You may have noticed the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) released a report last week saying women living here are discriminated against because of the local laws on abortion. No? Missed that one with all the focus on an agreement that had square brackets but no agreement? Well if you blinked you missed it. The UN says 50% of the population living here is discriminated against and it goes largely unnoticed.
It gets better. Last month the UN Security Council – yes that one that decides on wars, sanctions and stuff – well they received a report on how the British Government will address the themes of women, peace and security. Known as UN Security Resolution 1325 this is where women who have experienced conflict can have their rights recognised, violations articulated and futures protected. So, what did the British government say about women living here in a post-conflict society? Women that they have particular obligation, to protect and ensure are supported? What did they say? Nothing. Nada. Rud ar bith.
Was this an oversight? Eh, no. It was totally deliberate. Because all of the women we know who were killed, bereaved, injured, imprisoned, strip searched, violated and left to pick up the pieces of lives and the accompanying trauma, apparently did not live through a conflict. That is the official British Government position, and that is why we living here are ignored by the British government whose narrative must be protected at all times. They refuse to acknowledge women living here who experienced the results of conflict, because their narrative in war and peace time remains that there was no conflict.
Now this report might be all very well if they were not put under immense pressure in this regard. But they have been. Women living here are recognised by the Irish government in their UNSCR1325 Action Plan. And the Stormont Assembly had an all party working group on this very issue. The latter mainly focussed on women’s participation, but they operated to fill the vacuum created by wilful British Government disregard.
This has implications for legacy mechanisms and risks diminishing them. We still focus almost exclusively on the need to establish the truth of the circumstances of killings. That is entirely necessary because that has been denied. But it also creates gaps. Because 91% of those killed were male, the experience of women will largely be missed. Women’s experiences are at risk of being shunted into the Archive, their experiences placed in “story telling”, rather than valued through interrogation and active consideration.
The British Government’s refusal to include women living here in their action plan on UNSCR1325 lays bare the lie that the British Government is a “neutral party” around legacy, and everything else. If they were “neutral” this action plan would have included women in the North of Ireland, after it had been lobbied and criticised. But it did not. As in everything else, the British ludicrous narrative of its “non-conflict” role in our “non-conflict” is far more important than meeting its legal obligations to women living here. It is structural discrimination against women it claims for its own citizens of epic proportions.
An important additional question though is why both the CEDAW statement last week and the UNSCR gap last month have gone largely unnoticed? In a political environment framed by rights agendas and the reactions to them, this is something we should be paying attention to. We cannot assert human rights agendas without women’s rights agendas. They are inextricably linked. And no more than any section of our community can be asked to wait for rights any longer, women cannot be asked to wait any longer. Níl aon saoirse gan saoirse na mBan.