The Rural Development Programme (RDP) has provided women with an opportunity to continue to play an active and valuable role within our rural communities, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill has said.

Minister O’Neill was addressing delegates at the NI Rural Women’s Network’s (NIRWN) 7th annual International Women’s day Celebrations at the Glenavon Hotel Cookstown recently, where she praised the work of rural women and encouraged them to become actively involved in the 2014-2020 RDP.

Minister O’Neill said: “I am continually inspired by the extraordinary women I meet in my role as Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, and International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to stop and think about the vital role that women play in all aspects of rural life, which at times does go unnoticed by wider society.

“Being a rural woman myself I am fully aware of the challenges faced on a daily basis by women in rural communities and the valuable role they play in farm families, businesses and as entrepreneurs, and that is why I as Minister will continue to ensure that a strong voice for rural women is heard and the Rural Community Development infrastructure continues to provide a powerful platform for advancing rural women’s issues.”

The Minister outlined some of the opportunities provided to women under RDP through job creation, implementing projects and various training courses.

She said: “The RDP has provided opportunities for rural women to access grant aid for business creation and taking forward farm diversification projects. 168 projects have competed for funding under Axis 3, with rural women as either the business owner or as the main officer for a voluntary/community group, which has resulted in the creation of 165 jobs for rural women.

“At present women represent some 31% of local action group members and their contributions have, in no small measure, helped the success of strategic delivery in rural areas.

“A total of 961 women have taken part in training under the Farm Family Options measure of Axis 1 of the NIRDP. Approx 33% of participants in ICT training were female, 15% FarmSafe Awareness attendance and 3% in animal welfare scheme.”

In concluding Minister O’Neill encouraged women in rural communities to grasp the opportunities provided under the 2014-2020 RDP and build on their successes to date.

She said: “The new Rural Development Programme, which runs from 2014 – 2020, will, through Priority 6 measures, enable rural women to build on Axis 3 successes.

“I would therefore encourage every woman to believe in herself, to think big and to start out on the same journey as some of those remarkable women who have already taken the step into business, self-employment or community development, and for my part I will assure you that the RDP with all its resources and all those engaged in it will be there to help and support you.”

Majella Murphy from the Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network said: “The global theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Inspiring Change’ which we have adopted for our event today because it encourages advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way.

“The Conference showcased the cross community work of South Armagh Rural Women’s Network who shared with you the inspirational work that has been achieved through their Project and the; bravery, creativity and strength of those who took part in it.”

Mary McSorley from the Equality Commission added: “The Equality Commission is calling on the Executive and the local parties to take action to increase the representation of women in political and public life. We will also be looking to OFMdFM’s Gender Equality Strategy and seeking more focus on measurable targets and annual updates on progress across a range of issues. A new strategy should give fresh impetus to work towards equality for women and men.”

Pictured: (Front row) Marie Grant vice chair NIRWN, Minister O’Neill, A O’Reilly Chair NIRWN, (back row) Joan Mc Cool NIRWN, Cliodhna Geraghty SARWN, Mary McSorley Equality Commission, Majella Murphy NIRWN and Louise Coyle NIRWN