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London ~ Tuesday 1 December 2015
Northern Ireland law on abortion ruled 'incompatible with human rights'
- High court judgment in Belfast could lead to women being allowed to have terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest
- Attorney general in Northern Ireland says he was “profoundly disappointed by this decision and I am considering grounds for appeal.”
By Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent
Scroll down to also read "A milestone for abortion in Northern Ireland - but where does the law stand?"
A high court judge has ruled that Northern Ireland’s almost outright ban on abortion breaches the human rights of women and girls, including rape victims.
The historic judgment, delivered in Belfast on Monday, could lead to women and girls who are the victims of rape and incest as well those suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities having terminations in Northern Irish hospitals.
The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed the landmark judgement in Belfast High Court. Breedagh Hughes, the RCM’s Northern Ireland Director, said it would give some legal protection for all health professionals faced with the possibility of carrying out terminations in local hospitals
Hughes said: “Today’s ruling is extremely welcome. It now gives midwives and other health professionals legal protection and a release from the fear of prosecution. This will enable midwives to offer women who have a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly the appropriate care, support and advice that they also have often been denied because of the Assembly’s inertia.”
Hughes said that the failure of local politicians to legislate in favour of some limited forms of abortion had put her members and other medical staff at risk of arrest and prosecution
But Northern Ireland’s attorney general later said he was considering whether to appeal the ruling.
At present, under a 19th-century law, local medical teams could be jailed for life for carrying out abortions even in these circumstances. Unlike the rest of the UK, the Abortion Act 1967 has never applied to Northern Ireland and since devolution was restored the Stormont assembly has resisted any attempt to relax the near-total ban on terminations in local hospitals.
Abortions are only permitted in the region’s health service if the life of a mother is directly under threat or in cases in which there would be lasting long-term negative effects on her health by continuing with the pregnancy.
In his ground-breaking ruling and referring to cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, Mr Justice Horner told the high court in Belfast: “In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the article eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”
Referring to political inaction at Stormont over the abortion question, Horner also suggested that a referendum might have to be held to enact his conclusions on reforming local abortion law.
The judge said that without a referendum it was impossible to know how the majority of people in Northern Ireland viewed abortion.
Welcoming the judgment, Les Allamby, the head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), said: “In taking this case we sought to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.
“We are please that today that the high court has held that the current law is incompatible with human rights and has ruled in the commission’s favour.
“Today’s result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations. It was important for the commission to take this challenge in its own name, in order to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland and we are delighted with the result.”
John Larkin QC, meanwhile, said he was “profoundly disappointed by this decision and I am considering grounds for appeal”.
The attorney general came under sustained criticism from pro-choice campaigners three years ago when he called for a Stormont investigation into the opening of the Marie Stopes Clinic. He even offered politicians advice on how to ensure no kind of termination was carried out by the clinic’s Belfast office.
His intervention prompted claims that he was overstepping his role as a lawmaker in the province.
Back in June, a number of organisations and individuals made submissions to the Belfast high court. They included Sarah Ewart, who went public about having to travel to London to access termination services in 2013 after her first baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a severe brain malformation.
In her case, the NIHRC had argued that forcing women like Ewart to leave the jurisdiction away from support networks amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and that the current law was incompatible with the European convention on human rights, violating the human rights of women and girls.
Ewart welcomed the judge’s ruling on Monday and said she hoped other women would no longer have leave home for England in order to get a termination.
She said: “I, and many women like me, have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.
“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”
Bernadette Smyth, who heads the anti-abortion group Precious Life, branded the high court judgment “undemocratic”.
She claimed the ruling could “open the floodgates” for abortion on demand not just in limited circumstances – a charge the NIHRC has rebutted, pointing out that its court case was not about extending the 1967 act to the province.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice, which the commission took to court over the abortion issue, has six weeks to decide whether to appeal.
At least 1,000 women and girls from Northern Ireland travel to hospitals in Britain for terminations every year. Official figures for 2013, for instance, suggest 800 Northern Irish females had abortions in Britain – although that number is regarded as an underestimate. Among the 800 was a 13-year-old who became pregnant through incest.
The only law applying to abortion in Northern Ireland is the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, which contains a life sentence for anyone convicted of carrying out a termination even in cases of rape or incest.
Amnesty International said it was shameful that laws on abortion “date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe”.
Grainne Teggart, of Amnesty’s My Body, My Rights campaign, said: “Today’s court decision is a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare. It’s shameful that the courts have had to step in because politicians have repeatedly failed Northern Ireland’s women.” NEW
London ~ Tuesday 1 December 2015
A milestone for abortion in Northern Ireland - but where does the law stand?
The ruling that current laws are incompatible with human rights is a milestone but it changes nothing for most Northern Irish women
About 60,000 women have travelled in secret from Northern Ireland to Great Britain for terminations since 1970, according to Amnesty International. (Graeme Robertson for the Guardian)
By Amelia Gentleman@ameliagentleman
Since 1970, an estimated 60,000 women have travelled in secret from Northern Ireland to England for an abortion – some of them have been over the age of 50, some as young as 13. More recently, women have started sourcing abortion pills online from a handful of sites (some reputable, some less so), taking them with no medical supervision.
The restrictive nature of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws is a scandal that has persisted for so long that people have forgotten to be outraged by it. If you are surprised by how restrictive the legislation is in Northern Ireland, you are not alone. This is a legal anomaly largely overlooked in the rest of the UK, where two-thirds of people surveyed in an Amnesty International poll said they had no idea that abortion laws were different in Northern Ireland.
But the law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe and carries the harshest criminal penalty of any European country – life imprisonment both for the woman who has an illegal abortion and for anyone who has assisted her.
The 1967 Abortion Act has never been extended to Northern Ireland and abortion is only carried out when the life or mental health of the mother is deemed to be in danger. This happens very rarely; official statistics indicate that only 23 lawful terminations took place in Northern Ireland in 2013-14.
Pro-choice campaigners have welcomed the ruling, but this is a very small step forward. The case looks only at women seeking an abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. It will have no bearing on the difficulties experienced by the much larger numbers of women seeking an abortion simply because they do not wish to continue with a pregnancy for innumerable other reasons.
Despite the high court judgment, many of these women will continue to have to make the difficult journey to clinics in England and Europe. Despite being UK residents, they are not eligible to have the procedure done on the NHS, so in addition to the cost of the flights, they have to pay between £400 and £2,000 (depending on how many weeks pregnant they are) to have it done in a private clinic.
Even those who can gather together enough money find it a miserable process. Some have to save up for weeks to pay for the termination, cutting direct debits, turning off the heating. They describe the predicament of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy until they can afford to terminate it as particularly painful.
The side-effect of having to save up the money means more women are forced to have dangerous later-term abortions. Mara Clarke, who runs the Abortion Support Network, which offers financial help to women from Ireland and Northern Ireland who need to travel for an abortion, explains: “Fewer than 1.4% of the abortions in England, Scotland and Wales happen at over 20 weeks. With our clients, it’s 8%, because they spend so long trying to raise the money.”
Many women try to return home immediately to save money on hotels. This means that those who have taken abortion pills, rather than undergoing a surgical procedure, have to deal with the experience of miscarrying on the flight home. Because abortion remains such a taboo, many women do not want to tell friends and family what they have done and the unhappy experience remains bottled up.
An employee of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, working in the Merseyside clinic, which sees about 30 women from Northern Ireland and Ireland every week, said in research carried out by Amnesty: “The impact of travel … well, there’s the financial aspect but that’s not always the main thing at all, because really it’s more the fact that they have to be so secretive and sneak out of the country. They do feel guilty anyway, and it adds to how they feel afterwards. The fact they have to travel and tell lies about where they are going. No woman should feel guilty about an unwanted pregnancy in this day and age.”
Even modest celebration about the ruling may prove misplaced, since Northern Ireland’s attorney general has said he is considering whether to appeal and even if he does not, it is far from clear whether the Northern Ireland assembly will agree to amend the law. Opposition to liberal abortion laws is one of the few things that unites Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party.
17 November 2015
Mass graves of women 'too old to be Isil sex slaves' - this is what we're up against
As the world prayed for Paris, more than three thousand miles east another atrocity was being uncovered in Iraq - two mass graves containing the bodies of older Yazidi women. Mass graves of Yazidi women have been found in Sinjar (Rex)
By Sophy Ridge, Sky News political correspondent
In the desert dust of Sinjar, in north west Iraq, a walking stick lies on the ground.
Strewn casually alongside it are a couple of pairs of scissors, some household keys and a shoe. Bank notes flutter in the dirt.
But, if you look a little closer, the scene becomes a horror show. Clumps of hair and fragments of bone poke grotesquely out of the ditch. It is estimated that almost 80 women are buried in this mass grave, aged between 40 and 80-years-old. The bodies are of Yazidi women, murdered by Islamic State butchers.
As the world prayed for Paris, more than three thousand miles east another atrocity was being uncovered.
People around the world are mourning the Paris attacks Photo: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images
Last week Kurdish forces – backed by British and American air strikes – liberated Sinjar from Islamic State militants, along with 28 other villages.
They discovered two graves. The first – containing the corpses of older women – was found west of the city’s centre, near the Sinjar Technical Institute. The second was ten miles west, and is believed to contain men, women and children. It is rigged with explosives and deliberately difficult to access.
The Kurdish government team will analyse the bodies in an attempt to uncover the grim story of what happened here.
But let’s be frank: it is not difficult to guess.
Over the past year, Islamic State forces have kidnapped thousands of young Yazidi women to use as sex slaves. Now we know what happened to those not deemed ‘attractive enough’ for them.
French President Francois Hollande has called the sickening atrocities carried out in Paris “an act of war” committed by Isil.
But for the Yazidis, persecuted in Iraq, this is not just a war. It has all the marks of genocide.
Reading about what happened to the Yazidis is difficult. At a time when the west is still mourning the victims of the co-ordinated terror attacks in Paris, more horrific news can seem too much to bear.
But the massacre of the Yazidis cannot be ignored if the true nature of the enemy in Hollande’s ‘war’ is to be understood.
President Hollande has declared 'war' on Islamic State (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)
The Yazidis are a religious sect whose faith incorporates parts of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. To Isil, they are 'devil worshippers' – the lowest of the low – who should be either killed or enslaved.
In August 2014 the militants overran Yazidi territory in Sinjar and began killing and kidnapping thousands of men, women and children. The United Nations has already acknowledged that what happened in those dark days may be considered genocide.
In the village of Kocho, Isil militants gave the inhabitants a deadline by which to convert to Islam. If they refused, they would die.
Hundreds of men and boys were slaughtered; many killed by point-blank shots to the head or were pushed off cliffs. More than a thousand women and girls were kidnapped. The brutal sexual violence against these women and girls – passed around by Isil fighters – has been well documented.
Last year, one 17-year-old girl, part of a group of about 40 Yazidi women who were still being held captive and sexually abused on a daily basis by Isil fighters, told how they were raped on the top floor of the building, up to three times a day, by different groups of men.
"Our torturers do not even spare the women who have small children with them. "Nor do they spare the girls - some of our group are not even 13 years old. Some of them will no longer say a word."
Now, another chilling part of the picture has been filled in: what happened to the older women.
After a two day offensive to recapture Sinjar, last Friday, Kurdish forces were met by young Yazidi women who had somehow managed to escape the clutches of the Isil kidnappers. They led their liberators to ditches containing the bodies of their mothers and grandmothers.
According to the survivors, these older women were taken behind the technical institute in the Solagh area, east of Sinjar. After a pause, gunfire was heard.
The belongings scattered by the dusty mass grave in Sinjar show this is no ordinary war. Elderly women who use walking sticks are not soldiers.
Tuesday November 24, 2015
Data put the Indian desire for male child in stark relief
By Rukmini S.
"Among families with one to four children, more boys are born than girls." (AP)
India is going through a radical demographic transition, but new data from the Census show that one thing remains the same -- the desire for a male child.
Around 290 million women have had at least one child, the data show, with two being the most common number of children in a family -- a testament to falling fertility rates in India. The drop from number of two-child families to the number of families with more children is much sharper now than it was a decade ago. In fact, there were more families with over six children 10 years ago despite population growth.
Bring in gender dynamics, however, and an extremely complicated picture emerges. Among families with one to four children, more boys are born than girls. The unnatural advantage for boy babies is particularly sharp among families with two children -- half of such families have one boy and one girl, a third have two boys and just one-sixth have two girls. Even given the slight birth advantage that boys enjoy (in nature, there is a slightly higher likelihood of males being born than females), such sharply skewed sex ratios are a clear indication of unnatural processes, most likely pre-natal sex selection.
Among families with more than four children, a sudden reversal begins to take place, as girls become more common than boys. What’s going on here? Families that are unable to practise sex selection, or choose not to, are likely to continue with more pregnancies in the hope of a male child, demographers explain. So large families are more likely to have more girls, as the desire for a male child is what is spurring the size of the family.
What’s more, it’s clear that as family sizes got smaller over the last decade, these processes have only intensified. The magnitude of disparity between small families with more boys than girls and large families with more girls than boys has sharpened between 2001 and 2011.
As India pushes on ahead with its aim of reducing family sizes, it’s going to need to consider the significant impact it’s having on gender dynamics.
Tuesday November 24, 2015
Male child still preferred, shows Census data
By Rukmini S
New Census data indicates that two processes around the preference for a male child are going on simultaneously in India prenatal sex determination and repeated pregnancies. Data on family sizes and sex ratios released on Monday showed that at every family size, there were more boys born than girls.
However as family sizes got bigger, the sex ratio within the family got much less skewed, indicating that families with fewer or no sons were the ones choosing to have repeated pregnancies.
Among women who had one child, 22 million said they had a girl and 28.5 million had a boy, clearly indicating a disproportionately large number of boys being born. Among women who had given birth to two children, 26 million had two boys while just half that number 13.3 million had two girls.
This was similarly the case among families with three children families with all three boys or two boys and a girl were far more common than families with all three girls or two girls and a boy.
However at higher family sizes, this dynamic begins to change, as families that cannot or do not practise prenatal sex selection have repeated pregnancies in their quest for a son, a senior Census official explained.
Families with six children, for instance, are nearly as likely to have all six girls than all six boys, the data show.
As families get larger, the survival odds of girl children also begin to falter, the data shows. Among families where the woman had given birth to one child, the odds of the girl child surviving were slightly higher than the odds of the boy surviving, partly explained by the lower natural infant mortality of girls. Among families with two children, survival odds for girls worsened but were still comparable.
However among families with six children, the odds of the survival of daughters fell sharply.
Monday November 2, 2015
One-child rule gone, but scars will linger
By Edward Wong, International New York Times
China's gender ratio is at 117 boys for every 100 girls. By 2020, it will have an around 30 million bachelors
Three years after she became a national symbol of the abuses of China’s strict family planning policy, Feng Jianmei finally had a second daughter in August. Feng had a stillborn child in 2012 after local officials in Shaanxi province induced labour seven months into her pregnancy.
A supporter of Feng posted a photograph of her and the bloody foetus online, igniting nationwide outrage and leading to the firing of some officials. Even after that, though, Feng’s husband was beaten on the orders of local officials, who also led farmers in a march to denounce the family as “traitors.”
On Friday morning, less than a day after the Chinese government announced a shift from its decades-long one-child rule to a two-child policy, Feng’s husband reflected on their ordeal. “The tragedy that happened to us was because we didn’t have a permit,” the husband, Deng Jiyuan, said in a telephone interview. “I think it’s a good thing that everyone is allowed to have two children now. That is how the policy should always have been, from the very beginning.”
The decision to end the one-child policy came in dull, bureaucratic language. “Comprehensively implement a policy that couples can have two children, actively taking steps to counter the ageing of the population,” the Communist Party said in a communiqué on Thursday.
Those flat words, and their allusion to spurring economic growth, provided the official rationale for transforming a policy that has left cradles empty and hearts hollow across China, scarring generations of families.
The human rights abuses have included forced sterilisations and abortions, the killing of infants and the sale of children. So abhorrent are the practices that the US government grants refugee status to Chinese citizens who say they face persecution because of coercive family planning, making it easier for those people to get asylum.
Feng’s case was extraordinary in that it seized the attention of many Chinese and galvanised calls, including from officials and policymakers, to end the one-child system. But what she suffered was in many ways typical of the practices that spread like a poison throughout the Chinese governance system, from the central government down to the village level, as officials sought to enforce the policy adopted in 1979.
From the start, officials across China were told that population control was a priority, and that their jobs and career prospects, as well as those of colleagues, could depend on whether they met the targets.
The bitter consequences of the policy go well beyond abuses by officials. Some parents, with their traditional preference for male heirs, have used abortion and infanticide to ensure they have a son, and the ratio is now about 117 boys born for every 100 girls. By 2020, China will have an estimated 30 million bachelors – a situation so dire that one economist has proposed that a wife should have multiple husbands.
“The gender ratio is a result of the policy,” Liang Zhongtang, 68, an early adviser to senior officials on family planning who advocated a two-child policy decades ago..
And with an average rate of 1.6 births per woman, China is not replacing its population, now at 1.4 billion. The elderly will lack caretakers. The slowing economy is already reflecting the effects of the planning.
“This policy has had such a big impact on China’s social development, bigger than the Cultural Revolution,” said Yang Zhizhu, a law scholar at the China Youth University of Political Studies in Beijing, who was fined and removed from teaching in 2010 after he and his wife had a second child.
“It’s ruined the demographic structure, both the age and gender structure, and it’s also altered Chinese people’s thinking so that young people are unwilling to bear and raise children.”
Critics say that until the system is abolished entirely, the abuses will continue. Parents with more than two children are still at risk. Such was the case with Pan Chunyan, a shop owner in Fujian province who was seized from her store in 2012 when she was almost eight months pregnant with her third child. Local officials took her to a hospital, where a nurse injected a drug to induce a stillbirth as scores of thugs prevented family members from entering.
“It was the most painful thing that ever happened to me,” Pan said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I can’t even think about having another baby. My baby was so grown. He was a life. He used to kick in my belly all the time.”
The one-child policy originated with a family planning policy group under the State Council, China’s Cabinet, that was established in 1973, said Liang. The government had for years been encouraging citizens to have fewer children. But in 1979, party leaders, under the group’s advice, took a bold step, embracing the new approach.
Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping, the leaders who succeeded Mao Zedong, and other top party officials “all believed the huge population was the major setback in achieving a better economy,” Liang said. After they enacted the policy, he said, “it spread throughout the country quickly.”
Five years later, Liang, a population scholar at the Shanxi Academy of Social Sciences, wrote a letter to Hu Yaobang, then the party’s general secretary, arguing that if families were allowed to have two children, the population could still be kept to 1.2 billion by 2000. He proposed a pilot project in Shanxi, which was approved.
The project was carried out in secret for deca-des and ultimately showed that China’s birthrate would have declined naturally. But it never spr-ead because of ignorance and opposition from central family planning officials, Liang said.
Forced sterilisation across China, the mainstream policy took hold. Families not exempt from the one-child rule had to pay huge fines if they were found in violation. Employees of the state were fired, and party members were expelled. Some families secretly had “black” children – ones never registered at birth. In cities, officials erected billboards that showed beaming couples with a single angelic child. Signs in the countryside, where farmers wanted more children, tended to be harsher. One example: “Refuse to have an abortion and you will have your house demolished and lose your cattle.”
Strong-willed activists have emerged to challenge the practices. The most prominent is Chen Guangcheng, a blind man in Shandong province who was imprisoned by county officials for documenting cases of forced sterilisation and abortions and helping organise legal resistance. Chen’s persecution resulted in his flight from house arrest to the US Embassy in Beijing in 2012 and, ultimately, his departure from China.
That was the same year that the cases of Feng and Pan emerged and angered many people, as photographs of them in hospitals circulated online. Even Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Ti-mes, a nationalistic, state-run newspaper, called what Feng had endured “barbaric” in a microblog post, though he also said, “Family planning has served China rather than harmed it.”
The case for change had already been building among scholars and policymakers. In 2013, the party announced that couples in which at least one partner was an only child could have two children without penalty. Then, on Thursday, the two-child policy became the norm.
“What do I think about the new policy?” Pan asked. “I think it’s absurd that the state controls how many babies people have. Later came the time they wanted to control the population, and it became ‘one is enough.’ Now they say you can have two.”
Monday November 2, 2015
2-child policy only after Parliament approval: China
Beijing: China's top family planning authority has stressed that its local affiliates must implement the current one-child policy until a new policy allowing all couples to have two children goes into effect after being ratified by legislators.
Local authorities in each province should not carry out the two-child policy "wilfully," the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) said, refuting claims by one local official that the new policy was effective as soon as it was announced, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
"Those pregnant with a second child will not be punished as of today," Zhan Ming, deputy director of the provincial health and family planning commission in central China's Hunan Province, was quoted as saying by Hunan Daily on October 30.
The Communist Party of China announced the abolishment of its decades-old one-child policy at the close of a key meeting on October 29, in an attempt to balance population development and offset the burden of an aging population.
According to a communique released after the plenum, a final plan for the policy change will be ratified by the annual session of China's National People's Congress, (NPC).
The NHFPC estimated that about 90 million families may qualify for the new two-child policy, which would help raise the population to an estimated 1.45 billion by 2030.
China, the world's most populous nation, had 1.37 billion people at the end of 2014.
The one-child policy was introduced in the late 1970s to rein in the surging population by limiting most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two children, if the first child born was a girl.
The policy was later relaxed to say that any parents could have a second child if they were both only children.
It was further loosened in November 2013, with its current form stipulating that couples are allowed to have two children if one of them is an only child.
Melbourne ~ Tuesday November 3, 2015
Melbourne Cup 2015: Winning jockey Michelle Payne hits back at doubters after making history on Prince of Penzance
'Get stuffed!' Melbourne Cup winning jockey makes history
Scroll down to also read "Handicapped: it’s men who block female jockeys"
By Tom Decent /Journalist
First, Michelle Payne made history by becoming the first woman to ride a Melbourne Cup winner. Then she let everyone know what she was thinking.
Michelle Payne, the first woman jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, has hit back at her doubters after riding Prince of Penzance to victory at Flemington.
Payne was ecstatic after the race and could hardly contain her excitement after riding the 100-1 outsider to victory at Flemington.
Michelle Payne after making history (Joe Armao)
Payne said it was a dream come true and was proud to prove people wrong in a sport she described as "chauvinistic sport" while also telling the doubters to "get stuffed".
"To think that Darren Weir has given me a go and it's such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me, and I put in all the effort I could and galloped him all I could because I thought he had what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup and I can't say how grateful I am to them," Payne told Channel Seven after the race. "I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.
"This is everybody's dream as a jockey in Australia and now probably the world. And I dreamt about it from when I was five years old and there is an interview from my school friends, they were teasing me about, when I was about seven, and I said, "I'm going to win the Melbourne Cup" and they always give me a bit of grief about it and I can't believe we've done it.
"I was lying in bed last night and I thought about what it would be like if I was talking to you after this race.
"When I wanted this horse as a three-year-old, he won here and I thought this is a Melbourne Cup horse and he just felt like he would run the two mile out that strong but far out, I didn't think he'd be that strong. He was still towing me into the straight. He just burst to the front and he was powering through, it's just unbelievable."
Payne was full of praise for the team around her and said she was surprised by how good a run she got.
"It's just unreal that we're here today you know," Payne said. "Coming down the straight the first time he became a bit steady I had to give him a bit of a dig which I didn't want to do, but I had to hold up my spot where I wanted to be.
"We travelled quite strong the whole way, he didn't get to rest, but he was still in a rhythm and from the 100 everything opened up. I got onto the back of Trip To Paris, she took me into the race; I was actually clipping his heels I was going that good. Then he got into the straight and he burst clear, it was unreal."
Melbourne ~ Thursday October 29, 2015
Handicapped: it’s men who block female jockeys
Other states offer female jockeys more opportunities but even so there are huge gender-based pay discrepancies.
By Eric Dyrenfurth
Illustration: John Spooner
F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic 1926 novel The Great Gatsby depicts the greedy, uncaring corruption of an energetic, individualist American dream, with the road between New York and the fictional hamlet of West Egg shrinking away from a desolate wasteland of industrial detritus. This Valley of Ashes is inhabited by the working poor, while West Egg's ostentatious mansions are rented in summer by party-throwing nouveau riche. These include Fitzgerald's eponymous, pink-suited but ever hopeful anti-hero Jay Gatsby, who made his dough from match-fixing venality.
Now re-locate yourself to the Melbourne spring, and horse racing at Flemington, "the celebration that stops a nation" boastfully attracting much business to Victoria. Brash, drunken babble rocks the glassed-in grandstands and opulent lawn marquees, where gambling crowds jostle, and media celebrities gush over fashionable attire.
Look beyond the fence-line of yellow roses to the lush, grassy track. Visualise the yawning gulf between the meretricious dazzle of race-going humanity in the stands, and lurking unseen dangers faced by risk-taking riders and mounts scudding over a deceptively calm ocean of turf. Wonder too why behind their colourful silks those riders are predominantly male.
Michelle Payne riding La Passe wins her race during Caulfield Cup Day on October 17. (Michael Dodge)
Don't forget, in rushing to the beverage bars, that safety risks and jockey gender inequality, however rhetorically minimised, are traded off against sometimes greedy racing industry interests. These create jobs, fuel the delirious passion of owners, sustain commitment of trainers and jockeys, cream gambling dollars for government revenues, and pleasure the punting public. However reluctantly, dredge from the back of your mind the cobalt corruption scandals engulfing a few leading trainers, while unknown others threaten the lives of those safeguarding racing industry integrity.
Remember not only horses that died last Cup Day, but the tragic deaths of several fallen jockeys on far away country tracks. Many of these were young women, their lofty aspirations dashed, but with apprentice training ranks now startlingly overflowing with a majority of girls. Female riders continue to dream of success, perhaps ironically exposing themselves to greater risks, given much fewer opportunities than men, particularly on carnival days.
As a microcosm of today's male-dominated racing industry, move on to the barren environs of the racing tribunals, remote from the tumult of the track, as they hear jockey and trainer appeals from racing steward decisions. Presided over by crusty, long-retired former judges, the tribunals are aided by a roomful of men: stewards, their advisers, and rugged barristers, with nary a woman in sight except for officials.
Jockey Linda Meech. (Anthony Johnson )
Gender discrimination against female jockeys remains rife in Victorian racing. Trainers and their owners on major race days almost exclusively choose from a rigid hierarchy of male riders. An outstanding exception is premier trainer Darren Weir's long-standing support for senior jockey Michelle Payne. After recent brilliant winning rides for Weir in top-class races, he commented that a lot of owners "aren't that keen to put her on, but she's a great rider".
Such archaic prejudices are buttressed by over-emphasising rider strength in close finishes, with scant attention to attributes all elite athletes possess: rigorous pursuit of gym muscle building, stamina, obsessive determination to succeed, competitiveness, extra-smart tactical nous, expert-assisted race analysis, split-second decision-making under extreme pressure, and empathetic relationships with horses and their human carers – qualities not confined to champion male jockeys.
Nevertheless, senior female jockey engagements, particularly in Victoria, are largely limited to provincial circuits, far less lucrative than city meetings. Leading trainer Peter Moody often uses prolific winner Linda Meech, but mostly banishes her to country tracks on Saturdays. At the spring carnival, a flotilla of Sydney male jockeys descends on Melbourne, with Payne the sole female rider for one race on Cox Plate Day, and Payne and star Sydney rider Kathy O'Hara the only women in sight for Caulfield Cup Day.
Michelle Payne at this year's Warrnambool May Racing Carnival. (Damian White)
Payne is about to ride Prince of Penzance (POP) for Weir in just her second Melbourne Cup start, the first being for Cup legend Bart Cummings. Payne rode POP to victory in last year's Moonee Valley Cup, running a narrow second on him in this year's Cup, after a dashing front-running display.
Outside Victoria, equal opportunities for female riders are more promising, with Tegan Harrison and Alannah Fancourt near the top of the Brisbane premiership, Caitlin Jones and Clare Lindop similarly placed in Adelaide, with Lucy Warwick second in Perth.
Victorian and NSW racing authorities must change owner and trainer cultures with far greater nimbleness if the current crop of female apprentices are to reach their professional pinnacle. Increased female patronage at flagging carnival crowds might also follow.
Finally, the lack of equal riding opportunities causes big pay discrepancies. Comparing 30-year-old Payne with leading rider Mark Zahra, 33, in the first three months of the racing year, Payne earned about $35,000 from prize money (excluding fees per ride), while Zahra earned $120,000. It's a similar story for young gun riders Jackie Beriman, 20, and Chris Parnham, 18, the former earning $13,000 and the latter $40,000 over the same period. These stark pay contrasts desperately need remedy.
Fitzgerald's Gatsby ends on an optimistic note, beating on against the current, despite the fading American dream, where "tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further ... And one fine morning ..." – there will indeed be full equality between male and female jockeys.
Eric Dyrenfurth is an administrative and constitutional lawyer, and a long-time horse racing enthusiast.
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