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`Challenging the State We're In'
The feminist seventies in `Troubled' Northern Ireland

Myrtle Hill

The emergence of the women's movement in Ireland as elsewhere was associated with second wave feminism and the wider civil rights movement of the late 1960s. However, in Northern Ireland it was affected by, and itself impacted on, broader movements for social justice in the region. While disagreement about methods and principles was not uncommon amongst women activists, the ongoing political and military struggle heightened existing differences and injected a sense of urgency and emotion into all proceedings. In this paper I propose to explore the relationships between a range of women activists and organisations operating in Northern Ireland during the seventies, with two major aims. Firstly, to consider the extent to which both the contemporary and historical focus on `the Troubles' has served to undermine the actions and achievements of women engaged in more specifically `feminist' actions. Secondly, while the experiences of nationalist women have been to the fore of feminist historical research, I would like to examine and assess the contributions made by Protestant women, to challenge the perception that they were largely absent from this stage of the feminist debate, and to explore the reasons for their lack of visibility. While all left-wing groups are vulnerable to fragmentation, the experiences of women in Northern Ireland during this period is a particularly difficult and emotive reminder of the multiple identities and conflicting loyalties held by women everywhere. This research is part of a wider study of women in twentieth century Ireland, and in addition to a range of archival material, will be based on interviews with leading players in the feminist and wider women's movement.

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