Cork Women's Health Initiative

Cork Women's Health Initiative

Ireland
Budget: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

To develop a workshop to promote better access to women's health services and information in Ireland using a reproductive justice framework, with a specific focus on the reproductive and sexual health (RSH) needs of women and girls living in socially excluded urban and rural communities in areas outside of Dublin.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Unlike most of Europe and the United States, Ireland lacks a national women's health strategy. Abortion is illegal and access to comprehensive women's health services is limited in Ireland, particularly for people experiencing poverty and social exclusion. The majority of RSH services and information that are available are almost exclusively located in Dublin, as are the national advocacy and policy organizations. Women and girls coming from disadvantaged communities outside of Dublin experience extreme difficulties in accessing essential RSH services and information. It is essential that women and girls are aware of the importance of good RSH for themselves and their families and communities, what services are available and how to access them, and that they are empowered to communicate and advocate for what issues are of importance to them to their service providers, in their communities, and to national policy-makers and advocacy organizations.
About You
Organization:
Cork Women's Right to Choose Group
Visit website
Section 1: About You
First Name

Jennifer

Last Name

DeWan

Organization

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group

Country

, CK

Are you an individual between the ages of 18 and 35 who would like to apply for a nine month Young Champions Program mentored by an Ashoka Fellow?

No

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group

Organization Phone

+353 (0)86 316 1234

Organization Address
Organization Country

, CK

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Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, CK

Website URL

http://n/a

Innovation
What makes your idea unique?

This project is unique because it utilizes a reproductive justice framework, a framework grounded in the belief that the full achievement of women's human rights is based on the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social and economic well-being of women and girls. Women's health services, and more specifically reproductive and sexual health (RSH) services and information targeted at women, are not treated holistically at either the national or regional levels in Ireland. Realistically this means that women, particularly disadvantaged and minority women, young women, and women living outside of Dublin, do not necessarily know what good RSH means, do not know where and when to access basic services, exams and tests, and when they do are not necessarily comfortable communicating with their doctors and service providers about the issues and needs that are important for them and their families and communities. This workshop will be a first step in providing better, more comprehensive access to services and resources to promote women's health and general well-being at the local level, a kind of one stop shop for women seeking information and education about their health and what services are available to them. At the same time, the workshop will empower women to better communicate their health issues and needs and advocate for better access to women's health information and services at the local and national levels. After successful development and implementation, the workshop can provide a model for similar workshops across the country as well as internationally.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
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.

Actions

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.

Results

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.

How many people will your project serve annually?

101‐1000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$1000 - 4000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?

Yes

Sustainability
What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

If yes, provide organization name.

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Does your organization have a non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have a non-monetary partnerships with businesses?

Does your organization have a non-monetary partnerships with government?

Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Our organisation is in contact with national and local women's health organisations and service providers, local community groups, as well as other interested parties involved in women's health and human rights in Cork City regarding the need to promote a more comprehensive, holistic approach to women's health in the Cork region and Ireland more generally. Knowledge of what services and information are available, and what services and information are needed locally and nationally, is an essential component of the workshop, and these organisations, groups, individuals, and service providers are eager to engage with initiatives that promote women's health amongst women and girls in communities that are often excluded from access to information and services due to poverty and disadvantage.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

1. The most important action needed is collaborating with community activists, organisations and service providers in Cork in the development and implementation of the pilot workshop. An important initial step I have already taken in this project has been conducting research on reproductive justice as it was developed by women of colour working on RSH politics in the United States, including Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, EMERJ and SisterSong. A principal aim of this research has been to understand how the concept of reproductive justice can be appropriately adapted to the RSH situation in Ireland. This research will be used to work in collaboration with interested community activists to develop a context-specific reproductive justice framework that will help structure the pilot workshop.

2. Securing large-scale, multi-year funding will be essential to growing our organisation and this project. At the moment, CWRTC is only funded through donations and a small innovation grant from the Irish Family Planning Agency, and all our work is entirely voluntary. During the development phase of the initiative, I will also be seeking out sources of funding and applying for grants to provide large-scale, preferably multi-year programme funding to sustain the initiative and our organisation as it seeks to broaden its scope.

3. After the pilot workshop has been successfully developed, we will advertise the workshop and its benefits to community groups in Cork City, as well in small towns and rural areas in the southwest region of Munster. The workshop will be delivered on a 'whatever you can afford' policy, meaning that organisations that have state or other programmatic funding could pay for the service, while voluntary, youth or any organisation without regular funding could get the workshop at no cost.

The Story
What was the defining moment that you led to this innovation?

I came up with the idea as a result of several experiences. The first was conducting research with women's and community groups in Cork City for my doctoral thesis on political activism and social change in Ireland. The second has been my participation in RSH rights activism in Cork, especially with Cork Women's Right to Choose, a direct action and lobby group dedicated to promoting safe and legal access to abortion and other RSH information and services in Ireland. The third was participating with a variety of women's and community groups in the development of a Cork Women's Health Manifesto last year. Through these experiences, I have become acutely conscious of a lack of sufficient information, services, education, and advocacy around women's health issues in Cork and the Munster region compared to Dublin. In many ways, the women's health rights that should be provided to all women living in Ireland are often only accessible and of interest to a small minority. In addition, many community-based activists consider the reproductive rights movement and 'choice'-based politics to be dominated by middle-class women with middle-class issues. I believe there is a desperate need for Dublin-based policy makers, national advocacy organisations, reproductive rights activists, and service providers to develop agendas and programmes that incorporate the needs, experiences, and participation of local, community-based and disadvantaged women and girls outside of Dublin. This initiative is one step towards building and strengthening access to women's health services, as well as developing better communication around and advocating for people's needs, in areas outside of Dublin.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

I have been active in various social justice campaigns since my youth, especially in relation to women's human rights and health issues. Indeed, I became interested in pursuing doctoral research as a result of my commitment to social justice, and my belief in using research as a tool for promoting social change. I was awarded a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in May 2008. My dissertation research was principally concerned with the changing relationship between the state and civil society, and how that relationship has been reworked in the context of globalization and late capitalism. With funding from the National Science Foundation (USA), I conducted over two years of fieldwork research in Ireland, which included ethnographic interviewing, participant observation, textual ethnography, policy analysis, and historical and archival research. In my dissertation, The Practice of Politics: Feminism, Activism and Social Change in Ireland, I examined the changing strategies and subjectivities of feminist political activism in Ireland, using it as a lens to examine social change. During my research, I was in contact with numerous women's and community groups, many of which had been established by and for people in disadvantaged communities. Throughout the research process, I was very concerned with the methodological, political and ethical implications of my study and human research more generally, and tried to make the entire process as democratic and participatory as possible. I was very invested in engaging in a form of research that allowed me to be both an activist and a scholar. Since completing my Ph.D., I have remained active around feminist and community-based issues in Cork, especially with Cork Women's Right to Choose Group. It is through these experiences that I have become passionate about the importance of RSH in promoting women's human rights.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Ashoka speaker at NGO CSW Global Women's Forum 2010