Why We Must Remember the Women of 1916.

Source: The Irish Echo-published on 1st February 2016

Promoting 1916 is definitely something to consider in the classroom, although there is plenty to teach about the centenary, I feel that is very important to highlight the role women had in the rising. Due to the fact that mainstream history tends to be written solely in a patriarchal perspective now is the chance to correct this and showcase the part that women played in the rising.

Women of 1916

Women who took part in the 1916 rising

Although the revolution was built on political and nationalistic ideals, the part women played in the rising highlights the social revolution that was happening in both our country and countries around the world. 1844 was the year that Irish men had the right to vote and only in 1922 were all women given the right.

1922 – All Irish Women get to vote

Women had many responsibilities but they had very few rights; they had no say in what laws were passed, they had no voice in what concerned their country or the government. They had no vote. This made them feel like second class citizens.

Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington.

Much of Hannah’s life was spent working for the right of Irish women to vote. Hannah and her friends were harassed by politicians and the police because of their efforts to ensure that women could have a voice in saying how the country should be run.

In 1918 after a long campaign they succeeded in getting the right for women to vote.  But they had to be 30 years of age and own property. In 1922 all Irish women over 21 were given the right to vote.

Traditionally, war was something fought by men, women were sent to take care of supposed feminine tasks like nursing the sick and ensuring the men were fed. The 1916 revolution showed women fighting alongside the men they were supposed to be busy feeding. This is a point that has to be made in classrooms across the country, it establishes, confirms and celebrates the equality that the women of the time believed in.

Although gender equality is something that is still not equal throughout our world, educating our students about the women that fought for our freedom both for the country and in the name of women is a step in the right direction. We must remember history in the cold light of day, with all injustices and inequalities intact.

Here is an article written about Ireland in 1970.

Ten Things a Women Could Not Do In Ireland in 1970.

  1. Keep her job in the public service or a bank when she got married.

Female civil servants and other public servants (primary teachers from 1958 were excluded from the so-called “marriage bar”) had to resign from their jobs when they got married, on the grounds that they were occupying a job that should go to a man. Banks operated a similar policy.

How it changed.

The marriage bar in the public service was removed in July 1973, on foot of the report of the first Commission on the Status of Women. In 1977, the Employment Equality Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of gender or marital status in almost all areas of employment.

  1. Sit on a jury.

Under the 1927 Juries Act, members of juries had to be property owners and, in effect, male.

How it changed.

Mairín de Burca and Mary Anderson challenged the Act and won their case in the Supreme Court in 1976. The old Act was repealed and citizens over 18 who are on the electoral register are eligible for juries.

  1. Buy contraceptives.

The 1935 Criminal Law Amendment Act banned the import, sale and distribution of contraceptives. Some women were able to get doctors to prescribe the Pill as a “cycle regulator” or to fit devices such as the cap. In 1969, the Fertility Guidance Clinic was established in Dublin and used a loophole in the law to give away the Pill for free. (It was thus not being sold.) Most rural and working class women had no access to contraceptives.

How it changed.

The Commission on the Status of Women in 1972 delicately suggested that “parents have the right to regulate the number and spacing of their family” but stopped short of an open demand for contraception. The Rotunda Hospital, the Irish Family Planning Association and student unions began to distribute contraceptives. The law, however, changed very slowly. The McGee case of 1973 established a right to import contraceptives for personal use, but did not allow them to be sold. A Bill to allow for controlled access was defeated in 1974. In 1979, in an infamous “Irish solution to an Irish problem”, an Act was passed to allow doctors to prescribe contraceptives to married couples only. A 1985 Act allowed contraceptives to be sold to anyone over 18 but only in chemists. The IFPA and Virgin Megastore were prosecuted for selling condoms in 1991. Later that year, the sale of contraceptives was liberalized.

  1. Drink a pint in a pub.

In 1970, some pubs refused to allow women to enter at all, some allowed women only if accompanied by a man and very many refused to serve women pints of beer. Women who were accidentally served a pint would be instructed to pour it into two half-pint glasses.

How it changed.

Women’s groups staged protests in the early 1970s. In one instance, Nell McCafferty led a group of 30 women who ordered, and were served, 30 brandies. They then ordered one pint of Guinness. When the pint was refused, they drank the brandies and refused to pay as their order was not served. In 2002, the Equal Status Act banned gender discrimination in the provision of goods and services. It defined discrimination as “less favourable treatment”. Service can be refused only if there is a reasonable risk of disorderly or criminal conduct.

  1. Collect her children’s allowance.

The 1944 legislation that introduced the payment of children’s allowances (now called child benefit) specified that they be paid to the father. The father could, if he chose, mandate his wife to collect the money, but she had no right to it.

How it changed.

Responding to the report of the Commission on the Status of Women, the 1974 Social Welfare Act entitled mothers to collect the allowance.

  1. Get a barring order against a violent partner.

In 1970, a woman who was hospitalised after a beating by her husband faced a choice of either returning home to her abuser or becoming homeless. Abusive spouses could not be ordered to stay away from the family home, leaving many women little choice but to seek refuge elsewhere.

How it changed.

Women’s Aid campaigned for changes in the law, and in 1976 the Family Law Act, Ireland’s first legislation on domestic violence, enabled one spouse to seek a barring order against the other where the welfare or safety of a spouse or children was at risk. The orders were for three months and were poorly implemented. In 1981, protection orders were introduced and barring orders were increased up to 12 months.

  1. Live securely in her family home.

Under Irish law, a married woman had no right to a share in her family home, even if she was the breadwinner. Her husband could sell the home without her consent.

How it changed.

Under the Family Home Protection Act of 1976, neither spouse can sell the family home without the written consent of the other.

  1. Refuse to have sex with her husband.

In 1970 the phrase “marital rape” was a contradiction in terms. A husband was assumed to have the right to have sex with his wife and consent was not, in the eyes of the law, an issue.

Women’s adultery was also specifically penalized in the civil law, the notorious tort of “criminal conversation” or “CrimCon”: a husband could legally sue another man for compensation for sleeping with his wife.

How it changed.

The Council for the Status of Women urged the creation of a crime of marital rape. In 1979 the Minister for Justice Gerard Collins declined to introduce legislation to this effect. Even when new legislation on rape was introduced in 1981, the situation did not change. It was not until 1990 that marital rape was defined as a crime. The first trial, in 1992, collapsed within minutes. The first successful prosecution for marital rape was in 2002.

Crim Con was abolished by the Family Law Act (1981). The Act also, as a dubious quid pro quo, abolished the right to sue for “breach of promise” of marriage – an ancient provision that was occasionally used by jilted women, although it was in theory also available to men.

  1. Choose her official place of domicile.

Under Irish law, a married woman was deemed to have the same “domicile” as her husband. This meant that if her husband left her and moved to Australia, her legal domicile was deemed to be Australia. Women, who could not get a divorce in Ireland, could find themselves divorced in countries where their husbands were domiciled.

How it changed.

Acting on a report from the Law Reform Commission, the Fine Gael junior minister for women’s affairs, Nuala Fennell, drove forward the Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Bill in 1985. It granted married women the right to an independent domicile.

  1. Get the same rate for a job as a man.

In 1970, almost all women were paid less than male colleagues doing the same job. In March 1970, the average hourly pay for women was five shillings, while that for men was over nine. In areas covered by a statutory minimum wage, the female rate was two-thirds that of men.

How it changed.

Legislation on equal pay was introduced in 1974 and employment equality legislation followed in 1977, both as a result of European directives.

Remember that this was sadly not in 1844, or in 1916 but in 1970. This was a mere 46 years ago and yet we were still second class citizens, controlled by the patriarchal society we unfortunately lived in.

It is important that such facts are not hidden, that we do not solely teach the version of history that the textbooks tell us about. We must remember both the role that women played in 1916 in our classrooms and the equal role they played throughout history, even when they were subjected to discriminatory rules and regulations.

Knowledge is power, ensure that we educate against inequality and that we remember the women that stood up for what is right and fair all those years ago.

Ballygurraun West

  Name (as per O.S.I. Map): Ballygurraun West Ainm/Ainmneacha as Gaeilge  (John O’Donavan’s Townland Index 1862): Baile an Gharráin Meaning of the Name:  Ainm as ...