Let someone else make the sandwiches
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Well it was a first. Women gathered together from all across the Connaacht region. The meeting was held in Ballinamore, County Leitrim, last Saturday, organised by Women in the Connaught Sinn Féin Cúige.
In the tea-room it was talk of issues, of housing, of hospitals, of women who are battered (assault figures recently published within the Connaught region are a shocking indictment of our society and men's attitudes to women). There was talk of women in international struggles, of the women's' brigades to Cuba, of gender equality as one of the three pillars of the South African ANC, of women's involvement in the struggle and how to advance the Irish revolution.
But the conference itself went to the hub of the issue: it concentrated on the place of women in Sinn Féin.
Women aren't by a long way 50:50 with men. Tina Tully showed the figures. Yvonne Galligan, who'd come down from the Alma Mater of Trimble and President McAleese, the Department of Politics at Queens, addressed the conference on why there are so few women in political life in the world (well, the EU countries). Joanne Vance, from the Women in Politics Programme, which has worked over the last five years, crossing sectarian divides, with different women's centres, talked of her experiences.
There were workshops, reports back, then... silence. You could hear a pin drop as Marie Moore, gave a tragic, bitterly moving account of the role women had played in the H-block Armagh struggle.
`Weighed so lightly what they gave'
``Every one of us, we all had a relative there, undergoing the beatings, the dirt, the appalling humiliations,'' she recalled. ``The women who dressed in blankets, bare feet on the streets, who waited, walked, marched, who stood firm under the brutality of the onslaught of the RUC; the women, never one of whom refused to take in stuff, comms, radios, whatever was needed, on morning and afternoon visits. They were the communications lifeline of the POWs. Their work goes unsung, as much of the other work which women does goes unremarked, unrecorded. But then they weren't in it for singing.
Moore talked of the day in 1980 when Sean McKenna was dying, of when the Brits reneged on their commitments, the tragedy that the women suffered as they visited the Blocks singing in celebration, and the bitter reality of what must come next. She talked of the tragedy of the relatives who believed that the Dublin government was going to do something, ``when I knew all along they wouldn't.''
Marie Moore was lifting the curtain on women who ``weighed so lightly what they gave'', driven by determination to end the suffering and win political status for the prisoners, men and women, and for the struggle itself.
There were many women at Saturday's meeting who have been isolated and rejected, who have suffered the idiocy of boot-faced males excluding them from the roles they have a better ability to fill, women who have been sidelined, not welcomed as the comrades they, generously, want to be. But is that our issue today, is that the issue around which we can mobilise women to join the struggle for a republic? Maybe, but most likely not.
It's the torture of being a battered wife, isolated, abused, alone, tied to the situation because of `her' obligation to mind the kids and appreciate the family setting. They also get beatings, though the women didn't speak very much about these things.
``Sure,'' said one delegate, ``if men don't want to know about the suffering of people, some people, who can't find somewhere to live, can't afford to live anywhere, can't get treatment in hospitals, and can't find somewhere to relieve their 24-hour constitutional obligation to child minding, what matter? We know about it. And we will do something about it, whatever about the men.''