My enthusiasm for women and feminism is lifted every year by the sense of solidarity on two dates – Women’s Christmas, and International Women’s Day.
Women’s Christmas is evocative for me because it’s a uniquely Irish celebration of women. As a child every Nollaig na mBan was spent with my mother, my granny, my aunt, female cousins and my granny’s friends and neighbours. It was a day when all of us put on our glad rags and the women who built Irish society through their endless child-bearing and rearing, their slog and toil and limitless patience and stoicism in the face of adversity, got to have a day off and enjoy themselves in that most precious and wonderful company, that of women they are close to. My granny, with her nine children and her neighbour, with none, were incredibly close. They had the kind of friendship that I think is lost to most adult women now – the kind of friendship of comrades in arms despite their different circumstances. They hopped over the wall that separated their houses at routine times throughout the day, to share a cup of tea and a cigarette. When I read the Women’s Room in my early 20s I was horrified at the slow death of housewives’ senses of self in suburbia; but there was a companionship and a deep love and closeness there that I think we do not experience now, in our lives of transient work and relentless movement.
International Women’s Day is another day I think there is solidarity with the women around me and around the world. Hashtags, events, conferences, media focus on ‘women’s issues’ (ironic when so much of ‘women’s issues’ are still squeezed into this one day – bring back the women’s pages of newspapers, please, if our ‘issues’ belong nowhere now but the Life magazine and the health and beauty section. But I digress).
International Women’s Day, like its origins, is militant. It is unapologetically feminist. It is angry. And that anger is constructive because there is still so much wrong. Yes, Western feminists have little to complain about in contrast with women in developing countries. The point is that we still have much to bemoan in comparison to the men in our own countries.
And, of course, so many of the issues facing women are international in nature. Domestic violence is international. Intimate partner killing is international. Rape, harassment and stalking are international. Access to our reproductive rights is international – and poorer here in Ireland than in so many countries supposedly far behind us in development.
Funding of rape crisis centres is down in Ireland. Single parents, mostly mothers, have borne the brunt of the recession thanks to incredibly regressive policies by the last Government. The majority of people I hear from every day on the Opinion Line who are facing homelessness are women, usually with children. We still have no access to free, safe and legal abortion, and the €50 required to visit a doctor to get a prescription for contraception is prohibitive to many. Pregnant women are no longer in charge of their own bodies, because a foetal heartbeat is as important as an adult woman. Despite the progress made in this election (thanks in part I think to the opening of the conversation around gender quotas, if not to the quotas themselves), we are still hugely under-represented in the political system (all of county Cork has one female TD, for example) and in high levels of business, and as Gina London says, any business should reflect the customers it serves.
We share all these barriers to living a full life with our sisters in the Global South and that is why International Women’s Day is relevant to us, no matter how educated, how well employed, how comfortable we are. Because it’s possible for any one of us to be raped, be abused, be disbelieved, be pregnant without wanting to be, and to have nowhere to turn.
Celebrate International Women’s Day in Cork
Tuesday 8 March
- Dress for Success video launch takes place at Café Velo on George’s Quay at 5.30pm. Hear all about the inspiring Amanda Varian, with whom I’ve been lucky enough to work recently. (Disclaimer: I’m launching the video, but don’t let that put you off!)
Wednesday 9 March
- Cork Sexual Violence centre hosts author Louise O’Neill in conversation with Mary Crilly. Louise’s work on body image and consent has struck a chord with women all over the world, and Mary has walked the walk with victims of rape and sexual assault for many years now, helping both women and men cope. Louise will also be signing copies of her books. 4-6pm, Cork Sexual Violence Centre, 5 Camden Place, Cork. More info here.
- The 5050 Group hosts the Canadian Ambassador Kevin Vickers and Joan Wienman from Equal Voice Canada in ORB 255. The ambassador will talk about parliament in Canada and Joan will talk about her activism in encouraging women to run for politics in Canada.