TREASA DeBarra nervously walks in front of the crowd gathered outside Cork City Council where the budget meeting is being held.
Her hands shaking, she takes out a piece of paper from her pocket and makes a fiery speech. She is calling on local politicians to block the budget, fully aware that her pleas may fall on deaf ears.
Treasa ends her speech by allowing herself a shy smile at her fellow protestors’ applause, and hugs a homeless man.
“We are feeling the pain of our homeless brothers and sisters; we will scream until they hear us in the Dáil,” she says.
A photo of Treasa taken at that protest earlier this month, shouting in frustration and anger into a loudhailer, went viral on social media across Cork and beyond, hailed as the perfect reflection of a generation’s frustration with the ongoing housing crisis.
The 25-year-old social care worker is among a growing number of young Cork women who are determined to highlight the issue on the streets of their home city.
Liz Madden of Cork Feminist Collective Group (Cork Feminista), who is also one of the organisers of the Housing Activists Cork group, said that she is delighted with Cork women’s leadership of the fight against the housing crisis.
“We have a new trend in a sense that a lot of working people and families are becoming homeless, and I think this is drawing a lot of younger women to the movement,” she said.
Treasa said: “The female voice is one based on empathy, protective instincts, and uncompromising standard — when you channel the passion and love for the fellow human, she is a hurricane.
Treasa doesn’t think she is doing anything extraordinary by participating in the Cork housing movement.
“There is nothing significant with my story,” she insisted, “I have a responsibility to defend my brothers and sisters on the streets. “
However, Liz believes the fighter mentality and commitment of Cork women such as Treasa has had a significant impact in keeping the movement alive.
“Treasa is full of energy and is very courageous,” Liz said.
“She took the courage to speak at the demonstration, and I was very proud of her, because even if your voice shakes, it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of people and speak your truth.”
Liz thinks that women’s tangible presence in the Cork housing movement is encouraging the whole community to stand behind the ongoing campaigns.
“It is encouraging others to speak up, not just about housing but about other issues that they are passionate about,” she said.
The housing crisis has impacted on the life of Treasa, as it has with many others.
“My own rent went up 4% last month, I work full-time so I can pay the bills, but don’t forget about the ones who can’t, through no fault of their own,” Treasa said.
Liz commended young Cork men for the respect they are showing to women activists.
“The younger men are so aware of being respectful of a woman and her voice, and it is so important for us to have our voice,” she said.
Treasa appreciates men’s support as well and considers it to be “empowering”.
“Just as the saying goes that behind every great man is a woman, I find that the contra is also true and I have been touched by how men are using their strength to empower women in leadership roles,” Treasa said.
Liz Madden is hoping to keep politics out of their campaign group. “We will keep the group non-political, even though there are a lot of political parties within the group,” she said.
The Connolly Youth Movement (CYM) and the Green Party have a strong presence in Housing Activists Cork group, and their members were present at the recent budget protest.
“The beauty of our group is that we are not a political group, even though the issue is political,” Liz said.
The Housing Activists Cork group has also set up a support group for local homeless people, people who are in the process of losing their homes, and people who are encountering difficulties accessing housing.
“We have a two-hour slot in the Haven Café from 4pm to 6pm on Fridays to offer support to people,” Liz said.
Treasa believes that her job as a social care worker has had an impact on her growing interest in the community’s issues.
“I am used to being with the people; I put myself out there for what needs to be done because, otherwise, I can’t sleep at night,” she said.
Liz considers the strong presence of women in the housing movement and other movements as crucial rejuvenators of the Cork feminist movement.
“Feminism at its core is about the empowerment of women, and getting your voice heard, and to be listened to and bringing your experience to the public is very empowering,” Liz said. “Activism and feminism go hand-in-hand.”
Treasa pointed out the significance of Cork’s housing movement for the feminist campaign as well.
“The female fighting for change in this housing crisis is every bit as fierce as her male counterpart,” she said.
Liz feels there is a hunger for change in Cork when it comes to issues such as housing.
“I probably wouldn’t have felt the freedom I feel here in Cork, in my home town Limerick,2 she said. “I feel like I am more embraced here because it is so diverse and alternative, it makes you feel like you belong. “
Corkonians who are facing eviction or homelessness can get in touch with the support group from 9am to 6pm on 087 6244966.