A CENTURY OF WOMEN - 1980s
Globally the 1980s saw Indira Gandhi becoming Prime Minister of India, with her second term of office brought to an abrupt end in 1984 with her assassination. In 1986, Corazon Aquino became the eleventh President of the Philippines. By 1984, in Britain, Women Against Pit Closures fought alongside the miners in an attempt to save the mining communities. One prominent woman representative was Anne Scargill, who came to Belfast to address the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Women’s Conference in the Europa Hotel, seeking support for the families of the 142,000 mineworkers who were on strike.
In spite of the political unrest in Northern Ireland, the 1980s was a decade when women’s organisations expanded and provided a variety of services for women. The number of women’s centres in local communities increased with seven being established over the decade in the Greater Belfast area, as well as centres in Derry, Magherafelt, Craigavon and other areas. Whilst not underestimating the number of women who supported the paramilitary campaigns, there was a strong movement to work across sectarian and community divisions to build organisations and networks that would promote women’s rights. The women’s centres that were established offered personal support, advice, education and childcare services, with many also engaged in campaigning and advocacy for change. The centres were based in working class communities, serving as a lifeline for many women, especially single parents and those isolated in their homes; the centres also provided employment and voluntary work for local women (Ruth Taillon, 1992). Almost all were not-for-profit organisations, relying on local authority and philanthropic resources to maintain themselves. Funding continued to be a major issue and, in some cases, limited involvement in campaigning. Women’s centres have continued to survive in many communities and to offer services and support.
Direct Rule continued in Northern Ireland under the administration of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Security was still the major policy priority, although presented under a mantra of ‘Normalisation, Criminalisation and Ulsterisation’. Notwithstanding this, both Republican and Loyalist paramilitary violence continued, as did British Army and police actions. No warning bombs and random killings created fear and over the course of the 1980s, 57 women were killed. As in previous decades, women also carried the primary responsibility of family maintenance and care when their husbands/partners, or other family members, were killed, injured or imprisoned.
In 1980, Republican prisoners began a hunger strike for recognition of political status that had been removed from both republican and loyalist prisoners in 1976. The inconclusive ending of this hunger strike set the seeds for a second hunger strike, which resulted in the deaths of 10 men. Thousands of women supported the Hunger Strike campaign; these were not only relatives of prisoners (many already involved in the Relatives Action Committees) but included large numbers of women from nationalist/Republican areas. The campaign also drew international support. In December 1980, three Republican women in Armagh prison joined the Hunger Strike. In 1981, Margaretta D'Arcy, having experienced three months imprisonment during the ‘dirty protest’ in Armagh prison, provided a graphic account of her experiences in Tell them everything: A Sojourn in the Prison of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Ard Macha (Armagh).
Over the course of this decade, twelve people were killed by plastic bullets fired by British soldiers and police, seven in 1981 during the year of the hunger strikes, three of whom were female and two children. Emma Groves and Clara Reilly founded the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets; the aim of the organisation was to bring together the families bereaved or injured by rubber or plastic bullets and to achieve a ban on their use. By the mid-1980s, there was considerable community mobilisation against the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985), particularly in Unionist/Loyalist areas, with women being involved. The end of the decade saw an upsurge in violence when the killing by the British Army of three unarmed IRA volunteers in Gibraltar – one of them was Mairead Farrell – set off a train of events that resulted in injuries and deaths as a result of Republican and Loyalist violence. At the same time, back-channel negotiations commenced involving leading politicians from the SDLP, members of the clergy and leading Republicans to explore alternatives to violence.
It was in the midst of this political unrest that the campaign for abortion law reform intensified with the establishment of the Northern Ireland Abortion Campaign (NIAC), prompted by the death of 21-year-old Charlotte Hutton from a “back street” abortion in Belfast. NIAC organised their first conference in 1980 and in the same year the group drew the issue to the attention of the Members of Parliament at Westminster, when Marie-Therese McGivern and Marilyn Hyndman delivered six hundred wire coat hangers to them, each bearing a facsimile of a British Airways ticket with the message, “these are the two ways in which Northern Ireland women get an abortion”. This action secured media attention, but not the required reform. The NIAC dissolved in 1984; however, the Northern Ireland Abortion Law Reform Association was established the following year. NIALRA continued the campaign to have the 1967 Abortion Act extended to Northern Ireland.
Adequate and free childcare continued to be an issue. Researchers/activists like Liz McShane and Eileen Evason pointed out that Northern Ireland had the worst level of childcare service compared to any other part of the United Kingdom. Full day nursery schools that catered for working women were practically non-existent. Most of the nursery schools, which had provided this service, had been opened in Northern Ireland during the Second World War and had subsequently closed, unlike the rest of Britain where many remained open. The few nursery schools that were attached to primary schools (which meant they were segregated on religious grounds) only offered care during school hours; however, they did increase from 68 in 1979/80 to 85 in 1988/89. Private nurseries and pre-school playgroups began to be established but fell short of the flexible and affordable childcare that was required by working women. Private childcare was too expensive for many working mothers and services offered by the charitable sector remained insufficient. Writing in 1982, Eileen Evason describes how the Foyle Day Care Centre in Derry was opened, founded by members of Derry Women’s Aid. The Foyle Day Care Association opened two purpose-built centres and 62 children were catered for.
The work by the Equal Opportunities Commission (NI) (EOC NI) gained momentum and many cases were taken on under the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Order (NI) (1976). Awareness was raised about sexual harassment as an issue, and about discrimination related to pregnancy. One specific case that received significant media coverage was the High Court action brought against the Department of Education and the Education and Library Boards, concerning the 1987/88 Transfer Procedure. The EOC (NI) argued that the Departmental practice meant that some boys would be favoured above girls and awarded non-fee-paying places despite achieving lower marks and that this amounted to sex discrimination. The EOC (NI) won the case, and as a result, a total of 860 girls got places that year and the previous practice was ended.
Work patterns of women were beginning to change in line with family and childcare expectations. Fewer women were giving up paid employment for full-time childcare, families were getting smaller and equality legislation ensured that women could return to work after maternity leave. Employment figures showed the increasing participation of women in the labour force, albeit often in part-time work. Traditional manufacturing industries continued to decline, but there was an increase in the growth of the service sector, combined with what is euphemistically called “flexible” patterns of work (part-time, contract, temporary, seasonal, casual, and home based). This type of work was said to benefit the working mother, but in fact, it was predominantly dictated by employers’ requirements and did not suit every woman. A survey carried out in 1988, Cleaning Up - Women and the contract cleaning industry in N. Ireland exposed the ‘black market economy’ of contract cleaners, where employers took advantage of the fact that women could not complain or seek the help of trade unions because some of them also relied on welfare benefits. The survey highlighted the fact that these workers had no rights regarding hours of work, wages, holidays, duties, tea breaks and related conditions. The study conclusion held, prophetically, that “with Government policy supporting the privatisation of domestic services, this type of employment is set to increase." A similar survey, Trim, Cut and Conditioned 1983, was carried out amongst hairdressing apprentices where at least 79% of those surveyed were earning less than £25 per week: £25 was the grant that was given to employers to train the apprentice. The training by employers was variable and survey concluded: “there would appear to be no recognised course of training applicable to all apprentice hairdressers, no accepted period or length of apprenticeship and little standardisation of qualifications.” Both surveys found a reluctance among the women to join a trade union for fear of losing their job.
However, trade union membership increased from 40,000 in 1953 to 107,300 in 1983. Robert Miller and Donal McDade (1993, p116) noted that an increase in the trade union membership of women offset an overall decline that was taking place generally. The rise in female membership led to some improvement in how trade unions dealt with the concerns of women. Women’s committees were established and in 1981, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Britain put together a resolution that rejected the idea of the “family wage”. Women in Northern Ireland continued to play a role in the ICTU women’s committee and they also attended the TUC Women’s Conference in Britain, sharing experiences and learning. The NIWRM met with a number of these women’s committees to develop policy and co-ordinate campaigning; this included the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance and the National Union of Public Employees. The Transport and General Workers union offered use of meeting space and a number of unions provided resources to NIWRM. In 1984, the ICTU conference passed a resolution on women’s health, resulting in the production of a booklet by the NI ICTU Women’s Committee, titled A Screen in Time Saves Lives, which encouraged women to use workplace facilities for cancer screening. This initiative was part of their broader campaign to have health education programmes introduced into more workplaces.
A Woman’s Right to Choose was one of the issues that remained controversial and low on the priorities of the trade union movement. The Anti-Strip Search Campaign, on the other hand, gained somewhat wider support when the Belfast Trades Council passed a motion that was subsequently supported at the ICTU women’s conference in Belfast in 1984; this motion called for an end to the strip-searching of all women prisoners. The demands of the women in prison were supported by a broader range of organisations and activists, but there was a concern that any such support might be interpreted as supporting paramilitarism. In addition, conflict existed within Republicanism, particularly between women from Provisional Sinn Fein and The Worker’s Party – two organisations that had a history of violent political feuding.
In contrast to organisations in Britain, women’s organisations in Northern Ireland found it almost impossible to access European Union (EU) funding. Conversely, Northern Ireland was categorised as a Priority One Region, which meant that the area was a priority for EU funding but given the political vacuum it was centrally controlled by the government. In 1985, Lynda Walker, an EOC (NI) commissioner attended a conference in Britain, which dealt with the subject of EU funded projects. This conference clarified that, in Britain, women’s organisations and colleges had considerably greater access to EU funding (including the ability to apply directly to the EU), resulting in the establishment of education and training provision, together with related childcare facilities. In 1986, a conference that was held in the Markets Community centre in Belfast, which examined EU funded projects in Britain and explored ways that such projects could be introduced into Northern Ireland. The Ulster University was one of the first organisations to draw down such funding.
In 1981, Jeff Dudgeon brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights where he successfully challenged Northern Ireland’s laws criminalising consensual sexual acts between men in private. Following this, the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order (1982) came into effect. Although this did not directly affect women, given that it was not illegal for a woman to be a homosexual, politically the order raised the visibility of the issue. Lesbian women, however, felt that attention was more focused on gay men rather than the challenges they faced as lesbians. One young woman describes how she survived as a lesbian at this time; “being gay and living in Northern Ireland in the 1980s you just knew to keep your mouth shut”. There was limited space for lesbian women, but the Club Bar and the Chariot Rooms were places that were frequented by women from both sides of the community. Women’s News, a feminist newsletter, often featured articles about lesbians. Activist Marie Query commented, “As you’re probably aware there was a lot going on in the lesbian scene in the 70/80/90s and as you have gathered not a lot has been written up - Hidden from History eh? As you well remember in the bad old days, it was considered an insult to the women’s movement to say that it was about lesbians and their issues. Much of my time in the Women’s Centre in the early ’80s was taken up with advice (which I was ill-equipped to give!) to lesbian women who were suspended following the Kincora abuse cases and to mothers regarding lesbian custody issues and to mental health issues arising out the oppression of lesbian women. The change in the legislation in ’82 had little impact on these issues, many of which remained invisible. On the other hand, in my opinion, the male gay movement paid little attention to lesbian issues and few women were involved at a leadership level, sexism was prevalent in the gay movement as much as it was evident in the trade union movement and the political parties of the time.”
Marie Mulholland writes that in 1982 the first Lesbian & Gay Conference was held in Belfast in the Crescents Arts Centre and this brought lesbian and gay men from around Ireland and some from the UK to Belfast. For the few lesbians who were involved in organising the event with gay men, the opportunity to meet other activist lesbians from around the country and from England, some who were active in NUS, helped to create a web of lesbian networking and contacts. That conference in 1982 had a workshop, which challenged the sexism of gay men and their oppressive views and attitudes towards lesbians.
The 1980s began to see a more visible lesbian presence in the North but it was by no means widespread. In Belfast, the early 80s discos were held in the Midlands Hotel on York Road and as with most gay venues, the clientele was mostly male. Other locations were the Carpenter’s Club (Named after Edward Carpenter an English 19th century socialist and out gay man) and a favourite because of the great dance music was the upstairs club, Jim & Ernie’s, held in a dance studio on North Street. Although lesbians frequented all of these venues, they were predominantly male with the lesbian social scene often concentrated on house parties.
All that began to change in the mid-80s when a group of Belfast lesbians travelled to Cork to participate in the first Cork Women’s Weekend, a three-day long festival organised by the Lesbian community of the city, involving discos, live music, performance, workshops, pub quiz, and crafts fair. What the Cork lesbians had achieved fired up many Belfast lesbians to host an annual event in their own city. International Women’s Day or as it became International Women’s Weekend in Belfast became the place for lesbians from all over the island to congregate- the main event was the Cabaret on the Saturday night, many of the acts were women from around the country but soon the cabaret was attracting lesbian acts from the UK and even the US. By 1988, the first Women’s Summer Camp had taken place in Galway-three weeks of ‘women only’ space camping in the outdoors, building sweat tents, communal kitchen. The camp recognised women’s economic status by having a sliding scale for those unwaged and low waged and with children. The Camp is still going strong and takes place in various counties around Ireland where land can be sourced and rented for the three weeks. The camp dates always and still do coincide with the period over July 12th to provide Northern lesbians with somewhere to go to get away from the Orange Parades. Throughout the 80s and into the 90s there was an all-Ireland circuit of events for lesbians; IWD in Belfast, Cork Women’s May Weekend and the July Women’s Camp in Galway and around the South.
The exchanges between lesbians in Cork and lesbians in Belfast began during the 80s when each group attended the others’ events. Several of these exchanges were funded by Co-Operation North at the time.
It should be noted that these events used the broad term ’women’ and did not promote themselves as specifically lesbian events. To do so at that time would have invited a level of risk and censorship, which could undo the possibilities for any coming together, however, these events were lesbian- organised, lesbian- inspired. They were open to all women but predominately lesbian attended (Marie Mulholland, 2018).
The Belfast Women’s Collective dissolved during this period, due mainly to the polarisation within the women’s movement characterised by tension between those who prioritised ‘the National Question’ and those who prioritised feminist politics. Many of the members who had been in the collective went on to make effective contributions to other groups, for example, the NI Abortion Campaign and the Women and Media group.
In 1986, the NIWRM organised a delegation of twelve women to lobby politicians in the House of Commons on the Fowler review – legislation that would reduce welfare benefits. Most of the women who travelled came from Protestant backgrounds; women from nationalist/republican areas were reticent about the tactic because they did not recognise the jurisdiction of Westminster. When the delegation arrived, they were met by a single Northern Irish MP (Unionist). Speaking to a Protestant woman from Ballybeen, the MP condemned “benefit scroungers” and, adopting a sectarian viewpoint, associated social security benefits with Catholics. The woman responded by informing the MP that her husband had lost his job and that it was not worth her while working part-time because it would affect his benefit.
The delegation also met with Tony Benn who, upon hearing that the women were from Belfast, spoke only about the need to withdraw British troops. It is clear that both MPs had preconceived ideas with respect to political affiliations and views of the women. During the visit, it was found that the most helpful person was Joan Maynard, Labour MP for Brightside Sheffield, who took several of the delegates into the House of Commons restaurant where they met the MP for Derry. The delegation included Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham (sisters of Belfast-born Beirut hostage, Brian Keenan), Geraldine Bradley, Lynda Walker from Belfast Woman’s Centre, Annie Walker from Ballybeen Woman’s Centre, Hazel Morrissey who was the education officer at the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union and Michelle Devlin. Derry woman, Helen Brady, who lived in London, met the group at Downing Street, where they handed in a letter of protest to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In 1987, NIWRM organised a delegation of 44 women from all over Ireland to attend the World Congress of Women in Moscow. These included a Catholic nun, a TD (MP in the Republic of Ireland); two Dunnes Store strikers (on the issue of apartheid), Annie Walker from Ballybeen Women’s Centre, a traveller, trades unionist Inez McCormack, women from the AT & GWU Women’s Committee and community activists from Derry, Cork, Dublin and Belfast. Emma Groves and Clara Reilly gave evidence to a human rights committee regarding the use of plastic bullets.
The NIWRM movement held its first of many all-women artist concerts in 1981. The proceeds from the event went to the Belfast Women’s Centre, which by this time employed its first part-time worker Marie Query. In 1985, Ruth Hooley (now Carr) produced The Female Line to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the NIWRM, the publication challenged the existing male norm, and “it was the first anthology of literature by women writers from Northern Ireland, several of whom made their publishing debut in its pages” (Irish Times, 2017). This volume highlighted the work of 45 published and unpublished women writers, and provided encouragement for women experimenting in a range of literary genres.
In the mid-1980s, Nuala McKeever joined a number of students at Queen’s University Belfast, starting what would become the Hole in the Wall Theatre Company. After a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1988, the group was trimmed down to five members with Nuala was one of the five. They wrote and produced comedies that satirised life in Northern Ireland. Playwrights such as Ann Devlin, Marie Jones, Christina Reid and Polly Devlin provided a female perspective on ‘the Troubles’, while Frances Molloy used the novel form to the same effect. Many of these women are remembered by the photographs on the walls of the back room in the John Hewitt pub in Donegall Street. Some interesting details about the lives and works of Christina Reid and Marie Jones are recorded by Conall Parr in his latest book (2017).
On Wednesday the 30th January 1980, the first of 6 radio programmes was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster. The programmes dealt with women in relation to marriage, health, childcare, education, work and violence. The research for the programmes was co-ordinated by Avila Kilmurray in the Community Action Research and Education Centre in Magee College Derry and they were broadcast on Radio Foyle in February of that year. This was part of a wider community education programme.
Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, art and culture developed in and around the politics of society in Northern Ireland, through songs and poetry, wall murals, plays and other forms of art. Artist Rita Duffy describes this, pointing out, “I think all art is political, whether it’s choosing to draw a bowl of fruit or choosing to make a painting about knee-capping. One is introvertedly political, the other is overtly political. One is about choosing to ignore difficult issues and make art that is more sellable and suitable to a middle-class drawing room; the other is obviously dealing with a political trauma. I remember a very poignant moment in art school when my tutor asked me why people on the streets were wearing black armbands. This was a man who had lived in Belfast for over 12 years. I told him that it was because the second Hunger Striker had died. I realised that this man was living and teaching art in Belfast but his head, heart and consciousness were elsewhere. This was startling to me. I wanted my art to engage with what was going on around me at that time.” Rita designed an International Women’s Day poster for the NIWRM and in 2011; she designed and constructed a wall mural to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. She explains the feminist agenda in her work: “We have a deeply misogynistic, patriarchal society here in Northern Ireland. Women’s voices really need to be heard here. One thing I am continually coming back to is the realisation of just how difficult women’s lives are here. When you have a society that is dominated by violence and pinned so firmly in the dogma and imagery of Christian patriarchy – this fundamentalist, God-is-a-man head-space – it’s inevitable that women will be marginalised. We still have a residual sense that the little wife should be at home dealing with the babies. I was born female and therefore women’s issues and feminism seem obvious and important concerns for me as an artist” (Culture NI.org).
During this decade, feminism as an ideology was becoming increasingly normalised in at least some political circles and feminist historians, sociologists and political writers began to make an impact. In the mid-1980s, Northern Ireland’s first Women’s Studies undergraduate course was provided at the Ulster University and Eileen Evason noted that the Women’s Studies branch of the Workers Education Association (WEA) played a major role across Northern Ireland regarding the empowerment of women. The Women’s Education Project, along with the Well Women’s Centre and the WEA, all acted as a resource for community-based women’s groups.
- Craigavon Women’s Advice Centre opens
- Mary Beckett (1926–2013) publishes A Belfast Woman
- The first of six radio programmes about women are broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle, researched by Avila Kilmurray and other community activists in the Community Action Research and Education Centre in Magee College, Derry
- The Women’s Information Group is established. This is a community-based organisation dealing with issues of common concern to women. Joyce McCartan and Kate Kelly initiate monthly cross-community meetings supported by numerous women from Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast
- Belfast Women’s Collective dissolves
- On May Day, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions agrees to allow a women’s banner to be carried, in response to a demand from the Unity meetings
- Northern Ireland Abortion Campaign forms
- Marie-Therese McGivern and Marilyn Hyndman travel to London on behalf of NIAC to present 600 coat-hangers to MPs in Westminster
- Women and Media group publish a booklet “A Woman’s Choice”, arguing the case for a free legal abortion
- June 26th: Republican activist and lecturer at Queen’s University, Miriam Daly, is shot dead at her home in Andersonstown, West Belfast
- In Armagh Prison, IRA volunteers Mairéad Farrell, Mary Doyle and Mairéad Nugent join the hunger strike
- 16th January: Bernadette Devlin survives an assassination attempt when she is shot 14 times in front of her children by the Ulster Freedom Fighters at her home near Coalisland
- Derry Women’s Centre opens
- The NIWRM organise an all-female artist concert, which takes place in the McMordie Hall in Queen’s University Students Union. The artists include; Marian Finucane, compere (Dublin RTE), folk singer Peggy Seeger and other artists. Concerts are held each year in the 1980s in different venues
- 5th May: Republican Bobby Sands MP is the first of ten hunger strikers to die in the campaign to have political prisoner status reinstated. Many women join this campaign
- Between May and July: Julie Anne Livingstone (14), Carol Ann Kellie (12) and Nora McCabe are killed by plastic bullets
- Mairéad Farrell stands in the 1981 general election in the Republic of Ireland; she is the only woman prisoner to stand as a candidate, securing 2,751 first preference votes in the constituency of Cork North Central
- 2nd October: the European Court of Human Rights rules by a 15-4 majority in favour of changing the laws on homosexuality, bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of Britain. The case is led by Jeff Dudgeon, a gay activist
- First edition of Breaking the Chains - Connolly’s Selected Writings of James Connolly on Women is published
- Domestic violence: Legal protection with an automatic power of arrest is introduced, although cohabitees do not become included until 1983. Housing policies are amended to include abused women and children as a priority category. The financial position of women and children in refuges improves with the inclusion of additional expenditure essential for living in temporary accommodation and for families moving out to set up home on their own
- Coleraine Women’s Centre opens
- Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order (1982) comes into effect
- Susan McKay is a founder member of the Rape Crisis Centre which opens in Donegall Street, Belfast, the first rape crisis centre to open in Ireland. Eileen Calder and Eileen Kelly were two of the other workers later in the 1980’s.
- Only three women (3.8% of the total membership) are elected to the Assembly in 1982, Muriel Simpson (UUP, Armagh), Dorothy Dunlop (UUP, East Belfast) and Mary McSorley (SDLP, Mid Ulster). Only nine of the 184 candidates (4.9%) are women
- The NI Abortion Campaign carries out a survey amongst General Practitioners in Northern Ireland
- NI Women’s Education Group is established
- Medbh McGuckian’s The Flower Master (1982) wins the Poetry Society’s Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and an award from the Ireland Arts Council
- Anne Devlin wins the Hennessy Literary Award for her short story, Passages, which was adapted for television as A Woman Calling
- Trimmed, Cut and Conditioned is the result of a small research project funded by the EOC (NI) (£300) and is carried out by members of the NIWRM; it exposes the atrocious pay and working conditions experienced by hairdressing apprentices
- The Falls Women’s Centre in West Belfast opens
- The Advisory Committee of the ICTU, established in 1959, is renamed The Women’s Committee
- The Women’s Resource and Development Agency is established, formerly known as the Women’s Education Project
- Public meeting is held in Rosemary Street Hall. Inez McCormack and Lynda Edgerton speak in solidarity with the campaign against the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, which gave equal right to life of a mother and the unborn child
- The Eighth Amendment is approved by referendum on the 7th September 1983 and becomes law in the Republic of Ireland on the 7th October
- Margaret Ward publishes Unmanageable Revolutionaries - Women and Irish nationalism. (Pluto Books / Brandon)
- Charabanc Theatre Company forms in 1983, born out of the frustration of five Belfast-based actresses regarding the lack of work available to women in theatre and the quality of what is available
- Ballybeen Women’s Centre: Greater East Belfast opens
- The Community Services Department of the Belfast City Council employs Margaret Ward as a Women’s Officer; part of her work includes the production of Women’s News each month
- Women’s News (paid for by the Belfast City Council out of the budget for the Women’s Officer) is launched. Published in Just Books, it is a significant feminist magazine developing out of the Unity meetings. It continues to grow in content and political orientation, but is finally dissolved in the mid-2000s
- May Day: Women’s Information Group “brought along some fantastic banners which they had made and they decorated a lorry with these. The banners exhibited the needs of the people, like housing, education and hospital services as opposed to spending on nuclear weapons”. (Women’s News (issues 3)
- Speakers at the NI ICTU May Day Rally include Inez McCormackand a representative from Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp; the theme in 1984 is “World Peace and Nuclear Disarmament”
- Five women cleaners at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast lodge a claim for Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value with groundsmen and porters. They have the support of their union, NUPE, and the EOC (NI). Their employer resists the claim and offers them a settlement, which they refuse. It takes ten years to win
- Emma Groves and Clara Reilly found the United Campaign against Plastics Bullets. (In 1976 Plastic bullets had replaced rubber bullets)
- At a meeting of the Belfast Trades Council, Lynda (Walker) Edgerton, a member of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NAFHE; BIFHE) move a motion, seconded by Linda Erskine (TGWU; Gallaghers Tobacco Factory) in opposition to the strip searching of all women prisoners; this is then brought to the ICTU Women’s Conference at the Europa Hotel Belfast in 1984 where the motion is subsequently adopted
- 18th July: Mary Manning, a shop worker in the Dunnes Store Dublin, is suspended from work after she refuses to handle the sale of South Africa goods. Her union, IDATU, issues directions in protest to South African apartheid. The women’s organisation and the trade union movement support these actions with pickets at Dunnes Stores in the North
- Greenaway’s Women’s Centre: East Belfast opens
- Northern Ireland Abortion Law Reform Association is established
- Hester Dunn writes an article condemning strip-searching in the July/August edition of Ulster, the UDA magazine
- Women’s Health Fair is held in Belfast; public meetings and planning take place over several months in order to organise the event
- Anne McGuire is released from prison after wrongful imprisonment; she has served eleven years of a fourteen-year prison sentence for the Guildford bombing
- Tenth anniversary of the NIWRM is marked by the publication of Female Line by Ruth Hooley, with guest writer, Leila Doolin
- Francis Molloy publishes her novel No Mate for the Magpie, which is described as the most original novel to emerge from the Troubles
- 1st March: a discussion on 'Feminism - Our Early Years' is held at the Forum Hotel, Belfast. It is organised jointly by Joanna McMinn for the Women's Education Project and Margaret Ward, women's officer with Belfast City Council. The pamphlet containing the presentations and discussion is published as "A Difficult, Dangerous Honesty"
- Sammy Wilson names Rhonda Paisley as Lady Mayoress during his tenure as first DUP Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1986/87
- The Fowler Review: NIWRM organises a delegation of twelve women who travel by ferry and train to the House of Commons to lobby politicians
- Mary McAleese returns to Queen's University to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies
- Lower Ormeau Women's Information Drop-In Centre South Belfast opens
- The Lower Shankill Women’s Group forms
- Ulster University introduces Women’s Studies Undergraduate Course in Northern Ireland
- The first EU funded project for women is established at the Ulster University
- The International Tribunal on Abortion takes place at the Europa Hotel, taking evidence on the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland. A distinguished panel, including Wendy Savage and Kadar Asmal, a lecturer in law from Trinity College Dublin, hears evidence from women who have travelled to England to have an abortion. Anna Eggert speaks on behalf of NALRA
- The EOC (NI) successfully brings High Court actions against the Department of Education and the Education and Library Boards in respect of the 1987/88 Transfer Procedure
- A delegation of forty-four women, organised by the NIWRM, travel from the north and south of Ireland to attend the World Congress of Women in Moscow.
- Shankill Women’s Centre: West/North Belfast is opened by the Lower Shankill Women’s Group
- Mairéad Farrell, along with Dan McCann and Seán Savage (IRA volunteers), are shot dead in Gibraltar on 6 March; all three were unarmed
- The Women’s Support Network (WSN) is formed when Belfast City Council withdraws funding from the Falls Women’s Centre and the Shankill Women’s Centre. Ballybeen Women’s centre funding is also cut by Castlereagh Borough Council. These actions motivate women’s centres and organisations to unite in solidarity and the WSN comes into being
- Feminist and women’s rights activist Susan McKay becomes a journalist and works as a news reporter with the Irish Press
- Eilis McDermot becomes a Queen’s Counsel
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NI Abortion Campaign (1982) Abortion in Northern Ireland-The results of a survey carried out by the NIAC amongst General Practitioners in NI.
Northern Ireland Abortion Law Reform Association (1985) Why we need the 1967 Abortion Act: NALRA
NIWRM (1983) Trimmed, Cut and Conditioned. NIWRM
NIWRM (1988) Cleaning Up-Women and the contract cleaning industry in N. Ireland.
Parr Connal: (2017) Inventing the Myth Political Passions and the Ulster Protestant Imagination Oxford University Press
Smyth Ailbhe (1995) Paying Our Respect To The Bloody State We’re In. Women, Violence, and the State. In: Hoffman Joan and Coulter Maureen (Eds) (1995) Irish Women’s Voices Past and Present. Indiana University Press.
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Ward Margaret(Ed) (1987) Difficult Dangerous Honesty-10 Years of Feminism in N. Ireland-A discussion Belfast March 1986: Women’s Book Collective.
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Women’s News (May/June 1984) Issue 3