In July 2023 8 members of the St Austell & District club travelled to Dublin to attend the International Convention. This was a very important event for Soroptimists across the entire world. The international convention is organised every four years and this time it was organised by SIGBI (Soroptimist International Great Britain & Ireland) and held in Dublin. The members that represented our club varied hugely in experience of soroptimism and so it is interesting to see their different perspectives of the event.
Let’s start with the ‘newbies’:
One important function of all conferences is to make available to the participants a lot of diverse information in a short time intensively and also provide opportunities for questions and discussions. SI Convention last week in Dublin achieved these aims very well. In this brief account, I aim to highlight a few of the points that I personally found most useful.
The launch of Soroptimist International Foundation as a charitable trust with a donation of 100,000.00 Euros from the government of Taiwan was a significant structural change announced on the last day. I learnt that SI has 5 representatives in the UN across 7 departments covering social, economic and environmental issues. These reps were present in person and explained their work and took questions. Collectively they called for local clubs to co-ordinate their work with the various programmes at the UN and make direct contributions.
The topics that were covered by the invited and keynote speakers included gender pay gap (apparently the UN predicts that it will be 300 years before we achieve gender equality), shortage of women in political leadership roles (only 26% globally), the need for inclusivity in all areas of education (less than half of women are in STEM compared with men), increasingly horrific on-line violence against women and girls through sophisticated new technologies, shortage of funding for child care, the need for flexible working practices and the roles women and girls can play in combatting the negative impact of climate warming – in 2022 UNESCO declared that 70% of young people cannot explain the basics of climate change.
The speeches and the workshops focussing on the work of different Federations highlighted the significant ways in which Soroptimists have furthered the cause of gender equality and the elimination of violence against women. I found the work of the Africa Federation in campaigning for vaccinating young girls against cervical cancer impressive. We heard that SI in Rwanda helped build lives after the genocide. It was interesting to hear that gender pay gap in Europe is 20%, whereas in Ireland it has been reduced to 9% from a previous 14%. Frederic O’Gorman, the Irish Minister for equality, disability and integration explained that he had increased funding for child care by 400m Euros, introduced flexible remote working practices as well as 5 days of paid leave for women experiencing violence at home or work. It goes to show what can be achieved if there is political will. The message for Soroptimist clubs is to engage with local and national politicians about these issues. I cannot end this brief without referring to Mary Robinson’s passionate warning about the world heading towards a total climate disaster. She made the point that the goal of 59% reduction in emission in Ireland is currently at around 30%. Where women and girls could make a difference is in reducing their consumption of textiles which apparently are more polluting than cars. Last but by no means least, the exhibition of posters by all the participating clubs showcasing their special projects provided lively interactions.
The historical city of Dublin and the magnificent Convention Centre on the bank of the River Liffey provided a truly unforgettable setting for the whole event enhanced with Irish music and dance.
When I first looked into becoming a Soroptimist I was particularly interested in the organisation’s international work and particularly the advocacy work at the United Nations level. So, when the opportunity arose to attend the International Convention, even though I’d only been a member for a few weeks I booked up eagerly.
My roommate (Mersedeh) and I were both new members so it was great to be together as we both learned about the international dimensions of our organisation. Eight of us, from St Austell & District, went to Dublin and I felt well looked after by the more experienced members of our club.
On the first morning, it was quite something, in the entrance area of the Dublin Convention Centre, to see groups of all nationalities, some with coordinating club outfits and flags posing for ‘team’ photos and greeting old friends from other parts of the world. I have never seen such a gathering of nationalities in one place. Everyone was smiling and friendly and very happy to introduce themselves.
The official ‘Opening Ceremony’ was an emotional experience; again so many countries and each one cheering and waving as their name was called and their flag shown on the big screen, with all five federations being represented. There followed several speeches by important Soroptimists, including our international President Maureen Maguire. We then were treated, across the three days, to a succession of high interest and high quality keynote speakers, the highlight of which, for me, was Mary Robinson. Mary, the first woman President of Ireland and founding member of The Elders has met with world leaders to promote global peace and ethical leadership. Her overriding message was that women leaders must step up and lead as never before!
During the Convention breaks there was coffee, food and shopping and Mersedeh and I stood twice at our STEM poster explaining our project to everyone that was interested. There were around 100 posters and it was fascinating to speak to others about their project ideas, many of which, would certainly translate into excellent projects for our own club.
On day one and two, each Federation presented a workshop session. We tried to cover all of these between us as we could only choose one on each day. I was particularly interested in the African Federation’s workshop on ‘The Elimination of Cervical Cancer.’ Africa is a long way behind the rest of the world on this issue and attitudinal barriers need to be addressed.
There were many speakers interspersed between the keynotes including updates from all Federation Presidents and the impressive young winners of the Irish Public Speaking Awards. I particularly enjoyed hearing from our representatives at the 7 UN Centres across the world and took to heart their message that our local activity must feed into the SI objectives in order to give them the evidence that they need to support their advocacy.
There was plenty of time for socialising, within the Convention Centre and outside of it. We attended and enjoyed the ‘Friendship Night’ and the Convention Dinner and Ceili Night. We also fitted in some sightseeing and a theatre trip to Riverdance. We ate well, drank well and laughed a great deal!
Surprises along the way? A new international logo and the 2027 International Convention announced as on a cruise ship sailing up the coast of Alaska.
Would I do it again? Yes! Definitely! I am in awe of these Soroptimist Women at home and abroad!!
Perspectives from the more experienced members
A Limerick from Limerick
We’re on the way to Limerick by train,
Enjoying the views through the rain!
With memories of the conference,
and the superb River-dance,
I’m sure we’d love to do it all again!
The SI Convention was my first,
The 3 days certainly quenched my thirst!
With free give aways to keep,
Couldn’t afford to fall asleep!
So proud to be a Soroptimist – fit to burst!
After missing out big time in Belfast,
when I came back home, hand in cast,
I’m so glad I went along,
To ‘SI’ I belong,
With memories and new friendships, sure to last.
So…what do we think of the next one?
It’s guaranteed to be such fun!
A convention cruise to Alaska,
A good idea?…I ask ya?
Well it IS the ‘Americans’ all said and done!
So, if you ponder shall I go to convention?
To conference, or even to region?
You’re sure to have a blast,
with friends, new and past,
I suggest you might give this some attention!
To my fellow club members and dele-gates,
Who I consider to be my Soroptimist mates,
Sisterhood, kith and kin,
Our special time in Dub-lin,
Here’s to the next trip..what’s the dates??
Having missed out on the Convention in 2019 due to my son’s wedding, I was determined to attend Dublin 2023. The bonus? Flying from Newquay. So I set off with Wendy and Daphne for Dublin’s Fair City.
Day 1 we took an open-top bus tour of the City, of course, the bus had to break down! After lunch we toured Trinity and The Book of Kells, fascinating and well worth the visit, followed by a tour of Dublin Castle, all under the guidance of ‘Mad Maura’ who made it fun and interesting. Back to the same restaurant for dinner and a walk back to our hotel.
Day 2 I met Mary for a walking tour with our guide, Karl, a young passionate Irishman, learning more about Dublin and its’ people. Mary and I enjoyed coffee and cake then with Wendy and Daphne, a trip on The Liffey, more history and knowledge. We dined on a floating restaurant close to our hotel, it was very good.
Day 3 Raining! A Coach Trip to County Wicklow visiting Glendalough and Kilkenny. Good despite the weather. Back in Dublin we met up with the rest of our members who had arrived that afternoon and had a meal together with Irish musicians and a walk to the Hotel (the rain had stopped).
Sight-seeing over, our reason for coming, the SI Convention in the newish building affectionately called ‘The Dyson’, a good venue 5 mins from our Hotel. We had, on the whole, good speakers, especially Mary Robinson, Jim Gamble and Renata Dwan who were all inspiring in different ways. I was impressed with former Chinese President, Mr Ma Ying-Jeou, who is a great Ambassador for Women’s Rights.
Our STEM poster was on display, and I spoke to several Soroptimists from around the world who were interested in the project, it resonated with many, and as an international competition very doable for most clubs. I also attended two Federation Workshops, one was chaotic and the other good. Great to meet so many members from far and wide.
All too soon, the closing ceremony and the grand finale of a Gala Dinner where we tried Irish folk dancing, great fun even if we were rubbish!
I also visited the EPIC (Every Person Is Connected) museum about Irish migration through the ages. Interesting as two of my Great Grandmothers emigrated to Wales, one a descendant of Daniel O’Connell the great Irish Statesman who led the way for Catholic Emancipation.
The highlight for me was seeing ‘Riverdance’ on their 25th Anniversary Tour, they were breathtaking.
I really did not want to leave the City, and Country of my Ancestors, but all good things must come to an end, and Cornwall beckoned. Lovely to be met at Newquay by my grandson.
Thank you to my eight Sister Soroptimists and two ‘Soroptimisters’, for their company, especially Diane for being my ‘roomie’. An experience I will never forget, so pleased I attended a SI Convention. Well done to Sue Perry and her Team, and to International President, Maureen Maguire.”
My first International Convention was in Helsinki in 1999. I was aged 50 and travelled on my own and shared a room with Jo Bennett in a student hostel, with Mary & Shirley in the room next door. I was hooked, so impressed with these strong intelligent, active women from all over the world and the projects they undertook to support women and girls. It was attending this Convention that inspired me to go on take office at Region and then UKPAC. Here began a friendship with Connie Desko a go-getter American who was at that time a member of SI Yeovil. When she went back to the States, she set up a club in Fort Lauderdale. We met again in Sydney and Glasgow and I travelled out to Florida when she was Governor of her Region for her Conference. The last 3 Conventions, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur and Dublin. I have travelled and shared with Daphne Dowsing of SI Tiverton. The standard of accommodation has improved considerably since that first Convention. It was so good this time that so many members of SI St Austell attended, confirming what a friendly, successful and enthusiastic club we are. The feeling of being a member of a prestigious international organisation remains and this time the new Federation of Africa was present, surely the future of our organisation. It was exciting to see SI St Austell mentioned in their presentation for supporting their project by purchasing ghost seats at their Gala Dinner. The Federations of The Americas and Europe have the largest membership, but SIGBI on almost home turf was well represented, supporting SI President Maureen Maguire and Convention Chair Sue Perry from SI Bristol. Sue took over this enormous task after the untimely death of Johanna Raffan. For the first time we heard from our hard-working Soroptimists in the UN centres around the world. The Region had a trip to Geneva a few years ago and I have visited the one in New York. We learnt of the new SI Foundation instead of the International Presidents Appeal for choosing which projects to support. I was especially impressed with the Convention App, Soroptimist have clearly embraced new technology. A fabulous venue, a variety of speakers and workshops. The Gala Dinner was super. A big thank you to Jennie for recording it all with her cameras. Our activities outside the Convention were fun, exploring Dublin, doing the tourist things, especially the trip to Riverdance in the beautiful Gaiety Theatre.
Seeing our poster and our square in the peace quilt made me very proud of our club.