Belfast Telegraph

Women's rights fight continues

By Kellie O'Dowd

In 1916 a vibrant women's movement was active in trades unions, social organisations and both the republican and the unionist movements.

Women played their part in the fight for suffrage, the 1916 Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme, the fight for workers' rights and opposition to the First World War.

We wanted liberation for all women, but we knew the battle would be long and arduous. When I look at the last 100 years I see how we have been written out of history and again made invisible.

While women did gain the vote and won the right to remain in the workplace after marriage, some of this progression was built on the backs of other women, whose exploited labour provided the goods and services which enabled a good career and comfortable lifestyle.

The low pay of nannies, cooks, cleaners, sweatshop workers and daycare providers means only some of our sisters were liberated.

We faced overwhelming resistance to equal work at home, equal pay at work, dignity in the streets, reproductive freedom and protection from abuse, and, if I am honest, I feel that we have settled for the crumbs from the table.

We have settled for being allowed into the workplace, but only if we get paid less and look pretty. We have settled for sex outside of marriage and contraception, so long as we don't complain about limits on our reproductive rights.

Our fight for equality was never supposed to be about settling for low-paid, low-skilled work and as much chocolate, shopping and celebrity worship we could put up with.

It has been about 10 decades of women who have tried to revolutionise society's rules about work, family, sex, money and power.

International Women's Day 2016 next Tuesday celebrates the diversity and bravery of women who challenged racism, sexism, gender stereotyping, sectarianism and homophobia.

I am proud of the women's movement and the programme for 2016, and I believe that this is the true spirit of 1916.

Kellie O'Dowd is a member of Reclaim The Agenda, which organises International Women's Day. The International Women's Day march and rally starts at Writers' Square (Donegall Street) in Belfast tomorrow from 12.30pm

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