Network have launched an online campaign to call for a change in the way public safety messages about rape and sexual assault are delivered. The Network commissioned local film company Campaign Social to make the short film “The way I see it” that portrays a survivor of rape talking  about the experience and how she has come to terms with what happened. It also uses statistics from the Northern Ireland Crime Survey report on experiences of sexual violence and abuse to highlight the fact that 1 in 4 women are affected by this crime, with the vast majority of them having prior knowledge of their attacker.

A spokesperson for Belfast Feminist Network described the reason for making the film at this time:

“While there are increased incidents of rape and sexual assault over the Christmas period, the PSNI prevention campaigns in recent years have made the mistake of focusing on telling women how to avoid getting raped, rather than driving home the message that rape is never acceptable and the law places the burden of responsibility on men to seek clear consent. Teaching women to be more careful only serves to make excuses for rape, create a culture of shame for victims that makes it harder to report. This contributes to the very low conviction rates which do not deter attackers. Victim-focused campaigns don’t make women safer as they do nothing to challenge the attitudes and behaviour of men who rape.”

The film will be shared through social media in an attempt to make sure the voices of survivors of rape are heard. The film’s director, Matt Bonner of Campaign Social said:

“The challenge in filming this piece was to portray a side of this issue that campaign ads rarely portray accurately, that of the victim. Through filming in Belfast, I wanted this particular person’s story to have the look and feel of a short film, whilst grounding it locally. It should be something that anyone living here can connect with.”

The film is available to view at and through their Facebook and Twitter pages.  The Network will also be holding a candlelight vigil in Belfast City Centre on Friday at 5:30pm to mark the closing of the international “16 Days” campaign that highlights the issue of violence against women.

Belfast Feminist Network commission anti-rape film

3 Dec

As a group of busy activists/students/carers/workers/volunteers/everything else in between, the folks at Belfast Feminist Network wanted to do something for the 16 days of action on violence against women that we could work on slowly over that period and produce something important that we wanted to say on the subject of sexual violence, rape culture and victim-blaming. We’ve been doing research, planning a public event and we commissioned local film company Campaign Social to make a short film that will take the messages about how to really stop rape, to the public through the internet.

For the last 2 years we’ve been frustrated by the victim-blaming campaigns trotted out by the PSNI and DHSSPS that do little more than feed into the idea that rape should be prevented by controlling women’s behaviour and encourage a culture that makes excuses for rapists. We challenged this directly and in the press but to no avail. So we decided we might have to do the job ourselves. Earlier this year we had a fundraiser where Rachel Austin and a host of other amazingly talented local female musicians gave their time to help us raise money to produce a campaign of our own.

On Thursday 6th Dec at 6pm you will be able to view the results – the film will be launched here on our website for you to share as widely as possible. We’ve had a sneak peak and Campaign Social have done an amazing job –  it’s pretty powerful so we’re very hopeful about the impact it can have. Consider the countdown started! Check back for updates in the new few days, and please consider joining us for the official launch on Thursday at 7pm  in the Women’s Resource and Development Agency, Belfast. There will also be a candlelight vigil in Corn Market, Belfast City Centre on Friday 7th Dec from 5:30 – 6:30 when we will stand in solidarity with everyone who has experienced sexual violence and give out flyers about the film to the public. Please come along.

Women, Peace and Security conference in Dublin

1 Nov

Historic Conference on Women’s Inclusion in Peace Processes, 5th November

‘There can be no true democracy when the voice of half the community is silent in Parliament…The challenge to the party system has at least been made by the Independent women; their election campaign has set the public thinking…When next an election comes the seed sown should be ready to germinate – the seed beneath the snow as Silone calls it, speaking of those seeds of new growths that lie for a while submerged, but living’ Quote by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, 1943, on having stood as Independent candidate in the 1943 Dail election.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington one of Ireland’s foremost suffragettes and peace activists would have been proud of women’s rights activists today who have successfully brought about new legislation on political party funding and candidate gender quotas in Southern Ireland. The Electoral Act, 2012 provides for a 30% gender quota for party candidates at the next election, rising to 40% seven years later. With non-compliant parties risking financial penalties. Fiona Buckley one of the co-founders of the 50:50 group will be talking about the campaign, the challenges of the new legislation and ongoing work needed to encourage more women to become active in public life at the ‘Women Delivering Peace & Security’ Conference in Croke Park next Monday 5th November.

But that’s not the end of the story. More women are also needed in all of those institutions that have been set up under the Good Friday Agreement if they are to be active participants in decision-making on conflict prevention, management and resolution. For example, the new Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation has only one woman out of 11; and the newly formed North South Inter-Parliamentary Association has one woman out of 12 on its executive committee, while the Northern Ireland Assembly has 21 women out of 108 MLAs.

Hanna’s House, inspired by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, is the only cross border feminist organization in Ireland and are the hosts of the Croke Park conference. Their aim is to bring politicians, activists and academics together for the first time to discuss the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on women’s formal involvement in peace processes. Hanna’s House are recommending that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement develop a gender perspective and set gender targets in keeping with the UN Resolution.

Shirley Graham, the conference co-ordinator says ‘this is the first time such a conference is taking place in Ireland that looks at the impact of the conflict on women North and South of the border with a focus on thinking creatively and pragmatically about policies that need to be developed to support women’s participation in the ongoing peace process and to ensure that both women and men are equally represented’. President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins will formally open the conference. Speakers include Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie from the PSNI; Professor Monica McWilliams of University of Ulster & previously Human Rights Commissioner NI; Claire Hackett of Healing Through Remembering; Sean Barrett TD of the North South Inter-Parliamentary Association; Fiona Buckley of the 50:50 Group. To register for the conference go to:

For more information about Hanna’s House or the Conference, contact Shirley Graham at or on 0851476548.

Less than 24 hours left to sign!

26 Oct

Thank you to everyone who has already added their name and messages of support to this open letter welcoming the work of Marie Stopes in Belfast.

You can sign here.

As we approach 500 signatures, we think this is a good time to close the petition and deliver it directly into the hands of the politicians. While the tone of the public discourse over the last couple of weeks has been reassuringly pro-choice, the MLAs have sounded precitably archaic, misinformed and sensationalist by comparison. We must take this opportunity to remind them that they are there to represent us and our view is that full reproductive choice and healthcare is essential to securing women’s well-being and equality!

In addition to this online letter, activists have been gathering paper signatures in the QUB Student Union and Belfast City Centre. In total we now have well over 1000 and are hoping to present these to Stormont on Monday. Therefore this petition will close at midnight tonight so let’s have one last big push to share it with as many friends as possible who might want to sign! Please focus on people who live here in Northern Ireland as those signatures will have the most impact for the MLAs.

Many thanks again for your support,

Amnesty highlight challenges with Lord Morrow’s prostitution bill

20 Sep

Amnesty International

Lord Morrow’s Private Members Bill: Amnesty welcomes anti-trafficking measures but warns against diversion of resources

Amnesty International has welcomed steps to tackle human trafficking in Lord Morrow’s draft Private Members Bill as providing a timely focus for the debate on how Northern Ireland can fulfil its international obligations on trafficking. However, the organisation warned that the Bill’s proposals on prostitution risked the potential diversion of resources away from tackling existing human trafficking offences. The Amnesty statement came as Lord Morrow prepared to present his Private Members Bill to the All Party Group on Human Trafficking at the Northern Ireland Assembly this afternoon (Tuesday 4pm).

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International Northern Ireland Campaigner, said:

“The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have important roles to play in making the region a hostile place for human traffickers and a place of safety and support for the victims of trafficking.

“We agree with the stated objective of Lord Morrow’s Private Members Bill which is to enable Northern Ireland to meets its international obligations to reduce demand, tackle trafficking, successfully prosecute cases and support victims.

“There are key elements of the Bill, especially around the provision of protection and services for the victims of trafficking, which we welcome.

“However, Amnesty International is concerned that making ”the paying for sexual services of a prostitute” a criminal offence could run counter to the purpose of tackling trafficking by confusing these related but separate issues and diverting criminal justice resources away from tackling trafficking. It is already an offence in Northern Ireland to pay for sexual services from someone who has been subjected to force,a position which we support.

Grainne Teggart added:

“The Trafficking Convention and the EU Trafficking Directive expressly provide measures to be taken for discouraging and reducing the demand for trafficking victims; the criminalisation of the users of prostitutes is not one of the measures they recommend. The proposed change to the law in Lord Morrow’s Bill thus creates an offence outside the trafficking legal framework. Legislators should focus on the provision of essential support services to the victims of trafficking and steps to ensure more successful prosecution of traffickers.Amnesty International welcomes this debate on how Northern Ireland can meet its international obligations to protect and uphold the human rights of victims of trafficking.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 – Women as powerful agents of change

18 Sep
British and Irish Governments must strengthen women’s role in peace process.
The Northern Ireland Executive was urged today to pressurise the British and Irish governments into implementing a UN Security Council Resolution which would give women here a more representative role in the peace process.
Feminist peace building group Hanna’s House met with MLAs today (18th September) in Belfast, ahead of a major All-Ireland Conference in Dublin in November, to discuss the need for both British and Irish governments to include Northern Ireland in their national action plans to implement UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
Shirley Graham, peace project co-ordinator of Hanna’s House, said the failure of the two governments to make provision for Northern Ireland in their action plans meant that women would continue to be under represented in politics, policing and the judiciary.
“The UNSCR calls for the increased participation of women in those institutions specifically established as result of conflict.  The exclusion of Northern Ireland from their Action Plans by both Governments means that women will continue to be under-represented in those institutions set up under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, particularly in leadership and decision-making roles in areas that can make a difference to communities still living with the aftermath of conflict.
“We organised this meeting today to help raise awareness of the importance of UNSCR 1325 and to invite representatives from the Northern Ireland Assembly to attend an All Ireland Conference on ‘Delivering Women Peace and Security’ at Croke Park Conference Centre on November 5. The conference will be the first time politicians from both sides of the border will have come together to discuss this issue with women from all across Ireland.
“We are also calling on the London and Dublin administrations to work together on the implementation of UNSCR 1325 by having sections on Northern Ireland in their national action plans that complement each other. We believe the Northern Ireland Executive could have a leading role in persuading them that this is the right approach to take.”
The Croke Park Conference, which will be opened by Irish President Michael D Higgins, will include a keynote address by Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics, giving an overview of UNSCR 1325 from a global perspective.
There will also be contributions from Professor Monica McWilliams on gender mainstreaming within the judiciary and from PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie on gender perspectives on policing and security.
Today’s meeting in Belfast followed a similar briefing in July when representatives from Hanna’s House met the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to discuss the need for north south co-operation in implementing UNSCR 1325.
Hanna’s House believe that the institutions set up by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement can be used to move forward the key actions demanded by the resolution.
 Dr Margaret Ward, Hanna’s House Chair  has stated that “the implementation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is ongoing and if UNSCR 1325 had existed at the time of its negotiation it would have provided a mechanism to ensure that women were adequately represented at the peace talks and in formal peace building institutions”.
Ms Graham added: “The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement created a framework in which the two governments could work with the new Northern Ireland Assembly to advance the peace process. This same framework can be used to bring about a new approach to Resolution 1325, to bring women to the heart of peace-building.
“It is important for women in Northern Ireland who have been impacted by violence to have real influence over institutions and services to create a safer and more equal society. This is not just about conflict resolution but also about prevention. We believe that women have a major role to play in ensuring we do not slide back into conflict.”
For more information about Hanna’s House visit
Notes to Editors
UNCR 1325, which was signed on October 31 2000, is a landmark resolution that promotes women as powerful agents of change of conflict rather than as voiceless victims.
It recognises that women are important actors in peace building and conflict prevention and on governments to devise policy that provides women with adequate security and healthcare in the post conflict situation.
The UK National Action Plan on UNCR 1325 was published on November 25, 2010 and revised in February 2012. Despite intensive lobbying from GB and NI women’s group, the government does not address the conflict in their National Action Plan.
The Irish National Action Plan was officially launched by Mary Robinson in November 25 2011. November 25 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Hanna’s House has called on the Irish Government to ensure that UNSCR 1325 was an integral part of the work of its Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as well as Ministerial Councils set up under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement: – the British-Irish Council, British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, North/South Council, North-South Inter-parliamentary Association and the North-South Parliamentary Forum to cooperate on issues related to women’s equality and human rights.

I know I’m pro-life because…

8 Jul

Today in Belfast a big ol’ crowd of people paraded and danced and chanted and even engaged some kind of whirling dirvish activity, all while holding yellow smiley faces and claiming to be “celebrating life”. What they were really doing was reinforcing the religious and patriarchal hegemony that seeks to keep women with their legs shut, their wombs occupied and their ambitions in the home. The last decade has seen the ongoing decline of the church’s influence throughout Ireland, not helped by the sexual abuse of children and subsequent cover ups, coupled with the growth of equality based democracy in Northern Ireland and human rights motivated legislative developments in the Republic. In short, this is something of an end of days for the anti-choice zealots. Their unfortunate misunderstanding of what happens when a sperm and an ovum meet has had  good run of it but in this modern age when we tend towards evidenced-based decision making, there’s just too much damn knowledge all around us for their nonsense to survive. And so they need these marches, where they fill coaches paid for with American money, with mainly children and the elderly from every parish in every far flung corner of this island. They need them to keep on convincing themselves that they are right, to keep anyone who disagrees with them too afraid to speak out, and to keep the 7000 women from Ireland who travel for abortions every year, shamed into silence.

Today in Belfast, we didn’t let them away with it. We had a counter rally where  brave sisters and brothers called out the bullshit and said “We are not ashamed”. We sat in a small theatre later in the afternoon and shared stories of real women’s abortion journeys while the last stragglers of the ‘Rally for Life’ passed by the window, oblivious to the truth they were missing out on just a few feet away. It was a strange day of mixed feelings. We were buoyant to begin with, Emilie and I half-running round to City Hall with the Belfast Feminist Network banner, desperate to catch our first glimpse of the crowd and buzzing with activism adrenalin. Later I talked to a lot of people who were surprised at their own rage as the anti-choice rally passed by, some were disgusted by the very fact that the marchers had felt the need to make the trip to our city to share their bigotry and ignorance, and others were really down as the sheer numbers passing by endlessly seemed overwhelming. Hopefully our pro-voice performance “Free to Tell” was a good debriefing experience, allowing the emotion of the protest to find a direction and focus on the whole reason we will continue to raise our voices.

The thing that angered me the most about Precious Life and Youth Defence and the whole movement they represent is their domination of the word “life”, in particular the way they use “pro-life” to define themselves. Last week while rehearsing for the play, we had a little cast in-joke where we wasted half an hour or so cracking ourselves up with how many ways we could reclaim the term for ourselves. A Facebook page was created as a result (of course) but perhaps the joke doesn’t have much mileage in it. It did get me thinking though, about all the ways I KNOW I’m pro-life and about the depth and breadth of what that term should mean. I believe in some version of the sanctity of life; that life is precious and should, with full consent, be preserved at all costs. I love the writings of John O’Donohue the Irish poet and philosopher who said “It is a strange and magical fact to be here, walking around in a body, to have a whole world within you and a world at your fingertips outside you.” I learned about injustice as a child and I knew it had something to do with people being denied the chance to live in the fullness of that mystery so I’ve spent most of my life looking for ways to do something about that. I’ve sat with children who’ve had more to bear than most of us could imagine, talked to them about how precious they are while they self harmed and my job was just to make sure they were safe. I’ve held the hand of a 9 year old as she proudly showed me round her house, 3 or 4 dirty mattresses on the floor in each bedroom, no photos, no toys, all 7 siblings adopted or fostered…and afterwards I took her out for ice-cream and wondered how many of the houses we passed on the way looked similar on the inside. I listened to a friend try to tell me about her mistakes, about what shame feels like, about what it means to never feel comfortable in your own skin because it’s like your body is the enemy, and missed the chance to understand her through being young and inexperienced and mostly drunk. But I’d understand now. I believe in human rights and equality, in creativity, in adventure, in community and family, in pleasure, in pushing yourself, in wanting more, and appreciating what you have. So that’s how I know I’m pro-life, and if someone out there thinks they can own that phrase because they believe one stupid thing about what god thinks about what women do with their bodies, then screw them. They can go to hell.