Women’s Day, Mother’s Day & Voting for Change

“Population growth is one of the most serious obstacles to world prosperity and sustainable development. … Women’s education is the single most important path to higher productivity, lower infant mortality and lower fertility.”

Gro Harlem BrundtlandThe International Conference on Population and Development Cairo – 1994


Hello and welcome to the Life and Memoir Circle. A podcast for readers and writers, and tellers of true-life stories, who love a good memoir. I am your host, Vig, Gleeson, and you are exactly the person I want to have a conversation with today. 

A very happy International Women’s Day to all my listeners, men and women. Before I kick off today’s episode, I want to say a great big thank you for listening and re-listening to January’s podcast. – I can’t believe how many of you listened to it more than once, that is so cool! 

Thank you for all your emails. I’m thrilled to hear how much you got from the Review and Renew Workbook, which you can still download from the email Circular. And Yes! I will make more workbooks for you. In fact, I’ve nearly finished the first workbook, for Therapy on the Page, my life and memoir writing program, which as I mentioned in the last episode is launching imminently.

But now, onto today’s show, which is all about Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, World population growth, Irish family and care referendum and a sure way out of poverty.

What, if anything, does International Women’s Day mean to you? To me, this is the most important day on our calendar because — and this is my belief — autonomy for women is the key that opens the door to a better, sustainable future for all humanity. Strong words, I know, because I’m absolutely passionate about this. 

I’m also worried about talking about it, both because I’m not an expert and also because it’s political. And my weakness is avoiding conflict and trying to please everyone. — which is impossible, for anyone who wants to have a voice that’s heard. So I need courage to talk about this, and where did I go to find it? My Memoir Group, of course. When I shared that I wanted to write about this subject and read them some of my ideas, this Circle of incredible women writers gave me a Hell yes! You must! And then proceeded with their sound advice on what to include and what to take out. I don’t know what I’d do without my Women Writing Circles, I don’t think I could even do this work, without them. 

Do you have a safe writing community to support you and your ideas? If not, you’re welcome to join one of mine. Just hit reply on the latest email Circular and I will invite you in. 

Powerful communities, like my Memoir Group, where I’m encouraged and supported to speak my truth and be safe, are one of the reasons International Women’s Day feels like the most important day for women and men to celebrate. We need strong communities to thrive! AND women need full autonomy.  

I believe this to be true because autonomy for all women directly links to global population growth. Maybe my beliefs stems from growing up in Norway, where I had some strong and courageous role models to learn from. Mormor, the one you all know and love from my memoir, is one of them. I bow in gratitude to both my Grandparents – Mormor & Morfar – for their foresight. Both from large Norwegian families, they were determined to change their future – as well as mine and my children’s future, though I’m not sure they thought that far ahead in the 30’s when they started their family, Ruby, for sure feels the effect of their decision today.

That was what Mormor believed. 

In a time before contraception, Morfar fully supported and respected her wish to only have two children. Many of their peers did the same. But for women to safely make this choice, especially where contraception is not freely available, the men in their lives must respect and honour their right to choose when and how many children they want to welcome and care for in their lifetime. 

Obviously, the basis and ability for our choices are experience, knowledge, education and how financially secure we are. To trust the power of our choices is respected. Honestly, I can not see how societies can achieve this without women’s right to self-determination and financial security. 

In my teens, Mum physically used her knuckles, to knock into my head the importance of getting a good education and a job to always be financially independent of a man. Obviously, she meant a husband. It wasn’t until I was writing Speak #TRUTH Lies that I found out her motherly indoctrination happened during a time when she wanted to divorce my father, but could not afford to. This is a spoiler alert, if you haven’t read my memoir already. No doubt she felt trapped in her marriage and blamed her lack of education and motherhood for her financial situation. 

I was 15 when I got my first summer job and stopped relying on my parents for pocket money. I got a good education and, after a few years backpacking and moving to Dublin, then London, had a great career until I became a mother at 39. But for the past 8 years, when we lived abroad and I wrote Speak #TRUTH Lies I have been fully financially dependent on Shane. Now, back in Ireland, the urgency for me to earn an income is tick-tocking like an old fashioned alarm clock. And honestly, it is stressing me right out. I know what I want to do, but how much longer can I continue doing creative writing work without getting paid?  How much longer can I live without Financial freedom? Here’s to hoping for more book sales and great success for Therapy on the Page, my life and memoir writing program! So please share this podcast and tell all your friends about it, please and thank you 🙂  As you can hear, when I speak about female empowerment and financial independence, I’m a bit of a contradiction and it feels, right now, that I’m living in a very traditional – old fashioned— marriage, where Shane earns all the money and I do most of the caring. Not quite typical Irish though.

Did you know that, when Shane’s mum married she was forced — by law — to leave her job! I’m not kidding. 

It was called the Marriage Bar and applied to women civil servants, you can look it up if you don’t believe me. 

The Marriage Bars in the private sector were finally abolished in 1977 when European law made it illegal to discriminate in employment on the grounds of sex and marital status. That’s only 46 years ago and contraception, back then, was illegal. 

While researching for this podcast, I read an article about a 40-year-old woman who died after having 18 children in Ireland! Can you imagine the poverty! 

The contraception pill was made legal in Ireland in 1979 but only for married couples. It wasn’t until 1985 that sales of condoms to people over 18 were legalised. And they were sold through certain, I imagine very few, outlets. 1985! I was 19! I was on the pill! Thank god I lived in Norway then and not Ireland!

Today, in Ireland contraception is free for women between 17-30! Even the doctor’s appointment to get her prescription is free. That’s a HUGE step towards women’s self-determination. Abortion became legal in Ireland in 2018. That was the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution — which can only be Amended by way of referendum. And today, on this International Women’s Day in 2024, we have a new referendum, the fortieth amendment. This time we are voting to upgrade the narrow view of what our constitution defines as ‘family’ which currently only covers married couples. So all the families out there are not married — according to the current Irish constitution — you’re not a family. 

Well, obviously, I’m voting yes, I want all families however they are made up to be protected as a family. And that means that when one partner dies, the other inherits them and gets the widow’s pension. So yes, to me this is really important. In the second amendment, we’re asked to vote on who cares for people in the home. The way it reads at the moment – care in the home – according to the state is only provided by women and mothers. Here’s what it says at the moment.

What was the result of the vote?

“The recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”


I will vote Yes to both but I do feel an ache in my heart when I agree to take the word mothers out of the constitution.  Because I believe mothers are absolutely incredible. If every woman stopped, right now, becoming mothers- there would not be a single human left on earth in another millennial – imagine that! 

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in Ireland. In a way it’s a shame that Mother’s Day has turned into a Hallmark Holiday, I don’t like the way this day, for honouring our mothers and mother figures in society, has been commercialised, so I tend not to celebrate it. Moving around the world also makes it hard to keep track of when Mother’s Day in Norway is, as Mother’s Day falls on different days depending on the country you’re in. 

But this year, for the first time in over 30 years I was in Norway on the second Sunday of February, the Norwegian Mother’s Day, and I got to buy Mum flowers and make her a traditional Norwegian dinner of potetball!

Here in Ireland, and the UK, Mother’s Day coincides with Mothering Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar, and therefore it changes every year. 

This year, because we start the weekend on Friday with International Women’s Day, and end with Mother’s Day on Sunday. I feel it’s extra special and I want to mark the day. 

Not by celebrating my own mother, because I’ve already done that this year, but by honouring some incredible women as Maternal Figures. Because not all mothers are ‘good mothers’ and some great mothers are not biological mothers. Case in point is Albanian born, Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu,  better known as Mother Teresa, who — in case you didn’t know — studied English in Dublin, Ireland, for a year, in 1928. 

There is one woman, in particular, I want to honour today. Gro Harlem Brundtland, born the same year as my mum, was the first woman Prime Minister of Norway. First in 1981, then from 1986-89 and again from 1990 – 1996. So she was very much MY Prime Minister and a massive role model for me. Manyfondly referred to Gro as  “a mother to the country.”

In 1998 she became Director-General of The World Health Organisation, a position she held for 5 years. She is a staunch champion of reproductive health as a human right and put sustainable development on the international agenda. This year marks 30 years since the last International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994. In her Key Note Address she said:

“This conference is really about the future of democracy, how we widen and deepen its forces and scope. Unless we empower our people, educate them, care for their health, allow them to enter economic life, ‐ on an equal basis and rich in opportunity, poverty will persist, ignorance will be pandemic and people’s needs will suffocate under their numbers.”

179 governments adopted the revolutionary Programme of Action and recognised the need to empower women as a key to improving the quality of life for everyone. The international community reached consensus on three quantitative goals to be achieved by 2015:

1. reduction of infant, child and maternal mortality

2. provision of universal access to education, particularly for girls, and

3. the provision of universal access to a full range of reproductive health services.

We are 9 years past that target date. And while I breathe a sigh of relief that we, in Ireland and Norway, have reached these goals. It fills me with a fiery frustration to see, not only is so much of the world lagging behind but in many countries – including the US – the trend is reversing! It is heartbreaking that when the world’s population and poverty keep growing, women — mothers — are denied their right to say NO to unwanted pregnancies. This fueling global warming and instability for everyone. All because patriarchs – dictators — mad men — so desperate for power rules with an ever-lasting hunger for more soldiers to carry out their wars.

Here’s another quote from her Key Note.

“Sometimes religion is a major obstacle. This happens when family planning is made the moral issue. But morality cannot only be a question of controlling sexuality and protecting unborn life. […] Morality becomes hypocrisy if it means accepting mothers suffering or dying in connection with unwanted pregnancies, illegal abortions, and unwanted children living in misery.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland

You can just imagine the trouble she got into with the Vatican! And with leaders, like Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who condemned abortion as un-Islamic.

On this International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day weekend, I can’t help but think of Mormor, who at the time Gro and Mum was born, – my grandmother – was already making her own productive choice. A choice Gro believe is a human right, a choice she became a world-famous advocate for. 

As I signed off for today, I hear Momor’s soft high high-pitched voice saying those words again.

Yes, I agree, and for every woman around the world to do that, she must have the right to self-determination and autonomy. I’ve put a few posts up on Instagram and Facebook for us to continue this conversation. I hope you will come and join me there. For now, I wish you a happy International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day.  If what you heard here today piqued your interest or stirred your fury, please get in touch. I am passionate about women’s stories from all over the world and would love to hear YOUR story. 

Thank you for supporting me by buying my memoir, sharing my podcast and giving it 5 stars! 

You are awesome!  

Much Love and Light 🧡

This article went through many revisions. It first appeared as a rough draft for my memoir but didn’t make the cut for the book. Instead, it landed high on the slag pile of ‘writing for later’. Some weeks ago I dug it out and read it to my Sunday Memoir Group. From their feedback, I revised it and read it again in Memoir Mentors Online this week. That’s when David Hughes offered to add his magic humour to it. I did a quick revision before publishing it for you to read. 

This shows that our stories, just like a child, need a village to thrive. If you are writing your #TRUE Life Stories – whether in journal form, memoir or author-fiction –  and you want a supportive, encouraging and safe place to share and develop your stories, I have a Circle of readers and writers ready to welcome you. Just hit reply on the last email I sent you and let me know you want to join. Not signed up for the email Circular? No problem, sign up below.