He­roes on the cat­walk high­light is­sues of in­equal­ity

The Kerryman (North Kerry) - - OPINION - Fr Michael Com­mane

ON Fri­day my at­ten­tion was caught by a young man at the the door of a phar­macy. It seemed as if he had been barred from the phar­macy and wanted to get into the shop. He looked like a man who was in a ter­ri­ble state of mind and body. Drug ad­dic­tion was writ­ten all over his face. Drug ad­dic­tion is a scourge and does ex­tra­or­di­nary dam­age to the lives of too many peo­ple.

On Thurs­day Oc­to­ber 12 there was a fash­ion show in Dublin’s Lit­tle Green Street or­gan­ised by SAOL, a com­mu­nity project fo­cus­ing on im­prov­ing the lives of women af­fected by ad­dic­tion and poverty. SAOL is the Ir­ish word for life and the acro­nym stands for Seasamhacht, Ábal­tacht, Obair, Léann; in English, Sta­bil­ity, Abil­ity, Work, Learn­ing. SAOL pro­vides cre­ative and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes for women and their chil­dren. It em­pow­ers women to high­light is­sues of so­cial jus­tice and equal­ity, and gives them ways of cop­ing that most peo­ple take for granted.

The fash­ion show to which I was in­vited was a chronol­ogy of the lives of poor women in the 20th cen­tury. Every decade of the 1900s was por­trayed on the cat­walk with mod­els wear­ing clothes of the time. All the clothes for the show were sourced from se­cond-hand shops. The project was a his­tory les­son for the re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts in that they were able to learn so much about the past from the clothes they mod­elled. The clothes were mod­elled by re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts and staff mem­bers and stu­dents.

Any­time we hear the word cat­walk we im­me­di­ately think of fa­mous mod­els in front of the world’s glit­terati and me­dia. For the women on the Lit­tle Green Street cat­walk it was no easy task, in­deed they are he­roes. Many of them are vic­tims of hard­ship and suf­fer­ing and have not of­ten been at the re­ceiv­ing end of pos­i­tive com­ment.

It was my first time to at­tend a fash­ion show. Ev­ery­thing was in place, the lights dimmed, with spot­lights beam­ing down on the cat­walk. The mod­els el­e­gantly told the story of the lives, times and hard­ships of 20th Cen­tury women.

The fash­ion show high­lighted themes of in­equal­ity, dis­crim­i­na­tion and men­tal health, through a range of clothes de­signed and made spe­cially for the show. As late as the 1970s a wo­man could not sit on a jury un­less she was over 30, or was a landowner; she could not col­lect chil­dren’s al­lowance, the form had to be signed by her hus­band; she could not own her own home, nor could she ob­tain a re­strain­ing or­der, and she could not drink a pint in a pub. They are some of the is­sues that di­vided men and women. We still have a long way to go.

This cat­walk may not have had the world’s top mod­els on it but the women who did model the clothes man­aged in a pow­er­ful way to paint a pic­ture of the suf­fer­ing that poorer women ex­pe­ri­enced.

I was sit­ting be­side a young wo­man with her 18-month-old child. While a re­cov­er­ing drug-ad­dict she got help from SAOL. She has won the bat­tle against drugs, did a so­ci­ol­ogy and so­cial pol­icy de­gree at Trin­ity Col­lege and is now back at SAOL sup­port­ing and work­ing with women who are re­cov­er­ing from ad­dic­tion. I hope that man I saw out­side the phar­macy will find his way to a sup­port group.

The SAOL web­site is saol­pro­ject.ie. Con­tact them 01 8553391.

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