Feminism, Nationalism and the Re-Ordering of Post-War Political Strategies: The Case of the Sinn Féin Women’s Department


Gilmartin, Niall. 2017. “Feminism, Nationalism and the Re-Ordering of Post- War Political Strategies: The Case of the Sinn Féin Women’s Department.” Irish Political Studies 32 (2): 268-92.

Author: Niall Gilmartin


Feminist criticisms of nationalism as a patriarchal structure often cite post-war regression, among others, as robust evidence of the pitfalls for women’s participation within such highly gendered movements. Based on in-depth interviews, this article critically examines the case of the Sinn Féin Women’s Department, and in particular focuses on the reasons for its ambiguous demise in the aftermath of the 1994 IRA cessation. While the ending of the Women’s Department appears to perfectly fulfil the consistent pattern of nationalism’s post-war regression, I argue that the roots of its downfall reside not in nationalism as such but in the institutionalisation of Provisional republicanism. As the republican movement ‘professionalised’ itself in preparation for its post-Troubles electoral struggle, we see a marked contrast in the ways in which women’s equality is conceptualised and pursued. In particular, as the radical organising of the Women’s Department is furtively wound down, what emerged in its place, the Equality Department embraced visions and strategies that are largely indistinguishable from any other mainstream political party. Despite Sinn Féin’s progressive record on promoting women, it appears that feminism is now consigned by the republican movement to its ‘revolutionary past’ and the radical politics of yester-year.

Keywords: Republican women, feminism, nationalism, Sinn Fein Women's Department, conflict transition

Topics: Feminisms, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Nationalism, Post-Conflict Regions: Europe, Western Europe Countries: Ireland

Year: 2017

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