Inese Japina met up with Mary Quinlan – a founding member and the former Chair of Banúlacht.
Banúlacht was a network of women working to promote awareness of the links between development issues that affect people locally and globally. They worked from a gender perspective which entailed analysing unequal effects of development on women and men.
When and why was Banúlacht established?
Banúlacht was established in 1990. It was the initiative of Rita McNulty from DESC (Development Education Support Centre). She discovered that at a time there were no organizations representing women in Ireland and she aspired to set up one. There were 9 other founding members including myself who were representatives of other development organizations in Ireland: Oxfam, Concern, Trócaire, Comhlámh, Interculture Ireland, APSO (Agency for Personal Service Overseas), Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, Filipino Irish Group and African Arts in Education Project. All these organizations stood behind Banúlacht giving it great strength.
In 1995 approximately ten other women from the community sector joined Banúlacht. The founding members no longer represented the development organizations, they became members as individuals. As a result some power was lost within the development sector but a lot was gained with the community women. Tremendous work was undertaken by Banúlacht since then within irish women’s communities.
How was Comhlámh involved in the development of Banúlacht?
Comhlámh was one of the main instigators of the development of Banúlacht. Banúlacht in a way grew out of the Women’s Issue Group in Comhlámh which I founded in 1984 when I joined Comhlámh. There were many politically aware women in Comhlámh at the time. We were very radical, strong and vocal. We kept challenging the accepted norms and notions. Our way of thinking could be described as ‘let’s look at ourselves not the world around us and see what we can do to change.’
What work was Banúlacht involved in?
Banúlacht worked with women’s community based organizations and networks in Ireland and the [Global] South. The work Banúlacht undertook over the years included training programmes, conferences, seminars, workshops, resource development, publications and exchange programmes. Mná Sasa Manifesto was launched which articulates ideas about feminist solidarity and the power of collective organising. In addition, there were numerous training courses provided by Banúlacht which all facilitated a participant centred education process.
What about the international involvement?
We did extensive work in regards to lobbying and support internationally. Banúlacht participated in numerous UN Conferences in Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Vienna, Copenhagen and Beijing. Several cultural study visits were made to Morocco, Paraguay and Tanzania. Seminars and workshops were organised in order to encourage women in Ireland to participate at UN level.
What organizations funded Banúlacht?
Over the years Banúlacht was funded by numerous funders including EU Commission, Concern, Irish Aid, Trócaire, WIDE and various government departments. It was never easy to maintain a diverse funding base because it was difficult for funders to categorize the organization’s focus on linking the local and global.
Tell us about the difficulties Banúlacht encountered in the last year of existence?
Trócaire, after consistently funding Banúlacht for 20 years, declined further funding in 2011. In spite of all the efforts to find other funders, the organization was left with only Irish Aid funding. Then in 2012 Irish Aid released new funding guidelines which stipulated that funding could not be used for campaigning and advocacy work anymore. These guidelines went against the integrity of the organization and would require Banúlacht to abandon the advocacy dimension of the work. The decision was made not to apply for Irish Aid funding.
When did Banúlacht close?
The decision not to apply for funding led to the heart-breaking decision to close Banúlacht with effect from March 31st 2012. The hope remains that one day a similar organization will be formed so that the solidarity work of women in Ireland and around the world can continue as it is absolutely necessary.