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Speech | International Women's Day: Statements

08 March 2022

As we debate and celebrate International Women's Day in this peaceful corner of Europe, we all think of the women and children fleeing the brutal bombardment from Russian forces in Ukraine, and we think of all those in Ukraine suffering and enduring under the horrific invasion that is unfolding before us.

We are entering the second week of it and we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and in condemnation of Russian aggression.

As we celebrate International Women's Day here at home, we can reflect on our many achievements. In 2018, I was proud to chair the Vótáil 100 programme celebrating the centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland. In the 100 years since Constance Markievicz was elected as the first woman Teachta Dála, we have undoubtedly come a long way. We saw the repeal of the eighth amendment in 2018 and a real groundswell of support for feminist principles. There is, however, so much more to do. I am glad to be playing a part, on a cross-party basis, in seeking to bring about further change in my role as Vice Chair of the women's caucus, ably led by Senator O'Loughlin, and as the Chair of the new Oireachtas Joint Committee on Gender Equality, with Senator Pauline O'Reilly as the wonderful Vice Chair. We are seeking to make progress on equality for women and on equality for all. Gender equality cuts both ways and must look at how gendered inequalities affect men and women.

I commend Dr. Catherine Day and the Citizens' Assembly which produced for us 45 clear and concise recommendations, what I have called a blueprint for gender equality. Those recommendations set out substantive policy changes that must be made to ensure a more equal Ireland. They address a range of issues, including gender-based violence, stereotypes in education, leadership, politics and the workplace, childcare, and care more generally. We commenced our public hearings with Catherine Day last week. We will be holding another public hearing this Thursday, when our cross-party committee will be looking at constitutional change. I hope that one of the first tangible outcomes of our committee, which will be reporting in December, will be a referendum to be held early in 2023 to remove the sexist and outdated language about women and mothers from our Constitution. There is no longer any excuse for having retained this gendered language in 2022, which refers to mothers as having "duties in the home" but that gives no recognition to fathers, which means it is also sexist in its view of men.

I also want us to act, as the Citizens' Assembly has required, to extend the gender quota in politics to provide for clear gender quotas in politics but also across public life and concerning companies and boards as well. We heard today at an International Parliamentary Union, IPU, event that I addressed how poorly Ireland is doing in respect of women in politics. We all know that, when we look around this Chamber, less than one quarter of Deputies are women. My election last summer brought us up to the dizzy height of women constituting 23% of the House, meaning more than three quarters of our Deputies are men. Yet this is the highest proportion of women Deputies we have ever had. Therefore, we must do more with positive action measures to address this situation.

I welcome today's announcement by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, regarding gender pay gap reporting. It is very welcome, albeit long overdue. Some years ago, I introduced a gender pay gap Bill in the Seanad that would have had a broader application to a wider range of companies and employers. It also provided for stronger sanctions and an enforcement mechanism through the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. I am, however, glad to have seen this Bill at last being introduced. It will be revealing to see the required statements setting out employers' understanding of the reasons for the gender pay gap, as well as what they propose to do to address it. I refer to the action plan, which has been seen as being so crucial in other countries. This is a welcome measure and something the Citizens' Assembly recommended we introduce.

Clearly, however, this is not enough to tackle gender inequality in the workplace. What we must see, essentially, is far greater recognition and acknowledgement of women's disproportionate share of caring responsibilities. The Citizens' Assembly has again given us a blueprint for change regarding care, particularly for childcare, but also concerning elder care and support for carers more generally. The Citizens' Assembly has also called for a radical change to our childcare provision to ensure we have a publicly funded childcare system, which I have called for in terms of a Donogh O'Malley moment in childcare provision. I refer to a situation where every preschool child has a guarantee of a place. In my constituency of Dublin Bay South, and in every constituency in Ireland, parents are faced with greatly concerning increases in fees for childcare spaces and a real challenge in even obtaining childcare for their children. We must move away from that situation and ensure all children have a right to a place in childcare.

My party, the Labour Party, has a proud history of fighting not just for the rights of workers but specifically for women at work and for women across society. Some of our achievements include the introduction of the Equality Acts and the creation of the Low Pay Commission. We have also seen the great impacts of campaigns led by Labour Party women such as equal early years in the context of ensuring publicly funded childcare as well as on issues such as abortion rights, access to contraception and much more. On International Women's Day, I restate our commitment to continuing that campaign for equality to address all facets of gender inequality and sexism in society and ensure we break the bias in this regard, as the theme for this year requires.

Turning for a moment to the intersection of women's rights and climate action, this is also a crucial aspect as we face this climate catastrophe. The awful conflict in Ukraine is compounding energy and security issues and causing all sorts of other pressures too. These issues will impact more on women than on men. Women labouring in the textile industry, for example, work in dangerous conditions for poverty wages so that fast fashion companies can market discount clothes to women, girls and everyone in this country. These are the sorts of interconnected issues we must address. We must see the speedy introduction of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requirements at EU level and here. We must act in respect of women's labour rights, recognise the gendered impact of the climate crisis, as UN Women has noted, and ensure this year's other theme for International Women's Day, gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, amounts to a rousing call to action for all of us, women and men alike.