At half past two on a crisp, sunny Saturday, over 140 people, of all ages, gathered at St Stephen’s Green front arch – exceeding all expectations – to attend the a Feminist Walking Tour marking International Women's Day.
Organisers with red screen-printed t-shirts (the image showing a high heel shoe and a boot – ready for walking!) mingled with the eager crowd, chatting, handing out information booklets, distributing green and purple suffragette ribbons and stickers to organise people into the two tours. There were activity sheets for the kids (and the big kids) and free lollipops for all!
The tour was organised by Choice Ireland and RAG, who came together to share their expertise and enthusiasm to promote a strong feminist message. “We didn’t want a protest march,” says one tour organiser, “but the walking tour was a fun way to get women out on the streets and celebrating feminism”.
The tour guides for the day were Carol Hunt – a history graduate and veteran tour guide – and Sinead Ahern, one of Choice Ireland’s finest spokespeople. Carol joked that she used to run a women’s history walking tour around Dublin, but that it was often not that well attended by men – until she changed the tour’s name to “A Sexual History of Dublin.” Same tour – different name – far better male attendance!
The tour meandered across town, tracing women’s history in the city – from the Brehon Laws, to the Ladies Land League of the 1880’s, through the suffragette movement, the women involved in workers and republican struggles, to the radical feminist movement of the 1970’s and the anti- domestic and sexual violence movements to present-day pro choice struggles.
There were also a number of guest speakers along the route. Edel Cribbin, of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre spoke about the organisation, its vital role, its lack of funding and reliance on volunteers. A community development worker, Amel Yacef, spoke about the particular difficulties facing migrant women in Ireland. Alan Mc Simoin, who was involved in the Contraception Action Programme in the 1970’s and is still active in pro-choice campaigning today, spoke about the X-case and the thousands of people who came out on the streets to support Miss X in 1992.
Helen Keyes from Choice Ireland spoke outside the “rogue” pregnancy-counselling agency on Dorset St. The so-called Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) is a fundamentalist Christian front which advertises, falsely claiming to provide information on all crisis-pregnancy options. However, once inside, it subjects vulnerable women to extreme anti-abortion propaganda. It was the existence of this agency and the fact that pregnancy counselling still goes unregulated in Ireland that first prompted Choice Ireland to form. Helen described how members of the group visited the agency to investigate what was really happening inside the WRC – even going as far as to source “pregnant pee” and conceal it on their persons! As she spoke during the tour on Saturday, a potato was thrown from a third floor window of the building, injuring one woman. The tour hastily reconvened around the corner, a safe distance from the WRC.
At the end of the tour, happy hungry walkers were invited back to the Teacher’s Club on Parnell Square, where free soup and sandwiches were well received by all. Two short, recently-made, feminist films were shown. These were “The Future of Feminism” by Cara Holmes and Breaking the Silence” by Katie Gillum – who also filmed the walking tour for Dublin Community Television. RAG had their distribution table at the back of the room selling their magazine as well as books, zines, moon cups, badges and more. There was information and leaflets from Choice Ireland. There was also music from the extremely talented young singer-songwriter duo Heathers.
There was a fun atmosphere with lots of lively discussion and reflection on the day. People chatted, old friends met and new ones were made. There was some struggling over dot-to-dot puzzles and word-searches from the kid’s activity sheet (though not only from the kids!) In the corner, some organisers were counting up donations to see if they had covered their costs. “We’re not sure,” one said, “the printing is the biggest cost, we don’t know exactly how much it will be yet, so we’ll see what happens!”
The booklet printed for the day is attractive and well put together - a mine of information to take away from the event. Its 24 colour pages include an introduction, map and background information on all the stops on the route; further sites of interest are also marked around the city. The booklet is interspersed with remarkable facts and stories of Irish women’s struggle down through the years. A listing of women’s and feminist organisations of interest are provided in the back pages. If you didn’t make the tour, but would like a copy of the booklet please email to request a copy: feministwalkingtour AT yahoo.ie. Information on the organisers is available at www.choiceireland.blogspot.com and www.ragdublin.blogspot.com.
The Walking Tour organisers would like to express their sincere thanks to everyone who came along and helped make the event such a great success.
Choice Ireland is a pro-choice group formed in 2007 with an explicitly feminist agenda. “Feminism is the focus which keeps the group on track,” says one member, “and the reason why we are fighting.” RAG is an anarcha-feminist group, formed two years ago, which publishes an annual magazine, “the Rag” and holds regular open discussions and workshops.