In Her Shoes: Women of the Eighth
New Island Books
“We will not go silently. We write our own history into legislation, into the Dáil, in poems and books, in music and art. Our stories keep us alive.”
In Ireland, there are 32 counties. Here, 32 stories. But there are countless more. Stories of pregnancy and birth, life and death, pain and strife, mistreatment and judgment, blood and stillborn babies, sexual abuse and shame; stories of sufferings that should not define what it is to be a woman in Ireland, or a woman anywhere.
Yet, until 2018, they did. The constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland, written into the Eighth Amendment of 1983, was only repealed in shockingly recent history, following a referendum held just two years ago. This triumph of women’s rights did not come easily. Many were resistant to the very idea of abortion, without nuance or compassion. Hard-line Catholicism was reluctant to consider the stage of foetal development, the baby’s chances of survival outside the womb, or the dangers of gestational complications to a woman’s life.
The road to repeal involved a long struggle to increase awareness of the negative impacts of the Eighth Amendment, including a grassroots movement on social media, using the hashtag #InHerShoes to enable and encourage women in Ireland to share their stories anonymously. Just six months later, the In Her Shoes Facebook page had 115,000 followers and a weekly readership of 4 million. On 25 May 2018, the Eighth Amendment was repealed. Women won.
This book is a record of the In Her Shoes campaign for and by the Women of the Eighth. The words within are a cry and a celebration, a culmination, though there will always be more stories to tell. Created and curated by artist, mother and activist Erin Darcy, an American who has spent much of her adult life in Ireland, the book gives the stories of women from every county on the island of Ireland, each one painful and heartfelt and brave, each as important as the last. These women’s words are illustrated by Darcy herself, and introduced by her account of the nascence of In Her Shoes, from her own experiences of motherhood, miscarriage and mental health, to her realisation that anyone can be an activist, and that every woman’s story is worth listening to.
For it is in telling stories that we break silence, in listening that we create compassion. In narrating our lives, we write ourselves back into a history in which we have been oppressed, yet from which we have been erased. A woman has the right to speak her truth, without stigma and shame. A woman should not be silenced. And in sharing experiences, we realise that we are not alone, that a woman’s body is no one’s but her own.
As I read, I cry. Tears mark the pages. These are real stories, real women, real bodies, real lives. This could be my story, my body, my life too. Our stories keep us alive.
Words: Hannah Clarkson