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Rosie Hackett inspires equality agenda

Nineteen thirteen and the Dublin Lockout quickly evoke the names of James Larkin and William Martin Murphy. With a bit of probing James Connolly will be identified. However, the names of women involved in the Dublin Lockout are now being popularly recognised too. Does the Dublin Lockout hold a legacy for the women’s movement and equality for women, asks Niall Crowley, commissioning editor of this Lockout insert 


Rosie Hackett was one of the small group who tried to print the 1916 Proclamation on a faulty printing press and brought the first copy, still wet, to James Connolly.  She was a member of the Irish Citizen Army and served with Constance Markievicz and Michael Mallin when they occupied the Royal College of Surgeons in the Easter Rebellion and was sent to Kilmainham Jail. She was a messenger in Jacob’s biscuit factory in Dublin and a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. In 1911, she was one of 3,000 women who went out in sympathy with men from the factory who were already on strike. The same year she was one of the founder members of the Irish Women Workers Union.

When the tramworkers went on strike in 1913 she and fellow workers from Jacob’s factory mobilised in support of the pickets. When three Jacob’s factory workers were sacked for refusing to take off their ITGWU badge, she was one of the organisers of the ensuing strike. The employers retaliated by locking out all the workers. At the end of the lockout Rosie Hackett was not re-employed by Jacob’s factory. She remained a trade-union activist for the rest of her life.

Thirteen of the sixteen bridges over the river are named after men, with none named after women

There is a campaign to name the new bridge over the Liffey from Marlborough St to Hawkins St after Rosie Hackett. This would break with a strong and shameful tradition that has seen thirteen of the sixteen bridges over the river named after men, with none named after women. It would be timely in bringing the role of women in the Dublin lockout to centre stage in this centenary year.

One hundred years ago, the struggle for women’s equality was divided and weak. The vote was a core issue. The struggle was drawn into and dominated by the nationalist struggle. It found its way into the labour movement through the endeavours of people like Rosie Hackett supported by progressive leaders.

Today, the struggle for women’s rights has achieved real progress but has yet to achieve its goals. Economic crisis now crowds out concern for women’s equality, just as the national question crowded it out a hundred years ago. Yet, equality for women is as key to a resolution of economic crisis as it was to achieving a free and independent Ireland.

Equality for women has to be a core concern in all political, economic, social and cultural arenas. This requires alliances, solidarity and a popular valuing of equality in society. Equality for women must also continue to be pursued as a specific strategy in its own right. This requires organisation, focus, and accountability. Both strategies require new thinking and innovation. Local-level action for equality for women must set the agenda for national action and hold government to account. The link between national and local action is often fragile. It needs rebuilding and re-invention.


Movements for equality at a local level will not go away, despite the lack of recognition and support for critical voices in our society and the failure to facilitate these critical voices in public spaces, writes Miriam Holt, Coordinator of the National Collective of Community-based Women’s Networks (NCCWN)

The Waterford Women’s Centre believes that needs are best identified by those who struggle rather than those who benefit from society’s current way of operating.  Oppression teaches us far more than comfort does. Instead of the traditional understanding of social movements as either integrationist or oppositional, we have developed an alternative space of women. Locally-based women’s groups have predominantly been a movement of working-class women, reflecting an interest in feminist ideas of equality while holding true to community involvement rather than individual advancement.

The initial reason for setting up the Women’s Centre in 1995 was to provide education and training for working-class women community leaders. This objective remains as crucial today as it was then.  We provide pre-development up to third-level education for these women.  Our focus is on working-class women and women facing multiple barriers to participation. Challenging patriarchy is too often left to groups who can afford to do it and this should not be so.

Working-class women are excluded from participating at many levels in our society due to systemic and internalised barriers. Inequality is maintained through existing neo-liberal, patriarchal, and capitalist systems. Internalised oppression can promote acceptance of inequality through lack of confidence and low self-esteem. This makes participation difficult if not impossible. It silences, divides and isolates.

We hold a strong belief in collective learning and the creation of conditions that enable working-class women to reclaim confidence  in themselves, and find their voice. Learning is at the core of community development. We often express this in terms of “unlearning”, undoing the conditioning of a society that regards those who fail as being at fault, and those who are victims of patriarchy as “bringing it on themselves”, or “being no better than she should be”.

Social analysis enables individual women to name their experiences and hear the experiences of other women. When women see the common aspects of these experiences, they are enabled to connect the personal and the political. ‘Really Useful Knowledge’ is that which enables a woman to change her life for the better.

Our feminist model of participatory democracy supports the women involved to be part of the decision-making in the Women’s Centre. This builds capacity for external representation at local, regional and national level on a variety of relevant structures. When participation is fostered at a micro level it can be transferred to a macro level. Once working-class women have the space to find and use their voice, they can replicate this outside of the Women’s Centre.

Action at local level needs to be connected to action at national level. The Women’s Centre has been instrumental in maintaining and developing the National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks (NCCWN). This has provided new opportunities for marginalised women to bring local issues to national policy level.

Our goals have never been adequately resourced. Funding to support the delivery of third-level qualifications for working-class women has been constantly eroded since before the current economic downturn.  Programme funding from FÁS and the Department of Social Protection, which the Women’s Centre had used to support the delivery of third-level programmes then became inaccessible due to new criteria.  This and other funding sources are only available for the delivery of continuing education up to level 5.  It appears that working-class women are not to be supported to go beyond this level.

We face significant funding challenges though women need our services more than ever. We are currently exploring self-financing and sustainability opportunities such as social enterprise to ensure that we are not dependent on state funding.


Members of the Jacobs Strike committee, steps Liberty Hall, undated. Delia Larkin and possibly Rosie Hackett are pictured
Members of the Jacobs Strike committee, steps Liberty Hall, undated. Delia Larkin and possibly Rosie Hackett are pictured


Women have continued to organise and campaign for their rights and social change since 1913, when the Irish Women Workers Union focused its energies on giving voice to women workers. The theme of the “Y Factor”, the youth initiative of the National Women’s Council, at its launch this year, was ‘Our Voice matters’. While many of the issues have changed, the need and demand for women’s rights remains. Translating this voice into real change for women and substantive equality remains the challenge for the NWCI and the women’s movement today, writes Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland

When the Irish Women Workers Union was founded in September 1911, one of its leading figures, Constance Markievicz, addressed the first meeting. She said that the union would not only give women a greater voice in the workplace but would also help to win them the vote and improve their status in society. Two years later in 1913, Jacobs biscuit factory in Dublin forced three young women to remove their union badges. This action was pivotal in the 1913 lockout.

The Irish Women Workers Union fought many of its battles along traditional lines, to win improved pay and conditions. It played a key role as a voice for women’s rights and parity with men in the workplace until it amalgamated with the Federated Workers Union in 1984. By bringing women together and being a voice for women workers, the Irish Women Workers Union paved the way for the establishment of women’s organisations and their fight for equality and women’s rights in Ireland.

The Irish Women’s Liberation Movement was established in 1970. The movement’s manifesto ‘Chains or Change’ contained five demands – equal pay, equality before the law, equal education, contraception and justice for deserted wives, unmarried mothers and widows.

Being a collective voice for women and women’s organisations was also at the heart of the Council of the Status of Women (which later became the National Women’s Council of Ireland) when it was established in 1973 by a group of feminists chaired by Hilda Tweedy of the Irish Housewives Association. This year the National Women’s Council of Ireland celebrates its 40th anniversary. The struggles of these organisations have generated significant gains for women’s equality in particular in the area of employment and economic independence.

Our entry into the European Union, the introduction of employment-equality and equal-status legislation, improved health services and increased access to, and better outcomes from, education, have all played their part in moving women forward. However, women still remain on the margins of Irish society at many levels. Women are virtually invisible in debates about the nature of our current crisis, about options for recovery and about how social and economic issues are defined and prioritised in this country. Women’s experience of the recession has been virtually ignored in public debate, despite the fact that their unemployment levels increased by over 10% in the last year compared to over 6% for men.

Women entered the recession on an unequal footing to men. While the period of economic growth was characterised by a rapid increase in women’s employment, women in Ireland continued to be the primary carers in families and bear the major burden of domestic and household work 

Women entered the recession on an unequal footing to men. While the period of economic growth was characterised by a rapid increase in women’s employment, women in Ireland continued to be the primary carers in families and bear the major burden of domestic and household work.

The myth that women’s equality has been achieved pervades the media public discourse and public policy. A key challenge for those of us concerned with promoting women’s rights is to ensure that women’s experience is named and reflected as a primary concern in this discourse. This would recognise that addressing women’s inequality, poverty, and the discrimination they face will benefit all of society, including women, men, families and communities.

Women of course are not a homogeneous group and any strategies aimed at women must address the multiple layers of discrimination and oppression faced by thousands of women from particularly marginalised communities. These include Traveller women, women with disability, lesbian women and migrant/asylum seeking women.

There are promising signs. There has been a resurgence in interest in feminism and what it can offer to Ireland’s recovery. Across universities there has been a growth of feminist societies. The membership of the NWCI is growing nationally. There has been widespread interest in the Y Factor, the NWCI’s youth initiative to encourage and facilitate a voice for young women and men championing women’s equality.

The current economic crisis has led to a questioning of our values and recognition of the need to develop and debate a new set of values for a different society. Equality and gender equality must be central to these new values. Women are at the centre of community-based activity: as political activists, voluntary and paid workers, management members, spokespeople and representatives.

Some of the inequalities which women experience, particularly in the area of political representation, have been recognised and acknowledged as a democratic deficit.  However, this acknowledgement currently does not extend beyond the need for a critical mass of women representatives. The campaign for political representation needs to develop further into mobilising a women’s vote to advance women’s rights and seeking a wider diversity of both men and women to represent the diversity of our society.

So has the enhanced position of women in Ireland changed how we organise and continue the struggle for women’s rights? Does the current economic and political climate with the many challenges it poses for the advancement of women’s equality have implications for this struggle? The struggle has become even more difficult for NGOs with depleting resources.

The NWCI has spent significant time in the last year discussing with women their priorities and the best approaches to achieving them. We have reorganised accordingly and are becoming a stronger campaigning force. Last year we led an on-line campaign for legislation for abortion on the grounds of the X Case judgment in 1993. This campaign involved over 16,000 women and men sending more than 72,000 emails to TDs from every constituency in Ireland. The nationwide response to the campaign was reflective of the national outcry to the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. It also reflected a new way of campaigning which enables organisations like the NWCI to engage immediately with people, particularly women whose lives are so occupied with combining work and family life. This type of campaigning responds to a world where communication has become 24/7.

There is also a stronger focus on pooling resources and building greater alliances in our work. The NWCI is currently involved in a range of campaigns that involve joining forces on common objectives for women’s rights. ‘Turn off the Red Light’ is a national campaign involving diverse community organisations, NGOs, Trade Unions, Human Rights Groups and individuals. They have come together to lobby for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex so as to curb the demand for prostitution and to advocate for support systems to enable women to leave prostitution.

The Equality Budgeting Campaign was developed with the Irish Feminist Network, SIPTU and feminist academics. It formed to lobby for the national budgetary process to be equality-proofed. The Coalition to Protect the Lowest Paid brings together Trade Unions, the NWCI, the Migrants Rights Centre and the INOU, focusing on the pay and working conditions of low-paid workers, predominantly women.

Currently the NWCI is exploring new ways of working and communicating through an innovative arts project. The Legacy Project explores the representation of ‘women and work’ from past to present. Four artists have been commissioned as part of this. The project will look at unpacking historical and contemporary ideas about work, society, and economy as well as advocacy and legacy building. The result will be a movable exhibition to be launched in autumn 2013.