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You Define Yourself

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On Sunday 26th April 2020, Ireland joined others around the world to celebrate the 11th Lesbian Visibility Day, a day to celebrate, recognise, and bring visibility to lesbians. To honour this day local community group Donegal LGBTQ+ shared the story of Ann Marie which outlined the struggle of accepting one’s own sexual identity. In this Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ feature with the permission of Ann Marie we share her journey of loss, of love and the battle to belong.


 

Hi all, my name is Ann Marie or aka Annie. This is the normal way I introduce myself because that is who I am. When people ask me what I do, I say I work as an accounts administrator and I coach football and camogie and tutor part time.

 

Again, this is what I do but that’s not all is it? It’s that nagging voice in your head telling you to blurt out that you’re a lesbian shout it out get it out there but I don’t and not because I am ashamed but because it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t define my decisions in life it doesn’t make me a better or worse person. If I make a big deal of been a lesbian then its making it out to be a big deal and it’s not. I am who I am and the ups and downs of life make me who I am not who I love.


 

When I was in my teens I always felt a little different to other girls my age. Boys weren’t the big concern in my life. One of my best friend set me up with her neighbour. We went out for a bit but lasted a month or so. I had to pretend to be upset that we broke up but I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel upset though he was a nice guy, cute and treated me well. Then one day everything changed not because I dramatically fell in love with a girl but because of a TV show called Playing the Field. I was extremely sporty playing camogie, soccer and basketball (I started playing Gaelic football late in life).

This show was about women playing soccer and the drama that goes with it. I loved it and there was two characters who started getting close to each other and they happened to be two women. I became obsessed with them but in my head, it was just because they played soccer. Reflecting back these characters opened up my eyes. It was late 90s and I had never seen two women together before. I would safely say I was very naive. So, I starting looking for shows that would have lesbian content, fortunately for me it was a time of change in the world and TV shows were starting to introduce gay characters for me Bad Girls and Buffy became my new favourite shows. The only problem was I was in a relationship with a guy.


 

Expectation is hard to deal with but when the expectation is coming from yourself it’s a whole lot worse. I always wanted to be the best and I took negativity and criticism really bad. I wanted to be the best daughter, best granddaughter I wanted to be someone that my parents would be proud to introduce to friends. I wanted mam to be able to show off her daughter and show how well she brought me up and for me this was the hardest part of been gay. I didn’t want mam to have to introduce her gay daughter to anyone. So, I kept it a secret I became an actor in my own right, said the right things at the right time did the right things and even talked about marriage. Then one day I met someone that would change my life for ever in good ways and bad. I fell in love but I was still in a relationship with a man. I would talk for hours with her about my feelings, about my fears and about my lies that I had to tell. She was amazing she listened she gave me advice and we fell in love. The thing was, as we look back on it, how we fell in love more or less instantly. So, after my grandfather died I made a promise that I would do the right thing. I would finish my relationship and start preparing myself to talk to my parents.


 

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the woman I fell in love with lived a in a different country thousand miles away. She travelled over to meet with me for the first time and it was amazing. Everything felt right. Holding her hand, looking into her eyes everything just felt the way you read in books but that nagging voice in the back of my head was telling me to run. Anxiety hit, fear of telling my mam and dad doubled this shit was real now. Before I could pretend it didn’t exist but now I couldn’t. I would stay up long into the night going over how I would tell them. Every time I would build up the courage something stopped me from doing it. I hated myself, I hated looking in the mirror I couldn’t look at myself in the eye. I starting retreating into my room secretly drinking to help me sleep. I was 26. I spent nearly 10 years with a secret that was slowly killing me inside. So, what happened next well my biggest regret happened next I was so consumed with how I was feeling that my relationship with the woman I loved got destroyed. Not going into the details as that is another story to be told.


 

My mum was having a birthday the big 50 and I managed to ruin it by coming out as I was not able to hold it in any longer. It just came rushing out the week before her surprise birthday party and I gave the poor woman no chance to deal with it. I didn’t tell her in a controlled way I was totally uncontrollable at that point. She didn’t take it well but not for been gay I don’t think but probably more about the way I done it. My mum and dad are amazing people. It took them time to deal with it but who am I to judge it took me 10 years. They are my biggest allies and voted yes in the referendum and are proud to introduce me. Mam says “how could I not be proud of you look at you, look at who you have become”

 

So where am I now, I now live in Donegal (from Kilkenny) and I am back with my first love and smashing the long-distance thing. Advice for those coming out be relaxed be calm be proud of who you are, been part of the LGBTQ+ community is just something your part of it doesn’t define you. You define yourself.

 

I am Ann Marie. The person I was meant to be and the person I will be in the future.

 


 

NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network would like to thank Donegal LGBTQ+ and Ann Marie for sharing with us an insightful lived experience.

Donegal LGBTQ+ aims to promote the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people and increase the social connectiveness across the county by providing information and supports as well as offering events with local partnerships. They are a non-profit community and you can find them on facebook here by email at donegallgbt@gmail.com or phone number 086 088 7738.

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NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

NCCWN Sisters

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Did you know NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network is part of the umbrella organisation, National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks (NCCWN). We are 1 of 17 NCCWN projects in Ireland.

The working mission of the NCCWN is to empower and support community based women who experience disadvantage and marginalisation as a result of barriers to participation and lack of opportunities.

The NCCWN works from two core perspectives of feminism and community development. Our NCCWN sisters projects can be found in the following locations across Ireland;

 


Ulster:


Connacht:


Leinster:


Munster:


 

You can find out more about NCCWN and the 17 projects here

 

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Happy Women’s Day Donegal

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In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature a Donegal woman shares her thoughts on why we should celebrate International Women’s Day, highlighting the importance of reflecting on achieves made in advancing women’s equality but also recognising the work that still has to be done and remembering those women whose voices go unheard and are excluded from realising their full potential.

 


 

Sunday 8th March is International Women Day, a day to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women worldwide. The overall purpose of this day is to draw global attention to gender inequality and violence against vulnerable women. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on progress, change and to celebrate those acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

 

Imagine a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities, where gender equality is the norm. Men and women sharing the care work at home and getting paid equally for work of equal value.  Picture equality on factory floors, corporate boardrooms and in political leadership. Women would have an equal say in decisions that affect their lives, their bodies, their policies, and their environment.


 

It’s easy to dismiss International Women’s Day as a day just for women and why it’s needed. If we look at the typical life of a woman in a country like Ireland, you might be slightly cynical as to why it would be necessary. After all, women can do what they want here – they have the vote, can work where they want, receive the same education, everything on the surface seems straightforward.

 

But it’s important to remember that International Women’s Day is over 100 years old. And here in Ireland no less than 50 years ago, women had to leave their job in the civil service if they got married. Women were not permitted to own property outright and were also prevented from collecting child benefits – it had to be paid out to the father.  And while there has been much improvement within the last 50 years or so, regarding Irish women’s position in society, this is not the same in every country.


 

We must look back as well as forward, and remember the struggle that women faced throughout the centuries in gaining fundamental rights.  The rights that are often taken for granted in western countries, and are urgently required in many developing ones, for instance, the right to vote, own property, and to have an education.  Those rights were required in a hard fought battled against those who sought to deny them.

 

International Women’s Day is a further opportunity to honour the incredible achievements that women have made throughout the world. All too often women have been erased from the history books, and this particular occasion is a great opportunity to experience the wonderful literature, music and scientific discoveries as well as all the contributions for which women have never been accredited.


 

Women like Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell (1883-1957) who was a member of Cumann na mBan, and a dispatcher during the Easter Rising for the rebels. She was a midwife and a fierce Republican who stayed in the GPO throughout the rising caring for the wounded.  However, Nurse O’Farrell was ‘airbrushed’ out of history when her shoes were all that remained in a photograph of the 1916 surrender, in which she appeared alongside Padraig Pearse.

Elizabeth O farrell 1916


Also women like, Jenni Wyse Power (1858-1941) who is one of the better-known female figures in the Rising and politics of the 20th century. She was an activist, feminist, politician and businesswoman, a founder-member of Sinn Féin. She was appointed to the first Seanad, and used her position to campaign for women rights. Stories such as these are commonplace, and therefore it is important that women are remembered for their contributions to society.

 

Ireland is imperfect to the law of equality, for example, the wage gap disputes and also the vast inequality in politics. However, we need to recognise that events like this are an essential step of active solidarity for many women around the world. We, therefore, must reflect on the work that still has to be done and remember those women whose voices go unheard and who continue to be excluded from realising their full potential.

This is why International Women’s Day is essential – it provides otherwise silenced women with a voice, which is a vital step in the right direction.

 

 We are #GenerationEquality

 

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

 

Beyond 16 Days

 

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In this month’s Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature a Donegal woman shares her views and thoughts on the issue of ‘gender based violence experienced by women and highlights the important need for us as a society and country to confront the reality of gender based violence in Ireland.

 


What will you do to support the 16 Days of Action Campaign and beyond?

 

Ireland is currently taking part in the annual international campaign known as the 16 Days of Action which runs from 25th November (UN Day For the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10th December 2019 (International Human Rights Day). The campaign is used as an organising strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. ( UN Women)

 


Gender-Based Violence refers to “violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex and includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other denials of freedom” (cosc.ie) While both men and women can experience gender based violence the reality however remains that in 2019 it is women and girls who are the main victims of this directed violence.

Violence against women is not just a women’s rights issue; it’s also a human rights issue.  “A third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, half of women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family, and violence perpetrated against women is as common a cause of death and incapacity for those of reproductive age, as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than road accidents and malaria combined.” (UN, 2019)

According to the latest Woman’s Aid Femicide Watch 2018 report, 225 women have died violently in Ireland between 1996-2018. 176 cases have been resolved. 9 cases are awaiting trial, and 40 cases remain unsolved, 137 of these women died in their own homes with 16 children also dying alongside their mothers. (Women’s Aid Ireland)

 

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Globally in a 2018 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report,  it was highlighted that some 87,000 women and girls were murdered worldwide in 2017.  Of these, 58 % had been murdered by someone in their inner circle – 30,000 were killed by their spouse or intimate partner, and another 20,000 by a member of their own family. The high murder rate among women is a consequence of rampant gender-based violence.

 


In Ireland

The recent murder of the young teenage girl Ana Kriégel is a particularly dark representation of male violence towards women. Ana, in my opinion, was murdered by boys because she was a girl; it’s as simple as that. It isn’t a pleasant sentence to read; it is a harsh and unpalatable fact. Despite seeking a more elaborate explanation, the real reason is hidden in plain sight. Disregarded because we cannot or will not look at the evidence that gender-based violence is a real problem in Ireland.

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar recently acknowledged that Ireland is gripped by “an epidemic of gender-based violence”. During leaders’ questions in the Dail, Mr Varadkar stated: “There is an epidemic of gender-based violence in Ireland and indeed across the world and it does need to stop”. He went on to state that the Government were implementing law changes and had undertaken to protect and support victims of a sex crime. Only time will tell.


Sexual Abuse reported in Donegal 

 

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The Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre continually work towards meeting the needs of and providing accessibility to their services to the population of County Donegal through the provision of Outreach services. Their Outreach Services are located in GP surgeries and various Health Providers in the local communities.

They are based in Letterkenny with 4 Outreach Centres:

  • Donegal Town (Monday Mornings)

  • Buncrana (Friday all day)

  • Lifford (Wednesday Mornings)

  • Derrybeg (Friday Mornings)

 


Breaking Ireland’s Rape Culture

“Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalised and justified, fuelled by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality.” ( UN Women 2019)

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Rape, a single word with a devastating impact, it destroys bodies and minds. When left unpunished or trivialised, it creates a culture where sexual violence is normalised and women and girls are undervalued and not respected. Far too many of us fail to name or challenge the rape culture that surrounds us.

 

Through our words, actions and inactions; discriminatory laws or tolerance towards perpetrators; through the media we view, indecent humour, and opinions we do not question, we have become part of a culture that allows rape to continue.  Nonetheless, in recent years, the voices of activists and survivors through campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, have reached an intensification that cannot be silenced or ignored. However, violence against women and girls continues worldwide.

 

It is time we quit looking the other way. There is an endemic problem in this country with gender-based violence. It is so rooted that boys as young as 13 years of age visited unimaginable brutality on a defenceless young girl.  This violence exists in our homes, on our streets, in our institutions and establishments. We need legislation to support victims and penalise perpetrators.

However, we also need a cultural shift where girls and women’s complaints are responded to and taken seriously. This would mean no dismissal of charges based on the character of the women. Also, we require men and boys to be held accountable for their actions.  Furthermore, we need to stop viewing violent men as though they were unique and peculiar. An excellent place to begin would be a guiding opinion that values women’s safety over men’s sensitivity.

 

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If you want to help break this circle and end such violence towards women and girls why not check out this practical guide; 16 ways you can stand against rape culture here.

 

 


Remember you are not alone, there are people you can talk to. If you or any one you know have been effected by domestic or sexual abuse you can find support with the following services;

 

In Donegal  

offers counselling, support and advice to survivors of rape and sexual abuse in a confidential, safe and friendly environment. Freephone: 1800 44 88 44, Telephone: 074-9128211

is a frontline service providing crisis accommodation, 24 hr helpline, support (1800262677) and information and outreach service throughout the County to women and their children who are victims of domestic violence.

Nationally

24 Hour Helpline on 1800 778888

Freephone Helpline (1800 341 900) operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and provides support and information to callers experiencing abuse from intimate partners.

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.