On Saturday 21st May 2022, Miriam Murphy Wood, President SI Republic of Ireland and Vi Bowler, Regional President SI Northern Ireland, were delighted to welcome Soroptimists from around Ireland to the 55th North-South Conference. The Conference presented a diverse range of speakers who entertained the audience via Zoom.

Master of Ceremonies Miriam Murphy Wood opened the Conference and invited SI President Maureen Maguire to discuss “Opening Doors to a Bright Future”, the Soroptimist International (SI) President’s Appeal 2021-2023. Building on a tangible thread running through the heart of Soroptimist work, “Opening Doors to a Bright Future” cements the Soroptimist belief and commitment to education throughout the life-course and its immense power and fundamental power role as a driver for sustainable development, peace, and equality. Investing in girls’ education brings high rewards, breaking cycles of poverty and aiding economic growth. Education empowers women, girls, and their communities, delivering skills and knowledge whilst increasing confidence. Enabling women and girls to make informed decisions affecting future wellbeing, health, participation, and quality of life. For more information on SI President’s Appeal 2021-2023, visit www.soroptimistinternational.org/openingdoors/

Belfast SIGBI Conference 2022 – Cathy Cottridge, SIGBI Federation President, discussed the benefits of attending the 2022 SI Belfast Conference. The Conference will be held from 27th to 29th October 2022 and will focus on Climate for Change. Attended by approximately 1,200 members plus their guests from each of the 29 countries in the Federation. It’s a time to meet old and new friends and listen to inspiring speakers. To read more about the forthcoming Conference, visit https://sigbi.org/belfast2022/   

Keynote Speaker Naomi Long MLA, Leader of The Alliance Party, entertained delegates by discussing why she entered politics and the difference she thinks she can make. Born and brought up in east Belfast, Naomi has represented the constituency since 2001 as a councillor and subsequently as an MLA (Member of the legislative assembly). Leader of the Alliance Party since 2016, she is the current Minister for Justice and is a former MP and MEP. Naomi said, “I’ve never been afraid to be the only woman in a room and say what I think because I was never raised to think that being a woman made my opinions any less valid. I’m really grateful now for all the women I grew up around who didn’t have opportunities galore but had real strength of character. I don’t think I would have done all the things I’ve done if I hadn’t been for them.”

Winners of Girls’ Public Speaking Competitions present their winning speeches – Eve Donohoe, the winner of the National Final of the Soroptimist Ireland Girls’ Public Speaking Competitiondelivered her memorable speech “Partnership and the Empowerment of Women” and Brianna Armstrong, the winner of the NI Soroptimist Public Speaking competition, presented her six-minute speech entitled “When women thrive, all society benefits”. Delegates were delighted to see both young women present with confidence and poise.

Marie-Thérèse Davis-Hanson talked about “The joy of sea swimming” – Marie-Thérèseset-up the Brompton Belles and Beaux Dippers in 2017. Her objective was to establish a group so anyone who wanted to swim could connect with a swim buddy and not swim alone. The swimmers’ safety is paramount, so the group offers advice and guidance for anyone thinking of trying open-water swimming. Northern Ireland’s coastline is dotted with cold water swimmers who go out regardless of the weather or temperature. The group that swims near Jenny Watts Cave just past Wilson’s Point at Bangor on Belfast Lough has over 450 members and regularly participates in activities to raise money for charity, notably Motor Neurone Disease Association as Marie-Thérèse’s brother has MND. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/seaswimsbangor2017

Barbara Barrett delighted with a presentation discussing “The joy of Watercolours” Barbara, a professional artist and art teacher, hails from sunny South Africa and has colour in her veins. She has been painting with watercolours, oils and acrylics for many years, and her work is in collections worldwide. Barbara has held several solo exhibitions and has participated in group exhibitions. She has had work selected by the WSSA, where she received a “Best on Show” accolade. Her love of painting and people has helped her fulfil her goal of teaching art. For more information, visit https://barbarabarrett.net/

Keynote Speaker: Adepeju Oti, PhD, Lead University Ibadan, Nigeria, discussed her life and work, including how higher education has improved for women in Nigeria, but despite this improvement, women still lag behind as academic staff and have slow career advancement compared with that of men. Women comprise about half of the workforce in most developed countries, yet they occupy less than 5% of senior executive seats. This implies that while the women are flooding the managerial pipeline, their efforts to attain the most senior levels are being blocked. Adepeju cited that women’s participation in the paid workforce has been one of the most remarkable social changes over the past 40 years. Yet, women are excluded from the most senior positions within organisations and executive boards. Adepeju can be contacted via LinkedIn linkedin.com/in/adepeju-oti-829770163

The Conference was concluded with a reading from Ulysses by James Joyce delivered by Fiona Lucia McGarry and  ‘Postscript’ by Seamus Heaney delivered by Linda McCombe. Finally, Vi Bowler, Regional President SI Northern Ireland, offered a vote of thanks to the speakers and organisers of the Conference.