Yearly Archive:2019

ByWRDA Communications

SWAN and UNISON are pleased to be able to host a free FGM conference in Belfast

Title: Promoting a multi-agency approach to share best practice of managing Female Genital Mutilation, in Belfast Northern Ireland

Tuesday 28 May 2019 at Unison Galway House, 165 York Street, Belfast BT15 1A

Audience Police, Health and Social Care Professionals, Teachers and voluntary sector

The UK had it is first ever FGM prosecution on 1 February 2019. The perpetrator got a sentence of 13 years. This conference shares multi agency partnership practice from the UK that works!



The main aim of the conference is to raise awareness. The schedule includes guest speakers from the UK, that include the, Institute of Policing, Essex police several multiagency disciplines, all of whom have experience of dealing with some or all aspects of Female Genital Mutilation and its associated impact upon victims, families and communities. The conference will conclude with a panel based question and answer session.



09.00 – 09.30 Registration and coffee

09.30 – 09.35 Opening and Welcome

Setting the scene of the day Angie Marriott Director of Diversity Employment Solutions Ltd

09.35 – 09:50 Unisons Campaign in Challenging Inequalities

Patricia McKeown Regional Officer Unison

09.50 – 10.20 PSNI Challenges in policing FGM (speaker)

10.20 – 10.45 Addressing women’s inequalities in NI

Paula Bradshaw MLO

10:45 – 11.15 Seeking Independent Advice

Simon Price Institute of Policing, University of Chester

11.15 – 11.45 PC Operation Limelight – Safeguarding

PC Fiona Clements Essex Police

11.45 – 12.15 Challenges in Safeguarding and Reporting FGM

Angie Marriott Director of Diversity Employment Solutions Ltd

12.15 – 13.00 Lunch

13.00 13.20 Belfast NI Children’s Safeguarding Board (speaker to be named)

13:20 – 14.00 Voice of an FGM survivor

Kemi Ajayi (Mental Health Nurse)

14.00. 14.20 Engaging with African Communities

Jean Anderson One Woman at a Time (OWAT) UK Aderonke African Women’s Network Belfast

14.20 -14.50 SWAN FGM Project funded by Awards for All

Sahra Mahmuud & Angie Marriott (SWAN)

14.50 -15.40 Panel Debate and Discussion

Simon Price, Angie Marriott, Fiona Clements,

15.40 Chairs closing remarks


To book a place please contact

Marianne Buick Unison:



Number: 07881220166


There are limited places available, please book early if you would like to attend the day.


“There are over 170,000 Female Genital Mutilation survivors living in the UK” (NHS England, 2017)


We look forward to seeing you on the day


ByWRDA Communications

Women’s Voices Then and Now – Celebrating Women’s Stories from 1916 to 1923 – featuring Constance and Her Friends and Grace and Joe by Mary Moynihan, presented by Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company

Smashing Times are delighted to announce a performance of Constance and Her Friends and Grace and Joe at the Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham, on 22 May 2019.


Where:                 The Pearse Museum, Saint Enda’s Park, Grange Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

When:                  Wednesday 22 May 2019, 7.30pm


Book for this exciting event via by clicking here


In Constance and Her Friends, by Mary Moynihan, Constance Markievicz and her friends, Helena Moloney, Margaret Skinnider and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, reflect on memories of the 1916 Rising, the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, their time in prison, and the suffrage movement. Constance and Her Friends is performed by Megan O’Malley and directed by Dr Eric Weitz, Associate Professor of Drama, TCD. This work is inspired by the writings of Constance Markievicz, with poetry excerpts by Eva Gore Booth and original testimony including an adaptation from Doing My Bit for Ireland by Margaret Skinnider.


Grace and Joe sees Grace Evelyn Gifford tell the story of her time with Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the leaders executed after the 1916 Easter Rising and the youngest signatory to the Irish proclamation. It relates how they were married in Kilmainham Gaol chapel seven hours before his execution. Grace reflects on her experiences as a woman in the new Irish state. Written and directed by Mary Moynihan, this piece is based on writings and witness statements from Joseph Mary Plunkett and Grace Gifford, and is performed by Carla Ryan.


The performances will be followed by a post-show discussion Women’s Voices: Then and Now involving historians Dr Margaret Ward and Sinéad McCoole. The lives of the women featured in the performances will be discussed and the relevance of such stories of pioneering women to today’s political climate.


Come along to enjoy this exciting performance and post-show panel discussion celebrating the lives of women in Irish history from 1916 to 1923 and women’s voices today.


For further information please visit the Smashing Times website or contact the Smashing Times office on or call us on +353 (0)1 865 6613


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‘Fantastic performance which really brought the character to life and was a reminder of the significant role women have played in forming the Ireland of today’. Fidelma Keogh, audience member


‘I absolutely adored the performance. Megan was wonderful and I loved hearing about the history of such incredible Irish women.’ Margaret Toomey, audience and company member


‘’Thanks so much for joining us yesterday, I really enjoyed the panel discussion and Megan’s performance and the audience did too, we had great feedback!’’ Aine Beamish, Leargas


 ‘Excellent and so informative.’ Betty Quirk, audience member


‘Excellent acting and the research is superb.’ K.G. Doyle, audience member


‘Superb acting and singing, very powerful portrayal of women in history. Love to see more.’ A. Dillon, audience member


‘I have found their performances to be of a very high standard and well researched. Their performances have also always encouraged conversation and debate amongst our audiences and have played an important role in highlighting relevant issues and events from the past and present.’ Ronan O’Donnell, Senior Community Officer, Dublin City Council


Dr Margaret Ward

Dr Margaret Ward is Honorary Senior Lecturer in History at Queen’s University, Belfast. She is a former Director of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency. She is a feminist historian, with a particular interest in the contribution of Irish women to political movements in the 20th century. Her latest book is Hanna Sheehy Skeffington: Suffragette and Sinn Feiner, her memoirs and political writings, UCD Press, 2017. Her updated biography Fearless Woman: Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Feminism and the Irish Revolution is forthcoming from the UCD Press, 2019.


Sinéad McCoole

Sinéad McCoole has written extensively in the area of modern Irish History, with a focus on the role of women. Her books include Hazel, A Life of Lady Lavery, Guns and Chiffon, No Ordinary Women and Easter Widows. Her work has spanned domains of academic research and as practitioner in the area of Irish culture, arts and history. As a Museum Director, Curator, and Author she has brought academic research to life for the public through the selection and presentation of documents, artefacts and costumes.


Curator of exhibitions both in Ireland and the US, she has worked for museum designers, book publishers, multi-media companies, national cultural institutions as well as in the public and civil service. She was Curatorial and Historical Advisor to the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme. She has contributed to wider deliberations on commemoration during the Decade of Centenaries as a member since its inception of the Government’s Expert Advisory Group on the Decade of Commemorations 2012-2022. Currently she has curated an exhibition to commemorating the centenary of Irish women in politics and public life, a ‘pop up women’s museum’ as part of the Commemorations Unit of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which has been on show in Leinster and Munster, and is currently in Ulster. It will be heading to Connaught before returning to Leinster in 2020.

ByWRDA Communications

The Abortion Pill, Women’s Rights and Policy Reform in Northern Ireland – A Summary

As part of the programme of events for International Women’s Day 2019 WRDA attended a conference on the 8th March. The conference focussed on research into self-managed abortions in Northern Ireland using pills and how the proverbial genie is out of the bottle. It began with Professor Sally Sheldon from the Law School at the University of Kent introducing the law around abortion pills. She highlighted the criminal laws which currently operate in Northern Ireland; the Offences against the Person Act 1861, Rex v. Bourne 1938 and finally the DHSSPSNI Guidance for HSC professionals on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland 2016; all of which allow abortion only where the life of the mother is threatened.

Professor Sheldon discussed how self-managed abortions create challenges for existing legal frameworks and essentially ‘how can the state control swallowing?’ it was also argued that criminal prohibitions cannot be justified on the basis of women’s health. The supplying of abortion pills to women in Northern Ireland is more frequently coming from two online collectives with reputable suppliers and accurate information, which operate legally in their base countries. EU free movement provisions can be used as an argument to protect access to abortion pills. One of the collectives reported supplying pills to 1,748 women on the island of Ireland in 2016.

Abortion pills are effective, often easy to obtain and are unlikely to result in complications and therefore can be used without a third party. The criminal prohibitions associated with abortion are difficult to enforce in the case of pills because it is hard for prosecutors to confirm and prove pills have been taken. These prohibitions actually impede public health goals and ignore the evidence of the safety of telemedical abortion services. The current law creates conditions of isolation and secrecy which can be a deterrence from seeking professional healthcare. Prosecutions in NI are selective, indicative of the fact that the law in its current state is unenforceable.

There was also a focus on trends in abortion statistics and public attitudes. The trends show that the number of women accessing abortions in England and Wales has been steadily declining from 1343 in 2007 to peak at 919 in 2017 and of those travelling 66% underwent a surgical procedure rather than a medical one, probably due to the delay in planning and receiving care. The trends also demonstrate that for many women travelling abroad is simply not an option for many reasons e.g.) situations of domestic abuse or caring responsibilities.

The most robust survey of public attitudes to abortion in Northern Ireland is the NI life and times survey. The representative sample of 1200 revealed strong support for abortion reform overall, especially in cases of severe medical illness or threat to the mother’s physical or mental health. There was very little support for criminalisation, with 70% of participants believing abortion is a matter of regulation not criminal law. Those in support of criminalisation are statistically likely to be members of the Democratic Unionist Party, Attend church at least once per month, and are less likely to have a degree. There was similarity in the views of men and women and of Catholics and Protestants respectively.

The CEDAW Committee has previously challenged the UK government with state non-compliance regarding reproductive rights on several occasions (1999, 2008, and 2013) however in 2010, there was a submission to the CEDAW committee under CEDAW Optional Protocol to hold an inquiry into access to abortion in the jurisdiction.  It was granted and in 2018, the results were published. The inquiry stated that the ‘UK can’t invoke internal agreements e.g. Belfast agreement to justify its failure to revise NI laws that violate CEDAW’.

When Participants were asked why they had sought an abortion, 4 out of 5 participants gave at least one reason and 55% gave more than one reason. Another question involved the positives and negatives of seeking a self-managed abortion, these included: being at home, not having to travel, not having to take time off work or rearrange caring responsibilities. Negatives were; the fear of the unknown, the pain and the fact that it is illegal here.

Overall, the findings of this research were supportive of the calls to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences against the Person Act. They found that there is an urgent need for authorities here to ensure that all women know they can access medical assistance without fear of the police becoming involved. The illegality of abortion doesn’t act as a deterrent but is acutely damaging to women’s physical and mental health. Criminalisation is also not compatible with other social policy developments here e.g. lack of free childcare. The research also found that there will always be women who can’t travel for an abortion. As a result, the two online collectives previously mentioned are putting the power into the hands of the service user by providing more than just a pill (advice and support).


Article by Caitlín Miskimmon (WRDA Intern)

ByWRDA Communications

Working in a ‘man’s world’ – Do we have it equal?

I knew from a young age that I was destined to go into a technical career.  I’d always shown a particular interest in science and maths and hated languages and art with a passion.  I loved problem solving and playing with my brother’s Lego and Meccano and I frequently transported my Barbie around in an action man army Jeep and motorcycle.  When picking my school subjects I didn’t need to think much about my choices and settled on maths, chemistry, physics and English.

I looked into what to study and was drawn to Chemical Engineering and I started my course at Heriot Watt in 1998.  I loved the course and graduated in 2003 with a first class MEng in Chemical Engineering with Pharmaceutical Chemistry.  I then began my career with Pfizer in Kent within the engineering department.  I started with a naivety that being female wouldn’t make any difference, but the difference was there.

It started in my work placements where I remember an operator asking me why I was studying engineering anyway as I should be getting married and having kids and looking after my husband.  I saw it in my early days as a graduate engineer where I was treated differently to the male graduate I started with.  The difference in treatment didn’t come from a bad place, but I simply had to work harder to engage technically with male engineers.  There is a certain look a man gives a woman when they can engage in discussions of a technical nature.  I’ve found also that male engineers would be more helpful towards me than my male colleague.  Kind of like an engineering version of holding a door open for a lady, but in many ways there was an undertone of them wanting to do things for me instead of engaging me like an equal.

I was very lucky to have a fantastic female mentor who helped me gain my chartered engineer status.  She was an extremely competent engineer with a great grasp of technical concepts.  She was very straight and detailed her expectations firmly.  Her behaviour in a man would be seen as succinct and assertive, however being a woman there were comments on how big her balls were and how demanding she was.  I have no doubt these comments were due to her gender.

I progressed well within my role at Pfizer and worked on some very high profile projects.  I led teams to specify and buy equipment, some of which was completely bespoke technology.  My teams were always completely male.  The vendors I worked with were also exclusively male, apart from one project where there was a woman who was responsible for compiling the documentation.  I used to take teams to the factories all over the world to test the equipment before it was shipped and I’d lead the opening meeting and then the testing activities.  Although the vendors were always very professional and I enjoyed the interactions a lot, it was clear they were not used to a woman leading the customer team.  I remember going to a workshop to conduct some testing and seeing their project manager going round taking down all the mucky calendars and telling the men in the fabrication workshop to not swear because there was a lady in.  Mansplaining is also something I’m very familiar with.

I moved to Northern Ireland 8 years ago and work as an engineering manager for a pharma company.  It’s a progressive company and there are actually more women on the senior management team than men.  I’ve found this to make a major difference in people’s expectations of women in the workplace as technical women are more the norm.  Since moving to this position I have had 2 children and I’ve experienced the difficulties of being a working mum.  The difficulty of being excluded from production areas due to being pregnant, the difficulty of having to step back to take maternity leave, the difficulty of returning to work as a breastfeeding mother, the difficulty of balancing a stressful and demanding job with children.  I have not been able to travel since having children due to me being the main care giver and on the short day trips I have done, I have had to broach the topic of where I could express milk.

Becoming a mother has impacted my ability to work as effectively as I once did.  I cannot easily stay late to finish something off, I am in a constant sleep deprived state, I have to take time off if one of my boys are sick, and I carry the bulk of the emotional baggage associated with having children.  I am the one who has to remember the school stuff and doctors’ appointments and odd sock day.  I am the one who has been financially penalised for taking maternity leave, dropping to statutory maternity pay and losing bonus money.  I am lucky to work for a very proactive employer who understands the demands of a family, but it is still a difficult balancing act.  I do know other female engineers who have had some real struggles with employers being flexible when they have had children.  I think the fact it is such a male dominated area means that it isn’t the norm for their employees to have the bulk of the childcare burden.  It is not as common for dads to be the ones taking time off for sick children or doctors trips so a woman working in a male dominated environment can be seen negatively for this.

I work as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ambassador to promote the subjects to children.  I have a special interest in promoting the subject to girls as the uptake is very low.  It has saddened me on many an occasion that girls assume they can’t be an engineer purely because they are a girl.  This is ingrained in society from a young age about what boys do and what girls do.  STEM toys are heavily marketed at boys, if children have parents who work in STEM it’s more often the dad, STEM is not typically discussed as an option for many girls.  I’ve seen many girls studying maths and chemistry and physics and biology and when I ask them what they think they’d like to do STEM is not even mentioned, despite them obviously showing a natural ability in these subjects.

The image of a dirty engineer in a boiler suit and hard hat as a male is so ingrained in society’s view that it can be difficult for girls to see their place in this field.  I remember my 5 year old having a discussion with a lady in the queue in a supermarket one afternoon and she asked him what he’d like to be when he grew up.  He replied he’d like to be an engineer.  Her automatic response was to say that was a great job and she then asked if his daddy was an engineer.  I loved how perplexed he looked at this stage and he swiftly corrected her that it was in fact his mummy that was an engineer.  I really hope he will be a generation that will not blink at the sight of a woman donning a hard hat, or talking to them in a technical manner.  I also hope that it will be a generation that will make the workplace more adaptable to women in general to make it easier to have children and work.

Things are changing and women are forging a path for more women to come into technical careers and that is a great thing.  I have worked with female engineers and scientists and they bring amazing skills to the table.  Let’s keep teaching our children not to be restricted by what society thinks we should do and encourage them to do something they love.


This blog piece was written by Julie Thompson, a chartered engineer, STEM ambassador and mother of two sons.

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