NCCWN-DWN’s 20th anniversary

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 Mountcharles resident found she was a new member of the group’s Editorial Committee.      Several weeks on and she’d become 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 at schools throughout the county 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 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 festive celebration by women who have participated in NCCWN-DWN through its women’s rights campaigns, education and awareness-raising programmes, and support for women’s groups throughout the county.      The organisation started in 1996 as “Donegal Women’s Network” at the Letterkenny Women’s Centre with the aim of highlighting the reality of women’s lives in Donegal, as well as 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 Coalition of Community Women’s Networks (the NCCWN part of the name). “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 celebration, which was supported by Donegal Local Development Company.      Over the past 20 years the group has campaigned on a number of women’s issues, including the need to increase the number of women in Irish politics, to revise government policies which discriminate against women, and to end domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking. NCCWN-DWN also runs educational programmes and leadership training for women, as well as a “Time Out for You” 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, the Donegal Centre for Independent Living, Donegal Family Resource Centres, Donegal Intercultural Platform, Donegal Women’s Domestic Violence Service, Donegal Travellers Project, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, and Letterkenny CDP’s START Project.      Another aspect of the group’s success is the hard work and commitment of its staff, including Administrator Roisin Cannon and Community Worker Agatha Masterson.       “Roisin and I have worked together for the past fifteen 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 featured speakers at the event included NCCWN-DWN Chairperson Carol McCrossan, well-known national journalist Susan McKay, Gráinne Ruan ni Ghallachoir of the Tobar na mBhan ICA Guild in Glencolmcille, and Donegal motivational speaker Helen Kelly.       “I’ve been part of the Network on and off for years,” said Paula Ryle of Donegal Town, who was among the 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.”