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‘No one group owns the family’

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2000

Annual Conference
National Women's Council of Ireland
Burlington Hotel Dublin

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Germaine Greer

'No one group owns the family' declared Gráinne Healy, Chairwoman of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI). Ms. Healy was speaking at the Annual Conference of the NWCI. 'We all come from a variety of family set ups, whether traditional, non-traditional, blood-bound, one or two parent or families of choice. We all make up the community and need the support of society for the choices we make as citizens and social units of this society' she continued. 'The arcadian viewpoint of the Irish family in the past ignores the reality from which many Irish people have come. Poverty, forced emigration, long term unemployment, appalling housing, childhood killer diseases, sexual abuse in many families and institutions are true elements of the experience of Irish women and families in the past' added Ms. Healy. She went on to say that in looking to the future we must not use rosy lenses. 'Women want to leave the dark days behind but for many women especially those in marginalised groups these dark days remain today' stated Ms. Healy.

'We must work with a vision which seeks to allow each of us to choose the most supportive, loving family and community set-up we can construct. We can all envisage how we would like that future to be - today is an opportunity to decide on the important essences and principles which will allow us to celebrate and support different routes to happiness and fulfilment' she said. 'As Adrienne Rich reminds us there is no one truth; there are many truths. One truth must not aim to annihilate another' she continued.

'Gender equality and women's rights or feminism is not about eliminating differences between men and women. It is about eliminating inequality. Feminism is, I believe, grounded in a vision of Irish society where all citizens, including women live their lives experiencing inclusion, justice and equality as a right and not by grace and favour' she declared.

'For women's equality and women's rights to be fully established we cannot separate out issues of income adequacy and wealth redistribution from challenging notions of 'universal' family structures. We must also challenge the dominant notions which hide homophobic, racist, classist or ageist ideology' posed Ms. Healy. 'We cannot stand back from the need for stronger representative democratic practices, which are accountable and participative. How can women's voices and experiences be heard if those with the lived experiences are not at the tables or being supported in their organisations?' she concluded. She welcomed Dr. Germaine Greer as the keynote speaker at the Conference. She also welcomed to the Conference, Consultants, Kelleher Associates and workshop facilitator, Joni Crone.

'We are pleased to be here today to present an interim overview of Framing the Future our research on women's community groups and women's voluntary organisations commissioned by NWCI' stated Ms. Patricia Kelleher of Kelleher Associates. She explained that the brief of the study is to examine the quantity and nature of women's community based and issue based groups in order to identify a set of integrated strategies and supports for women's empowerment and participation in decision-making, service provision and policy formation at local and regional level.

'The study is centrally concerned with women's community based groups and women's voluntary organisations. It is however located in the broader context of the women's sector as a whole. In the introduction to the study the important role played by women trade unionists, women in business and women in third level education is outlined. The contribution made by organisations such as the Irish Housewives Association (IHA), the Irish Countrywomen's Association (ICA) and Irish Widows Association (all affiliates of NWCI) is also highlighted' continued Ms. Carmel Kelleher.

She revealed that the study identifies that there are 2,500 community-based women's organisations in the 26 counties with approximately 75,000 women involved in the sector.

'We are still in the process of gathering and analysing the data and the draft final report will be completed by the end of January 2001' concluded Ms. Kelleher.