the irish youth protesting some of the world's strictest abortion laws
This Saturday thousands gathered in Belfast to demand their right to choose. Photographer Vanessa Ifediora shoots the next generation of activists at the Rally for Choice, bringing the North of Ireland into the 21st Century.
Photography Vanessa Ifediora.
This Saturday, thousands of people marched in Belfast. Holding signs and banners, they made their way through the city centre, halting traffic and cheering for intermittent speeches.
In the social fabric of Northern Ireland, this in itself is not particularly newsworthy. It's a place where marching, protesting and parading is woven into history and society. But Saturday's march wasn't one of Northern Ireland's traditionally divisive parades. Instead, the activists who gathered on the streets of Belfast were united in their demand for one thing, a woman's right to choose.
Saturday's Rally for Choice was held in support of a recent Westminster bill, which intends to introduce abortion rights in the North of Ireland. Currently abortion is still a crime in the state, punishable with up to life in prison. This new legislation would finally allow women the right to choose, bringing the North in line with the rest of the UK and Ireland, which finally legalised abortion after a successful Repeal The 8th campaign last year.
"The people who are gathered here today are not asking people with deeply held convictions to make choices against their conscience, we are asking for the right to make choices ourselves," said civil rights activist Bernadette McAliskey, speaking to the crowd at Writers Square. "And not to have the theology, ideology, or culture of dominance imposed on our thinking and our choices." The activists this weekend were men and women, young and old, but all filled with energy and optimism, something that's often been in short supply in Northern Ireland's 100 year history. Photographer Vanessa Ifediora was among them, shooting the faces of the Irish youth heralding in a new era.
Aisha O’Reilly, 26, Belfast
What made you come out today? It's the most important thing, it's the hill I’m willing to die on. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? Post-conflict fighting, people not taking the reality of women and the marginalisation of women's rights seriously, trying to get away from the legacy of the conflict and militarised masculinity of flags and parades and sectarianism and just trying to get an equal society. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? It's great, I love it. Its my home I always want to be here. Its full of the best people. What makes you hopeful for the future? The people.
Anna Pearson, Limerick
What made you come out today? I came today with friends from the Repeal Limerick group after working together for the Repeal campaign, as we cant believe women cant access basic healthcare up here. The reasons why are even more ridiculous than the ones we had to face down there. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? The constant battle of having to remind the people in power over and over again around issues like reproductive health, workers rights, housing rights. Its easy to think those battles have been fought or won or lost but it never stops. What makes you hopeful for the future? I have kids who make me hopeful for the future, and I know lots of young adults who I’m hopeful for, it's a really smart and hardworking generation that has seen a lot of failures and faced a lot of empty promises, they’re realistic and hardworking.
Bethany Corbett, 23, Belfast, PhD Student
What made you come out today? I am concerned for the physical and mental safety of women in NI who require abortions. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? The rise of far right nationalism and the discrimination of all its victims, LGBT+ people, women, POC, the disabled… What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Depressing frankly. Our future is being set by those who will not survive to see it. What makes you hopeful for the future? The voices of dissenters are getting louder.
Cat McCullagh, 26, Belfast, Doctor
Why did you come out today? To fight for women's rights. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? Brexit, rising house prices, unemployment. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Difficult. What makes you hopeful for the future? My colleagues, fellow feminists, LGBT advocates.
Ellie Evans, 26, Essex, activist and volunteer (and Sophie, 6, Belfast)
What made you come out today? We’re here for our right to choose. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Sophie: Good! What makes you hopeful for the future? People are standing up against fascism, and the bill that went through Parliament for legalising abortion makes me really hopeful. Sophie: Glitter.
Emma, 27, Belfast, student (and Gabriella, 6)
Why did you come out today? For far too long women have been oppressed by ancient laws that were designed to control women. Women should be entitled to bodily autonomy. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? Too much expectation. What makes you hopeful for the future? The next wave of activists coming up.
Donnamarie Higgins, 45 & Grace Marley, 16
Why did you come today? To fight for women's rights. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? Inequality. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Difficult. What makes you hopeful for the future? Days like this, campaigns like these.
Hamsavani Rajeswaren, 22, Belfast, VP Equality & Diversity at QUB Students Union
Why did you come today? To march for abortion rights and to call for a more intersectional, inclusive reproductive justice movement. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? Austerity. The healthcare system is severely underfunded and draconian laws keep young people away from accessing the vital healthcare they need. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Tiring. Young people have been denied their right to reproductive justice, the right to love the person they want, access to healthcare for young trans people and right to free education. What makes you hopeful for the future? Laws are changing. Society is pushing for a more progressive, compassionate NI.
Janine, 29, Belfast, admin for a cancer charity
What made you come out today? I’m a lifelong feminist, I think its about time we had the same rights as the south of Ireland and the rest of the UK. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? People not understanding what feminism is, and the church controls the state here. Everyone should be able to make their own decisions and decide their own fate. What makes you hopeful for the future? Meeting like minded people here today who want to make change, people are so passionate and educated.
Kitty Colbert, 34, Dundalk
What made you want to come out today? I'm involved heavily in the abortion rights activism group Together for Yes Dundalk, and we had our brothers and sisters from the north come down to help us during our referendum, so obviously any time we have the chance to come up here for a protest we come back up and repay them. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? I think the biggest challenges are faced by those in the North, the fact that they don't have the same rights as we do now in the South is absolutely ridiculous, this being one, marriage equality being another. What makes you hopeful? Protests like today seeing all these crowds out. People want to get out and protest and want to make an actual difference.
Tabitha, 12, Belfast
What makes you hopeful for the future? All the environmental stuff is terrifying, and of course the issues around choice... I just want things to get better.
Niamh Scally, 24, Belfast, student
Why did you come today? To join the fight for fundamental human rights for the women of NI. What are the biggest challenges faced by this generation? Equal human rights. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Hopeful – we live a completely different life than our parents but will we find ourselves experiencing similar prejudices they did.
Olivia Malone, 19, Wexford, Student
Why did you come today? I feel like I came of age during the Repeal campaign in the South, so the fight for abortion rights is dear to my heart. I spent my teenage years terrified to explore and no one deserves that – North or South. What are the biggest challenges faced by this generation? The inability of the older generations to take our choice and autonomy seriously. What makes you hopeful for the future? The enthusiasm today!
Taryn de Vere, writer
Why are you here today? I came out today because I believe every person should have body autonomy and reproductive freedom. What are the biggest challenges facing young people today? Climate change and the rollback on human rights globally. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland? Theres a lot of fear and uncertainty in NI at the minute, it feels a bit helpless with Brexit and no government but more young people are engaging with activism thane ever before so I think things are changing. What makes you hopeful? The success of the repeal campaign has made me hopeful for a more compassionate future!
Photography Vanessa Ifediora.