BY CAROLINE FORDE (POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCHER, CENTRE FOR GLOBAL WOMEN’S STUDIES ) AND ELAINE MEARS (DIRECTOR, STORIES OF UNA )
Adopted by the UN in 1975 as a day to honour women’s rights and achievements, International Women’s Day was first celebrated on March 8 in 1914. Women’s right to vote was the central concern of the demonstrations that took place across Germany that year. As in Germany, Ireland’s women won the right to vote in 1918, albeit a limited right, in no small part thanks to the Irish Women’s Franchise League founded by Hanna and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. Hanna, a feisty feminist suffragette, who was passionate about women’s equality, did not shy away from such brave actions as smashing windows in Dublin Castle as part of the campaign.
2018 not only marks the centenary of Irish women’s right to vote. It is also the 10th anniversary of the NUI Galway Centre for Global Women’s Studies (GWS ) MA in Gender, Globalisation and Rights. Building on a strong tradition of feminist learning, research and practice in the Centre and wider community, this programme offers a unique opportunity for cross-disciplinary study of the gender and human rights dimensions of globalisation and global issues. A diverse range of topics are covered, from extreme poverty, armed conflict and politicised religion to human trafficking, gender-based violence and global health challenges.
An important part of the MA is the Clár work placement opportunity, which enables students to apply their critical gender-lens to assist in meeting the needs of a partner organisation (community group/well-established NGO working on social issues, equality or human rights ). Current programme director, Dr Nata Duvvury, and former co-director, Professor Niamh Reilly, are world renowned gender experts who continue to contribute to important advances in the field.
NUI Galway also recently employed another significant feminist, Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, proud granddaughter of Hanna. Motivated by Hanna’s formidable legacy, Micheline begun challenging gender inequality in NUI Galway by taking and winning a case against the university on the grounds of discrimination. Her ongoing campaign has promoted the university to establish a Gender Task Force and to review their hiring and promotional practices.
Indeed, Galway was home to another remarkable woman, Una Taaffe. The huge contribution that Una made to Galway as a business leader, and as a determined and confident woman, is often overshadowed by the decline in her mental health in later years, which was played out very publicly and is often people's lasting memory of her.
Una in many ways defied gender norms of her time: she took over the family business and ran it very successfully for many years, she never married, and she was certainly not shy of speaking her mind. She was a larger than life character, whose life is saturated with intrigue and mystery.
And the unshakable bedrock of feminist agitating in our soon to be European Capital City of Culture continues to flourish. The long and hard-won struggle for women’s suffrage has been followed by, for example, a lengthy battle for women’s reproductive rights.
Grassroots community organisations campaigning on this issue, such as Galway Pro-choice, Galway Feminist Collective and Galway Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, and NUI societies, such as the Feminist and Choice Societies, are an equally important part of our local feminist landscape.
As feminists, we are always striving for a more equal world and as this world continues to globalise and change, we are faced with new challenges. However, the stories of the strong women who have come before us provide inspiration and a renewed impetus to smash the patriarchy!
So, get along to NUI Galway tomorrow Friday March 9 to celebrate International Women’s Day:
3-5pm 10th Anniversary Celebration of the GWS MA in Gender, Globalisation and Rights
Lecture Theatre MY243, Aras Moyola, followed by a Reception at 5pm
6.30-8pm Stories of Una (Elaine Mears, in conjunction with GWS and Feminist Society )