Strong words in Parliament Buildings.
But not from the Assembly chamber or a committee room.
I stand before you today as a woman unfree, in spite of the location of my birth here in the European Union, a colony of the British empire, the island of Ireland, Eire.
This is because I do not have the same rights as my sisters in other parts of these conglomerate nations. I am officially a citizen of the United Kingdom but the same freedom of reproductive choice is not awarded to me …
I am calling for the patriarchal laws to be changed and affirmative action taken. We are in a fortunate position here in Ireland compared with other regimes, in spite of facing a lifetime in prison for having an abortion. We should use the relative freedom we possess, like the freedom of speech, to vocalise our struggle and support other people less fortunate.
We must not become complacent! The struggle is not over! Continue the fight for equality in the face of casual misogyny, physical misogyny and, most importantly, resist and revolt against misogyny by the state.
Equal rights for women means equal rights for all! Continue the suffrage, support other women, do not be complicit in the commodification of the female form, do not judge other women in how they dress, who they have sex with, their sense of humour, the books they have read etc. We must unite as collective force and fight the patriarchal powers instead of dividing ourselves into feminist sub-groups.
Do not let the superficial age we live in divide and conquer us, unify, organise, protest, demonstrate, love your neighbours, celebrate differences. We owe it to our suffragist brothers and sisters who have fought for the rights we have today.
Make abortion free, safe and legal.
Corp s’agam, Ré s’agam. My body, my choice.
Equal rights for all.
Just part of a speech by Cara Park at Saturday night’s Alternative Ms Ulster, an event I hesitate to mention.
Not for fear of exposing the issues around women’s opportunities, freedoms and how they are perceived and treated in Northern Ireland society.
Nor for fear of exposing how this morning’s Belfast Telegraph took an incredibly sideways look at the event hosted at Parliament Buildings on International Women’s Day.
Nor for fear of starting a debate about fashion or feminism in 2014 Northern Ireland.
But because I know moderating the comments under this post will be incredibly tedious since previous experience on Slugger O’Toole suggest there will be a number of puerile and childish contributions made. So feel free to engage with the content of Cara Park’s speech and the event itself, but steer clear of cheap puns.
I flagged up the event back in January under a post headlined: Alternative Ms Ulster at Parliament Buildings … words, aspirations, actions and no need for judges.
In her blog, Harriet Long – who attended Saturday’s event – described Cara Park as “by far the best most passionate and innovative speaker of the night”.
She made people laugh, cheer, scream, applaud, go silent and nod their heads.
She spoke about her freedoms in this part of the world compared to those elsewhere.
She spoke about the sexual shaming and silencing of people, but particularly women in this part of the world.
She talked about the secrets and deceit of sexual and child abuse, covered up and defended by corrupt institutions, the problem of confession and confessing, the secrecy and lies that have hurt the vulnerable
She spoke of celebrating sex, how we are all here because of it and how we shouldn’t ignore or regulate the beauty and diversity of the body.
She was thoughtful, articulate, clever and smart.
Rather than paying any real heed to the aspirations or words spoken from the stage by Cara Park or the twenty four other women who participated, the Belfast Telegraph chose to exclusively look under fashion graduate Cara’s designer dress.
Some people might say that Stormont has had more than it share of exhibitionists over the years and that the behaviour of some of our politicians is more offensive than anything which takes place at an event to mark International Womens’ [sic] Day.
Cue Stephen Nolan’s schoolboy contribution about Cara Park – or “Parks” as she’s consistently referred to – on Radio Ulster this morning. Apparently she “inspired outrage at Stormont over the weekend when she spoke at an event with her boobs out”.
Later in his interview with Cara he quipped “I know there are enough tits up at Stormont …” and became defensive when Cara – who had the measure of the radio host – scolded him for using her breasts as a by-word for describing people as “unintelligent or stupid”.
Given the fashion shows, parties and weddings – never mind Assembly sittings – that have been held in the hallowed halls of Parliament Buildings, this couldn’t have been the first time a revealing outfit has been worn to a function. But perhaps the first time one was accompanied by a serious speech that challenged “casual misogyny, physical misogyny and … misogyny by the state”.
Oddly, not a single mention never mind quote from any other speaker at the event. Instead, florid text on the front page describing how “a feminist has sent unionist politicians into a chest-beating frenzy”. Not so odd that there were only quotes from male MLAs given how few female MLAs there are up in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The outfit didn’t seem to distract the audience in Stormont’s Great Hall on the night. Or provoke them to tweet images and commentary. Instead the frenzy was the result of a photograph sold to a newspaper that has a history of printing women’s skin alongside opinion articles suggesting: “Ladies, your charms are much better covered up”.
If it hadn’t been for Cara Park, perhaps the Alternative Ms Ulster would have had no commentary in today’s news papers. A few publicity shots last week didn’t seem to be followed up by significant coverage of the content this morning. Maybe it took a designer dress to start a conversation in the press about the issues Cara raised: issues which the Assembly doesn’t often address, though today’s debate about women in politics was a start.
The event was filmed, and before too long, hopefully a selection of speeches by the other speakers will be available to listen to. In the meantime, the Guardian have published Cara’s full speech.
And if you’re inspired to think more about the role of women in society and the lack of women in politics, not only do the Labour Party NI have an event planned for Saturday 22 March, but the DUP have also organised a similar conference the day before on Friday 21 March 14 in the Park Avenue Hotel with speakers Eileen Chan-Hu, Ellvena Graham, Janet Gray, Marie Marin, Heather Morris, and Denise Watson. Free to attend but reservation required – DUP headquarters 9047 1155 should have more details since it’s not on their website or Facebook page.
Update – Belfast Telegraph followed with an article on Tuesday that interviewed Cara Park and explained some of the context of her speech.