A VOTE OF HER OWN: REPEAL REFERENDUM A CHANCE TO HONOUR SUFFRAGETTES

Breda leading the way at the 2017 St Patrick's Day parade in London

Breda leading the way at the 2017 St Patrick's Day parade in London

Tomorrow marks 100 years since women were first given the right to vote. We must honour the memories of those who fought for that right, by ensuring as many citizens as possible take part in the upcoming Eighth Amendment referendum, writes Breda Corish

 

I started my final year of secondary school in County Limerick on Wednesday 7th September, 1983. 

It was the same day as the referendum, which resulted in the Eighth Amendment being added to the Constitution of Ireland. It made abortion a constitutional issue, prohibiting it in almost all circumstances. 

As I was only 17 at the time, I couldn't vote. But at least it was my age rather than my gender that determined my eligibility. 

February 6th 2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People’s Act, which granted the vote to women for the first time in Britain and Ireland.  

Irish women exercised that right in the general election on 14th December, 1918. It resulted in another first, the election of Constance Markievicz as the first female MP.

'Ridicule, abuse and imprisonment'

I look back in admiration and awe at the suffragettes of Ireland and Britain who fought tirelessly for decades, so that women could have the right to vote and be treated as equal citizens with the men of their countries. 

During the course of their campaign, they were subjected to ridicule, abuse and surveillance, as well as imprisonment and force-feeding. 

I can think of no better way to honour the memory of the suffragettes and those first Irish female voters than for each of us to commit to making every effort to take part in the upcoming referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Back on that fateful day in 1983, only 53.67% of the Irish electorate came out to vote, of which 66.9% voted in favour of amending the constitution. 

That means just 35.7% of total registered voters in Ireland brought in the change, which equated the life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus. 

Go home to vote

When the 2018 referendum on the Eighth Amendment is held, I hope that every citizen remembers that women only have the right to vote because of the battles fought by the generations that went before them.   

We should all treat that right as something precious and powerful.  

If, like me, you are no longer eligible to vote because you have lived outside Ireland for too long, you can still talk to your family and friends back home to encourage them to vote to repeal.

Or you can travel back in solidarity with the 10 women, who'll be travelling in the other direction that day to access abortions in Britain.  

If you are an Irish citizen abroad, who is still eligible to vote under current legislation, I urge you to return and exercise that right.  

This is the year when we all have the opportunity to make a difference.  Will you play your part in making Ireland a country where women are finally trusted to make decisions?

Breda Corish is a member of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. 

Hannah Little