A crowd. A mass of purple smoke on the streets can be seen from afar, along with raging whistles. Protest songs arise around the world on the same exact day: International Women´s day. The atmosphere on March 8th, 2019, is one of change, and the possibilities carried by these 20 to 30-year-old feminists are endless. Amongst demonstrators brandishing equality signs in Brussels, Emma Rainey, a 29-year-old Irish abortion rights activist, stands out with her flame-like hair, akin to her spirit. She is proudly sporting a purple female symbol paint on her face, matching the surrounding smoke, both carrying the color of feminism. She is fighting for women´s rights, as she does daily.
Stopping is not an option for her. Struggles persist, and life keeps moving on. Feminism was the only logical answer to her life struggles, in conservative Northern Ireland. Originally from Belfast, she moved to Brussels when she was 21 years old, to be with her Flemish partner, and is now a project coordinator at Brussels Binder and a Young Feminist Europe activist. She works in human rights, child protection and gender equality. On her Twitter bio, alongside “Brussels Irish Migrant”, two flags appear: the Irish one and the European Union one. She is fiercely against Brexit, and fights to stay in the EU, throughout numerous conferences, and active social media presence.
“I remember the day of the vote, I cried my eyes out”, she admitted in a 2019 Politico interview, about Brexit.
Depression came, along with Brexit fatigue, a syndrome much present amongst activists these last few months. Dreary couldn´t even begin how she felt in this toxic environment. Her fight for equality in an unsure political climate drained her. England doesn´t seem to include the rest of the UK whilst making decisions. Emma planned to come back home in 2016, with her boyfriend, but she felt too uncertain to risk it. What would become of Northern Ireland? Of her boyfriend? Emma would like to go home one day. But she is unsure of the future, as a woman and an Irish citizen. Like many others.
Despite her emotional struggles, she still manages to speak about political causes in an enthusiastic yet calm voice. She is a voice for women and is afraid that Brexit will affect UK women´s rights. It is bewildering to see that there is so few information about it in the news. It is difficult to predict how women´s rights will change, but this matter must be discussed in the government, deal or no-deal. If the economy plummets, misogyny will be stronger, since it often intensifies with poverty, according to a 2019 Women´s budget group analysis. According to the same source, “1 million women’s jobs are at risk from even Theresa May’s Brexit deal, let alone a no deal”. This concerns not only Northern Ireland but the whole of the UK. According to a recent Guardian article, many women´s rights laws (abuse, fair employment, maternity, etc.) are derived from EU laws, the principle of equality being “enshrined in EU law”, so not having a British replacement of the jurisdiction of the European court of justice is dangerous to women in the UK. According to the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission), “Women in the UK risk losing hard-won equality and human rights protections, including employment rights and funding for women’s services, when the UK leaves the EU”. Women´s rights concerning Brexit should be a major issue for everybody. Rainey tries to raise awareness, but it takes a while to reach the news.
Brexit targeting hurts her and has ever since she worked in the social sphere. She is exhausted from tackling the same issues over and over, but embraces her role, as a female voice is much needed in politics. Not enough women are in Parliament, since they are still labelled as “hysterical” and “shrill” by men in the 21st century, which is ridiculous for her. Still, she gets up in the morning, puts on her hoops, and tackles this toxic masculinity, which is one of the major issues in Northern Ireland, which would only get worse with Brexit.
“In Northern Ireland, as a woman, you´re used to be at the bottom of the pile”, says Emma.
She grew up in an anti-abortion environment, which only changed this year on October 22nd , since Westminster decided to finally decriminalize abortion. Abortion was not legal in most cases, including rape, incest, or fetus malformation. Women risked their lives to go through procedures, sometimes ordering abortive pills online. Emma fought until now to legalize abortion, which 80 percent of people support, according to Amnesty International; and thanks to her persistence and many other activists, this right became allowed. This resilience came from her childhood, spent around a sectarian and gender-based violence society, where she was discriminated for being a woman. Having had a grandmother that fought against anti-Catholic discrimination also made her stronger. Religion is still a powerful influence in the North, and the aggressions are rising, amongst the PUL and CNR, the two main communities. She lived through injustice and felt she had to act on it, so she did. It is now almost impossible to find her in just one place, since she has no free time, spending her time travelling and volunteering, on her relentless battle for a fairer world, admitting herself that “maybe it´s naïve”.
But Rainey is very aware of what she posts and says. Her voice is at all times controlled, even talking about her emotions. She acts like a man in this predominantly white-male misogynistic field, which is maybe the only way to obtain a voice, whilst keeping her lipstick on, and changing her hair color constantly.
Brave. That is one word that could define Emma Rainey, if only one label could define her. It could apply to all feminists, to all fighting for freedom of choice and information. Fighting against the other B word.