The topics of abortion and women’s reproductive rights remain highly divisive the world over. In The 8th, a new documentary being screened as part of the 7th European Film Festival in South Africa, a team of award-winning filmmakers explore how grassroots activism can play a vital role in engineering change and shifting perceptions.
Directed by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, and Maeve O’Boyle, the 94-minute documentary tells the story of Irish women and their fight to overturn one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the world. By following the campaigning journey of academic, feminist, and human rights activist Ailbhe Smyth closely, it also offers viewers a glimpse into the journey of campaigning for votes and rights as a grassroots activist.
The 8th opens with a brief bit of history, outlining the 1983 vote by the people of Ireland to add the 8th amendment to the constitution, stating that the right to life of the pregnant woman is equal to that of the unborn, and how abortion rights activists have been fighting to overturn it ever since.
Early scenes do well to contextualise the polarising nature of the debate, showing religious individuals against non-religious individuals, young against old, and anti-abortion against pro-abortion. In a scene that succinctly highlights the problematic nature of religious matters interfering with issues regarding abortion rights and women’s reproductive health, pro-choice activists carry signs reading ‘Keep your rosaries off my ovaries’ while being lectured on the sanctity of one’s body.
Punctuating these moments are key events that illustrate the very real dangers of legal and medical systems that refuse to transform. These narratives are as shocking as they are heart-breaking and serve as urgent reminders of the need for a more progressive and equitable constitution.
Following the journey of Smyth and her campaign team is something of a rollercoaster experience. Viewers bear witness to the myriad highs and lows of their battle, their administrative headaches, their small, yet effective partnerships with artists and students, and their continued sense of community and care throughout it all.
While The 8th may be a documentary about the fight for safe and equal reproductive rights in Ireland, it’s also a film that touches on many other systemic issues that negatively impact present-day society. Patriarchal ideals of work, beauty, and duty are called into question, as is the oft-ignored topic of mental health. As Smyth and her team demonstrate, however, as long as there are individuals who are willing to drive and rally for meaningful change at a grassroots and community-based level, especially in these times of increased authoritarianism, there is hope for a more progressive and caring society.
The European Film Festival is hosting a number of panel discussions around the featured films, as well as the topics within these films.
Expanding on the issue of reproductive rights in South Africa is a webinar entitled Making the Right to Choice a Reality which takes place on Thursday 19 November at 14:00 and features leaders of the Irish campaign in discussion with local specialists:
Gaopalelwe Phaleatsile (Abortion Support South Africa), Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng (Commission for Gender Equality), Orla O’Connor (Together for Yes Campaign/ National Women’s Council of Ireland), and Siona Cahill (Together for Yes Campaign/ Union of Students in Ireland).
More info or to watch the films on offer go to the website: www.eurofilmfest.co.za.