A STATE-funded programme responsible for having empowered hundreds of women across north Kerry, according to its overseers, is under threat of closure.
The Equality for Women Measure programme has helped train over 400 women - many of whom come from isolated rural areas - in a wide variety of courses, from computers to interpersonal skills.
It was founded in 2010 to give isolated rural women a voice of their own and the opportunity to undertake training that would enable them to get work and develop vital personal skills. The programme ran at centres in Listowel, Tralee and Castleisland.
Now, however, it appears the programme is going to be discontinued as of next year as its overseeing agency, North and East Kerry Development, is forced to reduce services in the face of government cutbacks to rural development companies.
Much of the programme has been designed and delivered by Dee Keogh who says it empowered hundreds of women.
"It really did give so many women a great voice and increased confidence and resulted in scores of spin-off developments from book clubs to drama groups," she told The Kerryman.
"It has helped train women in everything from counselling and dealing with suicide to computers and interpersonal skills which has led to a huge boost for their confidence, enhancing their quality of life no end."
One participant, Tralee woman Fiona Foley, said the women involved were shocked by the announcement this week that the whole programme might be cut.
"It's crazy that it might be going. I joined last year and it has definitely given me greater confidence and it's a lifeline for a lot of women. A lot of women went into it with low confidence, but it brought them out of themselves and gave them a chance to connect with each other and it has been a great voice," she said.
Equality Officer at the NEKD Lorraine Bowler said it was vital to keep the programme running: "It's small funding we're talking about but they can't tell us now if it's going to keep going.
"It will be a great shame if the programme has to go as it has done incredible things for women in north Kerry, from training to book clubs and drama groups and much more," she said.