Last night I watched a terminally ill woman talk to a TV host about how her country let her down. I watched as she showed tremendous courage in the face of devastation. I watched as she somehow found the will to find humour in her darkness, but I could see the utter despair in her lost eyes. I watched as the host sympathised, as the audience stood and clapped for her.
As comforting as that might have been for her to get public support, a standing ovation on a national TV show is not going to reverse what has been done to Emma Mhic Mhathúna. Or to Vicky Phelan. Or to the many other women who have been caught in the middle of the Cervical Check Scandal.
When I was growing up, I never felt like I was an outsider in my own country. I never felt as though I was somehow lesser because of my gender, or that opportunities were off limits to me. I never felt oppressed.
As I grew up and since I’ve become a mother, I look at my country and I feel more and more like a second class citizen in terms of ownership over my own body and health.
And when I sit down and think about it, this underlying sense of misogyny has been with us for generations.
Silly girls who got themselves into trouble were shut away in the hell of the The Magdalen Laundries to serve as virtual slaves. A penance for their wicked ways. Their babies taken from them. Put in institutions, orphanages or even a septic tank for a mass grave.
Women like Ann Lovett and Joanne Hayes were treated abominably after becoming pregnant out of wedlock.
Mothers who were given painful and unnecessary symphysiotomies for ‘their own good.’
We tried to stop a young girl who was raped the right to travel to the UK for an abortion.
We tried to keep a brain dead woman alive so she could gestate her pregnancy to term.
We let a young mother, Savita Halappanavar die as her baby was miscarrying because we are ‘a catholic country.’
And it goes on and on.
Today, Emma Mhic Mhathúna is 37 years old and has five children. And she is going to die. She’s dying of cervical cancer which was diagnosed in 2016, but what signed her death warrant is that three years earlier, she'd had a smear test that failed to pick up signs of cancer that were already right there. That’s three years she could have spent treating her disease. Precious time that could have made a difference. And she’s not alone. Vicky Phelan is also terminally ill. A reported 17 women have already died and hundreds of others are being told they received false/negatives.
Care packages are announced as revelations about panicked memos sent back and forth to ‘hush up’ the women emerge.
Prepare a press release to mitigate the negative fallout, instead of informing these women about the situation.
Quiet now, we know what’s best. Shut up and stop making a fuss.
Silly women, trying to assert yourselves, trying to think you can have any autonomy over your own bodies, or even be partners in your own healthcare.
And what are we doing about it? We’re giving standing ovations and crying at the TV.
We march for water charges and the old age pension, but not when young mothers are dying?
What is it going to take for us to demand change? To say stop. To say that we will no longer be treated with such disdain and disrespect.
I’m angry as hell over this. It’s shaken me to the core.
I love my country, but today I am ashamed of it.