MEEC Conference 2019 stresses the importance of Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment

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Guest speakers and panelists pictured with organiser Dr Mary Ryan, Consultant Endocrinologist Bon Secours Hospital (4th from left front) at the Midwest Empowerment and Equality Conference 2019 in the University Concert Hall. Picture: Zoe Conway/ilovelimerick
Guest speakers and panelists pictured with organiser Dr Mary Ryan, Consultant Endocrinologist Bon Secours Hospital (4th from left front) at the Midwest Empowerment and Equality Conference 2019 in the University Concert Hall. Picture: Zoe Conway/ilovelimerick

The Midwest Empowerment and Equality Conference took place at University Concert Hall this month to empower, educate and encourage men and women both young and old to take better care of themselves.

Key speaker at the event on Wednesday, May 1, Professor Desmond Fitzgerald, President of the University of Limerick spoke about the progress of female empowerment and gender equality in Limerick saying, “In the University here it is a very important part of our strategy to ensure that we achieve gender equality and we‘ve done a lot in those terms, we are third in Europe amongst Universities for gender equality but we have a long way to go.”

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Mary Harney, Chancellor of UL officially opened the conference giving an inspirational speech about the improvement of equality and empowerment within parliament saying, “Women have come a long way in Ireland, in Leinster House in 1977 when I was nominated for the Senate, virtually all of the women there were there by virtue of their connection to a former male politician, they were either daughters, widows or in one case a granddaughter of male politicians and the wonderful change that has happened in the intermediate years are that the women that are there now are there in their own right, and I think that is fantastic, even if we are only 22 per cent of the parliamentarians in Leinster House today.”

The conference was organised and presented by Dr Mary Ryan, Consultant Endocrinologist, Bon Secours at Barrington’s Limerick and Senior Lecturer at Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS), University of Limerick.

Dr Ryan educated the audience on the importance of hormones and how it interacts with lifestyle and why empowerment is so important in both men and women. Mary spoke about many issues regarding empowerment.

She gave the audience tips on how to empower themselves, quoting Warren Buffett, “surround yourself with positive people, find mentors you can emulate and reach out to those who know more in order to be successful.”

Vice-President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness MEP was one of the guest speakers of the day. Mairead spoke about where we are all going astray and losing the narrative regarding empowerment.

She said, “Children are more open, more willing to challenge you, to ask you questions and give you advice. I often wonder, why is it we lose that connectivity and sense of the world when we are children as we grow into adulthood.

“It is because the sense of empowerment isn’t deep enough in us, I think doctors would be out of business and that we would have healthcare it would be about health and wellbeing, keeping people well not treating people who are sick.”

There were two discussion panels on the day featuring guests from the fields of business, sports, entertainment, health, and academia. The first panel included children’s author Fiona Dillon, Professor Linda Coates, Margaret O’Connor, MD Quigleys, actress and founder of BEO Aoibhin Garrihy, style queen Celia Holman Lee, Tony O’Riordan, CEO of Midlands Simon Community, hockey player Sinead Loughran, and nutritionist Olivia Beck. During this panel discussion, social issues affecting the empowerment of both women and men were raised such as male suicide and equality in sport and media coverage.

Eight transition and fifth-year students from schools across the Midwest each gave five-minute presentations on the topics of empowerment and equality. Victoria Cottrell student from Ursuline Convent Thurles gave an amazing speech, touching on how she was affected by bullying. Victoria said “it was not until I decided that their horrific behaviour was their problem, not mine, that I could be free, I took back the power. Empowerment is feeling good about yourself, empowerment is taking control of your mental health, empowerment is not being afraid to stand out, empowerment is being able to say no in everything we do, empowerment is key!”

The second panel included Minister Patrick O’Donovan, fitness expert Leanne Moore, Winifred Ryan, Head of Communications in the HSE, Ann Marie Gill, Chairperson of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, PhD student Eoin White, and Motivational Speaker Sean Dwan, Sean Hoolan of the HSE Health Business Services, Fiona Brennan, transformation and mindset coach and Maryanne Lowney, a post-primary teacher in Colaiste Geann Lí, Tralee. These panellists spoke about mindfulness, communication skills, mental health and sexual consent.

Each of the student’s presentations was judged by an esteemed panel of judges including Dr Ita Richardson, Head of Gender Equality UL, Prof Deirdre McGrath, Head of Gems Medical School and Dr Marie Connolly, Head of Quality and Diversity UL. Mary Harney presented the winners with their prizes. The 1st place winner was Katelyn Diggins from Causeway Comprehensive School and Colaiste Na Sceilge Cahirciveen, 2nd place was awarded to John Moriarty, John the Baptist Hospital and last but not least, Anna Powell from St Mary’s Nenagh won 3rd place. All participants also received a plaque to commemorate their achievement.

All proceeds from the ticket and raffle sales will be going towards Novas and the Children’s Grief Centre. Novas is a voluntary organisation that works with vulnerable people and provide support for the homeless. The Children’s Grief Centre is a free and voluntary organisation that supports children between the ages of 4 and 18, where parents have separated, divorced or where there has been bereavement.

Mary Harney concluded her inspirational speech by thanking Dr Mary Ryan saying, “She is an example of a woman that is certainly empowered that certainly strives for equality, that certainly knows how to deal with crises and adversity and I think she is a very efficient person to be organising this event today.”