Prime Minister Kenny said the Magdalene laundries, where “fallen women” were incarcerated, abused and used as slaves, were operating in a “harsh and uncompromising” Ireland. There was no apology, and no mention of stigma against unmarried mothers, or of whorephobia, or of slut-shaming. It was as if these issues didn’t exist.
We’re used to thinking of the Middle East as the region where women are not allowed to express their sexuality. The region (or the British community) in which honour killings can happen and a non-virgin girl is deemed worthless. But is the Free West really so much different? In Ireland, the last Magdalene laundry closed in 1996. Women were abused and brought back by police without the need of a warrant if they escaped. Many died and 771 women spent 10 years or more as slaves in the laundries. The State was complicit.
Is a state allowing the abuse and enslavement of women any better than a state which allows SMS messages to be sent to a woman’s male relatives if she leaves the country? And is this (organised, systematic and state-sanctioned) abuse any better than (unorganised, familial) honour killings?
And it’s not just the laundries. Savita Halapannavar died because she was refused an abortion – even though her foetus was already dying and rotting (which poisoned her and led to her death). In 1992 a 14 year old rape victim was given a Court injunction not to leave the country, because during the rape investigation her parents had asked the police if they should bring back her foetus’ DNA as evidence once she’d had an abortion in England. The Court didn’t want her to have an abortion. The girl became suicidal and was taken to a psychiatric hospital. The Supreme Court then held she could have had the abortion in Ireland all along, because her life was in danger.
And it’s not just Ireland – we have a lot of problems with victim-blaming and slut shaming here in Britain. And the purity cult and ‘war on women’ is going strong in the US, with anti-abortion laws being debated, politicians victim-blaming and 4 states with only one abortion clinic.
As for the laundries, nothing has really progressed. The state isn’t admitting responsibility or apologising. In fact, the Irish Government is listening to the Ruhama Agency in its Dail hearing on sex work. The Ruhama Agency is run by the same people who ran the Magdalene Laundries. Sex workers have so far been excluded from the debate, but the Ruhama Agency was invited. The Ruhama Agency are the biggest abolitionist organisation in the country, and are funded by the State. They are now influencing the state to criminalise the purchase of sex (known as the End Demand, Swedish or Nordic model) which will increase sex trafficking, force sex work underground and increase rape and murder of sex workers. Which is why Sweden now wants to change its sex work laws and throw out the End Demand model).
But hey, maybe that’s why the government isn’t apologising. How could they justify apologising for what Ruhama did while listening to Ruhama’s deadly politics at the same time?
So the consensus is still nuns=good and whores/unmarried mothers/minor crimes=bad. Progress. Don’t you just love it?