What impact have you had?
Cork Women's Right to Choose Group (CWRTC) originated primarily as a policy group, forming in 1998 to make a submission promoting the reform of dangerously restrictive abortion legislation to the Department of Health and Children's Interdepartmental Working Group on Abortion. In 2000, CWRTC made an additional submission to the All-Party Oireachtas (Parliament) Committee established to review abortion, and further gave oral evidence to the Committee to support their submission. Since its formation, CWRTC has been involved in local and national RSH rights activism and advocacy. It is currently the only active pro-choice group in Cork and often functions on its own in the second largest city and southwest region of Ireland, raising awareness about abortion and campaigning for safe and legal access to abortion and RSH information and services. In alliance with other Irish reproductive rights groups, we hosted the Women on Waves boat when it docked in Cork in 2002 and also successfully campaigned against a restrictive abortion referendum in 2002. In recent years, the group has moved more towards an emphasis on direct action, including staging protests, distributing leaflets, communicating with the press and politicians, participating in campaigns and conferences, and organizing fundraisers, workshops, film screenings, and information sessions. While we believe that direct action is essential to advocating for safe and legal access to abortion and other RSH services and information in Ireland, we would also like to broaden our efforts and outreach by promoting women's health and reproductive justice through education, information and advocacy.
Our organisation is in contact with local organisations and service providers, as well as other interested parties involved in women's health and human rights in Cork City regarding the development of this initiative. Knowledge of the services and information that are and are not available in Cork is an essential component of the workshop, and these organisations and service providers are eager to engage with initiatives that promote good RSH amongst women and girls in communities that are often excluded from access to information and services due to poverty and disadvantage. The entire development and implementation process will include input from these organisations and service providers to promote communication between the parties, to begin to expand the dialogue around RSH services for women experiencing poverty and social exclusion, and to raise awareness in the wider community about the importance of RSH for everyone.
The final result will be to have successfully developed a reproductive justice workshop that raises awareness, provides information, builds capacities and empowers women and girls. This workshop will build women's capacities to recognise their right to health as a human right, to emphasise that society as a whole benefits from women having good RSH, to take responsibility to access RSH information and services and advocate for better availability of services in their communities, to communicate around what services and information are needed in their communities, and to have a say in how those services and information are made available. Once this workshop has been developed, it can be used as a model for similar projects in communities throughout Ireland and internationally, which will have a significant impact on developing a national comprehensive women's health strategy that provides for all women living in Ireland.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
For the past year, I have been engaged in some of the necessary tasks needed to set up the pilot workshop, including preliminary research, strategic planning and needs assessment, seeking out sources of funding, and networking with local, national and international advocacy organisations, policy-makers, and service providers. The main task for the first year will be approaching several community activists and service providers in Cork, introducing them to the aims and objectives of the initiative, and proposing a collaboration in the development and implementation of the pilot workshop. The workshop will provide information about people's RSH rights and how and where to access RSH services and resources, but more importantly we will come up with a set of context-specific empowerment tools to develop women's capacities to articulate, communicate, and advocate for the RSH issues and needs that are of importance to them. Other tasks that need to be accomplished in the first year include seeking out large-scale programme funding, getting a meeting space, and publishing an information packet. By the second year we will have hopefully secured large-scale, multi-year funding to be able to take the workshop to several different communities in the city. In the third year, we will further our scope again, taking the workshop to smaller towns and rural areas in the southwest region of Munster. When the workshop has been successfully delivered to a variety of communities, we will organise a seminar for all of the individuals and groups involved to meet to discuss new strategies for service provision, education and advocacy around women's health. When the initiative has been fully established, we will expand the aims and objectives, to use the information gathered through communication with community groups to develop an advocacy strategy, and to promote the initiative to communities throughout Ireland.
What would prevent your project from being a success?
The biggest challenge to this project being successful is lack of public recognition and support for women's health in Ireland. It is difficult trying to overcome the assumption – on the part of funders, politicians, health service workers, and the public – that anything having to do with reproductive and sexual health is ultimately about abortion, a highly controversial, political, and deeply emotional issue in Ireland. This assumption, and the general anathema surrounding abortion, as well as the lack of available funding in Ireland for projects relating to RSH and women's human rights have meant that there is very little public support for this type of project. These challenges principally stem from the lack of public recognition of the importance of RSH for the general health and well-being of all people in Ireland. Convincing people of the importance of good RSH, and that RSH is about more than abortion, is a slow and ongoing process. But it is one that is essential to the ultimate success of a local advocacy and education initiative like this one, and the more successful we can be in spreading the message that good RSH is a human right and is beneficial to society as a whole, the more we will gain public recognition for comprehensive RSH services, education, and information for all people in Ireland.