Bronagh Hinds

Image: flickr.com

Image: flickr.com

Peacebuilder / Women’s Rights Advocate

Bronagh Hinds was one of five children born to Dr Gerard Hinds and Moya Gibson on 27 July 1951 and grew up in Belfast. She had a comfortable childhood, given her father’s occupation and would grow up to follow a path inspired by her mother who had been very involved in voluntary work. Hinds attended Queen’s University as a law student in the early 1970s where she worked as a part time Welfare Officer in the Student’s Union before becoming the first woman to be elected as President of an Irish university student’s union, aged twenty-two in 1974.* Two years prior, on 30 January 1972, she had attended a march in Derry for civil rights with about 20,000 others in what would come to be known as Bloody Sunday. She had travelled from Queens Uni with a group of other students on a mini bus and in order to get quickly through whatever roadblocks they might meet along the way, Hinds wrapped their banner around her waist and under her clothes while everyone else brought camogie sticks ‘pretending [they] were a bunch of people going up to play a camogie match to get as far as we could so that we could be at the march on time.’ Hinds was near the top of the march when the shooting began and described it as ‘chaos’ as she ran for cover behind a barricade. She remembers saying ‘naively’ to a man beside her ‘we’ve gotta do something! We’ve gotta do something!’ Fourteen people were killed.

During her time working in Queen’s SU she campaigned for an increase in student grants and organised a catering boycott to protest increased prices. As a strong advocate for women and equal rights, Hinds also helped to organise a two-day film event which showcased four different ‘women’s films’ on issues surrounding politics, class and societal roles, with one being described as ‘a comedy about middle class marriage and role playing.’  Ahead of her time, a creche was set up to cater for women with children who might like to join the event.

At a conference titled ‘Women in Society’ held at Queen’s University in early 1975 it was suggested that a women’s group should be formed in Northern Ireland, and so the Northern Ireland Women’s Right’s Movement (NIWRM) was formed. As co-founder, Hinds became the public relations officer for the group and their primary focus early on was to establish ‘a good day-nursery system for pre-school children.’

Over the coming years, Hinds threw herself into community-based and voluntary work in the following areas:

‘She was the NI Information Officer in NI Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, moving to Dublin in 1977 as the Information Coordinator for Combat Poverty. Returning to Belfast she was Secretary to the NI Consumer Council before leading one-parent family organisation Gingerbread NI (1981-1991). NI Director of Oxfam (1990-1992) was followed by Director of the Ulster People’s College (1993-2001). Among voluntary roles in this period was chair of the NI Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) (1986-1989), founding chair of NICVA’s European Affairs Committee and Secretary of the working group that established the European Anti-Poverty Network.’

In April 1980 Hinds was dismissed from her role as secretary of the NI Consumer Council on the grounds that she had not been efficient at her job. She, however, argued that she was dismissed due to her joining a trade union, the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE). She also argued that she ‘had to do things which equivalent staff in the Civil Service would not be expected to do – such as shopping and administrative work.’ Hinds felt she had been taken advantage of and went to court.

In the late 1980s Hinds became involved in Gingerbread NI, a support group for single-parent families and was very vocal about childcare in Northern Ireland. At a rally in 1989, she stated that ‘Northern Ireland has the worst childcare record in Europe’ and that ‘we are the only place in Europe without even one’ statutory day-nursery which she said was ‘so necessary for working parents.’ The same year, she helped to establish the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP) to:

‘Provide women in Northern Ireland with a platform to make their voices heard on domestic, European and international social, economic, cultural and political affairs.'

Represent Northern Ireland women at European and international levels.’

She served as chairperson on the NIWEP for ten years where she ‘collaborated with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales, England and the Republic of Ireland, on women’s rights and equal participation in politics, social and economic life and peacebuilding.’ In 1996, Monica McWilliams and Avila Kilmurray, upon discussing ‘the upcoming multi-party peace talks, lamented the fact that due to the lack of women in politics, women’s voices would not be considered by the politicians negotiating plans’ for the future of Northern Ireland. Working closely with Hinds in the NIWEP, they began to lobby the NI Office ‘for a gender-proofed party list system by which men and women were alternated in equal proportions on their lists.’ These proposals were largely ignored.

In April of that year a meeting was held to discuss lobbying the government to ‘allow a women’s network’ to be included in the peace talks. Representatives from many women’s organisations attended, including Hinds of the NIWEP. Speaking about why the NIWC was formed, she said:

Female political role models now exist but at that time female representation was dire. One of the reason’s the Women’s Coalition stood was because we noticed that there was going to be very few female voices around the table that was negotiating the future landscape for Northern Ireland. I think there was a recognition that more female voices could bring new perspectives and a positive dynamic. It was a momentum for change.

The government agreed to allow it and the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition was founded. They had six weeks to mount a campaign and three weeks to choose candidates to put forward. In the end, they secured two seats for the multi-party talks which began on 10 June 1996. Hinds helped to manage its election to the peace talks as chief strategist and was the ‘senior advisor and negotiator of the Good Friday Agreement.’ Over the years that followed she oversaw the implementation of the Agreement’s equality mandates.  Of the legacy of the NIWC she said:

…had it not been for women we would not have seen any references to integrated education, to integrated communities, to the advancement of women in political and public life, and particularly the issue in relation to supporting victims. That is the legacy of the Women’s Coalition but our vision of a participative and inclusive society and democracy still has to be realised.

In 1999, Hinds was awarded UK Woman of Europe for her work on the Good Friday Agreement. In the years that followed she worked with the UN on issues regarding countries emerging from conflicts, human rights, reconciliation and peacebuilding. In 2000, she founded DemocraShe in order to promote the advancement of women in political and public life. Through this she helped to facilitate training women in skills of election confidence, public speaking and campaign building. DemocraShe has been credited with playing a strong role in the upsurge in female representation in politics in the early days following its formation, with Hinds stating that ‘50%’ of women elected at that time had received DemocraShe training.

‘Politics is for everyone and we must ensure that our governance is fit for everyone.’

Hinds continues to work extensively on issues of peace and women’s equality all around the world – from Syria, Ukraine and South Korea to Liberia and Iraq. Her commitment to peace and the advancement of women in leadership roles continues to inspire today.

 

Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to khanna.herstory@gmail.com

 

*Newspapers contemporary to the 1970s widely reported this although Hinds herself at the time thought there might have been someone before her in Cork elected as the first female President of any Irish SU. Later reports credited Hinds with being the first President of the Queens SU. Attempts to find the truth of the matter are ongoing.

 

Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to khanna.herstory@gmail.com

Sources:

Bronagh Hinds biography online at A Century of Women, https://www.acenturyofwomen.com/bronagh-hinds/ [accessed 10 July 2019].

Belfast Telegraph, 6 June 1980.

‘Bronagh Hinds: DemocraShe’ online at agendaNi.com, https://www.agendani.com/bronagh-hinds-democrashe/ [accessed 11 July 2019].

Meban, Alan, ‘Bronagh Hinds on role of women in political discourse at home & abroad #msconversations,’ 9 Oct. 2017 online at sluggerotoole.com,  https://sluggerotoole.com/2017/10/09/bronagh-hinds-on-role-of-women-in-political-discourse-at-home-abroad-msconversations/ [accessed 11 July 2019].

‘Crossing Divides,’ video narrated by Bronagh Hinds as part of the All Sisterhood and after interviews in the British Library, online at https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/crossing-divides [accessed 11 July 2019].

Sunday Life, 22 Oct. 1989.