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Women's News (Magazine, 1984-2007?)


Women's News was established in 1984 by a small group of volunteer women who recognised that the lack of women's voices in society was detrimental not only to the development of peace but also to the condition of women. Conflict silences women's voices and the magazine provided a forum through which women could communicate across the divide on various issues affecting not only women but society at large. From its birth Women's News has encouraged grassroots women to use the magazine as a way of having their say and contribute to reconciliation and peace in a safe and effective way. The majority of the contributors to the magazine are grassroots women and Women's News operates various programmes to enable women to access and utilise the media as a means of participation. The power of the media in regards to shaping and influencing the public agenda should not be underestimated, the media not only follow the agenda but also lead the agenda. Without the voice of women being integral within this industry an egalitarian society will never become a reality.

Women's News is the only feminist magazine in Ireland and it adheres to a feminist ethos, however it is completely inclusive and opens its pages to debate and discussion. There is a huge range of magazines on the shelves aimed at women, however none deal with peace building, attitudinal change, challenging the status quo et cetera to the degree that Women's News does. Very few if any, rely on grassroots women for its articles and provide such an open and inclusive forum for expression and communication.

Herstory of Women's News Magazine

The first issue of Women's News appeared in March 1984. A ‘Womanifesto’ produced by the group stated that they hoped to produce:

'a paper for women which would publicise events, provide a space for views and opinions, and allow groups to let other women know what is happening…so that we will be more aware of all the work that women are doing, and from that knowledge, to build up links with each other, giving support when needed so that a strong movement of women will be created.' They wanted 'Women's News to be open to and for everyone to feel that it is her paper.'

The funding for that first issue came a £50 grant from Belfast City Council, as support for a women’s project which had been initiated by the Department of Community Services of the Council. It is interesting to look back at that first issue, and to see that community groups could receive no more than 75% of a maximum of £150 as ‘seeding’ for new groups. In the years before the big money from Europe kicked in, groups survived on voluntary labour, ACE employment schemes and a great deal of ingenuity. Despite the difficulties of the political situation and everything else, Women’s News was able to report on a wide range of activities, from Ballybeen Women’s Centre, which had just opened in the cellars of the community centre, a protest meeting on rape held in the Falls Women’s Centre, to a large public meeting on abortion, organised by the Northern Ireland Abortion Campaign and held in the Central Hall in Rosemary Street. There was also a pull-out calendar, giving details of the month of events for women in the ‘Make Your Mark’ festival for women in the arts, which covered community centres as well as mainstream venues.

This was a time when the growth of community-based groups and the network of women organising the Women’s Information Days was just getting underway. It was also a time when women’s centres were beginning to access funds and establish themselves in the community. There were several feminist organisations, the ‘Reclaim the Night’ marches were still happening and International Women’s Day events were taking place in many parts of the province. It’s impossible to research the history of the women’s movement without delving into the invaluable archives of Women’s News..

Issue number 8 reported that the NIVT had received funding which would enable them to grant-aid women’s groups to the sum of £500. Such riches! With issue no 9 Women’s News was proudly celebrating its first birthday, still run on a shoe-string budget, typeset in the Print Workshop above Just Books, and with all the layout done in the kitchen of two members of the collective. While there was little difficulty in getting material for the paper, the problems of production and distribution remained and there were regular calls for more help. Yet the collective was quite clear that the existence of the paper was crucial to the development of the women’s movement. As the editorial of issue 9 said, ‘We cannot deny the divisions that separate women from each other – class, politics, religion, sexual preference – but the presence of Women’s News is a positive contribution towards a much fuller understanding of the range of events being organised and the variety of groups that exist.’

In March 1986, two years after the first issue, number 15 appeared. Given the lack of funding and limited numbers of volunteers, it was not possible for the magazine to appear on a regular monthly basis, particularly over the summer months. However, a grant of £400 from the NIVT now enabled the collective to expand the number of pages produced by opening its four centre pages to women's organisations throughout Northern Ireland. Not only were groups able to gain access to the 750 readers of Women's News, but they would also learn the skills needed in producing a paper. Lesbian Line, the Rape Crisis Centre, Women's Aid… there were many who took up this offer.

In Issue no 22 the Women's News collective took over the centre pages to let readers know of the history of the magazine. It was proudly stated that they had managed (apart from on one occasion) to have recovered all their production costs from sales. A total of 750-1000 copies were being printed each month. Glancing through back copies revealed the extent of the issues which had been covered: strip searching, aids, abortion, lesbianism, women's education, women's health, the women's movement. The collective met every Friday from 6-7 pm, to plan the forthcoming issue and to formulate policies. Production still took place in members' houses, and folding of the paper after it was returned from the printer took place on the last Friday of the month at 6pm (except for December and August when they took a break!). And of course, there was still the work of distribution, addressing the 70 copies to their subscribers, attending meetings, etc. etc. Not surprisingly, their top priority was to locate an office so that Women's News would no longer be produced 'on a living room floor amidst the washing, ironing, and kids toys'. It would not be until 1987 that the collective was able to make the move to Donegall Street. Even then, it remained a totally voluntary group of women. Without the dedication of two of the founding members who stuck with it, the paper would undoubtedly have folded many issues before.


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Grassroots media in Europe
Networking & community building
Women's Liberation Movement