Women airbrushed out of history of civil rights, ex-Labour peer warns

Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrison Photography -
Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrison Photography -

Too many women have been out of the history of civil rights in Northern Ireland, a former Labour peer has said.

Baroness May Blood said that while a change in women’s rights is taking place, there are people in Northern Ireland who still believe women “should be behind”.

The 80-year-old, who stepped down from the House of Lords earlier this year following her appointment 19 years ago, was speaking at an event to celebrate the life of Inez McCormack, a trade unionist and human rights activist from Belfast.

Inez was diagnosed with multiple cancers in September 2013 and died a few months later.

Baroness Blood, who was the first woman from Northern Ireland to be given a peerage in 1999, called for more women to get involved in politics and campaigning.

She said: “We still have people in Northern Ireland who believe that women should be behind, I don’t believe that.

“I’m often asked do women make better leaders than men and I say no, but they do make as good as leaders, and we’ve got to believe that ourselves.

“The biggest obstacle for women is belief in themselves. You have to be in the system to change it.

“Change is taking place, maybe not as fast as some of us would like, but even with all the obstacles change must be allowed and must be supported.”

A host of speakers took part in the event on Saturday to mark the life of Inez and other women who led the civil rights campaign.

They included Lynda Walker, who opened the first Women’s Centre in Belfast; Lily Kerr, who is a member of the Workers Party; and Susan McKay, an award-winning journalist and broadcaster.

Reflecting on the last 50 years since the civil rights movement, Baroness Blood said: “I think change has been coming over the last 30 to 40 years.

“Over these last few years we have seen more rapid change, and that’s what gives me hope for the future, that it will happen more and more because women are becoming more into their own right place.

“I think you will see change come from that.

“I would love to see more women go up the ladder, but it’s not to say that if women were in managerial roles that things would be any better for the working women.

“I want to see their conditions, their wages, and all those things improve as well as getting women up that ladder.

“Those two things can happen together.”

McKay, who was named Irish Woman of the Year for her commitment to human rights and peace, paid tribute to Inez and her dedication to campaigning.

She said: “If you think back to the many ways in which Inez talked about feminism and activism, it foresaw the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, she brought the feminist mantra of the person that is political into mainstream trade unionism and into mainstream politics.”