Donegal Women’s Network celebrate 20 years

Over the past 20 years NCCWN-DWN has campaigned on a range of women’s issues

Julie Costello

Reporter:

Julie Costello

Two-and-a-half years ago a young woman named Danielle Bonner walked into the Donegal Town office of NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network (NCCWN-DWN) and asked how she could get involved in the women’s rights organisation.
An hour later the Laghey resident found she was a new member of the group’s Editorial Committee.
Several weeks on and she became a published author when the Donegal Democrat ran an article she’d written for NCCWN-DWN’s “Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices” page in the paper.
And recently Danielle has been presenting an NCCWN-DWN “Introduction to Human Rights and Gender Equality” workshop for Transition Year students throughout Donegal as a project of her new “Equality Aware” consultancy business.
“I want to say a big thank you to the Network,” Danielle said as a featured speaker at NCCWN-DWN’s 20th anniversary celebration last week. “I wouldn’t have written my first article or set up my own business if it wasn’t for the confidence that I’ve gotten from the Network and Finola, my second mum!”
Danielle’s enthusiasm was echoed many times during the celebration by women who have participated in NCCWN-DWN through its women’s rights campaigns, awareness-raising programmes, and support for women’s groups throughout Donegal.
The organisation was started at Letterkenny Women’s Centre in 1996 with the aim of highlighting the reality of women’s lives in Donegal and to promote social justice, equality, and women’s human rights.
In 2010 the Network joined 16 women’s advocacy organisations nationwide to form the National Collective of Community Women’s Networks (NCCWN). “Being a member of a national network has enhanced our ability to have a voice for women at national level,” NCCWN-DWN Co-ordinator Finola Brennan said during a presentation that she gave at the event, which was held at the Donegal Town Presbyterian Church.
Over the past 20 years NCCWN-DWN has campaigned on a range of women’s issues, including the need to increase women’s representation in Irish politics, to revise policies which discriminate against women, and to end domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking. The group also runs leadership trainings for women and a support group for women with disabilities.
Part of the group’s effectiveness in identifying issues of importance to Donegal women stems from the diversity of its Advisory Group, which includes representatives from Donegal Carers’ Association, Donegal Centre for Independent Living, Donegal Family Resource Centres, Donegal Intercultural Platform, Donegal Travellers Project, Donegal Women’s Centre, Donegal Women’s Domestic Violence Service, and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association.
Another aspect of the group’s success is the commitment of its staff, including Administrator Roisín Cannon and Community Worker Agatha Masterson.
“Roisín and I have worked together for the past 15 years,” Finola said. “I really value having her by my side, for that is how we work, shoulder to shoulder. We each bring different qualities and skills, and together we are a strong team, both passionate about our work.”
Additional speakers at the event, which was supported by Donegal Local Development Company (DLDC), included journalist and author Susan McKay, Gráinne Rua Ní Ghallachóir of the Tobar na mBan ICA Guild, and motivational speaker Helen Kelly.
“DLDC would like to congratulate Donegal Women’s Network on their 20th anniversary and for all of their great work through the years,” said Lourda Nee of DLDC. “We are delighted to support this event through SICAP.”
“I’ve been part of the Network on and off for years,” said Paula Ryle of Donegal Town, who was among 50 or so participants in the celebration. “They’re very supportive, including if you just want to get out of the house and meet other women. Finola’s one in a million.”
“The Network reminds us women that it’s OK to voice our opinions and our needs,” said Veronica Gillen of Donegal Town, who attended the event with her 93-year-old mother, Bridget. “Meeting up gives us more encouragement as a group.”
“The Network has been so important for the women of Donegal,” said Aurelie Kelly of the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Women’s Group. “I’ve learned so much through participating in different campaigns with the group. They bring back what’s happening nationally to us locally. I just hope they will continue for at least another 20 years, if not more.”