The Women's Movement at the Crossroads
Date:1987 c.
Organisation: People's Democracy
Publication: An Reabhloid
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

14th November 2011

This document, published as an An Reabhloid pamphlet, by Peoples Democracy  concentrates on the issues facing the Women’s Movement in the latter part of the 1980s [and many thanks to Jim Monaghan for donating it to the Archive]. It notes that the situation is ‘enormously different to that of the early 60s and 70s. Then the women’s movement, along with the socialist, trade union and anti-imperialist movements, were very confident. Today all three are under attack, with a general shift ot the right in the political climate. Women have suffered the most attacks, a situation made easier by the demobilisation of the women’s movement North and South.

And it continues:

The fundamental questions of strategy which faced women in the early eighties are still burning questions today and… must be resolved through a period of discussion and debate involving the broad feminist movement and the anti-imperialist current.

The article itself is particularly interesting in detailing the ‘small but significant layer of socialists feminists in the early movement who, on paper, had a strong anti-imperialism, anti-partition stance’. And it attempts to emphasise the importance of linking those two elements with feminism. Here it pays particular attention to the Armagh Women Political Prisoners campaign ‘built by the Belfast Women Against Imperialism Group (WAI) in the late 1970s’.

Beyond the critique of other strands within feminism during this period what is also useful is the overview of a range of defeats and setbacks during that period, from the dismissal of teacher Eileen Flynn, the Joanne Hayes tribunal, ‘the rightwing campaign in the media against ‘unmarried mothers’ and drawing the net more widely ‘the anti-gay hysteria being orchestrated against persons with AIDs’. It also notes the ‘defeat of the divorce referendum and the SPUC campaign to shut down the abortion referral services of the women’s clinics’.

The document also has articles on ‘Fighting against the closedown of women’s clinics’ in the wake of the Justice Liam Hamilton High Court verdict which shut down pregnancy counselling services by Open Line and Well Women Centre. It also considers ‘Lessons from the Divorce Defeat’. And it argues that ‘this illustrates the power of the Catholic Church and the inability of bourgeois and reformist parties to tackle it. Far from confirming the appropriateness of partition the result reinforces the need to smash it’.

It also looks at ‘Development’s in the European Women’s Movement’. And it makes the interesting point that ‘the criminal failure of the labour movement to support women adequately produces much frustration among feminists about a ‘privileged men’s movement’ in the trade unions.

Here it also critiques ‘Right-wing governments and union leaders [who] are cynically exploiting this feminist resentment of the male-dominated world of work, arguing for a freeze on the wages of ‘high-paid’ workers. This strategy supported in Britain by the TUC and Eurocommunist influenced radical feminist, disastrously takes pressure off the capitalists and deepens divisions in the workers movement.

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