Strength of soul, mind and action
You're going to see a lot of pretty posters about International Women's Day today. They'll have elegant profiles, long hair, wimpy fists showing coloured nails, they'll be pink and purple and have inspiring word about kindness, empathy, wishes, peace and joy, love and support. That's nice, but it's not who we all are, and it's certainly not this farm and brewery. (Although we do try to be kind and empathic, supportive and loving.)
Today, for us, is a time to think of the long struggles that have made the women's movement something to be co-opted for publicity instead of mocked and reviled.
After generations of women have fought for equal (not identical) rights, pay, work and a place in the world, we have gotten to a place where everything has changed and nothing has changed. Women can now be in the military, can be heads of companies, can be heads of state in many places in the world. We can (in the West at least) be anything we want to be - as long as we conform to capitalist roles and expectations set by a white male dominant culture. But we still have grown women referred to as "girls", we still have plenty of men who are revolted by women's bodies and require us to airbrush ourselves into modelhood, young women still strive for beauty first, and we STILL have not learned that equality for all means people of all genders, races, classes and abilities.
So today is a day to think about women whose lives, work and deaths changed the world.
Today, teach your daughter, niece or neighbour how to make a proper fist with a straight wrist and some power behind it.
Claire Culhane, Prison abolitionist
To prisoners all across this country Claire was the voice that would speak on their behalf, no matter what. She was a mother, a grandmother & great-grandmother, a nurse in Vietnam, a union activist and a global community activist, and then her focus turned to prisons. A life that had already been filled by 40 years of social activism would lead her to the doors of Canada´s most impenetrable fortresses - its prisons.
Claire not only campaigned for the rights of individual prisoners - but saw the system as a whole. For Claire, to challenge the prison system was to challenge all of society. In her third book on prisons "No Longer Barred from Prison: Social Injustice in Canada", she would write:
"We can only proceed, individually and collectively, to make whatever improvements are possible in our respective areas of concern, sustained by the hope that others are doing the same".
Claire understood that the system needs wholesale change, and put her body in the way of the status quo.
No longer Barred from Prison: Social Injustice in Canada, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1991
Berta Cáceres, Indigenous activist
Berta was a Lenca indigenous woman and human rights defender. For the last 20 years, she was on the front lines defending the territory and the rights of the indigenous Lenca people. She was the general co-ordinator of Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas Populares – COPINH (Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organisations). COPINH succesfully led a campaign for the defence of the Gualcarque river, which is the site of a proposed dam.
On 30 November 2018, the Honduran National Criminal Court convicted seven men of the murder of woman human rights defender Berta Caceres. The Court found that the men had been hired by executives within Desa, a company constructing a dam in indigenous Lenca territory, to carry out her killing on 3 March 2016.
Her death showed the world the dangers faced by indigenous and environmental activists throughout the region and all over the world. Every year, indigenous activists are killed by mining companies and the governments in thrall to them all over the world. Many of these companies are based in Canada or have mines in Canada as well, and activists in this country are not exempt from their actions.
Emma Goldman, Anarchist
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.”
Emma Goldman understood in a deeply personal way that revolution is a process of constant change. She challenged state domination, capitalism, militarism, and above all, patriarchy while always understanding that bodily autonomy and social autonomy are profoundly linked.
"In her ability to see the interconnections among systems of oppression and in her determination to make a practical difference in people’s lives rather than remain in the realm of abstract theorizing, Emma Goldman embodied the feminist ethos of care." Pattrice Jones
As a Jew, an anti-fascist activist, and a writer, Red Emma was feared in America. She was a practical thinker, whose writings on anarchism and collective power remain central ideas for contemporary activists. She was not afraid to take physical action, either.
“If they do not give you work, demand bread. If they deny you both, take bread.”
Mairéad Farrell 1957-1988
Mairéad was killed on March 6, 1988, just three days after her 31st birthday. Mairéad and the two comrades she was with, Sean Savage and Dan McCann, were mown down in broad daylight by British Forces. The three IRA Volunteers were unarmed, and no attempts were made to arrest them.
The gunning down of three unarmed IRA activists on the streets of Gibraltar by the SAS was found by to be in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The murders fueled armed activists in the North of Ireland, re-opened claims that the government operated a ‘shoot-to kill’ policy and, yet again, called into question the reputation of British justice. British colonialism has, over and over again, been tested in Ireland and exported to the world.
Mairéad said that ‘we can only end our oppression as women, if we end the oppression of our nation’.
Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam.
In February 2021, her niece (also Mairéad Farrell) was elected as a Sinn Fein MP for Galway West, and is currently the party's spokesperson on Public Expenditure and reform.