Mo Mowlam: A Women's History Month Hero For All To Admire

by Carla McCormack

This Women’s History Month, I remember Mo Mowlam: someone who will always be a hero to me.

Many people reading this will not know whom Mo Mowlam is. She was born in England in 1949 and was a political lecturer in the United States in the 70s.

She was a Labour Party Member of Parliament between 1987 and 2001, and also Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between 1997 and 1999.

In 1997, I was 12 years old and Northern Ireland was finally nearing the end of what is euphemistically known as "the troubles," which meant more than 30 years of political violence and more than 3,000 killings/deaths.

I fall in that middle generation between "the troubles" and "peace." I don’t remember much of what life was like before the Good Friday Agreement.

I have memories of hearing two bombs go off, soldiers on the street and a considerable number of security scares, but this is just normal day life when you don’t know any different.

Certainly, my experiences of the violence in Northern Ireland came nowhere close to those of my parents, who grew up at the height of the conflict and experienced the real terror that existed on the streets of Northern Ireland.

So, how does Mo fit into all of this? To start, Mo is the first politician of whom I had any memories in Northern Ireland.

Sure, I saw Tony Blair on the TV and even John Major before him, but those people were in London.

This was my home, literally minutes from where I lived.

At age 12, politics were starting to become interesting to me and peace negotiations stepped up a pace.

Northern Ireland was quickly heading toward a peace settlement and there was a female politician at the center of it.

Mo was Northern Ireland’s first-ever female Secretary of State, but she in no way let that hold her back.

She worked tirelessly on the peace process, and went so far as to visit political prisoners in the Maze to try and push the peace process forward.

That she was able to speak face to face to these people, and in a prison, shocked many, but for Mo, it all seemed to be business as usual.

Following Mo’s visit to the jail, the political representatives announced that they would rejoin the peace talks and shortly after, the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

Soon after this, Tony Blair removed Mo from office.

This was a move that would prove to be unpopular with many in the Labour Party in Northern Ireland and for me, a 12-year-old with a passion for politics and a belief that anything was possible.

The demotion of my hero was devastating.

Mo’s contribution to the peace process alone was significant, but what makes it even more incredible was that she did it all this while facing personal tragedy.

In 1997, Mo was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and while she was working for peace in Northern Ireland, she was also fighting for her health.

I’m not sure that many of us would have the strength to tackle a brain tumor, let alone continue to act as an MP, be a Secretary of State and broker one the biggest peace deals in the past 50 years.

Oh, and of course, she had her own family life to balance as well.

As a young girl, Mo taught me so many things. Through her, I learned that women could be involved in high-level politics and that there was nothing a man could do that a woman couldn’t.

She taught me that change was possible and to never give up on something in which you believe. Mo’s strength in facing her own battles while taking on Northern Ireland’s politicians and paramilitaries should be a lesson to us all in what we can achieve when we work at it.

On a wider level, I also owe Mo a thank you for giving me a passion for politics, social justice and most importantly, a safer country in which to grow up.

Sadly, Mo passed away in 2005 and while I never got to meet her, she is someone who I will always aspire to be like.

We need more women like Mo and I hope that by telling her story this Women’s History Month, we can inspire others to make a difference.