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ByWRDA Communications

Focus on Cervical Cancer Awareness

Cervical screening aims to prevent cervical cancers by detecting early precancerous changes in the cells that line the cervix. Women aged 25-49 should be called for a smear test every 3 years and women aged 50-64 should be called every 5 years. You can watch a short video of what happens at a cervical screening appointment here .

Be aware of the symptoms associated with cervical cancer:

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of cervical cancer don’t wait until your next scheduled screening, book an appointment with your GP. Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages and so it is vitally important to attend for screening when invited.

Before taking part in WRDA’s Breast, Cervical and Bowel Cancer Screening Awareness programme only 69% of women surveyed understood what their cervical smear test result meant. This increased to 99% after the programme.

WRDA’s ground breaking Breast, Cervical and Bowel Screening Awareness programme was developed to tackle the low uptake of screening invitations by women living in some areas of NI. The programme is delivered by Community Facilitators who have completed our accredited Level 3 Certificate in Learning and Development. The programme consists of three sessions and aims to raise awareness of the screening available, encourage participants to attend for screening and explores and addresses any fears surrounding the screening process. The programme can also be tailored to meet the requirements of groups with additional needs such as sight impairment, learning disability and speakers of other languages. The programme is available free for community groups, if you would like to find out more call the office on 028 9023 0212.

ByWRDA Communications

Breast Cancer- do you know the signs?

Breast Cancer is the most common form of cancer among women in Northern Ireland. One in ten women in NI will develop breast cancer and treatment for early stage breast cancer can be more effective and less complicated than at later stages. It is vitally important to know the signs to look out for, self-examine regularly and attend for screening when invited.

(original image here )

If you spot any of these changes in your breasts you do not have to wait to be invited for your next scheduled screening, you should call your GP and make an appointment.

WRDA’s ground breaking Breast, Cervical and Bowel Screening Awareness programme was developed to tackle the low uptake of screening invitations by women living in some areas of Northern Ireland. The first of three sessions deals with awareness of breast cancer screening and teaches participants how to self-examine correctly. Before taking part in the programme only 30% of women surveyed felt they knew how to self-examine correctly, this increased to 97% after the programme. The programme is free to community groups and can be adapted for groups with additional needs such as learning disability or sight loss. You can find out more here.

ByWRDA Communications

Cancer is the Leading Cause of Death In Northern Ireland: Self-Examination and Screening Vital for Early Detection

Cancer of all types is the leading cause of death in Northern Ireland and by 2020 almost one in two people will get cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer of all types is much more treatable if diagnosed early. Unfortunately 45% of cancer patients in Northern Ireland are diagnosed at the later stages, stage 3&4. Self-examining, attending for screening when invited and knowing what to look out for really can make a difference.

WRDA’s ground breaking Breast, Cervical and Bowel Screening Awareness programme was developed to tackle the low uptake of screening invitations by women living in some areas of Northern Ireland. The programme is delivered by Community Facilitators who have completed our accredited Level 3 Certificate in Learning and Development. The programme consists of three sessions and aims to raise awareness of the screening available, encourage participants to attend for screening and explores and addresses any fears surrounding the screening process.

The programme can also be tailored to meet the requirements of groups with additional needs such as sight impairment, learning disability and speakers of other languages. The programme is available free for community groups, if you would like to find out more call the office on 028 9023 0212.

In June WRDA’s social media accounts will be focussing on promoting awareness of breast, cervical and bowel cancers and what you can do to protect yourself. To stay informed follow us on Twitter (@WRDA_team) and Facebook (@WomensResourceandDevelopmentAgency).

ByWRDA Communications

Why ‘Fully Flexible’ Job Advertisements Really Mean ‘Lone Mothers Need Not Apply’

I’ve been job hunting recently, it’s not much fun and to be honest, I’m feeling angry, a lot.  I am a lone parent to a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old.  I’m studying a master’s part time and I clean Airbnbs on an ad hoc basis; the cleaning is cash in hand, precarious and sometimes stressful considering I often have to bring the 5-year-old and fob him off with sweets and screens while having to clean up the mess he makes on top of the regular cleaning. So when I got turfed off my income support and pushed into the mire of Universal Credit applications I decided that, actually, I’d rather work anywhere than have to degrade myself by repeatedly detailing the 25 hours of job searching each week I have to do to meet the ‘commitment’ you make to the Tories.


So here I am searching for a job in a town 30 minutes by car from anywhere (don’t be fooled into thinking there is a bus service worth talking about or that is indeed affordable, and the train stopped coming here circa 1920); luckily though there are some jobs that come up, however here’s what I’ve discovered; if you’re not ‘fully flexible’ you’re not getting a job.  What is this ‘fully flexible’ and what does it mean?  Well I’ll tell you; it means discrimination against women. Full stop. Certainly, there are many reasons why a person of any gender might not be able to be fully flexible, nevertheless, this malarkey excludes parents, especially mothers and particularly lone mothers. 

Last week I spent 40 of my precious minutes on this earth filling in an application form for a customer advisor post at Henderson’s Spar petrol station. I had itemised my considerable qualifications, listed referees and experience and ticked all the time-consuming fiddley boxes, when I came to a question about my availability.  There was a table listing every day of the week down the left-hand side, intersecting with, along the top: early mornings from 6am, mornings, afternoons and nights until 11pm.  The entire table was highlighted, the question below it asked if I was available for all of the highlighted sections and offered me a box to tick for yes or a box for no.  Imagining that I would get the opportunity to detail the times I would be available on the next page, or offer how often I could do the early mornings or late nights on the next page, I clicked no.  My application was immediately terminated by Henderson’sSummarily executed.  Prematurely rejected.  There was a glib apology and a nice little *your availability may be suitable for another post* message which must of course be taken at face value and absolutely should not be perceived as a multimillion-pound capitalist business ensuring they cover their backs and are not blatantly discriminating against anyone.  There are a number of Henderson’s run stores in my town, I have seen the advertisements many times over the years insisting on this magical characteristic of being ‘fully flexible’, but I should keep my eyes peeled and maybe some day in the future they will only require a partially flexible staff member instead.


Looking at statistics for Northern Ireland we can see that at 92%, women make up the vast majority of lone parents; their employment statistics look like this: 33% are in part-time work, 19% in full-time and 47% are not in paid work at all.  Of the 8% of male-headed lone parent households, dads are similarly unemployed at 44%, 12% have part-time work and a whopping 43% manage to stay in full-time employment[1]The striking disparity between women and men lone parents being able to stay in full-time employment begs an explanation; one could go full feminist and make sweeping generalisations about women in society being vilified for perceived irresponsibility or similar, while men in the exact same position are hailed as angels, receiving cookies and full-on support from those around them in order to remain in the workplace.  But one wouldn’t like to open that can of worms at present, there aren’t enough words available in this particular blog.

Nevertheless, given that the vast majority of lone parents are women, who are unable to commit to being ‘fully flexible’, which effectively bars them from even finishing an application form, this disproportionately affects women and that, my friend, is discrimination.  In fact, I strongly believe this constitutes indirect discrimination based on sex as detailed in the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976[2], I could be wrong, I’m not an expert, but I wouldn’t mind if an expert would like to have a look at it for me. 


To explore the idea, I would like to take a look at what ‘fully flexible’ might actually look like for a lone parent; in preparation for presenting this I have researched how far in advance an employer must publish rotas, unfortunately, my research has come to a dead end and I can find no legal requirement other than ‘reasonable measures’ should be taken, which raises the question who decides what is reasonable? Obviously, the employer. If my employer is reasonable and gives me a good four weeks’ notice of rotas, this means that I have to juggle responsibilities, phone friends, ask my mum, my brother, whoever and then plot this all, make sure they don’t forget, or book in with a childminder sometimes paying expensive retainers to keep the child’s place while they aren’t attending. Constantly juggling schedules and booking in with family and friends to look after your child so that you can feed them is very, very stressful; I know, I’ve done it before.


So, if I am obliged to be available in a part-time job from 6am or until 11pm, who minds my kids? Childminders vary, and some may start before 7am, although I don’t know any, regardless, can you imagine getting your little child out of their bed at 5am, forcing them into their school uniform and bundling them out the door before sunrise? How many times a week must I do this and what effect does this have on my child’s learning, their mood, wellbeing, homework capabilities and general behaviour? I would hazard a guess that it would be unpleasant for a little person. Unpleasant too for the one carrying the mummy guilt. The night-time shift then, can I trust my 15-year-old to put his brother to bed without tears and tantrums and my house being burned down? The answer is no, and I wouldn’t want to force that responsibility on to him anyway.  My mum could come around, but then she’d rather not sit in my house until the middle of the night either; childminders don’t do coming to your house, reading bedtime stories and sitting until 11:15pm, and many don’t do weekends.  What if I have two night-time shifts, two early morning shifts and an afternoon shift throughout the entire week? Who will, mind my kids?! This is all supposing that my teenager doesn’t need me around at all.  Universal Credit rules state lone parents of kids over 13 years have to work 35 hours a week or indeed spend that time searching.  I wonder whose door social services will be knocking on when a terrible accident happens, when a leg is broken jumping off the roof on to the trampoline.  Teenagers might like to think they don’t need someone around, but they do, especially in this day and age of mental-health crises amongst our young people.


‘Fully flexible’, is just impossible for lone parents.  Henderson’s didn’t even want to know about my excellent customer service skills, my diligence, my cash handling skills, my ability to send every customer out of their shop with a smile on their face.  They didn’t want to know that I will work hard, in a job that deep down I know I’m over-qualified for, because all I want to do, for now while my littlest is still little, is care for him, and right now I can’t even afford a new pair of shoes when he needs them.  I want to work, we, lone parents, want to work, but if it’s going to interfere with our ability to raise our kids, if it’s going to cause us huge stress and make us mentally unwell; if it’s going to negatively affect our kids and if it’s not financially viable, what is the point? There is none.  This notion of ‘fully flexible’ needs to change, employers need to become employee friendly, it’s good business sense, if nothing else. 


[2] Available at


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.

ByWRDA Communications

Let’s Not Have a Nightmare Before Christmas

3… 2… and… IT’S CHRIIISTMAASSS! Well, almost. The big day is only 18 sleeps away and it can’t have escaped you that Christmas is everywhere. We’ve had Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and I, for one, have already put my tree up and had more than a few mince pies. Maybe you’re like me and you absolutely love the whole season (probably not exactly like me, I’m a grown adult who will be voluntarily sporting antlers throughout much of December), or maybe you’re not feeling excited at all, just pressured, anxious or a bit down. Either way, this blog is for you, it’s for all of us, a set of general guidelines to get us from here to Christmas with a little bit more peace and joy. Here’s hoping.


#1 – Take Care of You and Yours

This one’s pretty simple, and it will mean something different for almost everyone reading. Look after yourself and the people around you, don’t buy into anything that brings you more trouble than you feel it’s worth, and make sure to prioritise the things you need. Increasingly, and especially for the women who, for the most part, are making Christmas happen, the whole season can be just a rush of stress that ends up in total exhaustion by the time the school holidays start. We would all do well to remember that competitive gifting, cooking and prepping need not be what Christmas is all about, and to reject the pressure of a “perfect Christmas”. Martin Lewis talks sense about this, advising that striving for the unattainable perfect day, whether at Christmas, or when planning a wedding or any other big event, will probably just lead to debt, disappointment, or both. Perfect days just don’t happen, and we all know this really, in spite of the advertising that tries to make us feel differently. Your Christmas day doesn’t have to look like anything in particular, as long as it works for you, so say no to too much pressure and too much money spent. If you’re celebrating Christmas this year, just try to honour whatever it means to you, and enjoy those things on your own terms.


You can watch Martin Lewis talking about unnecessary gift-giving and the pressure that goes along with it here, and consider releasing yourself and your loved ones from any obligations you can’t meet.


#2 Do What Good You Can

Much of the messaging and marketing around Christmas would have us believe that everyone is simply having a wonderful time (to paraphrase a Beatle), with family, loved ones, too much food and a general atmosphere of comfort and joy. But again, we know this isn’t the case. There are many people in need at this time of year, and we can all channel the spirit of giving into making a change, however small it might be, to honour the true spirit of Christmas.

Why not consider supporting these organisations with your time or money this Christmas?

And bear in mind that this doesn’t have to mean volunteering or making financial donations, we all know free time and money can be hard to come by at this time of year. Instead, it could be as simple as giving a little extra thought and care to those around you. If this is someone’s first Christmas since losing someone important, or you just know it’s a particularly tough time for them, for whatever reason, check in and see if there’s anything you can do to make it easier on them, and let them know that you’re there. And please, of course, extend this same compassion and care to yourself, if Christmas is hard, do whatever you need to do to make it easier, even if that means doing nothing at all…


#3 Understand That Everybody’s Christmas is Different


If Christmas really is the season of love and understanding, and I believe Shaky was on to something there, then we should all try to extend those things to everyone in our lives, whether their Christmas looks like ours or not. If you have a friend, or a colleague who, like me, goes a bit Christmas crackers and starts getting excited in September, make allowances for their daft behaviour, Christmas can really come to mean a lot when life gets tough, and I think that’s okay. Likewise, all of us elves need to bear in mind that there are plenty of good reasons why people don’t engage with Christmas, and forced fun is no fun at all, so don’t try to wrap your colleagues in tinsel and make them “get in the spirit”. Instead show everyone the respect of letting them do this time of year however they want to, and make everyone feel welcome to join in, or not. Both are fine choices.


However you spend the season WRDA hopes you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Blog by WRDA volunteer Lauren Donnelly

ByWRDA Communications

Angry but hopeful – One woman’s journey as a sexual assault survivor

Editor’s comments

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog contains details of a sexual assault and the medico/judicial process following it.

2018 has been a tough year for women generally and for sexual assault survivors particularly. The #MeToo movement, The Rugby Rape Trial, Bret Kavanagh and the recent rape trial in the Republic of Ireland where the victim’s pants were used by the defence to suggest consent have all been difficult for survivors. This blog has been submitted by a women who hopes sharing her experience will stop others going through the same thing.

If you have been affected by sexual assault here are some organisations that can help.

Nexus: Nexus NI offer services and support to people who have been affected by sexual violence in any form, and our services are delivered across Northern Ireland.

The Rowan: The Rowan is the regional Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) for Northern Ireland.

Women’s Aid: Women’s Aid is the lead voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland addressing domestic and sexual violence and providing services for women and children. They have a 24 hour helpline 0808 802 1414.

To find out more about how to make a report of sexual violence to the PSNI and what happens when you do please visit


I was seriously sexually assaulted when I was 15 by a 35 year old man.  We were on a group trip together.  I’d chosen to sleep in the hall next to his wife, my friend and he slept on the other side of me.  I felt safe sleeping there because they were my friends. I was asleep when the assault started. I woke up feeling confused.  It took me a while to understand what was happening. I was frozen, not quite inside my body as I lay there still, with my eyes open in the dark. When he was finished he asked me if I had come. I lay there numb, unsure how to process my first ever sexual experience.

The next morning I sat with him and had breakfast.  He joked with the others like nothing had happened. I struggled to look his wife, my friend, in the eyes. So full of guilt and repulsed at myself for what I had done with her husband. I could not believe how much I had betrayed her. I travelled back home in the car with them, quiet in the back; listening to the Cranberries, disgusted with myself.  Numb.

I made the mistake of confiding in a friend who told another so I had to tell my friend what had happened.  I had to admit to what I had done with her husband, to a woman I loved and admired. She believed me and then my life spiralled out of control. I was made to tell my parents and go to the police. I was taken into the fancy victim room, where I was interviewed by a male and female police officer.  I sat on the floral sofa, looking out the window past the floral curtains, designed I imagine to make the experience less horrific. It did not.  I was made to tell my story three times. To tell these 2 strangers about my first sexual experience.  They asked me if I was a virgin. They seemed happy when I said I was, something that couldn’t be used against me in court. I was then taken to the hospital where I had to have an examination.  The second man to ever touch me was the middle aged police doctor, whilst the other male police doctor and a nurse watched. I lay there naked, covered by a gown and again I spread my legs. I lay there looking at the tray of instruments they had wheeled in, petrified at what they were for. I lay there as they examined me, and took photographs of my vagina, as they opened me up with a speculum and took swabs.  I lay there as the second doctor came closer to look at the grazing, a bright light shining on me. I lay there numb and exposed again whilst they collected their evidence. I lay there.

My abuser pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a minor, sparing me a trial where my sexual experience and what I was wearing would have been discussed.  He received a one year suspended sentence.  I received a much longer and tougher one.

It’s been over 20 years since my assault.  I’ve gone to university, got a good career, met a wonderful man who I married and had 2 sons in that time.  I spent my teens and 20s with the trauma and guilt and disgust at myself buried down so deeply I didn’t even know it was there.  Its presence was more subtle, showing itself as self-loathing and disgust at myself.

I started my journey to healing in my late 20s.  I worked with a fantastic lady who helped me tap into what my unconscious mind was hiding from me. What I felt about myself. How incredibly guilty I felt for letting him do it, for not screaming, for telling him I was ok, for hurting my friend, for hurting my family, for everything I’d put them through.  I worked through these feelings in what was an extremely difficult time.  Memories came back to me that I’d hidden and I had to relive the time over and over again.  Eventually though I worked through a lot of the negative feelings and developed a way to love myself again.  To value myself.  To stop blaming myself.  It’s still a work in progress but I think the bulk of the guilty feelings have gone.  I’m beginning to understand that he groomed me.  I can look objectively at the way he treated me like an adult, the slaps on the bum, the dirty jokes, the sitting next to me and feeling my thigh, the pulling me to sit on his knee.  These were all done in public, in front of his wife at times, in front of others.  All accepted. Socially normal behaviour. Boys being boys.

I am still healing.  Writing details of the assault still makes takes me back there.  Details are so vivid it feels like it could have been yesterday.  I’m still on my journey as a survivor.  For now I’m angry.  So, very, very angry.  Angry at him, for stealing my innocence and scarring me so deeply I worry I’ll never fully recover. Angry at her for staying with him. Angry at the judicial system for his sentence. Angry at the way I was processed. Angry at having to share my story with a male officer. Angry at the fact I was examined by 2 male doctors when I was so very raw and hurting, physically and mentally. Angry at the fact they returned my nightie and pants months after, a reminder of the attack. Angry that I can’t have a dental examination without feeling violated.  Angry that I’ve carried this load around for such a long time.  Angry my parents and family have had to carry the same burden. Angry that so many women experience sexual assaults and inappropriate behaviour from men.  Angry that I don’t feel able to challenge behaviour from a colleague at work calling me darling and sweetheart. Angry that we teach girls how to not be raped or assaulted. Angry at the porn industry for objectifying women and teaching men that we don’t deserve respect. Angry at a society where a group of 14 year old girls are discussing in public about how they are all having anal sex with their boyfriends. Angry at revenge porn and social media. Angry that women are called sluts and whores. Angry that women are having to aspire to be fake and perfect. Angry that women’s bodies are objectified and used to sell things. Angry that a rape case of a 27 year old accused of raping a 17 year old is acquitted and part of the evidence from the defence is that she was probably open to sex because she was wearing a lacy thong. Angry a group of sex traffickers who literally snatch women off of the street, beat and rape them and then sell them to the highest bidder were given a 3 year prison sentence. Angry at the victim blaming and shaming of women involved in public figure rape cases and the societal responses to the case.  Angry at the unchallenged behaviour of men behaving inappropriately towards women. Angry at the media for their portrayal of women and sensationalising of issues relating to women. Angry at the misogyny in the workplace and the inequalities.  Angry that so many women will carry the burden of sexual assault their whole lives. Angry at the poor resources to help these women. Angry that I feel anxious about raising my sons in this world and the burden on me to teach them about consent and respect.

I’m angry, but I’m still hopeful. I’m hopeful we can change things.  Hopeful we can raise our children to understand consent and respect.  Hopeful we can call out sexism and inappropriate behaviour.  Hopeful that we can change the judicial system to make it easier for the victim and to increase the prosecution rate.  Hopeful we can properly punish offenders.  Hopeful we can eradicate the phrase ‘boys will be boys’.  Hopeful we can raise a generation of strong women and respectful men.   Hopeful the gap between men and women will disappear.  Hopeful I can get to a place of peace with my story.

I’m hopeful many of you can’t identify with my story.  Hopeful that the people reading this are not fellow survivors.  I’m hopeful my story will prompt you to think about your actions, how you treat others, about consent and respect and the consequences of not having this.  I’m hoping my story will prompt you to challenge inappropriate behaviour. I’m hoping my story will help you understand the importance of raising our children to respect others and understand consent. I’m hoping my story will make you understand that what seems like quite a minor experience can have such profound and long lasting negative effects. I’m hopeful my experience can make a difference and stop others experiencing the horrific rollercoaster of being a survivor.  Hopeful things will be different for my children.  I’m still healing, but I’m hopeful.

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