Scotland’s women have been standing up for their beliefs for centuries!

Gerda Stevenson is a woman of very many talents: actor, playwright, director, poet, singer, song-writer, to name but a few. Now she’s turned again to poetry to draw our attention to the lives and achievements – as well as the hardships and challenges – of sixty-seven amazing Scottish women. Women who deserve our admiration and respect. But first of all we need to know of their existence, for too often women are written out of history and allowed to become invisible.

Quines is a powerful collection of fifty-seven poems that will make you laugh, cry, rage, nod in agreement, wonder, smile and most definitely want to find out more. Poems that are accessible and manage to distill the essence of their subjects in a few short lines. And that’s a remarkable achievement in its own right!

Gerda and her husband Aonghas MacNeacail

I had the privilege of visiting Gerda to talk to her about the book: about how and why it came about; why she chose the women she did; and in what ways the women she writes about reflect her own hopes and aspirations. Like all of us, Gerda’s outlook on life is in part shaped by her family and upbringing: by her attitude to language, to poetry, to those around her, to those who perhaps see life differently. All this has gone into the mix that has given birth to this remarkable book of poems.

Her selection is highly personal. It’s not an academic tome, but rather for all of us. It’s a look across the centuries at the lives of women from all walks of life, from fish-gutters to queens, from missionaries to politicians, from the Iron Age to the present – and throughout it all is the growing realisation that time and history don’t really separate our experiences as women as much as we might have thought.

Quines: poems in tribute to women of Scotland was four years in the writing. Much reading, researching and tracking down of sources went into getting to know the women she wanted to write about. Women whom she found inspiring and hopes others will find inspirational too.

I certainly found the book inspiring and a reminder that despite life’s many hardships, particularly those faced by women, both in the past and today, standing up for your beliefs is something Scottish women have been doing from the word go. And in some remarkable ways – even to the extent of laying down their lives for others.

I’m grateful that Gerda has brought these women out of the shadows and back into the light. And we need as much light as we can get these days! But I also feel strongly that it’s Gerda’s own strength of character and determination that has achieved this. Her life and beliefs are inspirational too. She’s as much one of these Quines as any of her subjects. And I hope that’s what my article conveys.

Indeed, the March edition of iScot is a celebration of amazing women. And International Women’s Day this year has a special significance as 2018 marks the centenary of the first women in this country to get the vote. There’s still plenty to be done, but at least we’re heading in the right direction – and Quines might just be the bright star that leads others onto this path!

“Even if we lose our Lives” – Amnesty International and the struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan

Imagine not being able to read or write.  Not because you are unintelligent or too stupid to learn, but because in your country it is forbidden.  Not forbidden for all, though – but only forbidden for women.  Imagine having no rights, having no say in your own life.  No say in who you marry.  No say in your health.  Imagine facing violence and brutality on a daily basis – not just from strangers but also from the people you should be able to trust to care for you, the people who should be there to protect you, not to harm you. Fathers, brothers, uncles, even some of the other women around you: who in an istant can turn on you and inflict pain and humiliation.  And there’s nothing you can do about it.  No safe place to go.  No-one to turn to.  No authorities there to help.

That’s still the fate of far too many women in far too many countries of the world today.  But none more so than in present-day Afghanistan, regarded as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman.

From the word go life is harsh: denied education, 87 percent of Afghan women are  illiterate.  Nearly 80 percent are forced into marriage, with over half of all girls married before they are 19 and very many to much older men.  Giving birth without medical help has led to a maternal mortality rate of 400 in every 100,000 – while here in the UK the ratio is only 8. Domestic violence is almost the norm and redress in the courts virtually non-existent.

Under circumstances such as these, you would expect that any women in a position to leave this horrendous situation would do so.  Yet surprisingly there are women who choose to stay and choose to work and fight towards bettering the lives of Afghan women.

Through the play “Even if we Lose our Lives” Amnesty International tells the stories of three such women. It’s challenging and horrific and moving and shocking and wonderful in turn.  The bravery of these women – and the husbands and children who support them – is at times beyond our understanding.  But they fight on.  This play offers insights into into their lives and actions, told through their own words.

St Marks Amnesty Group in Edinburgh recently staged this work and by doing so transformed the all-too-often faceless and nameless people of Afghanistan into real people, suffering and struggling to make their world even a little bit better.  Their humanity and courage is incredible.  Staged by Alison Martin, Hollie Ruddick and Emily Ingram, this is a play to look out for.

Follow this link to see what you can do to support women in Afghanistan:  Women’s rights in Afghanistan: Amnesty International

And for details of the content of the play see the St Marks Group play website: Even if we lose our Lives