The National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks (NCCWN) was established as a national organisation in 2002. The rationale for the organisation was to enable women experiencing disadvantage, to network and have a voice in national policy developments. This consolidated many years of informal feminist networking and information sharing in the women’s community sector, dating back to the 1990s.
This networking arose from a shared concern to address women’s poverty, the marginalisation and exclusion of women, and the need for a gender perspective in community development. Working from a feminist perspective and social inclusion ethos, equality is consistent as the central goal of the NCCWN in recognition that women’s inequality is further compounded for disadvantaged women.
The NCCWN addresses a wide diversity of issues impacting on the most disadvantaged women in the community. The specific focus on women experiencing disadvantage includes support for women living in poverty and disadvantage, older women, lone parents, women from the Traveller community, minority ethnic and migrant women, disabled women, lesbian and bisexual women, women living in rural areas and women experiencing domestic violence.
The local networks that make up the membership of the NCCWN grew out of women’s community development programmes. Community education has been one of the core tools used in community development, and has its roots in working class women’s activism to respond to women’s inequality and oppression. It has continued to be at the heart of the NCCWN’s activities and of the work of local women’s projects.
In September 2010, the NCCWN successfully lobbied to have a National/Local Women’s LCDP. Each member of the NCCWN provides a focal point for local women’s groups and activities. The local networks are sustained by significant voluntary activity, through a local steering committee and up to three, usually part-time staff, working as coordinators, development workers and administrators. This voluntary activity has been essential to sustaining the sector and represents significant value, resulting in substantial outcomes at a very low cost.
The experience of the member networks is that investing in women’s empowerment and community development has lasting impacts on the social and economic fabric, in sustaining and building community cohesion and inclusion, and the achievement of equality at a societal level. The women’s community development movement has played a pivotal role in Ireland and many countries across the world in highlighting the factors that have shaped the lives and experiences of women living in poverty and disadvantage.
Women’s role in community development is transformative in its very nature. On the one hand, this has given visibility to and an analysis of women as marginalised, disempowered and oppressed; while on the other hand, it also made visible the critical role that women play as the mainstay of local communities through their involvement in community development activities. Often described as the ‘unsung heroes of community action’, women have become critical to community cohesion and inclusion, and the achievement of equality at a societal level in roles that are often invisible and under-valued.
The focus of the NCCWN is on the empowerment of women and in building the capacity of women to contribute to benefitting the lives of their families and their local communities.
The main activities include:
- Community development and community building
- Pre-development and training support to provide a pathway to education and training
- Bringing a ‘gender lens’ to mainstream community and local development initiatives
- Family support and parenting, and childcare support
- Addressing gender-based violence
- Promoting women’s community leadership and empowerment
- Women’s health and well-being
- Awareness-raising on gender equality and women’s human rights
- Improving access to local services
- Networking of women at the local, regional, national and international levels
In its role as the women’s local development company, the NCCWN and its seventeen member organisations have formed an alliance and are working collectively to have a positive impact on the community women’s sector while delivering on the goals and objectives of the Local Community Development Programme; providing collective analysis, collective action and collective outcomes.