The pro-choice & feminist movement in Greece with relevance to Ireland

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The legal right for abortion in Greece was established in 1986. Trying to find more info about this time and by digging into Greek feminist history, I bumped into that article about feminists and their struggles. I came out of my research feeling positive and empowered. Sometimes, when people get involved in struggles to bring about change, they forget that things don’t really change that easily. What the articles I found made clear, was that that abortion rights were achieved in law, only after years of women’s struggles. The same holds true in Greece, not only for abortion rights but for contraception and divorce rights. It is difficult now to image that only 31 years ago people were fighting for these basic rights.

Image banner says: "Get the laws off our bodies"

Back in the seventies, the first autonomous feminist groups and women's movement organizations approached the issue of abortion and choice through the perspective of women's liberation, sexuality and body, criticizing the family institution and motherhood. On the other hand, there were the party affiliated women's organizations and unions that supported the demand for the legalization of abortion, but as an aspect of family planning, thus supporting family and maternity. What characterizes the brightly burning feminism of the time is the autonomous women's movement, a mosaic of many autonomous women's groups, unwashed by the influence of the great political parties and built on the western feminist model. The first manifestation of the autonomous women's movement was the "Movement for the Liberation of Women" in 1975. From 1979 and throughout the 80s groups emerged in universities, neighborhoods, workplaces. "Autonomy was an important, and not a random feature. It was strongly based in theory: the way to develop an awareness of the system of oppression is by us women discussing among ourselves, and understanding that we have more in common than that which divides us. And this was a political process. We did not wish to recruit women, to go to those who do not know, to tell them. That was completely out of our logic. The goal was self-consciousness. There was, of course, differentiation within the feminist movement".

The key turning point in the Greek abortion struggle was with the campaign of the Women's Autonomous Movement, which began in April 1983 and focused on the "right to abortion-contraception-sexuality," the Greek feminist movement’s first national campaign. Together with “the declaration”, a text by which (500) women signing it publicly stated that they had abortions, demanded immediate decriminalization. The problem raised by the campaign was in demonstrating the link between women's reproductive capacity and their social oppression; its central slogan was a demand for women to define their own bodies. In January 1985, a prosecutor questioned seven of the 500 women who signed the text, stating that they had abortion. After lots of immediate reactions, demonstrations, and marches, in May 1986, the bill was filed with the Parliament, where it was voted by all parties except the main right-wing party. By the late 80’s feminist demands had become a matter of state concern, shifting the ground from self-organization and struggles of the women themselves to institutional management. So, begins to emerge a kind of "state-feminism".

Gradually, towards the end of the 1980s, the feminist movement began to dwindle. The women's groups were demented, the bookstores closed (as well as the Women's House and Café), the publications were stopped, the mobilizations thinned. No one knows exactly why and how this happened. Some women felt that the adoption of a more progressive legislation had achieved the material goals of the movement, some of them turned to forms of state-institutional feminism, some followed an academic career bringing a feminist air into the auditorium, some simply “grew up”. In any case, feminism was in recession across the West. The 90s brought them up and down. The embraced and radicalized the movements of previous years, inaugurated an era of frantic consumerism and lifted life style into a regulator of the public sphere. Institutional pledges remained, but the women's body, which was the beginning of emancipation in the 1980s, was physically conditioned and objected. It became the symbolic lifestyle loot.

In terms of Ireland’s situation abortions rights are not established and we still need to fight for them. Coming from Greece where abortion rights have been won, I was extremely shocked when I learned of the situation here. For me as a non-Irish, white woman, it is scary enough to know that there is no access to abortion if I want to have one. I can’t even imagine how scary that would be if I was an asylum seeker, or if I was struggling to get immigration permission, or having major financial issues. What we all have to fight for is free-safe-legal abortion. And that’s only the start. But before that, even talking about choice, is a huge issue. Choice means being able to end a pregnancy. Ending one without any limitations. We don’t want any doctor’s prescriptions or counselling to have abortion. We don’t need to be suicidal to be allowed to have abortion or to be married, raped or poor. We need to be able to do it, just because we own our bodies. The real choice for someone who wants to have children is doing it without suffering major economic or social costs. The option of child-care should have been provided by the state, parental leave and flexi-time for working, public creche facilities. Instead of all these things, crèches are private with very expensive rates for the families - some of them recently decided to raise the fees even more. Parents therefore, are forced to work extremely long hours in order to provide for them or even in many cases women have to quit their jobs, stay in the house and raise their children in isolation.

Another issue is the role of many women as full-time unpaid childminders within the family or with ridiculously low salaries that makes them depend on each family. If anyone calls this a decent choice for having a child, it is probably because they haven’t face those problems because they are privileged ones.

It is our turn as movement to decide to push for full repeal and bodily autonomy, for real choices. We must fight to repeal the 8th Amendment. As a call for referendum for abortion access is confirmed, it is possible that the government phrases the legislation in a highly constrained way. There are plenty fights that we need to win. What’s in my mind after digging into Greek’s abortion history is that grassroots stuggle’s is possible and powerful. The women in the 70’s and 80’s succeded their struggles. I also keep in mind the danger of staying inactive. We can’t expect anything from any institutional management. Anything less than free- safe – legal is a backturn. We simply want to smash the eight and the state.

Writted ahead of the 2017 March for Choice

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