Referendums are divisive.
Referendums are emotive.
Referendums are most definitely disruptive.
On May 25th, 2018, the Irish people voted whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983, which enshrined the equal right to life of the mother and any unborn child, effectively outlawing abortion in the country. The amendment from 1983 was extremely retrictive in its wording (perhaps sowing the seeds of its ultimate demise) and over the 35 years since it was enacted it has been the subject of repeated efforts to have it dislodged. Other than not allowing any room for womens right to choose in a pregnancy situation, it was also seen as a complicating factor for healthcare professionals when treating a pregnant woman as they had to take into account two lives rather than one, when making any medical decision.
On Saturday, the results showed that Irish people wanted a change, a substantial one.
1,429,981 people, or 66.4%, voted Yes. 733,632 people, or 33.6%, voted No. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hailed it as a 'quiet revolution' across Ireland but it, of course, was far from quiet.
A Result For Women
To many who followed the referendum coverage, popular opinion was with the Repeal campaign. Social media was a highly utilized tool among the "Yes" advocates and the Vote No campaign often found it hard to compete online. We saw televised debates also playing a huge role in the campaign, it soon became a trending topic on the Twitter treads but also in the workplace. A once taboo topic was being dissected daily, many individuals wearing their opinions on their sleeves (literally in some cases, Repeal became fashion) and this increasingly removed the stigma from the debate.
Speaking of fashion, it was now fashionable to campaign and canvass. There was a surge in door knocking around Ireland. Leaflets were distributed weekly and many canvassers reported a sense of excitement at the idea of going to houses and discussing the arguments for and against the referendum. Maybe this was the quiet revolution the Taoiseach was referring to...
Meanwhile, women on the Repeal side were becoming faces of change and they weren`t asking for it, they were demanding it. 2018 saw us become more familiar with Clare Daly, Tara Flynn, Catherine McGuinness, Ailbhe Smyth, Orla O Connor, the list goes on.
No matter what side you were on, the mobilization of the female vote was incredible. The Irish Times recently shared a stat on the turnout for this referendum compared to those who voted in the 2016 General Election.
There was always going to be a larger female turnout for a vote which primarily concerned women but we can see clear evidence that when women mobilize they have the power to make systematic change.
This is why it's increasingly difficult to fathom why women don't see themselves as belonging in political life. Instead, we attempt to 'do more' to prove we belong. A culture has been created in politics which sees the gender imbalance as being the norm but this campaign and others before it show that these limits in the female political psyche are false.
I hope to see the momentum of this Irish referendum carry forth in the Irish local elections next year but also the General Elections, whenever that may happen. These campaigners were able to connect with a lot more voters than many current politicians, we saw countless evidence of this. Ronan Mullen, take note.
Popular Opinion equals Pop Culture
When I think back to how I'll remember this Irish referendum, I'll always liken it to an Obama style campaign. Together for Yes found itself resonating hard with the influential individuals in Irish society. Celebrities & sports stars took to their social media profiles, advocating for the preferred side. Obama found himself the candidate of choice way back in 2008, getting endorsements from Oprah to Beyonce and believe it or not but these votes matter.
The power of social media is not a shock. We saw the Repeal side foster a culture of change as early as the Citizen Assembly back in 2016, hashtags were assembled and people were ready. The Vote No side couldn't muster the same "buzz". Facebook pages such as In Her Shoes were safe platforms where women shared their poignant stories about the journeys they made, journeys that could see them incarcerated in this country.
While the lines were often blurred and the fake news was circulating on both sides, it just seemed like Ireland and it's voters were ready for a change.
So what's next for Ireland's newest grassroots force? Will we see a new crop of female politicians emerge from this civic activism? People have now been woken up by the buzz of campaigning, many tasted victory but others didn't. Will we see more leaders emerge from the No campaign?
In the US, a different group of individuals is causing a stir in political spheres. High school students are demanding a change in gun control laws after seeing too many classmates lose their lives within the school walls.
The faces of the leaders are changing and we have no shortage of issues worth campaigning about. Watch this space.