International Women’s Day Statement – A Progressive and Effective Force For Change

Republican Network for Unity this International Women’s Day extend our solidarity and support to those struggling to secure equality for their gender and challenging the negative stereotypes that perminate through the world over. Ireland has historically discouraged women from achieving the fullest potential, heavily influenced by the teachings of the catholic church, the woman’s role in society was clearly laid out as the home maker, the weaker sex and the retention of this mindset has essentially hindered women from developing themselves, an inarguable loss of the contribution of some of our most skilled, insightful and capable citizens. Historically shackled by stereotype, a perceived role in society and the difficult opportunities to reach an equal standing with their male colleagues as we recently seen with the wage discrimination in Avoca Café.

Nothing tells us more of how disadvantageous a patriarchal mindset is to a revolutionary movement as the contribution of IRA volunteer Mairéad Farrell, the anniversary of her murder passing only two days ago. A young volunteer, in 1976, Mairéad had attempted to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, this was in response to the criminalisation of Irish republican prisoners through the revoking of special category status. This exceptional volunteer would know both the loss of a loving boyfriend and the psychological torture and sexual abuse of being a female republican in Armagh Jail as a result of this operation.

During Mairéad’s time in Armagh jail she proved as many other female republicans had done so, that women could match the bravery and dedication of the most well known of male republicans and surpass that of many others. The first to refuse to wear the uniform of a criminal after Kieran Nugent, Mairéad, as she had done on active service, continued to oppose the criminalisation process.

Largely ignored in contemporary society, three women, of whom one was Mairéad, also joined the hunger strike to coincide with the strike taking place in Long Kesh by their male comrades, despite this the contribution of women in the Irish struggle for independence is often not held to the esteem of that of their male counterparts. Even the contemporary language and views at the time of the Armagh no work, dirty protests and hunger strike was that of the victimisation of the weaker sex, whether from friend or foe the women faced attempts to dissuade them from carrying out principled resistance. History teaches us the mistake of underestimating Irish women. Women like Mairéad who was brutally murdered by British forces on a foreign island with two of her comrades, have left us a legacy that we must respect not only through our words but our actions. While remembering the sacrifices of such women is undoubtedly a necessity for any Irish republican, it is not enough, not if it is not complimented by a radical change in attitudes towards women holistically.

The issue of victimisation of women in Armagh jail should not be monopolised as a republican issue for it was as much a feminist struggle which Mairéad and others had fought for, to borrow a quote from the Feminist review 1986 the words of one female prisoner explains the feminist nature of the issues affecting them :

“It is a feminist issue in so far as we are women, even though we are treated like criminals. It is a feminist issue when the network of this jail is completely geared to male domination. The governor, the assistant governor, and the doctor are all males. We are subject to physical and mental abuse from the male screws who patrol our wing daily, continually peeping into our cells. If this is not a feminist issue, then we feel that the word feminist needs to be redefined to suit these people who feel that “feminist” applies to a certain section of women rather than encompassing women everywhere, regardless of politically held views.”

RNU this International Women’s Day wish to highlight as we have done so in the past, the role of the female protection units of the Kurdish YPG. Their contribution to the war against the brutality of the Islamic State, a contribution which is known and respected the world over was the focus of previous statements of solidarity. However while all members of the YPG pledge themselves to freedom of women and the war against IS is a war for this freedom, so to do they pledge themselves to a democratic and ecological society. It is this vision of society that will be briefly analysed in this statement.

Due to the effects of deliberate governmental policies designed to keep Kurdish areas in poverty, in which small businesses were prevented from flourishing and to which the state hindered economic development through their mass ownership of vast swathes of industry which remained rigid, without diversity and heavily focussed around the procurement of oil, predominantly Kurdish lands suffered poor health care, inadequate education, underinvestment and neglect. Now, while state ownership of industry and the other wealth producing organs of the nation is indeed often viewed as a central tenement of Socialism and as such may be seen as a strange criticism for an Irish Republican Socialist party to make, let us remember the words of Irish Marxist James Connolly on State Monopoly:

“It will thus be seen that an immense gulf separates the ‘nationalising’ proposals of the middle class from the ‘socialising’ demands of the revolutionary working class. The first proposes to endow a Class State – repository of the political power of the Capitalist Class – with certain powers and functions to be administered in the common interest of the possessing class; the second proposes to subvert the Class State and replace it with the Socialist State, representing organised society – the Socialist Republic.

To the cry of the middle class reformers; “make this or that the property of the government”, we reply, “yes, in proportion as the workers are ready to make government their property”.”

In line with this democratic understanding of Socialism the forces of the YPG have in the women’s revolution reorganised society on the basis of local democratic autonomy, especially towards economic management. Taxation on small enterprises is non existent, large common resources are democratically distributed, land and industry is collectivised and allocated for use by local councils to local cooperatives. The result of this aspect of the women’s revolution is that large sections of the population that were denied any involvement in the economy are now benefiting from their ability to aid in its organisation. Another benefit, and one which in Ireland we should pay close heed to, is the effect of this form of management on religious tension. Historical massacres and genocides have left deep rooted mistrust and hatred in the Middle East and Rojava is no different. The removal of a central top down authority for the management of the economy and civil society has created form of society that in order for it to work, all groups must coexist and interact for the benefit of all. Ethnic and religious tensions have drastically lessened as a result, class interest replacing sectarian tension.

There exists no utopian blueprint to society and the cooperative model of Rojava is no different, there exists problems despite the best efforts of the revolution’s admirable goals and democratisation. The council system and it’s strong autonomous nature aids in presenting a platform for proponents of the Islamic State and other regressive causes. Traditional sectarianism and propaganda attempting to pull society back to a cul-de-sac of tribal animosity and ethnic religious violence is prevalent.

A West Germany effect is also taking place in which, despite the improvement of living standards for the vast majority under the revolution’s system, many look longingly to Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, the neo-liberalist system offering many of the commodities of a modern capitalist society. Despite it being clear that democratic management and equality in the economy should be considered a far greater possession than the gadgets and top of the range vehicles of a modern capitalist state, there are many who are apathetic to the notion of participation in economic management and civil administration.

The women fighting both the barbarism of the Islamic State and the inequalities of capitalist management in Rojava, the women who have presented a principled and aggressive resistance to imperialism in Ireland, in our streets, in our jails and in foreign countries, women throughout the world challenging the patriarchal oppression that remains widespread the world over. These women have proved a progressive and highly effective force for change. Republican Network for Unity support the moderate demands of these women to be treated as equals, to have their oppression recognised rather than ridiculed or glossed over. In the past year many female activists have joined RNU looking a political home and a vehicle for their grievances to be heard and their causes challenged, their contribution to RNU and Cogús has time and time again reaffirmed our belief of women as a force for change, a change for the betterment of not only themselves but for every man woman and child.