IrFUW: Report prepared for the UWE Conference and AGM. Utrecht, 27-30 August 2015

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Report  Irish Federation of University Women (IrFUW) by Máire O’Connell CER, Irish Federation of University Women, 26 August 2015.

Irelandmap_image005The Irish Federation of University Women and its four associations  have again had a busy year, being involved in activities and events at local, national, regional and international levels. The following summary outlines some of the activities during the period September 2014 -August 2015.

Communication
An important focus for the IrFUW during the year has been in the area of communication. In this regard two significant developments have taken place, namely the setting up of a new up-to-date website, and the publication of a new electronic newsletter. While the Irish Federation had a newsletter in the past, the difficulty and expense of copying and sending it to all members proved unsustainable. Our new e-newsletter was launched in September 2014; it appears five times per year – in September, November, February, April and June – and is transmitted electronically to all association presidents and secretaries who in turn forward it to their members. Linked members of the Irish Federation, who do not belong to an association, receive the newsletter directly from the Irish Federation secretary.

Our new website was launched in November 2014 and provides another important channel of communication both with members and with interested outsiders. A special password-protected area, reserved for members only, contains reports of meetings and conferences, the newsletters and photographs.
These two developments have greatly increased the flow of information to members and in addition, through links to reports and information from Graduate Women International and UWE, serve to increase members’ awareness and knowledge of the international dimension of the women graduates’ organisation.

Membership
As a follow-on from the IFUW Workshop on Building Membership which had been held in Dublin in June 2014, IrFUW President Marion Gibson conducted a presentation and workshop in October on the theme of Celebrating the Past, Consolidating the Present and Reshaping the IrFUW to Meet the Challenges of the Future. Delegates worked in groups, setting goals around these themes. In the area of membership, associations committed themselves to working towards both retention and expansion of membership through better communication, networking and campus-based advertising. In this context it is also encouraging to note that the number of linked members continues to increase, with members in this category making valuable contribution to Federation activities. In fact one of our linked members is administrator of the IrFUW website. The question of a further category – that of ‘candidate graduate’ – is also being examined, with a view to increasing interest among young women in their final undergraduate year and encouraging them to become fully paid-up members after graduation.
The career series organised by Dublin University Women Graduates’ Association (Trinity College), in addition to providing a useful service has also proved an effective source of communication with and encouragement of young women graduates. Topics covered in the past year include Embracing Change in Challenging Times, (a hands-on session with Deirdre Cronnelly, CEO of AFRESH), and The Power of Public Speaking: Be Heard – Be Noticed – Be Remembered, conducted by Eamonn O’Brien, of the Reluctant Speakers Club.

IrFUW Annual Conference
The Irish Federation’s Annual Conference in October 2014 was hosted by the Galway Association of Women Graduates. The conference theme was Culture as an Integral and Accessible Part of ‘Education for All’. Those in attendance enjoyed dynamic and well illustrated talks on topics such as Culture: Oft Celebrated – Much Compromised, James Joyce’s short story The Dead: the Galway Connections, and W.B. Yeats: the local and the universal in poetry.  The importance of landscape as a repository of our cultural heritage was highlighted by Brendan Dunford, of Burrenbeo Trust, an organisation dedicated to the conservation and protection of the unique area of the Burren in Co. Clare and the education of the public on its significance as a cultural and learning landscape.

International Women’s Day
Queen’s Women Graduates Association (QWGA) marked International Women’s Day on Saturday 21 March 2015 with a screening of a DVD entitled, Peace Unveiled (Afghanistan), part of a media initiative examining the role of women in war and peace. The DVD is one of the series Women, War and Peace, highlighting the stories of women in conflict zones, which was made available to NFA’s by the International Federation of University Women (now Graduate Women International). ‘Peace Unveiled’ follows three Afghan women, one of whom provides a case study in the fight for women’s rights against the background of hard line Taliban power.
Queen’s Women Graduates invited UWE President , Edith Lommerse, to introduce the screening. She shared with delegates her personal experience of living and working as a member of the European Police Mission in a war zone amongst soldiers and close security, whilst being at risk from suicide bombers and criminal elements such as kidnappers. Fifty-four delegates attended the event in the Auditorium of the McClay Library at Queen’s University, Belfast. Representatives from Soroptimism, the Women’s Forum NI, members of other IrFUW associations and friends also joined QWGA to mark the occasion.

IrFUW International Day
Women graduates from all the Irish associations came together in Dublin on Saturday 23rd May to mark International Day with a seminar on the theme Our Troubled World. Thirty-eight delegates enjoyed presentations from speakers Miranda Jemphrey (QWGA) and Christel Moor (BFWG).
Miranda Jemphrey’s presentation, entitled Considering Change, was based on her fifteen year experience of living among the Supyire people of southern Mali, as a consequence of her work with SIL International. She focussed on the issue of female genital cutting (FGC), and looked at the process of how cultural change can be brought about. The medical, social and psychological consequences of FGC were explored, and the motivations behind the practice examined. There was an exploration of what causes change, who are the people who assist others to change, and what are the characteristics of people who bring about change. Finally the work of Tostan in Senegal was highlighted, where a large number of communities have now abandoned the practice of FGC. The movement has meanwhile spread to communities in several other African countries.

Christel Moor, a former president of the British Federation of Women Graduates, spoke about the GWI Hegg Hoffet Fund of which she is the International Convenor. The Hegg Hoffet Fund assists individual graduate women who have been displaced as a result of war, political upheaval or other serious emergencies. It provides short term grants for refresher courses, training courses, language training and other courses to assist with integration in their new countries. A history of the Fund was outlined, brought to life by a series of interesting photographs. The Fund, established in 1936, is named in honour of long term convener Mme Blanche Hegg Hoffet of Switzerland, who did significant work in raising money and distributing assistance during and after the Second World War. In addition to donations, fundraising efforts for the Fund include the proceeds of shops at conferences.

Public Speaking Competition
The IrFUW Public Speaking Competition for girls under the age of fifteen continues to be an important part of our annual activities, with local heats being held by all associations, and the national final taking place in March each year. It is the only public speaking competition for girls in this age group and as such is highly valued by both teachers and pupils.

Supporting projects through fundraising and social events
Social events — lectures, discussions, friendship meetings, social gatherings — are an important part of the annual programme in all associations. Some social events serve also to fundraise for causes espoused by the associations. In March 2015, for example, University College Dublin Women Graduates’ Association (UCD WGA) raised 4000 Euro at their annual Bridge Competition for Ruhama, the NGO which works in the area of sex-slave trafficking and prostitution. Queen’s WGA, in co-operation with the Rwandan Association of University Women, also continues to provide support for Rwandan children accessing secondary education.

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