Heroes on the catwalk highlight issues of inequality
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.