In 1973 a group of feminists, chaired by Hilda Tweedy of the Irish Housewives Association (IHA), set up the Council for the Status of Women (CSW), with the goal of gaining equality for women. It was an umbrella for women's groups, run by a voluntary committee, and funded by subscriptions of £ 5 a year per group. The CSW met in rooms provided by the IHA.
This was the year Ireland entered the European Union. The Irish government had to abandon the marriage bar - under which women had to leave their jobs when they got married - and failed in its attempt to avoid introducing equal pay. The Commission on the Status of Women, set up following pressure from women's groups in 1970, had published its first report in 1972, and the CSW undertook to campaign for its recommendations to be implemented.
In 1979, the CSW got its first grant from the government. Its projects included managing the National Women's Talent Bank and hosting the National Young Women's Forum. In 1989, it produced a Charter for Women's Rights and in 1990 took part in the 2nd Commission for the Status of Women. During the 1990's its activities included supporting projects funded by the European Social Fund, and running Women and Leadership Programmes and forums. In 1995, following a strategic review, it changed its name to the National Women's Council of Ireland.
NWCI has built its membership base to include 160 groups, most of them in the Republic, but with a growing number of Northern groups. There has been a growing concentration on marginalised women, poverty, violence against women and social partnership. An over reliance on government funding in recent years is being addressed, as cut backs have already led to the loss of several jobs and the curtailment of important projects on social welfare and pensions.
Well known feminists associated with the CSW/NWCI over the years include Hilda Tweedy, Monica Barnes, Hazel Boland, Clara Clarke, Caroline McCamley, Frances Fitzgerald, Carmel Foley, Anne Taylor, Noreen Byrne, Anne Marie Gill, Katherine Zappone, and Grainne Healy. Joanna McMinn was director for 8 years until 2009 followed by Susan McKay until January 2012. Orla O'Connor is the current Director. The current Chairperson is Margaret Martin.
In 2014 NWCI was able to achieve a long term goal of the organisation by purchasing its own offices. 100 North King Street is now NWCI's home and a resource for the women of ireland. Over the next years, we hope to increase our membership substantially. Solidarity among women has never been more important.