Cork is celebrating a new kind of feminism

Repeal the Eight, pornography, the gender pay-gap, lack of women in senior academia and the feminisation of poverty — these are some of the topics set to be addressed by the Cork Feminist Collective, launched this week, writes ELLIE O’BYRNE
Cork is celebrating a new kind of feminism
At the launch party for Cork Feminist Collective at the Unitarian Church, Princes Street were (from left) Una Hennessy, Jill Rogers and Elizabeth Madden, three of the organising committe. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“FEMINISM is changing, and women’s experiences are changing. We need to move the conversation and acknowledge their experiences and not shut them out, because that’s why we need feminism in the first place: to represent a diverse range of voices.”

After seven years, Cork Feminista, a volunteer-led group that meet monthly in The Quay Co-op rooms, are relaunching as Cork Feminist Collective.

Cork Feminista was founded by Linda Kelly and Jennifer DeWan in 2010, and Elizabeth Madden has been attending meetings since the group’s inception.

“We want it to be accessible, practical and reachable,” she says. “People should feel that they could come along to one of our events and feel comfortable at it.

“We’ve covered so many different topics; we work directly with marginalised women, but with Cork Feminist Collective we want to go into community centres and a lot more activism and education and informing people.”

With a new board, a mission statement and a code of conduct, Elizabeth and fellow member Una Hennessy say the group are going to focus more on activism and on integrating members from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Leslie Spillane, one of the organising committe. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Leslie Spillane, one of the organising committe. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Following their relaunch event at the Unitarian Church on Princes Street, Cork, this week, timed to coincide with international worker’s solidarity day events in the city, Cork Feminist Collective’s first planned event will be an information evening on the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment.

“Since the Citizen’s Assembly, people may now feel it’s just abortion on demand and feel scared of what exactly is coming,” Elizabeth says.

“I don’t think a lot of people even really know what’s in the Constitution because if I wasn’t interested in feminism I wouldn’t be looking up the Constitution.

“So people are hearing ‘Repeal the eighth’ as a phrase, but maybe don’t know what it means.”

But Cork Feminist Collective are not a single-issue group and are keen to address other issues such as pornography, the gender pay-gap, the lack of senior women in academia, and the feminisation of poverty, an area Elizabeth researched extensively for her MA thesis in Women’s studies in UCC.

At the launch party for Cork Feminist Collective at the Unitarian Church, Princes Street were Pearl Prendergast, Lower Glanmire Road, Cork, (left) and Grainne O'Connor, Grand Parade, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.
At the launch party for Cork Feminist Collective at the Unitarian Church, Princes Street were Pearl Prendergast, Lower Glanmire Road, Cork, (left) and Grainne O'Connor, Grand Parade, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

She says feminism doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that it’s important the group reflects a broader range of views than just those of middle-class, university-educated women.

“I come from a working-class background and poverty is an issue I’ve experienced in my life,” she says.

“I suppose I was lucky to get a good education and have critiqued that from an academic perspective. but also from an experiential perspective.

“When I became enlightened as to the oppressors in my life, I became more empowered through education and through feminism and I want to help to bring that into other people’s lives.”

Another area where Cork Feminista have had an active involvement, and where Cork Feminist Collective are keen to continue their work, is in addressing the plight of women and children living in Direct Provision centres in Cork.

Elaine Harrington, Cork, (left) and Lijuan Qian, China, attending the launch.Picture: Denis Minihane.
Elaine Harrington, Cork, (left) and Lijuan Qian, China, attending the launch.Picture: Denis Minihane.

Una Hennessy, who first became involved in Cork Feminista in 2015 and who has since taken charge of running social media campaigns and general day to day organisation of events, says the issue of Direct Provision is a huge one for the group.

“It’s like a dirty secret that we have,” Una says. “In ten years’ time, Direct Provision will be the Magdalene Laundries of the day and people will ask how it happened.”

The regular monthly meetings held by Cork Feminista have attracted a core of between four and ten to date, and the group say they’ve forged strong links with other organisations in the city such as Age Action, LINC, the Rape Crisis Centre and the Domestic Violence Centre. They frequently donate excess funds to other organisations.

With a growing awareness of feminist issues partly sparked by an interest amongst young people in the Repeal the Eighth campaign, and with social media a large influence on younger generations of politically active people, Una says there’s a marked rise in awareness of feminism amongst young people.

“We had a transition year student who did work experience with us who was more knowledgeable than I was on feminism and the issues,” Una says.

But Elizabeth is keen to add that this doesn’t mean that the need for feminism is diminishing: “Anything that rises or starts to trend, there’s also a backlash,” she says.

Fionnuala Diskin (left) and Aisling O'Riordan, Shandon, Cork, with Sally the dog. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Fionnuala Diskin (left) and Aisling O'Riordan, Shandon, Cork, with Sally the dog. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“We’re seeing a rise in awareness online, but there’s also a corresponding rise in anti-feminist sentiment.”

One of the important ways to combat this negativity is, Elizabeth says, to ensure that young men also engage with feminist issues.

“Feminism is about equality between the sexes,” she says. “Men are welcome at our meetings and we really value input from the male perspective too.

“We want to hear from others about what people feel a feminist group in a community should be.”

Above all, both women say that the rewards of their involvement with Cork Feminista, and in the future with Cork Feminist Collective, is the continued sense of empowerment they get from involvement with the group.

At the launch party for Cork Feminist Collective at the Unitarian Church, Princes Street were Gabriele Lobianco and her daughter Cecilia, Ballincollig. Picture: Denis Minihane.
At the launch party for Cork Feminist Collective at the Unitarian Church, Princes Street were Gabriele Lobianco and her daughter Cecilia, Ballincollig. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Elizabeth says education was the ultimate tool that led to her feeling her voice could be heard.

“Growing up, I understood clearly how issues in society were affecting me, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to express myself,” she says.

“It’s such a release that I’ve gained empowerment through having my voice heard, and to me, that’s the power of feminism.”

“We’re never going to have the perfect world where we don’t need feminism anymore,” Una adds, “but for me, it’s just such a great community and I just feel so empowered by my involvement with it.”

Cork Feminist Collective’s monthly meetings are held in the Quay Co-op rooms and are open to all.

To attend, email corkfcollective@gmail.com for further information.

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