My experience of the SpunOut academy

Aine tells of her weekend of fun, empowerment and meeting like minded people.

Written by Aine O Connell


Did you know that only 11 per cent of TDs in the Dáil are women? Did you know that every day, Irish people with disabilities are prevented from making their own decisions under the archaic “Lunacy Act”, which dates from 1871? Did you know that one in four Irish people will have problems with mental health in their lifetimes? This is just a fraction of what I learned at the Women’s Academy last weekend. However, these facts alone are enough to inspire me to change the world. I really mean it! To paraphrase Suzy Byrne, a blogger and campaigner who opened our weekend: – “ young people need to get involved – and angry!”

Over two sweltering days, 16 young Irish women heard from one another and a number of speakers. The speakers were as diverse as they were impassioned – we heard from “life coach” Marian Byrne, who taught us about mindfulness – which is, apparently, essential if you’re organising a successful campaign or protest. So much of the Academy was about so much more than women’s issues, it was about empowerment.

I arrived unspeakably early at the Academy expecting to (and this is a direct quote from my notes) “generally make the world a better place…and smash the patriarchy”. Of course, my eyes were quickly opened, there is so many more issues out there, some linked to feminism and some not. Mental health was a huge topic for the weekend.

Caroline McGuigan, the founder of Suicide or Survive, spoke with genuine honesty about her experiences with mental health. After her talk, I was left wishing that more Irish people could be like her; not only did she discuss her mental health candidly, but she did so with humour and warmth. The topic of Irish attitudes to mental health issues isn’t going away.  We need more like Caroline out there to show that you can be both strong and vunerable; and that’s ok.

If someone asked me my favourite aspect of the weekend, I’d have to say the atmosphere. Take 16 young women who are passionate about changing the face of Irish society and put them in a room together for two days. It was pretty magical, to be honest. Discussions on mindfulness, campaigning and motivation were met with equal enthusiasm by the group; we carried on our discussion long after the academy had ended for the day, too. I honestly couldn’t get over it – as a somewhat jaded student and feminist, it was truly remarkable to be able to work with such, there’s that word again, inspiring women. It sounds a bit silly, but I really did leave the Academy ready to change the world.

Of course, the weekend wasn’t all about inspiration and injustice. SpunOut gave us a chance to indulge our creative sides through poetry and art over the course of the weekend. Colm Keegan, a truly amazing Dublin poet, pushed some of us to our limits by getting us to write a poem on something close to our hearts in fifteen minutes. Artist Niamh Heery brought us to the streets – her “artivism” was an exercise in expressing a political message through an art installation.

In other words: it was very cool. One group discussed mental health and the “Black Dog” of depression on the streets of Dublin; another looked at women in politics and the issues that surround that. My own group took to various shops around Dublin with yellow placards, highlighting the problems with portrayals of women in the media.

The weekend was absolutely amazing and (I have to work this joke in) I’d like to thank the Academy…no, really. Sometimes it’s difficult to be a young Irishwoman in 2013 and it was inspiring to hear so many people tell us that we’re capable of doing anything we want to do. That was the brilliance of the Academy – empowerment, and the belief that a small group of committed people can – and will – change the world.

Check out the Twitter feed in the gallery below.

[View the story “The SpunOut Women’s Academy” on Storify]

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