Women, Democracy, and Performance in Northern Ireland

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


Women’s political activism in Northern Ireland has frequently required them to engage with a hostile state in a struggle for their civil rights. Historically, this has been a sectarian struggle focusing on access to housing and employment; but post-conflict, women’s civil rights in relation to reproduction, health, and security continue to be precarious. Recent research shows that female university students report high levels of unwanted sexual experiences; Northern Ireland has the second highest rate of female homicide by intimate partner in Western Europe, and Northern Ireland has no government policy in place to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls. As one recent report points out, gender-based violence has been consistently deprioritized because the main focus of government and policing has been on political instability and paramilitary, anti-state violence.

This paper explores a selection of plays and performances that seek to capture women’s experiences of various kinds of violence, and that aim to break the silence that has shamed the victims and enabled the situation to continue unchanged. Recent work includes Rosemary Jenkinson’s Silent Trade about human trafficking; Louise Moore’s Not On Our Watch about grassroots activism in support of victims of domestic abuse; the community performance Don’t Shoot My Wane by Felicity McCall, which challenges paramilitarism, and Helen Cammock’s video installation The Long Note examining women’s Civil Rights activism. These productions are only a few of the many works in theatres and art galleries during the past five years that have centred on women’s stories of the conflict and the development of Northern Irish society since the Peace Process.

I aim to explore how these performances and art works document and perform women’s resistance, activism, and assertion of their civil rights. Women’s activism in Northern Ireland frequently makes use of traditional roles and concepts of appropriate feminine behaviour to claim a space from which to speak and be heard. The paper draws on Schechner’s theories of the relationship between aesthetic and social drama, the concept of maternalism, and the analysis of citizenship as a gendered performance of belonging to a nation or state.
Period1 Jun 2023
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Violence
  • Gender
  • Conflict
  • Silence