Join women from all over Ireland to hear an all-women panel of speakers at #WomensSpaceToSpeak on November 12th.
— Women’s Space Ireland (@WomensSpaceIre) November 2, 2022
For a brief moment, it looked like the women of Ireland had finally earned full legal recognition as autonomous beings in the eyes of the Irish state. In 2018, a large majority of the country voted for the repeal of the 1983 pro-life 8th Amendment to their constitution, making abortion legal. Women rejoiced in the streets. It looked like the dark days of the Irish state punishing women for their biological reality were finally over.
Four short years later, it looks like the optimism of that time was misplaced. Irish women’s bodies are once again up for debate. But this time, the threat comes not from the religious right, but the secular left. The behaviour being policed is not sex resulting in unwanted pregnancy, or daring to use contraception (which was illegal for single people until 1985), but to acknowledge the reality of biological sex itself.
Despite the country’s conservative Catholic history, the supposedly progressive trans ideology seems to have become widely accepted in Irish society. In 2015, parliament passed the Gender Recognition Act, allowing individuals over the age of 18 to self-declare their gender identity.
Now women who already face social punishment could face criminal punishment for daring to say that biological sex is real.
This year, two bills were brought to the Irish Parliament — the Dáil Éirann — that threatened to dilute the definition of “woman” in legislation. In the spring, a draft amendment to the Maternity Protection Act, written in 1994 for “female employee[s] only,” proposed replacing the word “woman” with the word “person.” According to a document posted on the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth website, this was so as to include “trans male/male pregnant employee[s].” In October, the word “woman” was quietly changed to “woman or other person.” The bill has not yet been signed into law.
The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill) Bill 2022 proposes to include gender as a category in hate crime law. “Women” and “sex” are not included as a category, yet the bill suggests “gender” and “sex characteristics” be added. Gender critical feminists fear this could result in criminal penalties for saying things like, “Women don’t have penises.”
Such a precedent has already been set in places like Norway, where feminist Christina Ellingson is facing jail time after tweeting, “You are a man. You cannot be a mother.” She was reported to the police by a man claiming to be a lesbian and a mother, and was subjected to nine hours of questioning by police — twice — as a result. In 2020, Norway expanded its penal code to outlaw “hate speech against transgender people.” People found guilty of “hate speech” face a fine or up to a year in jail for private remarks, and a maximum of three years in jail for public comments.
Most, if not all, of the political establishment — including feminist groups — have backed the proposed changes, adding “gender expression” and “gender identity” as protected characteristics to Ireland’s hate crime law, with little or no debate. But earlier this month, a group of women gathered in Dublin to speak about how seemingly arcane legal phrasing can have devastating consequences for women and girls.
Estelle Birdy and Jill Nesbitt organized “Women’s Space to Speak” on November 12th, on behalf of Women’s Space Ireland. The packed room and high spirits at the event indicates that the pushback against wholesale adoption of gender ideology in Ireland has begun in earnest.
— Helen T S P (@HelenTerfSwerf) November 12, 2022
Psychotherapist and management consultant Iseult White spoke first, pointing out that while conviction rates for hate crimes are generally low, for women dragged through police investigations for challenging gender identity ideology, “the process is the punishment.” Christina Ellingsen, confirmed this during her talk, recounting her experience falling afoul of Norway’s hate speech gender laws.
Despite the fact that, for many of Norway’s progressives, Ellingsen’s name is now “associated with one of the worst things in existence,” she said the ordeal has not diminished her will to fight on.
“I don’t want to be associated with a generation that gave away women’s rights,” she said, to great applause.
All of the women who spoke at the Woman’s Space event have been publicly denounced or de-platformed for questioning trans orthodoxy, and fear that protecting “gender” under Ireland’s hate speech laws will lead them down a path similar to Ellingsen’s.
Anne Conway, a retired nurse, socialist feminist, and long time activist in Irish labour unions, offered a particularly moving speech. In the late 1970s, she told the crowd, “I experienced first-hand the censorship of the state.” At the time, she sold condoms illegally and advocated for abortion rights. In contemporary Ireland, she provoked ire by tweeting that the words “mother” and “woman” should remain in Irish legislation. She described the “hostility, coldness, and cruelty” of trans activists towards her, including, she said, “well-known feminists.” Of trans activists, Conway said:
“Today, they have the full weight of the state behind them. There is a total consensus, including [from the ] the trade unions.”
The main impetus behind the Dublin meeting was the pending hate crime bill, which is widely expected to be passed, but the frustration of gender-critical Irish women has been brewing for some time.
After Ireland’s gender identity legislation was passed, allowing self-ID, male offenders (including one who threatened to rape, torture, and kill his mother) have been placed in women’s prisons. In June, the debate exploded into the mainstream with an interview on one of Ireland’s most popular radio shows with Sandra Adams, a member of feminist advocacy group The Countess, spoke out about being barred from attending the National Council of Women AGM on account of the Countess’s challenges to gender identity legislation. In September, a Christian teacher was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns. Enoch Burke argued he was persecuted for his faith, and refused to abide by a court order not to teach at Wilson’s Hospital School in County Westmeath, so was returned to prison, where he remains today.
For attendees of the Women’s Space Ireland event, the unthinking acceptance of men claiming to be women has reached a breaking point.
Poet and lecturer Colette Colfer described the backlash she faced after publishing a poem called, “Woman,” in 2018. She spoke of the irony in Ireland’s repeal of its blasphemy law, just as “the new gender religion” was becoming sacred. By giving a public reading of her poem, which includes lines like “I am a woman, how do I know? Because my body makes it so,” Colfer said, “I had blasphemed..to speak against the sacred idea of the time.”
Journalist Helen Joyce, who authored Sunday Times bestselling book, Trans: When ideology meets reality, warned, “The social contagion has gone beyond the early adapters,” as more and more children without other accompanying mental health issues are identifying as trans.
For those who want to push back against wholesale acceptance of gender self-id, Joyce suggested describing it as more “eating disorder than civil rights issue.” She recommended focusing on safeguarding concerns that self-id poses to children and women, creating networks that cross racial, religious, and socio-economic lines, and being supportive of gender confused children.
Despite the sense of urgency and a recognition that a lot of ground has already been lost, there were a few bright spots.
Speaker Ann Lodge, an academic, teacher, and Church of Ireland reverend, reminded the audience that parental rights are enshrined in the Irish constitution.
Psychologist and founder of Genspect — an international alliance of professionals, parents, trans-identified people, and detransitioners looking to support youth struggling with “gender” issues outside the affirmative model — Stella O’Malley, said that while gender critical feminists do not have the upper hand in the culture war, not all of Ireland’s medical establishment is on board with the affirmation model. In October, National Gender Service psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Moran, published an article in The Irish Times, criticizing the World Professional Association for Transgender Health as being “heavily influenced by gender activists,” rather than by healthcare professionals. In 2019, a leading Irish endocrinologist warned against fast-tracking medical treatments. “This is something we do not celebrate enough,” O’Malley said.
As the Western world moves towards adopting gender identity legislation, to the detriment of women and children, we have learned from other countries that we need to speak up as loudly as possible. As Irish women begin to do so, the world needs to support them.
Jenny Holland is an Irish-American writer living in the United Kingdom. Follow her Substack here.