A massive, celebratory, shout-out, this International Women’s Day, to all those women who strive for better, who go against the grain, who stick their heads above the parapet and generally dare to live their lives in a way that does not fit with the stereotype of how nice ladies should behave.
Particularly in Lewis, where speaking out is still considered to be bad manners – even when people are quite happy to talk the hind legs of a donkey on Cromwell Street about who’s doing what wrong, here, there and everywhere.
It isn’t really the done thing to speak out. So much so that I was once told: “You say the things the rest of us are too polite to say”. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. But certainly, the common behaviour, here, is “fàg e” (just ‘leave it’, in Gaelic).
So, this International Women’s Day, I want to say a few words about a couple of women who help me along the way, who help me do what I do and to do it better.
They will probably be embarrassed. I can just hear them… “oh hee, what did you have to go and put me on the blog for…?”
Cho-dhiù (‘anyway’), first up, Rhoda Mackenzie – Queen of the Turbines.
Michael, my eight-year-old, is fascinated by the amount of time I spend in Messenger conversations with Rhoda, as we pick over the minutiae of what’s going on the wind farm debate.
“Oh you’re speaking to Rhoda! What a surprise! Rhoda, Rhoda, Rhoda…”
But it’s good to have people who understand the pressures you’re under – it’s essential, in fact – and Rhoda has a good mindset on how we’ll cope if we lose in the Land Court (see all previous blogs in my ‘renewables’ category for more about that).
I worry how I will be able to live with the big turbines if EDF get their way, and if the four crofting townships don’t win any of them. I worry that the imposition will make me very angry and that I’ll struggle to cope with the sight of them – which there won’t be any getting away from.
Rhoda just says: “I will always be able to say, ‘I did everything I could’, if it doesn’t go our way.”
If there is anyone who can relate to the position I’m in on the wind farms – it doesn’t make you popular, in certain quarters – it’s Rhoda. She has a big profile in the debate – she’s the face of it – but she also treads carefully when treading carefully is the wisest thing to do.
That said, if I’m quoting anyone in the wind farm debate, it will usually be Rhoda…! So “well done Rhoda”, for sticking your neck out, time and time again, and for standing up and being counted.
She will absolutely hate me saying this – oops-a-daisy! – but Rhoda is a very good example of who we should be celebrating on International Women’s Day and the kind of positions and status that women can assume (I’m not talking about paid and elected positions here, as much as I’m talking about public profile) and can be good at.
Let’s take a moment to notice the fact that the person with the highest profile in the renewables debate – a debate that is being watched with interest by people all over the country, from the media to lawyers and academics – is a woman from North Street.
I know for a fact that Rhoda cannot go anywhere in town without somebody asking her about “what’s happening with the wind farms”.
The wind farm fight is not an easy one and it’s not a typically female issue, either. There’s nothing ‘soft’ about it. But it’s a woman who is the face of it… not a man.
International Women’s Day makes the call for “grassroots activism to worldwide action” – and if the turbine fight isn’t grassroots activism then I don’t know what is. It is also very much a part of a wider picture – across Europe and further afield – as there is growing academic interest in the way developments like these are being handled and managed. It’s of interest to anthropologists, sociologists, human geographers and people in social enterprise, among others.
International Women’s Day also reminds us that “collective action” is key. In many ways this isn’t even about women, but about human rights and equal rights and opportunities.
As Gloria Steinem, the renowned feminist, journalist and activist once said: “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
There are two big issues, as I see it, in Lewis right now.
One is the railroading of the big renewables schemes by a very small number of men (gender largely irrelevant) and the fact we have no female councillors.
I don’t for a minute believe they are connected but both flag up problems of unequal power distribution and control versus powerlessness.
It would be good if International Women’s Day could be taken as a springboard to start redressing some of that unequal power distribution – suffered by both men and women – and bringing about greater equality for all and a greater sense of autonomy, because that usually leads to improved health (both physical and mental) and better communities.
On a personal note, it would simply not be possible for me to follow the wind farm debate, in the way I do, without Rhoda. And nor would I be able to do what I do in terms of PR without another trusty sidekick – photographer Sandie Maciver. (Sandie and Rhoda are both in the main picture – Sandie is on the left.)
So a big shout out to Sandie, too, for always being willing to say “yes” to a job and always doing her utmost to get the picture. Her photographs always make my PR stories much ‘more’ – and help them get good coverage in the newspapers and online.
She also helps me out personally outwith the business arrangements, when it’s a good cause – and for that, Sandie, I owe you a massive “thank you”. If I’ve got a blog post I want to run, but don’t have a picture to go with it, Sandie always tries to help.
The best example of all has to be the time that I was going to break the story about Lewis Wind Power planning the massive offshore turbines for their Eishken and Stornoway projects.
I knew that, if I wanted to get good coverage for that story, there would need to be a picture to go along with it. Sandie dashed down the road to get me the Eishken shot before it got dark – despite having had a very bad day.
All of us women need other women we can rely on. (Make that all of us humans need other humans we can rely on.) Particularly when you’re exposed or feeling the heat or simply unable to do it all yourself.
So Happy International Women’s Day, Rhoda and Sandie! And everyone else striving to make the world, or our corner of it, a better place.
Stay mighty! xx
Thank you for your work and for that of the other women. Keep going on, all over the world. Best wishes from the middle of Europe where there’s also still a lot to do!
Thank you for being a badly needed voice for women and ordinary people in Lewis.
I work with Indigenous peoples in Canada and I see many similarities. I think the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) might apply in Lewis. Crofters might apply to the UN for status as the Sami successfully did.