Conversations on Women’s Leadership – Launched! #IWD2021

To celebrate International Women’s Day here in Fingal, and the incredible contribution women make to the development of  our region, Fingal County Council Community Development Office are recognising and supporting women’s leadership through conversations about the challenges and opportunities women experience in setting out to improve our communities.

This week on behalf of Fingal County Council Community Development Office, I’m hosting a series of online conversations with women active in leadership in our area. I am joined by Geraldine Rooney, of the Centre for Independent Living Blanchardstown, Ayodele Yusuf, of Balbriggan Integration Forum, Bridie O’Reilly of the Fingal Older People’s Council, Shelly Gaynor, of the Independent Living Movement Ireland, and Catherine Joyce of Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group. I also talk to Anne Marie Farrelly, Chief Executive of Fingal County Council, who is Fingal’s first woman in that role.

Together we talk about the challenges facing women getting started in community action, the kinds of problem-solving leadership that women are doing here in Fingal, and how that involvement in community has changed their lives and that of the community around them. Internationally, women are much less likely to describe themselves as being leaders, and much more likely to describe themselves as doing leadership, and that’s true too for our interviewees this week.

With decades of voluntary and professional work in the community between them, advocating for opportunities, resources, justice and social change, they emphasise the importance of seeing community leadership as a shared activity. You will hear their advice on building networks of support, being recognised for your work, the opportunities that open up through starting small, and ways of scaling up small community actions to more influential means of affecting decision making and policy across Fingal.

Geraldine Rooney talks to us about how her desire to see small changes led to a big change in direction for her, developing her skills and learning to see the bigger picture so that she could commit herself to building something much larger and effective than she had imagined at the start. We talk too about how women often feel too unskilled for community leadership when they are younger, but struggle with the silencing of older women’s voices when they become active later on. Developing younger women in community leadership skills is key, but so is recognising the experiences of older women who have come to community action after raising their families or juggling early careers, because they bring a lifetime of relevant skills with them. Their voice needs to be heard at decision-making tables.

Bridie O’Reilly tells us about how she learned the value of building a network of support for your leadership work and taking credit for your own work, so that you have the recognition and the resources to build on what you have achieved and leverage that value for wider influence to improve your community. She shares her experiences of community action as a younger woman, determined to build pride amongst young people in their area and in themselves, and more recently in her retirement as she has taken on the challenge of building a strong network to advocate for and with older people who are isolated from the wider community. In telling these stories, she shows us the way that opportunities come up in different times of our lives for us to build community solidarity and support. Not all of the projects we are involved in last for ever, but leadership is about filling the gap that’s there now, and creating collective responses that will positively change how we relate to and support one another.

Ayo Yusuf talks to us about the need for persistence in community action, asking people to take ownership of their ideas to improve their communities and be creative with those. Leadership is something anyone can do, no matter their starting point, and it’s a skill you learn the more involvement you have in your community. Learning to work with people is key, as everyone has different motivations and capacity to commit themselves to action. Getting discouraged is a common experience, but you can learn to move past that, finding the people around you who share your passion for your community and equally determined to get things done.

Catherine Joyce asks what we can do to improve coalition building between women leaders in different areas and around different issues, so that we can advocate together for and with one another in the different spaces we move in. She points out that women are always involved in problem-solving in local communities, around employment, schools, family supports, and raises the excellent point that we very often ask women to conform to an abstract idea of leadership, rather than looking at where community leadership is already embedded in women’s activities, and recognising and supporting that properly.

Shelly Gaynor shows us what self-advocacy can become, tracking the journey from self-advocate to advocate for others, and how we can better supported disabled women in participation and leadership in our community life. She highlights the value of getting involved young, and growing your experience and confidence as a leader.

And finally Anne Marie Farrelly talks to us about the ways in which women’s leadership contributes to the many aspects of community life we take for granted day-to-day, and how women’s voices can influence local decision-making. We talk about the changes that would make a big difference to those women who are already involved in community leadership and who would like to make bigger changes in our region for themselves and others

I’m very excited to hear and share their stories with you, and I hope you’ll join us through the week to meet and learn from 6  incredible women leading in community development in our region. We look forward to hearing about your experiences too, and your thoughts about how we can support women’s leadership in Fingal in future. Happy International Women’s Day from all of us to all of you.

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