Area:    Feminism
  Msg:    #421
 Date:    11-19-94 13:51 (Public) 
 From:    Randy Edwards            
 To:      All                      
 Subject: Sinn Fein Women's Dept: "
From: NY Transfer News Collective 
Subject: Sinn Fein Women's Dept

                        Women in Struggle
                        by Una Gillespie

             from "Women in Struggle" (Autumn 1994)
       a magazine published by the Sinn Fein Women's Dept

   Una Gillespie is an elected councillor on the Belfast City 
Council, works at the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre and is a member
of Sinn Fein.  


The present phase of our struggle for national liberation has
gone on for 25 years. It is the longest period of continuous
struggle in our long fight to free all of Ireland from British
rule. it is the length of the war that has both strengthened the
resolve of republican women and yet has also caused the most

Republican women have been shot, beaten, abused and imprisoned as
a result of their participation in the struggle. They form the
nucleus of the campaigns being waged on behalf of our prisoners,
and mother, sisters and partners have had their lived dominated
by the endless round of prison visits. Many of them have had to
shoulder full responsibility in the rearing of children because
of their partners' imprisonment. To claim that women have only
played a supportive role would be totally inaccurate, yet
equality both within our republican communities and wider society
is still something that these politically active women have yet
to achieve. 

As republicans, we readily accept that oppressors will not give
up their power until they are forced to relinquish it and that we
must build foundations for a socialist republic as we fight.
Similarly, gender-based inequality must also be fought against
now and we must recognize that the struggle for women's
liberation is an integral part of that overall struggle against

In 1968-69,when the Civil Rights Movement was calling for "one
man one vote", the emphasis was on achieving justice for a whole
community. The pogroms of '69, which witnesses hundreds of
Catholics being bombed and intimidated out of their homes,
resulted in the IRA being re-formed to protect a defenceless
nationalist community which was under attack from state forces
and loyalist gangs. In the early 1970s, the IRA embarked upon a
military struggle to achieve the national liberation of Ireland
and by this time gender divisions within the Republican Movement
had long been established. Their roles were determined by
tradition. Women's energies were channelled into Cumann na mBan,
men's into Oglaigh na hEireann, and both into Sinn Fein. However,
alongside these divisions women were increasingly coming to the
fore in that struggle.

Two women Volunteers, Dorothy Maguire and her sister Maura
Meehan, were shot dead by British soldiers on 23 October 1971.
They were travelling in the back of a car heading towards the
Lower Falls area, in an attempt to warn residents of an imminent
raid there, when soldiers opened fire on their car. They were the
first of many women Volunteers who were to loose their lives in
the struggle. Women like 18 year old Anne Parker from
Ballymurphy, killed on active service on 11 August 1972 and 25
year old Laura Crawford, who was killed in similar circumstances
on 1 December 1975.

The Falls Road curfew of 1970 was broken primarily by women who
marched through British Army lines carrying weapons and food into 
the areas of West Belfast which were virtually under siege at the

The introduction of internment in 1971 heightened tension even
further within the Six Counties, as men and women were dragged
off to internment camps at Long Kesh and Armagh prison. The no-
go areas of the Bogside and Creggan and some areas of Belfast
were invaded when 'Operation Motorman' was put into effect. The
early 70's also saw the IRA planting bombs in England. Two
sister, Dolores and Marion Price, were arrested with several
others and charged in connection with planting a bomb in London.
The sisters embarked on a hunger strike along with two of their
co-accused in an effort to achieve transfer to prisons in Ireland
for those serving their sentences in English jails. They were
subjected to the harrowing practice of force-feeding before they
were told that they would be transferred. Unfortunately, the
British government refused to send all those charged with the
sisters home and instead only transferred the four who were on
hunger strike.


Armagh Jail began to fill up with women political prisoners from
all over the Six Counties. Women prisoners, like their male
comrades in prisons such as Crumlin Road and Long Kesh, became a
symbol of resistance as prison struggle was incorporated in and
became an integral part of the overall struggle for freedom and
justice. When Long Kesh was burned in 1974, the women in Armagh
took part in a prison riot to show their support for their male
comrades in Long Kesh. They took a prison governor hostage to
negotiate for better prison conditions.

In 1976, the British government attempted to criminalize the
whole anti-imperialist struggle by withdrawing 'special category
status' from political prisoners. The prisoners reacted to this
move in a unified manner by refusing to wear prison uniforms and
carry out prison work. They were assaulted and brutalized in an
appalling fashion as a result of this stand and eventually were
forced onto a no-wash protest which lasted several years. Women
prisoners were actively involved in all protest action and on the
outside, it was women relatives who organized under Relatives
Action Committees to highlight and espouse the intolerable
conditions within the prisons during the years of what became
known as the blanket and no-wash protests.

When the prisoners went on the hunger strike of 1980, three women
prisoners joined the hunger strike and remained on it until it
was called off 19 days later. When the British reneged on
promises made to the hunger strikers, the prisoners embarked on a
second hunger strike, which was led by Bobby Sands. it was
decided that the women would not take part in this, not because
they lacked the determination or commitment, but for other
reasons. This hunger strike was to claim the lives of 10 men in
the H-Blocks and had far-reaching implications both within and
outside the prisons. Bobby Sands was elected as an MP for
Westminster as he lay dying in Long Kesh. Electoral intervention
by Sinn Fein was to gain the West Belfast seat, when Gerry Adams
was elected, and they won several local council seats all over
Ireland. A fair percentage of these seats were won by women
members of the party who continue to sit on local council

In 1982, the Northern Ireland Office and prison administration
implemented the policy of strip-searching women prisoners and
pursued it with vigour. Women were held down by up to a dozen
prison warders and forcibly strip-searched. Pregnant and
menstruating women were also treated in this manner, which has
been describes as . " act of hatred and violence..." by
Professor Ivor Browne, a leading psychiatrist who investigated
the effects of strip-searching on women. At present, there are 23
republican women prisoners in Maghaberry Jail and despite it
being hailed as one of the most secure prisons in Western Europe,
it continues to implement a strip-searching policy as a means of
humiliating and degrading women prisoners.

On the outside, the struggle for Irish freedom continued
throughout the late 70s and the early 80s. The loyalist death
squads were also very active within that period. On 28 October
1976, Sinn Fein Vice President Maire Drumm was shot dead as she
lay in a hospital bed. Women were still active and in 1980 a new
Women's Department of Sinn Fein was formed out of a realization
that women had to have an organized political voice within Sinn
Fein. Women came together from all over the 32 counties to
discuss their work within Sinn Fein, the problems they faced in
fulfilling their roles as political activists, and the need for
Sinn Fein to have strong progressive polices on issues important,
not just to women, but to society as a whole. At the end of the
1980 Ard Fheis. for the first time in Sinn Fein's history, a
women's policy document was presented.

The rights of liberation of women and women's equality became
more organized both within the movement and outside in wider
society. Links were forged with the women's movement worldwide
and on International Women's Day, delegations from England and
all over the world came to Belfast to show their support for
women's involvement in the struggle. Following the RUC's refusal
to allow a march from West Belfast into the city centre on
International Women's Day 1991, a group calling for the right of
nationalists to march into their own city centre was formed.
Subsequent marches organized were also banned and this led to
protest action in the chamber of Belfast City Council and mass
picketing at the front of City Hall. In a significant victory for
the nationalist community as a whole, nationalists were able to
hold a rally at Belfast City Hall on 25 July 1991. The presenting
of a second women's policy document to the 1992 Ard Fheis is
evidence of the continued development of women's politics within
Sinn Fein. The "Women in Ireland" document is not only a
comprehensive outline of out policy on women, but also defines
our demand for an Ireland which recognized the full and equal
role of women in all aspects of its society.


The forcible stript-searching of 21 republican women prisoners in

--- Msgedsq/2 2.2e
 * Origin: Socialism OnLine! * Workers of all countries, unite! (1:325/805)

 Area:    Feminism
  Msg:    #422
 Date:    11-19-94 13:52 (Public) 
 From:    Randy Edwards            
 To:      All                      
 Subject: 02:Sinn Fein Women's Dept

Maghaberry Jail on 2 March 1992 was a further attempt by the jail
and the Norhern Ireland Office (NIO) administration to humiliate,
degrade and control the women. While this disgusting and
perverted assault has left the bodies of our women prisoners
battered and abused, our resolve to continue to oppose strip-
searchong remains steadfast.

Sinn Fein lost some of the ground gained in previous elections in
the 1992 Westminster election. Most noteably, we lost West
Belfast because of the tactical voting alliance between the
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the loyalists. The
symbolic importance of losing the West Belfast seat has obscured
the reality that the republican vote has held up very
substantially in the face of often murderous and unremitting
attacks. Sinn Fein recieved 70,000 votes ini this election, 10%
of the poll. We represent 30% of the nationalist people in the
Six Counties and will continue to develop and promote our
electoral strategy and our proposals for peace which formed an
integral part of this election campaign.

Women activists continnue to forge ahead both within Sinn Fein
and the IRA. Some of them like Martina Anderson and Ella O'Dwyer,
who are current;y in Durham Prison in England, were sentenced to
long terms of imprisonment and other like Mairead Farrell paid
with their loves. Mairead spent ten-and-a-half years in Armagh
and Maghaberry Prisons and was one of the three women who took
part in the hunger strike of 1981. She was shot dead by the SAS
in Gibraltar, along with two other IRA Volunteers in March 1988,
only 18 1/2 month after her release from prison. All three were
unarmed at the time.


This article can only outline some of the many active roles that
women have carried out throughout the duration of our struggle.
It cannot do justice to the contribution women ahve made, and it
wll be many years before the full story can be told. While it can
be said that the Republican Movement is perhaps one of the mnost
progressive moevments in regards to the equal rights of women, it
si imperative that it develops sufficiently to challenge the
sexiast attitudes which constrain our women activists. This
struggle for women's liberation must be ongoinf with the struggle
for national liberation, because the two cannot be separated. If
we fail to realize this, we will only allow reactionary ideas to
gain ground and put the struggle back years.


                        Women in Struggle
                        Mna I Streachailt

             available from Sinn Fein Women's Dept.
                        44 Parnell Square
                            Dublin 1

                      tel: 8726100/8726839

available in North America for $5.00per copy from:

                      The HomeFront Library
                  Irish Northern Aid Committee
                         363 Seventh Ave
                            Suite 405
                       New York, NY  10001

                        tel: 212-736-1916


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--- Msgedsq/2 2.2e
 * Origin: Socialism OnLine! * Workers of all countries, unite! (1:325/805)