MOTHERS AGAINST THE ODDS is a ground breaking film that sheds light on one of the great unresolved scandals against women in modern Irish history which only came to light for filmmakers ANNE DALY and RONAN TYNAN when they sought to compare the experiences of mothers in Ireland and Kenya. Narrated by Oscar winning actress Brenda Fricker, this film took Tynan and Daly on a three year odyssey that totally up ended their original expectations as there were confronted by very uncomfortable questions about Ireland’s treatment of women that remain unresolved.
Why were some Irish mothers subjected to a brutal procedure when they sought to give birth with shocking life long consequences? Why were their pelvic bones broken during child birth, without their permission, in a brutal procedure now compared by some to female genital mutilation (FGM)? In confronting these questions this film reveals with compelling insights how unimaginable cruelty can be inflicted on women and girls when their rights are not respected.
Filmmakers Anne Daly and Ronan Tynan expected few surprises when they set out to make this film. Mothers in Kenya had a very high risk of dying during child birth and Ireland was according to the statistics one of the safest places in the world to give birth. However, their experience in Kenya, and the questions raised there, opened their eyes to the all but hidden histories of a number Irish mothers, who were forced to endure a level of cruelty, up to recent times, that was both shocking and incomprehensible – and totally at odds with their original expectations. In fact, Kenya brought into sharp focus a very compelling story at home, which remains both a very controversial and still unresolved part of Irish history.
Observing the treatment of many Kenyan mothers today helped them to understand how some Irish mothers, in former decades, found themselves at the receiving end, during child birth, of treatment that in any other context, might even be considered as a form of torture! How could a medical procedure, symphysiotomy, which one leading Obstetrician described as from the “Dark Ages”, be performed on some Irish mothers, when they went into hospital to have their babies, without their consent, and that in so many cases literally destroyed their lives? All the more surprising when the Cesarean section was virtually routine in many hospitals when problems births arose at the time. Talking to mothers in Kenya going through different, but very similar experiences, to that endured by Irish mothers in former decades offered insights that makes this documentary really compelling. Irish and Kenyan mothers share a common bond that resonates in a very moving way. In explaining why women can be so vulnerable one Kenyan midwife in the film was adamant that the reason is simple and very clear: “Women are treated the same as children, they should not speak….” Women are second class citizens in a real sense in sections of Kenyan society. They are perceived to be of value certainly, but only in the sense that they “can be traded like assets”.
Kenya today as the film shows how easily such cruelty could be performed against vulnerable Irish mothers, without their consent. Kenyan women must submit to the prevailing demands of traditional culture, religion and the “superior” status of their husbands. A very conservative type of society, that also prevailed in Ireland, up to recently in historical terms. Indeed, a very good indication of just how hard it has been to free all women in Ireland from medical procedures, performed for religious rather than for health reasons, is provided by the fact that the last smyphysiotomies were performed in the early Eighties.