The first time I met Danielle Bonner, she told me that she wanted to visit Afghanistan.
I thought she was joking; she wasn’t. She hasn’t made it to Afghanistan yet, but her dedication to human rights and equality has taken her to many countries and given her a network of like-minded people throughout the world.
Danielle is the founder of Equality Aware, the training and development organisation which promotes and provides education on human rights and equality. On her website, Danielle states, “The mission of Equality Aware is to support the empowerment and education of communities to recognise their human rights and challenge injustice.”
I asked Danielle how she, as a young woman, has become so involved in her chosen work: Was there an incident or experience that had sparked her interest? She said that as a child she had always asked the question, “Why?”, when learning about how the world works. When she was at school doing history she asked, for example, why had the slave trade, when millions were sold into slavery, been accepted as a way of trading and producing goods; why had the extermination of millions of people during the Second World War been an acceptable part of war?
As Danielle grew up, she applied her question “why” to the inequalities and injustices she saw around her, such as sexism, poverty, racism, many forms of discrimination and deprivation, and domestic abuse. Her route through further education reflected her continued interest in these concerns: Firstly a degree in psychology and media, then law, and then her postgraduate master’s course in conflict resolution. She says the people she met on this course made her feel that she was in the right place, as they also questioned the way societies work, but importantly, worked at finding ways to bring about change. She had found a focus for her ideas.
After her graduation she worked for NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network, and during this time began to teach courses and facilitate workshops in community groups and schools on various subjects rooted in inequality and injustice. She has since delivered these for organisations such as the 5050 group and Change Makers Donegal.
When I asked Danielle about her main areas of concern in Ireland, and particularly in Donegal, she said that the county had a very high percentage of child poverty and a high rate of children in care. Although a lot had been achieved in correcting some inequalities, she found that during her work with young people in schools, new concerns are becoming apparent. She said that young boys need more older males to be role models and to talk about gender equality. There is a perception that gender equality is only about females, and boys can feel that they are being sidelined because of this.
There are also the problems around gender stereotyping, and some of these problems have been made worse by the uses of social media among young people. Girls are in danger of being defined by what’s acceptable in how they look, in their choices of subjects they study and their roles in relationships. Boys feel under pressure to support perceived male values in attitudes to females, ambitions and emotions. Danielle found that when she spoke to the young people individually they had very different opinions on these subjects, but could not express them in the group.
Her hopes for young people are that these leaders of the future will ask the same questions she asked about society when she was at school - why are things done like this and what can I do to bring about change?
I asked Danielle about her sources of inspiration and admiration. She said they were those people, mostly women, who keep small-scale social groups going year after year, providing important services to their local communities. But her regret is that these women, with their skills and dedication, don’t see themselves transferring their skills to the politics of the county, which is so short of female representation. This is another subject of concern.
In setting up her training and consultancy business, Danielle hopes to address a wide range of social issues based in human rights and equality through courses, seminars, talks, and workshops. For more information, contact: www.equalityaware.org.
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