Rural isolation is a daily reality for many

Women from Mid Ulster travelled to Stormont to demand more support from the Executive to tackle social isolation and improve access to support services.

Among those attending the event was a large contingent from Mid Ulster including members of the SELFIE (Self Esteem, Leadership, Friendship, Influence and Empowerment) group from Cookstown and Magherafelt and Granaghan and District Women’s Group from Swatragh.

Mid Ulster MLA Emma Sheerin also attended as part of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus.

Louise Coyle, director of the Cookstown-based Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network (NIRWN) said that Government funding for services for women in rural areas was desperately low and this needed to change.

Members of the SELFIE Group: Catriona Corrigan (Coalisand); Maura Colgan (Cookstown); Elaine Ferguson (Aughnacloy); Rhonda Davison (Cookstown); Elaine Marshall (Moneymore) with Louise Coyle (centre), Director of NIRWN, who launched a new four-year Strategic Plan at Stormont. NIRWN is calling on the Stormont Executive to increase funding for rural women.

She said: “Rural women make up a fifth of the Northern Ireland population, yet they receive just 1.3 per cent of government funding distributed to women in this region.

“NIRWN does receive some core funding from government and have always been grateful for that support but that investment is 13 per cent of what it was in 2006.

“We deserve better than this.”

NIRWN, which is celebrating its 15th birthday, has launched a new four-year Strategic Plan that looks at how the participation of women in rural areas can be improved and supported.

The event took place to commemorate United Nations International Day of Rural Women on October 15.

The UN states that achieving gender equality and empowerment for women is not only the right thing to do but critical in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Emma Sheerin and fellow members of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus took part in a Q&A event looking at the challenges for women in rural areas.

They discussed poverty, isolation, the lack of broadband coverage and the challenges to the rural environment caused by climate change, as well as the effect of the pandemic on the lives of women in rural areas.

Ms Coyle said the recent challenges of Covid-19 had shone a light on the challenges faced by women in rural areas.

“Rural isolation is a daily reality for many, and I think each of us got a taste of what feeling socially isolated is like during the pandemic.

“Lack of access to services is a very common feature of rural life and lockdown illustrated that broadband is now an essential utility and not an optional luxury; we knew this in rural areas and as much as there are active moves to address this barrier, too many are still being left behind,” she added.

While the Covid-19 pandemic presented many challenges to people in rural areas it also helped to strengthen the power of community and collective action.

During lockdown NIRWN launched a number of new initiatives including a ‘Rural Reach’ tablet loan scheme for women with access to technological devices and a private ‘Fed Up To Fabulous’ Facebook for people to chat and offer peer support.

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