Donegal celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) in style recently during an event attended by over 100 women at Letterkenny Women’s Centre which was co-presented by NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network.
The event, which was supported by the Donegal East Community Forum, featured addresses by local women on this year’s IWD theme of “Make It Happen” and a ceremony during which the 25-year-old Centre was re-named as the “Donegal Women’s Centre”.
The role that education has played in the struggle for women’s rights was highlighted by Mary Crossan, who returned to education as a mature student before becoming manager of the St. Johnston and Carrigans Family Resource Centre.
Education, she said, allows women “to recognise our strengths, builds confidence, and opens doors for personal development and social change. This inspired myself and other women to bring about change in our own community which I am proud to be part of. The path to social change is inspired and led by women taking that first step on a ladder that is obstructed by so many barriers, including those deeply embedded patriarchal structures that we often don’t see because they are there so long. So we climb and don’t look down, lifting others as we move up, with every step bringing other women with us.”
The importance of ensuring that the issues of Traveller, Roma, and foreign national women are included on the women’s rights agenda was stressed by Ann Friel, who is Associate Co-ordinator of Donegal Travellers Project’s Primary Health Care Project.
“For example, we need to think more about a young Traveller woman who is living on the side of the road here today in Donegal,” she said. “She’s just home from the hospital with her newborn baby without any running water or electricity. There are many Traveller women in this situation across Ireland. We need to think about Roma women, persecuted right across Europe, coming here for a better life only to find that they cannot get access to basic medical care or social welfare.”
The personal empowerment which women can experience from devoting themselves to women’s issues was addressed by Roisín Kavanagh, a member of the Centre’s Management Committee who wrote a ground-breaking 2004 report on the sexual health education needs of young women in Donegal.
“In the words of Gandhi, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” she said. “Through my most cherished involvement as a volunteer with Letterkenny Women’s Centre and as a member of management I was given the opportunity to do this, to be part of something I am passionate about, a service that was very badly needed in Donegal. I had the privilege of being part of developing and setting up sexual health services for young women living in Donegal -- the i-lash Drop-in Clinic and the Sexual Health Education Project. I believe not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”
These services are among many currently offered by the Centre, including a Women’s Health and Family Planning Clinic plus a wide range of counselling services, support groups, and educational courses.
“Over the past 25 years some of the services have expanded throughout the county,” Centre Chairperson Mary Kerr told a standing-room-only audience at a re-naming ceremony in the Centre’s spacious upstairs meeting room, including a number of women who were involved in its earliest beginnings. “We were aware that people were thinking that our services were only available to women in the Letterkenny area, so changing our name seemed the next logical step in offering outreach services to rural women who are at high risk of social exclusion and marginalisation.
“Therefore it gives me great pleasure in officially launching our new name…Donegal Women’s Centre!” she concluded to enthusiastic applause all around.