Women-led charities and social enterprises to support this IWD and beyond
Meet the leaders of some of the most progressive and necessary organisations working across Ireland and the UK today.
In Ireland, we often pat ourselves on the back for our charitable efforts, and to be fair, it’s not without cause – over a 10-year analysis period, Ireland ranked fifth on the CAF World Giving Index.
However, the 2022 report – published in the aftermath of the pandemic – saw Ireland drop out of the top 10, falling to number 11 on the list. Now, not only are charitable organisations tackling ongoing issues, but they are also at the coalface of new and exacerbated challenges caused by Covid-19. Here we talk to five leaders about their pressure points.
Muslim Sisters of Éire
Originally founded by Lorraine O’Connor and Jasmina Kidd in 2010 to support Muslim women living in Ireland and to break stereotypes, the Muslim Sisters of Éire (MSOÉ) are now well-known for their impressive presence outside the GPO on Friday evenings. “We wanted to help women come together, find their own strength and integrate more into Ireland,” explains Lorraine. “We didn’t set out to be a charity, but one of the pillars of Islam is charity.”
MSOÉ work with a network of volunteers, and FoodCloud, to prepare hot meals and serve food to people in need. “We’ve seen a huge wave of poverty in the last year,” says Lorraine.
“Last March, we were serving 250 meals a week. Three weeks ago, it was 570 hot meals.”
During lockdown, on International Women’s Day, the organisation hosted a free online conference called Unstoppable Love in the Time of Pandemic with speakers including Ministers Roderic O’Gorman and Helen McEntee, Senator Eileen Flynn and leader of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald.
This year they’re planning an event titled Empowered Women Empower Women, to celebrate International Women’s Day by enjoying the company of women from different backgrounds and faiths and celebrating everyone’s achievements together. First Lady Sabina Higgins will also be in attendance.
Anyone can volunteer for the Friday soup run. “It’s not about religion,” says Lorraine. “It’s about empathy and compassion.” Or if you’re a teacher or have kids in school, you can book in a ‘This is Me’ Zoom presentation for the class. You can also donate on PayPal or via Facebook, or follow MSOÉ on Twitter to stay connected.
The Traveller Movement
It wasn’t that long ago that Pontins’ overt racism was in the news, but Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of London-based charity The Traveller Movement, doesn’t believe it’s a turning point.
“Pontins are getting a slap in the wrist! Diversity training is just one very small step. It’s just another Band-Aid and a tick box. What was uncovered at Pontins is commonplace and experienced on a daily basis by many Travellers.”
“This is systemic racism, which is embedded as normal practice within wider society and institutions. We see and hear this racism every day in our work, it’s not new but many choose to ignore.”
The Traveller Movement is committed to the fulfilment of human rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. “Systemic change is a slow process but we are definitely making some waves,” says Yvonne.
“We would like to see more progressive change and a wider programme of inclusion happening across the spectrum to level the playing field in terms of equal access and equity.”
Each IWD, The Traveller Movement celebrates with an event in parliament at the House of Lords. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible during lockdown so instead, they took the opportunity to highlight their online women’s programmes such as their Domestic Abuse training.
This year, chairperson of the Irish Traveller Movement, Helena Power, spoke in parliament as part of the Oireachtas International Women’s Day 2023 showing what the future of politics could look like with women in politics.
Helena Power Chairperson Irish Traveller Movement speaking in our parliament as part of Oireachtas International Women’s Day 2023 showing what the future of politics could look like with women in politics,with our amazing ITM delegation.#womenforpolitics pic.twitter.com/MlvPvNhqxO
— Irish Traveller Movement (@itmtrav) March 6, 2023
Mary McDermot, CEO of Safe Ireland, says 2020-2021 was probably the busiest year her whole team has ever seen.
“The first thing I have to say is that the pandemic did not cause domestic violence, it exposed it.”
As documented in Safe Ireland’s Shadow Pandemic reports, the numbers of women and children being supported by domestic violence services only increased as restrictions continued.
“Anecdotally, our members told us that numbers continued to increase during that extended lockdown. They were concerned also about the levels of trauma and severity of cases they were seeing as restrictions continue.”
On Nollaig na mBan 2021, Safe Ireland launched a short film on coercive control by Marion Bergin, featuring actor Roxanna Nic Liam.
“Coercive control is the very heart of domestic abuse and so our constant focus,” explains Mary. “It does not have to be physical to be abuse. It is a persistent and deliberate pattern of behaviour by an abuser over a prolonged period of time designed to achieve obedience and create fear.”
If you are concerned about a friend, family member or work colleague, Mary advises contacting your local domestic violence service for advice. To support the cause generally, she suggests that you get to know more about coercive control and domestic abuse.
“Be aware of its prevalence in our homes and in our communities. Be aware that domestic abuse is a societal issue, not just a woman’s issue – and that we can all play a role in exposing it and taking it out of the shadows in which it thrives and helping to prevent violence before it occurs.”
Help by raising awareness of your local domestic violence service and of Safe Ireland, and by donating to either or both.
We Make Good
Joan Ellison and Caroline Gardner founded We Make Good in 2018, a social enterprise design brand that pairs designers with makers and craftspeople from disadvantaged backgrounds, to produce beautiful products that support people into meaningful work.
As their Fade Street shop in Dublin continued to roll with the Covid-19 restriction punches, the duo focused their attention on a new training and employment project, The Textile Studio, designed for women from a refugee background in Dublin. Machine knitting, sewing and garment construction and textile printing form the core of the work, with some hand knitting and crochet thrown into the mix too.
“Through this, we employ people from a refugee background or who have experience of the criminal justice system,” explains Joan.
“Supporting our makers there to develop their skill in garment production from novice or proficient to expert, gives them a real opportunity for furthering their careers when they eventually leave us. It’s a chance to provide for themselves and their families doing what they love.”
During the pandemic, the We Make Good mask project, run in conjunction with the Irish Refugee Council, resulted in the donation of thousands of masks to people living in Direct Provision.
“We were able to increase our Textile Studio team of remote workers to 14 at the peak, having started with just three. No International Women’s Day would be complete without a big ‘thank you’ to the core group of amazing women who worked tirelessly to fulfil the often overwhelming demand for masks – Emilia, Alice, Busayo, Yinka, Virginie, Elsa, Maryam, Eka and Diana.”
Founded in 2013 by Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, FoodCloud’s technology now connects supermarkets with thousands of charities across Ireland and the UK to ensure a steady stream of good food for those in need, while also tackling food waste.
In March 2020, the need for food assistance increased dramatically. FoodCloud’s weekly food distribution increased from an average 25 tonnes a week in February 2020 to 60 tonnes a week in April and May.
“Our three hubs redistributed 75% more food to over 650 charities and voluntary organisations across Ireland in 2020 than they did in 2019,” explains Iseult Ward, CEO of FoodCloud.
Reducing food waste costs nothing, but has huge environmental benefits. “If food waste is halved in the next 30 years, according to Project Drawdown, the world will avoid emitting at least 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to taking 2,570 coal-fired power plants offline.”
“If we were to give one tip, it would be to make a shopping list of the food you need and try not to buy things you don’t need.”
This article is an updated version of a piece that was originally published in March 2021.