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11 March 1999 Edition

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International Women's Day

By Yamila Petruchansky
Sinn Féin celebrated International Women's Day, 8 March, at Stormount with a discussion on what the Assembly can achieve for women in today's society.

Chaired by Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Fein Assembly spokesperson on women's issues, who after an introduction about the importance of a gender perspective in all aspect of society, presented her guests, Eilish McCabe (Relatives for Justice), Joanne Carraher (Cumann na Meirleach), Eileen Calder (Rape Crisis Centre) and guest international speaker, Cuban Xonia Zayas Aguero.

They stressed that political ``equality, justice and truth'' were essential in creating a proper environment for women's development in this society.

Joanne Carraher said she hoped that the Assembly would, ``work to build equality and justice in all areas''.

She stressed that, ``the needs of POW's and their relatives must be addressed by the Assembly, they need training and education to carry on the reintegration''.

Eileen Calder spoke about the rape and sexual abuse that many women have endured and how in the past authorities had refused to consider their cases. However, she said, it was hoped that it would now be possible to move on.

``A change in the legislation is needed,'' added Calder, ``to guarantee that women's rights inside and outside of relationships are enforceable. We believe that sexual abuse and rape must be confronted. We have to change people's mind set.''

Xonia Zayas Aguero explained, that in Cuba there had been, ``a revolution inside the Revolution'' to overcome women's disadvantages and discrimination. Education, training, child care, as well as the end of the domestic violence, were underlined as essential needs that must be addressed.

She said: ``Equality in educational access, equality in salary, equality in legislation, equality in the rights of women, the Government must commit the necessary institutions and promote these equalities.''

However, she considered as absolutely necessary for change, that, ``to overcome the sexism and macho attitudes in society, the concern for women's skills and expertise and their rights inside the society and inside the family must be supported.''

She appealed for a change in the cultural attitudes towards women.

In fact, Sinn Fein is working on that. Currently, Sinn Féin has five women Assembly members (out of 14 in total), 13 local Councillors and women hold 9 of the most influential posts in the party and it is committed to increasing this number by developing a long-term strategy to achieve 50/50 representation of women and men at all levels in the party.

At the conference Michelle Gildernew also launched Sinn Féin's new policy document on women's rights in a modern society. The policy document that will be discussed at the party's next Ard Fheis includes recommendations on women and family law; women and poverty; women and education; women and employment; violence against women; women and health; women and reproduction; and a charter on sexual and reproductive rights.

Michelle Gildernew expressed her disappointment that of the 107 other Assembly members invited that the only male Assembly members present were from Sinn Féin.

She said, ``I think it is a disgrace. I tried to make the platform as broad-based and cross-party as possible but I might as well not have bothered. The attitude of some of the male Assembly members is derogatory and downright sexist. They treat it like a boy's club and we can only hope these attitudes do not prevail in the home.''


`Once is too much' exhibition highlights anti-women violence

By Frances McGinley

An exhibition entitled ``Once Is Too Much'' which explores violence against women, was offcially launched on Saturday in the Orchard Gallery in Derry. The exhibit is the work of seventeen women from St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore in Dublin.

The exhibition draws attention to the issue of violence agianst women in Irish society. It explores the capability of those who are disempowered through ecenomic, social, cultural or violent marginalisation to empower themselves.

Rita Fagan, project co-ordinator at the Family Resource Centre, explained, ``in 1991 one of our volunteers went to the assistance of a friend who was being beaten by a man, a man who could not control his temper. This action resulted in the death of Mary Bailey''.

``This suddenly brought home to us that men do kill. Because of this loss we decided we had to change the way we approach this issue. It was important for us to involve all the key players in the community who have a role to play in addressing the problem''.

She continued, ``analysing the issue of violence against women through education, it became apparent we must address the issue of power and control of men over women. When a woman gets killed this is the extreme end of power and control. The problem however is the inequalities which exist between men and women, this is reflected in the structures in society. It must also be recognised that this is a global issue.''

The exhibition remembers the fifty seven women who have been killed between December 1995 and March 1999 in the island of Ireland, twelve of these women have been killed in the North of Ireland. It is hoped this exhibition will begin to raise awareness through debate and discussion and eventually change attitudes which lead to the key issues of prevention, provision, protection and protest.

Ms Fagan added ``We are not saying all men are bad but men benefit as a result of having women in fear. Violence is a matter of choice, you can choose. It is not just about poverty or drink, this is an issue which cuts across class and culture. The system has not put in the resources which are needed to tackle this problem. The law must be changed to reflect the seriousness of this crime and a major review of sentencing is required in order to address the fact that women are dying as a result of this violence.''

Sinn Fein Councillor Cathal Crumley, who is the chair for Derry City Council's Recreation and Leisure Committee, and attended the launch of the exhibition, said, ``the issue of domestic violence is an important social issue, and I would strongly urge people to visit this powerful exhibition which crystallises this long standing social problem.''

Cllr Crumley continued, ``it is time to acknowledge the true nature and extent of domestic abuse and violence visited upon women in society. I am quite sure many people are unaware of the levels of abuse which actually exist and the lack of support for victims from the statutory agencies.''

``Within our society an attitude exists which continues to blame women for the mental and physical ordeal they are continuously subjected to. There is a marked failure to recognise the effect which this abuse and violence also has on children who witness such behaviour.''

Mr Crumley believes it is a matter of great concern that the courts still fail to recognise the emotional abuse which actually accounts for a large proportion of the trauma which women endure.

He added, ``there has to be a concerted response from the statutory agencies which will provide women with the adequate support and services which at present is not available. Society must change its attitude towards domestic violence and accept women are not responsible for being victims and resourses must be made available to comprehensively address this intolerable situation.''

Bernie Dwyer, from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign attended the opening with Xonia Zayas Aguero who represents the Cuban Union of Artists and Writers. Ms Aguero is visiting Ireland on a cultural exchange programme which has been facilitated by St Michael's Estate.

She said, ``this is the beginning of interchange between Irish and Cuban women. It is very important for us to find out the kind of work which is being done here in Ireland and to explore the human aspect of this work and to see how it meets peoples needs. ``This will hopefully become useful in helping us to deal with problems and issues in a practical and meaningful way.''

Ms Dwyer said, ``last year I signed a letter of intention with UNEAC to do exchanges with Cuba. These were basically to do with art in the community and they aimed to bring together different experiences and see how communties dealt with them. Art was used mainly as the medium of this expression although it also brought in others including writers, painters, actors and musicians. Although art cannot change the fundamental issue of violence against women it can prepare the ground for further discussion and debate.''

The exhibition will be open to the public until March 28th and admission is free.


Seven SF women to stand in Cavan/Monaghan

Candidates announced on International Women's Day

Sinn Féin in Counties Cavan and Monaghan marked International Women's Day by announcing that the party will be standing seven women cadidates in the forthcoming local government elections. The team of seven women in the two counties is another sign of the rapid advances being made in the constituency following on from the election of the Sinn Féin TD in 1997.

Cavan/Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin O Caolain said that the nomination of seven women was the most practical demonstration possible of the commitment of Sinn Féin to equality of representation for women. He said:

``It is not enough to pay lip-service to equality for women. The opportunities must be created to ensure that women take their rightful place at the centre of local and national government. The nomination of seven women candidates in Counties Cavan and Monaghan is a significant step forward for our party and for women in these counties. It is still short of our target of 50/50 representation for women and men, both as candidates and elected representatives.

``Women are under-represented at all levels of government in Ireland. We are confident that this panel of women Sinn Féin candidates will help significantly to redress the balance in these two counties. We enter this local government election contest, culminating on polling day 11 June, with the expectation of greatly increased Sinn Féin representation throughout Counties Cavan and Monaghan. Republican women are to the fore in that effort and are poised to take their places in the council chambers representing their communities effectively and diligently.

``We take the opportunity of International Women's Day to salute women in this constituency, in this country and throughout the world who are still struggling for complete freedom and equality.''


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