Ni Neart Go Cur Le Cheile

When I watched the first of TV3’s new format People’s Debates with Vincent Browne I admired the courage of the station in attempting to give equal voice to ‘ordinary’ people as to elected politicians and aspiring politicians.  However I did feel that there was a lot of shouting and not a lot of coherence.  So when the second one was announced as being a women only debate on the subject as to whether or not we had yet achieved ‘liberation’ I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. 
But being me and afraid I might miss something, a character trait (flaw?) that has kept me on Twitter for six years, I rocked along to the magnificent HD studios in Ballymount last Wednesday. 
As someone who is a member of the National Women’s Council and also involved with the Women on Air group, I was immediately surprised that I didn’t know more than a handful of the women present.  As I took my seat in the studio I wondered if there was some kind of snobbery at work here.  There weren’t many (if any) TDs at the first People’s Debate and there was not a sign of a woman TD last Wednesday either.  I know we don’t exactly have a lot of female TDs but I was disappointed that not one had shown up.
I enjoyed the evening very much.  There is something very …. I am slow to say special…but it is special when a group of women come together.  Perhaps it’s the very different energy, the different dynamic. 
I was struck by the humour of the evening and also by the very articulate contributions from almost every woman who spoke.  There was passion too.  And believe me there were all points of view in the studio… from very Catholic women to women who were very vocal campaigners for liberal abortion. 
I am aware from the commentary on Twitter afterwards that some women felt their voices weren’t heard and that is a shame but I guess an inevitable fact at any event. 
But I felt that there was a tangible willingness in the studio for women to listen to each other.  It was said time and time again that true equality is about choice.  And this is something I have written about many times.  But more than choice I also think that in order for the cause of feminism to move forward we women must be tolerant of views that run completely to our own.
Abortion is possibly the most divisive of these issues but there are others too. It is vital that as women we realise that to move forward we must all stand together.  We must park our differences and our battles over issues such as abortion.  I understand that abortion is something many feminists will say is fundamental to our freedom as women… but if we continue to insist on all women signing up to that agenda we are doomed to failure.  There are also very feminist women who do not support liberal abortion laws.  That does not make them less of a feminist.
Equality is indeed about choice but it is also about tolerance.  We are not a homogenous group – we are as different as we are the same. 
As the debate wound to its conclusion two things were clear to me.   The new Irish women – many of whom on the night were African had so much to add to our conversation about equality.  Their voices were such a welcome addition and they brought wonderful insights to the debate.  The other thing that came up time and time again was the ‘work of caring’.  Until we as a nation value the work of caring and until it is subsidised by our taxes we will never be fully liberated.
Exactly 100 years before we gathered in a TV studio in Ballymount, a group of women met in Wynne’s Hotel in Dublin and founded Cumann na mBan.   I have no doubt that these women were equally full of passion and enthusiasm for their cause and the cause of national freedom.  But in the end they were divided, like the rest of the country on the issue of partition and the Treaty.  And so the cause of Irish women’s liberation ground to a halt.
There is a lesson there for women of 2014.  Some issues will remain divisive for years to come.  Don’t let that force us apart and therefore delay our full liberation for another century. 
Ni neart go cur le cheile

ROARING FOR EQUALITY

International Women’s Day and I was invited by the National Women’s Council of Ireland to take part in their SOAPBOX event which took place in the middle of O Connell Street – just opposite the GPO.  A place famous for oration… some more glorious than others.  It’s also around the corner from some of Dublin’s most formidable women – the fruit sellers and traders of Moore Street, whose powers of making themselves heard over the din of the city is legendary.  I didn’t sell any bananas but I was honoured to take my few minutes on the soapbox.  Here is the text of what I roared!

Michael Harding wrote one of the most lyrical and beautiful columns I have ever read in the Irish Times last Tuesday.  It was called What I Love Most About Women Is Their Voices.  He began by saying that while his father was in the dining room talking about God, his mother was in the kitchen talking to another woman.  His father called it gossip – “what are you women gossiping about now?”  But Harding says “my father was full of ideas – but mother – full of stories – was always more real.”  He went on to say of women “They share a ‘knowing’ beyond words. …. They know things men don’t know.  They shelter men in the fabric of their knowing and they intuit a deeper universe when a man’s world is falling apart.”
It certainly is time that this world of man’s design fell apart.  It certainly is time for women to demand much more than just equality with men.  It is time for us to demand a new world; a world in which we can participate fully and as equals but a world which acknowledges that we are not men; a world where we can express our womanhood without fear that it will be perceived as weakness.
All women are heroes in my opinion.  We bleed every month which can often make us feel like crap but we carry on with our jobs, paid and unpaid, pretending all is fine as we pop another nurofen and dream of reaching home where we can fling ourselves on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a bar of chocolate.  I know menopausal women who suffer horrendous periods which are challenging in a practical as well as physical way – and they carry on working wearing black a lot and praying a lot that their super plus extra sanitary protection doesn’t let them down.  Would men be so silent if roles were reversed?  Would they hell? 
How many women are afraid to display photos of their kids on their desks in case it gives the game away.  How many women miss their new baby so much when they return to work after maternity leave that it causes physical pain?  How many women wish they could take a couple of years of reduced hour working  in order not to miss their children’s early years?  How many women hate that their children are in crèche from too early in the morning till too late in the evening?  And why do so few women articulate these feelings openly?
I know some men feel all these emotions too.. but today is about women.
How come we live in a modern and relatively wealthy country where we have unsafe maternity services and where we have so little choice in those services?  And how come we are not raising a holy racket about it?
But most of all how come we live in a country where the work of caring is so undervalued.  Our children are our most precious asset – both individually and nationally.  So how is it that the people who care for them are in general working for a minimum wage?   And of course this is equally true for those working in nursing homes – caring for our most vulnerable elderly. 
Care, that most traditional of women’s work, should not be left to either charities or the private sector.  Caring should be heavily subsidised by Government in the same way education is and should be run by professionals on a not for profit basis.
Michael Harding spoke of women’s voices.  And yet the day after his beautiful column appeared in the Irish Times, we heard that 1 in 3 women in the EU have suffered physical or sexual abuse.  The figure is 1 in 4 in Ireland.  That means women in our neighbourhoods, perhaps in our families, in our circle of friends have or perhaps still are, experiencing violence.  And yet they are largely silent.  There still exists a shame and stigma to admitting that our vulnerability, that which is part of being a woman has been cruelly and viciously exploited. 
But before we can change the world we must change ourselves.  As a women’s movement we must recognise that we women are as different as we are the same.  We don’t all necessarily want the same things.  Equality is essentially about choice.  The choice to be yourself.  It is vital that we recognise the right of each woman to make the choices that are right for her. And we need to support each other regardless of how we personally view those choices.  Ni neart go cur le cheile
We are 51% of the population and here we are marking an International Womens Day at an event organised by the National Women’s Council of Ireland.  I hope that some day our  grand daughters and great grand daughters can laugh at the madness of such a concept.
Michael Harding finished by saying that “women have been my compass, my anchor, the ground and the completness of my universe.  As I grow older they are the warp and weft of all my spiritual hope, because it was women’s eyes that saw Christ resurrected and it was women’s voices who sang the song of it – until they were silenced. 

It is time to break our silence.  It is time for us to sing our songs, to tell our stories, to support each other and demand the changes we need to fulfil our destiny to change the world.  Our men need us as women and our grand daughters are depending on us.  

THE NATIONAL (SOME) WOMEN’S COUNCIL

In today’s Irish Independent there is an article by Celine Naughton entitled “Why women shouldn’t think of abortion as a ‘dirty little secret”. The article is about a new website which has been set up by two women Lynn Coles and Bernadette Goulding and which aims to provide support to women who are struggling after having had an abortion.

Bernadette Goulding is quoted as saying “we can’t change the past, but we can spare people years of suffering and help them move forward to a brighter future.” A good idea surely. Not according to the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

The article quotes Susan McKay, director of the NWCI as saying “the NWCI supports a woman’s right to choose. Abortion is a serious undertaking and women don’t go into it lightly but for many it is the right decision. And while there may be sorrow, there is no need for remorse or regret.”

This position of the NWCI underlines beautifully one of the fundamental problems with the feminist movement in Ireland. It does not embrace all women. Just like the constant campaigning for better child care and shared parenting, we hear little about supporting women who choose to take a break from the world of work to stay at home and look after their children. It seems to be assumed that all women want the same thing. That we all define ‘success’ in the same way – and we don’t.

Now it seems that our reaction to abortion should be the same – no remorse, no regret. Women (like men) are not a homogenous group. We are not all the same. I am not at all surprised that some women feel deep hurt and regret after an abortion. Why are these emotions not considered a valid response to a huge event in a woman’s life?

I support a woman’s right to choose – in every sense. In her choice of work, in her choice of childcare and I certainly would wish to see women who are hurt by abortion being supported in their journey back to wellness.

As I have written before, march on sisters but remember many of us are hearing a very different drum.

www.womenhurt.ie

www.nwci.ie