Helen Goes to a TED Talk
Nursing Clio would like to officially welcome our newest full-time contributor, Helen McBride. Helen recently graduated with her MA in History and Women and Gender Studies from the University of Wyoming. A native of Northern Ireland, Helen is now back home in Belfast working for a local college. If Helen’s name sounds familiar, it is because she previously contributed a brilliant guest post to Nursing Clio about the needless death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland (You can find the story here). We are all very excited to have Helen join our team and we hope you enjoy her perspective as much as we do. Welcome Helen!
The TEDxBelfastWomen event was the first of its kind to be held in the new Skainos building in the East of the city, as part of the Skainos urban regeneration project. TED is a non-profit organisation that aims to spread ideas. Started 25 years ago, it has broadened its scope to include more than the original Technology, Entertainment, Design and added the ‘x’ element. The x marks independently organised events that stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.
A shaky start to the day, I ended up getting into a brief argument with the taxi driver about the point of the event. Despite this, everything kicked off well with Glenn Jordan, Director of Skainos. The idea behind the Skainos Project, particularly the building, is to act as the centre for an urban regeneration project in the socially and economically deprived areas of East Belfast. It seems like any event in Belfast can’t go without a mention, however brief, of our conflicted heritage. The Skainos building, explained Jordan, is to act as the “counter balance to our history of pain and division.” It is to be a shared space. A poignant message considering the protests that occurred just miles away from East Belfast, in Belfast City Hall a week later. The protest turned riot, was sparked following the decision to remove the Union flag from flying on Belfast City Hall 365 days a year, to only fly on designated days. Since this, protests have broken out across Northern Ireland.
The idea behind the Skainos project fits in well with the event’s theme, The Space Between. I was hesitant to appreciate this theme, especially when looking at women in Northern Ireland. A lot has been written about Northern Irish women in regards to our conflict, and post-conflict attempts at peace. Much of this tends to paint women as the peace-makers, as opposed to the male conflict maker. This kind of gender determinism doesn’t sit well with me. While there was a little bit of that from some of the speakers, generally the focus seemed to be more of a celebration on how much these women have accomplished – with little attention paid to their gender.
The first speaker, Professor Deirdre Hennan, Pro Vice Chancellor for Communication at the University of Ulster was described by Veronica Morris, our compere for the day, as “one of these women, you be in awe of her”. Hennan spoke of her fear of being un-inspirational, considering the nature of the TED talks. The fifth of seven children in a farm family, Hennan left us with the message “no one succeeds alone”. Like I suspected, Hennan talks about growing up in the separated society of Northern Ireland. Her mother, a strong advocate of education, sent Hennan to the local Protestant school despite being a Catholic, creating a scandal in her local Banbridge. When scolded by the local priest, Hennan’s mother politely informed him that her children’s education was her business. Considering the prestige the parish priest held, and in some areas, still holds, it was a bold move!
Prof. Deirdre Hennan
Siobhan Bogues from the Lighthouse Centre was perhaps one of my favourite speakers. The self-defined “ordinary woman” from Belfast spoke on how a trip to India inspired the creation of the Lighthouse Centre. After some difficult life experiences, Bogues decided to go to India, and found herself sharing stories about her experience during Northern Ireland’s time of conflict. Before her trip to India, she had been living like people do here in Northern Ireland, they pretend to be unaffected by the “troubles”. She felt like she had to tell her story to begin to heal. Coming back from India and this experience, she was inspired to create a space to allow people to heal from trauma. In light of the recent violence on our streets, I think it’s fair to say that Northern Ireland has never fully recovered from our conflict, and the benefit of somewhere like the Lighthouse Centre could be huge.
Kirsten Kearney is the creator of the Educational Shakespeare Company, a company that aims to transform lives, using drama and film as a means for people to explore and record their stories. Kearney explained how a family suicide brought her back to Northern Ireland. On returning home, she felt the familiar (to me) complicated love one can have for Northern Ireland. It seemed that if she was going to stay in Northern Ireland, she needed to give herself more of a reason to stay. Hence, the motivation behind ESC. A great example of the kind of work they do is the film ‘Micky B’.
This film adaption of Macbeth tells the story of a prisoner’s quest for power. While set in a fictional prison, the film itself was shot in Northern Ireland’s maximum-security prison, HMP Maghaberry and features 42 characters played by prisoners and prison staff. Kearney believes there is a sea change coming in Northern Ireland; A wonderful sentiment in light of the division that has been haunting Northern Ireland over the last few weeks.
The best speaker in my opinion was Jenny Radcliffe, Head Trainer and Director of Negotiation Intelligence, a training and consultancy company that teaches specialist negotiation skills. Despite her impressive career, Radcliffe didn’t talk about her work specifically. She wanted to speak with us about something that has followed her throughout her whole professional life. She is always asked the same question, time and time again: “Who’s looking after the children?” Radcliffe spoke eloquently and humorously about how the judgment toward working mothers transcends all other things. A little amused, a little shocked, Radcliffe casually researched, asking working mothers and fathers she encountered if they too had been asked this question. Every working woman she spoke to has been asked that question whereas every working father she asked had NEVER been asked that question. “It’s 2012, it’s ok for me to be a working mother, but it’s not ok to feel good about it.” To Radcliffe, there’s no space between that women exist in. Instead, there’s a GAP – between where we thought we were and where we really are.
Eve Earley Director of Neo Ireland Ltd, a social enterprise that offers educational programming, events and seminars to individuals as well as business and community leader spoke of something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, how Northern Ireland’s youth are continuing to flee despite our new found peace. Earley spoke of how we are exporting the first generation that grew up in peace. Earley has posted her talk in full online here. For those that have stayed here (or not left, yet), many haven’t learnt the lesson of the peace they grew up in – instead preferring the violence and hatred of the past. In recent NI news, several children under the age of 17 – those supposedly born in peace – have been arrested for rioting. Our children can create change, because of this we need to keep our children.
Like Siobhan Brogues, this talk held particular significance for me considering my interest in our troubled past. She too spoke about how “you don’t get over trauma, you get through it”. We need to embrace this idea, get through our trauma, and in doing to learn to not disempower our children. Our children need to put their heads “above the parapet” in order to move from peace to prosperity. The space between should be where our children are creating the place to survive and thrive.
I am Founder & Director at Hollaback! Belfast. I have a Master’s Degree in History and Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of Wyoming. My academic work focuses on the role of women in post-conflict societies, with a particular focus on grass roots activism. I write for a number of feminist leaning blogs, am active in local feminist groups in Northern Ireland and an active speaker on Women & LGBTQ rights.