This book was a long time coming. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that it was only in 2018 that abortion was fully legalised in Ireland. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that women like Erin Darcy exist among us – fierce Mama warriors that have carved the way for their daughters’ futures. Consider this a freshly written history book, written in consideration for both the winning and the losing side. For there is loss and there is victory, there is shame yet no judgment. This book is written with an empathetic ear — one that quite simply, has the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
Erin Darcy takes us through her own story first. In the space of nine months Erin conceived the In her Shoes movement as an art project. Thousands of women shared their stories to the page highlighting how the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution was to blame for their endurance of living nightmares. A simple snapshot of the each woman’s shoes accompanied her story, bringing to mind the old proverb ‘don’t judge a man before you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’.
The stories were messy, raw and real. They were stories that made you shake with anger. Anger that fueled voters to vote ‘Yes’ vote to repeal the eighth amendment, the amendment that prohibited access to abortion unless there was a proven risk to the mother’s life. This restrictive amendment proved ineffective time and time again, sparking The Abortion Rights Campaign in 2012, following the death of Savita Halappanavar. Her story was one that outraged and appalled the whole nation. She endured an utter fiasco of a death as a direct consequence of Ireland’s prohibitive abortion laws.
Erin passionately campaigned for the ‘Yes’ side of the referendum, all the while grieving for the loss of her own own mother, Martha Jane who died in September 2017. Even though her mother was not there to share her proudest moment, she shared it with every man and woman in Ireland who voted ‘Yes’. This whole book is a tumultuous mix of celebration for the victorious result of the referendum and commiseration for all those who suffered until then.
Erin chose 32 stories from the In her Shoes facebook page, to represent each county of Ireland. These stories rush one after another with the force of a swelling undercurrent that has been waiting to surface for decades. They bob and sway with tragedy and torment. These are stories of women who survived to tell the tale — as disturbing as they are, the even more disturbing reality is there are women out there, not too far away from you, who still live in fear of sharing their story.
Encased safely in this book, we should hope that no stories like this will ever be written again. We should hope that everyone gets a happy ending now.
But of course that’s not the case.
There are still women suffering behind closed doors. For some women life has not changed dramatically because of the Eighth Amendment. For some women life never changes. Until it does. Until the day she decides, enough is enough. As women we collectively suffer, we collectively celebrate, we selflessly do things for our children so that they will not suffer as we did.
There’s the torch bearers and the marchers, the movers the shakers, the Erin Darcy’s of the world and there’s the rest of us, at home, thinking — I’m glad someone’s out there changing the world – it’s not gonna be me! Before you berate yourself for not being as brave or vocal as these wonder women, (like I do!) remind yourself — with every step you take away from darkness you are changing your world. And that is enough.
in 2020 Domestic Violence was dubbed the ‘Shadow Pandemic’ by the United Nations. As stated by the National Women’s Council of Ireland; “Covid -19 has disproportionately affected women, increasing existing gender inequalities in Irish society. Women’s voices were largely absent from much of the decision making surrounding the Covid-19 response.”
I have written this book review for ‘The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’. It is an annual international campaign running from the 25th of November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women), until the 10th of December (International Human Rights Day). It aims to raise awareness and to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. This is my effort to encourage women to seek out safe places to share their stories. Clare Haven Services is one of them.
Clare Haven Services is a voluntary organisation committed to promoting the rights of women and children to live and grow in a peaceful non-violent home environment. They offer assistance to those experiencing domestic abuse which inhibits women making their own choices. Their website provides information on the range of confidential support services available in Co. Clare to women and children who are experiencing (or experienced) domestic abuse. There is information on how to recognise abusive behaviour in relationships and you will also find information on relevant events and news updates. www.clarehaven.ie
(c) Josie O’Connor
Order a copy of In Her Shoes here.