Women take to Belfast streets for equality and respect
‘Being put down and told that’s not lady-like. That’s not the sort of world I want to live in’
A woman urges abortion reform in Northern Ireland during the Processions march in Belfast, marking 100 years since the Representation of the People Act which gave the first British women the right to vote and stand for public office. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
A woman wearing a hat critical of the Democratic Unionist Party at the Processions march. Photograpyh Niall Carson/PA
Alliance for Choice members at the Processions march in Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Members of the Together for Yes Campaign call for abortion reform in Northern Ireland at the Processions march in Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan (right in black) joins Irish abortion rights campaigners as they take part in the Processions march in Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
In a city well used to marches and parades, it was a very different demonstration in Belfast on Sunday.
The Processions event brought together hundreds of women and a fair smattering of men to visually voice “what it means to be a woman today”.
Simultaneous events were taking place in Cardiff, Edinburgh and London, marking the progress of the female of the species in the century since the suffragettes and the fight for equality and rights.
Groups from all over the Republic joined women in the North in a two-hour walk from the Titanic slipways to the city hall.
Unlike the male dominated Orange Order and Ancient Order of Hibernians, the more than 1,000 marchers were almost 90 per cent women. And there were no set-piece speeches.
Neither were there blood and thunder marching bands – apart from a drumming group – playing the standards of old. Instead women had randomly joined the Women in Business choir, headed by Katy Richardson who sang as they marched through the city.
Their selections included Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves, Katy Perry’s Roar and This is Me from The Greatest Showman film.
“It’s all about creating awareness for everyone, male and female, that people should be able to live their lives the way they want to,” said Jade Harper (20) from Doochary in Donegal. “I have felt I have not had the opportunities I dreamt of when I was younger and I don’t want things to be the same for my daughters and granddaughters.”
Moving to Donegal from Derry as a child, she said it was “a very Catholic and conservative” place, where she was always “being put down and told that’s not lady-like. That’s not the sort of world I want to live in.”
Participants formed what they termed a vast artwork in a procession which symbolically had no end point. Organisers had even defined what they meant by women, “those who identify as women or non-binary”.
The fallout from the recent abortion referendum and campaign to extend access to services was a major theme for many of the groups taking part.
Erin Darcy, (30) from Loughrea in Galway, said: “The women of the North risked their lives for us for years with pills and we want to stand in solidarity with them now.”
There were men speaking up also. Andy O’Brien, a Labour Party member, said “we don’t want to be going back to the days of the condom train. Northern Ireland is changing and will keep changing”.
The emphasis was on women in what organisers called “a living portrait of UK women in the 21st century”.
As one of the banners put it: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”