As we all know there have been two female British secretaries of state. Mo Mowlam and Theresa Villiers. Both of them came to post as part of the post-ceasefires era. Both engaged in negotiations with the Irish Government and the local parties.
Now I am not one of the ones who beatifies Mo Mowlam. Among a number of dubious decisions, she made the wrong decision regarding the Garvaghy Road. The coordinated brutality and horror unleashed by the RUC in the hours after that is a part of the peace process worthy of significant examination.
However Mo was part of the British government of the day that decided in favour of peace and compromise and to be an active enabler of peace.
Theresa on the other hand will be remembered for her role in the Irish peace process in a different light. She has been notable by her cruelty to victims of our conflict. For every decision she takes in favour of government delay, and court case she intervenes in to deny information, she adds to the torture of families, desperate for the dignity of truth.
I mention these women’s gender as it demonstrates how there is not one homogenous experience or action by women either in conflict or post conflict. It is complex and multi-layered. As we all know.
However that truth contradicts the dominant, middle class narrative that portrays men as the fighters or protagonists and women as the peace makers or victims. At its heart this is deeply flawed. As pointed out, flying in the face of the narrative we have a right wing, conflict zone type, woman secretary of state who will deny truth to the daughters of another Teresa – Teresa Clinton – as quick as she will say the words “national security”. But how many times have you heard that narrative? It largely goes without challenge, as though this clearly sexist presumption is scientifically correct.
What it is though is a deliberate myth that contributes to protecting the status quo narrative and side stepping difficult issues. And dealing with the past is the issue side stepped most. The portrayal of women as single dimensional victims feeds the view that any contest around truth and justice is a male domain and the matters of services and support are female. Pure nonsense of course, as heroes like Emma Groves, Clara Reilly and Geraldine Finucane have all shown us. Promotion of the myth that truth and justice are not female concerns is not only ludicrous, it compounds the isolation and suffering of women already harmed by conflict. But worryingly it is a narrative I have seen promoted by some groups that make up the “women’s sector”.
So I wonder, where are the feminist voices defending women victims’ right to truth, justice or right to reparation? Have, because the issues are contested, most feminists, with very few exceptions, side stepped? It is a question worth asking. Despite women suffering most from conflict, the local women’s movement has been silent on dealing with the past – why?