To mark one hundred years since the establishment of Cumann na mBan, Vincent Browne’s ‘The People’s Debate ’ was recently taken over by 200 women.
When I say taken over we didn’t actually ‘take over’ the studios although there certainly was a great air of excitement as we milled into the ‘sanctum’ to discuss and debate ‘Have women in Ireland achieved liberation?’
Well, I think you all know the answer to that one! However, it led to a very lively debate, conducted with wit and humour, intermingled with a range of serious and not so serious topics, from the role of the church, the objectification of women, feminism as one of the great movements of the 21st century, to the oppression of both men and women.
There was general agreement from women attending and women watching that the programme captured the wide diversity among women. As one woman said, “It is great to see so many women together - all different, all shapes and sizes”. Another commented: “It is nice to have a women’s only audience, we do not have to have men here to validate what we say as women”.
There were many strong and powerful women in the audience.
Norah Mc Dermott spoke about how she and Ann Cotter in 1986 won a landmark case which made it possible for 69,000 women to claim child benefit and other welfare payments that were previously only paid to married men.
When Vincent asked the question ‘’Should we rearm the Cumann na mBan?’ Linda Green was quick off the mark with her retort’ “I’ll tell who you can rearm, Vincent.”
Linda went on to explain she worked with The National Women’s Collective of Community-based Women’s Networks, the only national Local Community Development Programme that is women specific, women led and women centred, a feminist community development organisation. “We support grass roots women from the bottom up, working class women, women who have been completely ostracised and marginalised and we represent over 60, 000 women at a national level.”
She spoke of how the Local Government Reform was now placing the work of the National Women’s Collective under threat. “The community activists in this room will not be made invisible, we will not be silenced and we will fight to keep this programme.”
Linda’s passionate input was warmly supported by a great round of applause from the audience.
Alva Smyth said global feminism was a great social movement that has changed the lives of women and consequently the role of men. Feminism never claimed that everyone had to think the same, how boring would that be! But at the very least we should have equality in politics, and women desperately need women to speak up for women so that we can achieve equality for all.
There were others who felt feminism was not for them.
This led to a debate about whether feminism is really about choice, or seen as women pushing women out of the home to work failing to recognise the value of women in the home.
Representatives from the ‘Unforgettable Women’s Network’ (what a great name!) spoke very eloquently about the many gender inequalities and the systemic isolation of many women.
A woman who had grown up in the 70’s/80’s said it was only when she became an adult that she realised that the feeling of equality she had as a young girl was not the reality.
“Women do not have the same visibility. You can see from tonight, it’s not because we’re not loud, it’s just that we don’t have the ear of those in power.
“Women’s contribution has been erased out of history the vital role of women in our society is still largely undervalued.”