White ribbons and inspiration


‘DELIGHTED’ Róisín Keane (centre) receiving her Mayo’s Inspirational Woman of the Year 2017 award from event sponsor Therese O’Grady (left) and guest speaker Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin.

Ciara Galvin

To mark International Women’s Day, The Mayo News caught up with Róisín Keane, Mayo’s Inspirational Woman 2017, to discuss her goals for the year and why it is important to recognise women’s achievements.
Mayo’s Inspirational Woman award honours women from Mayo or living in the county who have inspired others. Róisín, a GMIT Social Care graduate from Newport, was recognised for her commitment to bringing the White Ribbon Campaign to GMIT’s Mayo Campus. The White Ribbon Campaign is the world’s largest male-led movement to end men’s violence against women.

CG Who do you find inspirational?
RK The nominees for the Mayo Inspirational Woman award this year were Ann McMahon, Keira Keogh, Nancy Galvey, Natalya Pestova, Mary Gibbons and Rita Scott are truly inspirational in the complete meaning of the word, which is to ‘lift up, to fill with spirit’ .
I am reminded also of a lovely woman last year who was nominated by her daughter-in-law from Ballycastle, and she was one of those incredible people who care for others all her life despite much loss, but she also cleaned the church for years and that unsung part of what women do and have done is important.

CG Women’s rights have come along way. Do you think feminism is still relevant?
RK This year, 2018, is the centenary of the suffragettes. It is incredibly important to recognise women. The lack of value and reward placed on women historically is deplorable and also on traditionally feminised roles of care and domestic labour. I think this goes to the root of how men and boys are taught to be men and boys. Power imbalances in patriarchal systems of domination are infused in the fabric of everyday social life. It is a global urgent fundamental abuse of human rights.

CG Can you distill your views on violence against women for our readers?
RK I believe that all women and girls should live free from male violence; a belief shared by many organisations, including the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre and the Men’s Development Network.
GMIT Castlebar has demonstrated it’s commitment to eliminate male violence against women. Our campus and community worked together to become Ireland’s first White Ribbon third level institution. It is crucial that we keep this initiative progressing and developing by continuing to raise awareness, encourage understanding and to educate in the college and other institutions of education, community and to join in on the global conversation to spark change.
I think that we need to mark the 16 days of action [Opposing Violence against Women campaign] annually and to educate, raise awareness and to encourage self reflection. It is vital that there is an examination of the root issues that perpetuate men’s violence against women, to understand the complexity of the issue and it’s subtle and often hidden existence of power dynamics of domination and subordination in gender roles.
We really need to tackle the culture of power and control and the violence it creates and a generation of young Irish people who value humanity over power, we need to speak about these issues that are often hidden in plain sight by silence, complicity and arbitrary gender constructions.

CG What was it like to be named Mayo’s Inspirational Woman?
RK I am delighted to receive such an honor. It is important to say that I am holding it on behalf of all nominees past and present and those who are often unseen who do so much outstanding work, sometimes in their homes or workplaces or in the wider community, those behind the scenes in the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre, other support and advocacy organisations and especially for those who suffer, often unseen and unheard.

CG What moment most recently gave you cause for optimism?    
RK At the Golden Globes [on January 7], Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B DeMille Award and gave a speech that captured systemic inequality. She spoke about having been the first black woman to be given the same award as Sidney Poitier years before. She watched it on TV as a child and spoke about how aware she was of what it means to little girls watching her on TV accepting the award. She herself was inspired watching a moment that changed history, when a black man was honoured for his achievements. In 2017 women really stepped towards their power. As she said, ‘Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year, we became the story.’