Been seeing a lot on Facebook and in the local news lately about the Handmaids on the Isle of Man?
You know, those figures that dress as Handmaids from Hulu’s latest, Emmy Award winning hit TV show? So have we, so when we sent Gef to stand with them for their last protest, we got him to give us the lowdown on the sitch:
Those that dress as the Handmaids locally are deliberately remaining anonymous to better represent all women on the Island who feel subjugated by the current Abortion laws. The other reason to remain anonymous is for fear of repercussions.
These 5 are normal working women and fear that by merely representing their political views, they could face backlash from a number of different directions, including possibly, their employers.
They did mention an affiliation with the BetsyRiot group on their page and in the local news articles about them, however they have specifically stated that they’re ultimately silent and peaceful, refraining from the more anarchic aspects of the BetsyRiot movement. There are other pro-choice groups on the Isle of Man, including CALM (Campaign Abortion Law Modernisation) and while the Handmaids have openly stated they support CALM and everything they stand for, they have specifically stated they’re independent.
We here at Gef Towers also had a root around for anti-abortion groups and found quite a few actually, which we thought was surprising for an Island as small as this. However, on closer inspection, we came to realise that each one seems to involve all the same people. We could tell this really quickly and easily just by looking at their photos on their pages.
The Handmaids imagery is clearly based on the Margaret Atwood novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the subsequent Hulu TV Show, which was recently shown on Channel 4 in the UK.
The handmaid’s Facebook page states that “Handmaids have choice taken away from them and are given no control over their reproductive rights. Manx women are forced to travel to the UK for abortions”.
HandmaidsIOM feel that the current law on the island (the Termination of Pregnancy Act 1995) gives only the illusion of choice, while instead practically speaking, presenting far too many unnecessary legal barriers and hurdles for a woman to be subjected to, to obtain an abortion by choice even in the very early stages of pregnancy.
This puts all those women who live on the Island and who have an unwanted pregnancy in what is essentially a forced birth position, if they can’t obtain abortion pills (which are currently illegal on the Island and many are stopped in the postal system) or if they do not have the cash to travel to the UK – or for any reason are unable to travel – where it is legal.
The Handmaids donned the cloaks and bonnets and wandered amongst the general Manx public on Tynwald Day in 2017, before stopping by to graciously meet with the Lieutenant Governor during the proceedings.
There are five Handmaids who first appeared on that occasion, but to date no names have been released and they have appeared in various numbers since, depending on their message. Throughout the whole day they remained silent, although handed out printed slips of paper with quotes from Margaret Atwood’s book to anyone who asked them any questions.
The Handmaids felt it important that the message about the current abortion law on the Isle of Man requiring an update needed to be heard, and felt that this was the best way to achieve this. The interest that followed as shown by the sheer numbers on their FB page (roundly beating out any membership on Facebook pages of the anti-abortion groups associated with the local debate) and that the Isle of Man Newspapers declared the Tynwald Day protest as the ‘stand out political moment of the year’ in 2017, demonstrates that the Handmaids are a key influencer in this current conversation.
In the meantime, Dr Alex Allinson MHK published a draft Abortion Reform Bill to the Manx public, together with a consultation about the same time. This was the most responded to consultation in the history of the Isle of Man with a record number of people agreeing, in large, with the changes proposed.
So far the Handmaids presence seems to be mainly digital, however they have appeared at Tynwald on Tynwald Day 2017, once on Prospect Hill to be interview by MTTV, outside Government Offices (the Wedding Cake building), where they presented MHK’s with cupcakes and thank you cards to show their appreciation for considering this difficult topic, and then again to protest an off Island group presentation, by doing their own presentation with messages on cards to the waiting press.
This is the protest which Gef accompanied them on, and where right afterwards various members of the public, including MHK’s, got to dress up in their own Handmaid cloak and bonnet. We thought David Ashford looked particularly fetching in the photos, btw!
The next important date for the Handmaids is 23rd January 2018.
This is the date that Dr Allinson’s proposed Abortion Reform Bill is in the House of Keys for its first reading. The Handmaids are currently running a campaign from their Facebook page which they reckon should go viral.
The campaign is for everyone to go #RED4ChoiceIOM and to show that #IStandWithHandmaidsIOM.
At the time of writing this article, around 400 people had already used the Handmaids Facebook profile picture frame to show their support for this campaign, with the whole thrust of the hashtag being that everyone is urged to wear red to show their support for the Abortion Reform Bill on Tuesday 23rd January.
If you’d like to be part of this movement, make your voice heard, and join the Handmaids IOM for their journey, please visit their Facebook page here