Longford Women’s Link (LWL) is a local organisation aimed at increasing the participation of women in Longford in the economic, social and cultural life of their community. From its origins in the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in 1995, Longford Women’s Link has grown and evolved to become an established and widely respected organisation providing a range of supports and services for the women of County Longford, particularly focusing on marginalised groups.
The National Women’s Strategy clearly demonstrates that Irish society still has a significant way to go before gender equality is truly achieved. As an organisation focused on women, we focus our efforts on identifying and addressing key inequalities that prevent women in Longford achieving their full economic potential. Statistics demonstrate that Longford is a particularly disadvantaged county, both economically and socially, and we believe that the poverty and social exclusion experienced by many women in Co Longford is compounded by the unequal position of women in society. Conversely, improving women’s equality has benefits that extend further than women themselves; when women are empowered, children and whole families benefit and the benefits can have ripple effects to future.
At the core of all of LWL’s work is a commitment to working in a fully integrated way, which acknowledges that disadvantage and social exclusion is rarely simple or one dimensional. This integrated approach looks at:
An example of this can be seen through the way in which we provide support around economic independence to women experiencing domestic violence, as well as the more traditional approach of providing emotional support, and information on legal processes etc. Another example can be seen in the way this integrated approach also allows LWL to respond to the needs of women from new communities – when the population make up of Longford began to quickly change and rapidly acquired a more ethnic mix, LWL was in a position to widen the reach of its services to include minority women, but in a mainstream rather than a segregated way.
Direct Support refers to the services provided directly by LWL to individual women i.e. women who “come in through the door”. For women experiencing difficulties, whether they are chronic or acute, LWL’s Direct Support can assist them to access information and services (either through LWL or by directing them to the appropriate place) that can improve their situation and bring them to a point where they are in a position to take more control over their lives.
The next stage in achieving our Vision involves us Building Community Capacity. Within this area, we move from providing direct support to women to providing opportunities which will help them to develop themselves. This is achieved predominantly through the provision of appropriate education and training supports. A key priority for LWL within this area of activity is to support women who may be lacking in confidence, who may have had negative experiences of education in the past, who may wish to up-skill or who want to get themselves back into the workforce. These kinds of opportunities begin to develop the capacity of individual women themselves, with knock-on positive impacts for their children, families and the broader local community. As well as providing women with the skills that can develop their potential for economic independence and civic engagement, building towards a critical mass of women who are both active in the local community and working towards creating change and improving circumstances for those who continue to be affected by disadvantage in Longford. The twin objectives for the majority of the educational opportunities are to provide women with opportunities to increase their economic independence, and to develop their capacity to participate in the local community.
The third pillar of our approach is advocacy. LWL’s aim within this focus area is to advocate for the long term change of local, regional and national policy and practice in order to improve the lives of disadvantaged women and their families in Longford. Through the wide range of services that it offers, LWL has developed a joined up view that is lacking in many service providers and policy makers. It is through LWL’s longstanding experience in the provision of Direct Support and its involvement in developing Community Capacity that LWL has now established itself as both a credible and influential voice on issues relating to women and their families at a local and national level. However, it is important to stress that the issues LWL witnesses on a daily basis are not unique to Longford, with women, children and families in other rural counties and areas facing similar difficulties. For this reason LWL recognises the importance of building and maintaining a solid evidence base that can be used to illustrate and strengthen arguments for positive change in wide range of communities.
It is in the following five areas LWL now intends advocating for meaningful policy development at both local and national levels on: