Women of the Borderlands
A Walking Biographical Study of Women’s Everyday Life on the UK/Irish Border funded through the HEA North-South Partnership
Despite the political centrality and symbolic importance of the UK-Irish border throughout the last century, its gendered impact, particularly on the everyday lives of women, has received relatively little attention. This research represents the first feminist sociological account of border life on the island of Ireland from the overlooked perspectives of women living in border communities. Women of the Borderlands: A Walking Biographical Study of Women’s Everyday Life on the UK/Irish Border (WoBLa) adopts a ‘Walking Interview as a Biographical Method (WIBM) approach to conduct twenty-five individual, in-depth, face-to-face, ‘walking interviews’ to explore women’s relationship with the border during the Troubles and since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
These biographical interviews are mobile and will see participants take the researcher on journeys that mimic their routine border crossings taken for work, to visit or care for family, for leisure, to run errands, or other ordinary journeys taken as part of everyday life. Walking is a multi-sensory research tool that allows a depth of understanding and analysis not possible with more traditional forms of interview techniques. By viewing research as a mobile activity, this method can uncover the significance of place, context, and spatial belonging as markers for meaning in our everyday lives. WIBM enables us to explore to what extent patterns of (im)mobility are gendered in the border area and if there is evidence of a legacy linking the historical impact of the border to issues in the present.
WoBLa is led by Dr Theresa O’Keefe of the Department of Sociology & Criminology at UCC and Dr Niall Gilmartin, of the School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences, Ulster University, both recognised experts in gender and conflict zones. Their research builds upon existing international literature and contributes important new insights to global conversations on gender and borders as well as further development of walking biographical research methods. The project’s Advisory Committee will be cross-border by design and include representatives from a number of women’s groups and four leading international experts in the field of study - Professor Maggie O’Neill (UCC), Professor Nuala Finnegan (UCC), Professor Fidelma Ashe (UU), and Dr Aileen O’Carroll, (Maynooth). Professor O’Neill is the leading expert and pioneer of Walking as a Biographical Method and an internationally recognised scholar of gender and borders. Professor Finnegan is an international expert on gender and violence in borderlands while Professor Ashe is amongst the top academics in the field of gender relations in Northern Ireland. Dr Aileen O’Carroll is an expert in biographical research, qualitative data archiving and is a manager for the Digital Repository of Ireland and Irish Qualitative Data Archive.
The primary objectives of the project include the collection, dissemination and public archival of the untold stories of women and UK-Irish border life. It will document the gendered impact and challenges of the border on rural women’s lives historically with regards to issues such as fear, safety and security, lost/limited opportunities, and issues of (im)mobility. Research participants will be selected to reflect the diversity of border life and ensure representation from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as migrant women originally from outside Ireland and those who do not identity with either of the ‘two dominant traditions’.
WoBLa will showcase the gendered impacts of border life on the island of Ireland through the creation of a ground-breaking Women of the UK/Irish Borderlands Archive. This will be a vital resource to inform future research, policy, service providers, & NGOs on the legacy of border & future strategic planning for present and future challenges. The research will facilitate constructive dialogue about our shared future by holding a cross-community public forum on gender and the border in addition to publishing a collaborative report produced with input from participants and stakeholders, which will inform policy and practitioner approaches to meaningfully address the legacy of these issues today and help build consensus around a shared future on the island of Ireland.
By documenting unheard voices and experiences, the project’s research objectives and outcomes reflect a truly inclusive and comprehensive ‘shared island’ approach and align with broader goals to foster peaceful, just, equal and inclusive societies. At a time when the subject of the border and its future have never been so prominent and contested, it is essential to ensure that women’s diverse experiences are central to all conversations regarding the border and the future of this shared island.