International Women’s Day, where are we now? - Martha Lyons
International Women's Day is celebrated across the global as a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. This year we celebrate the 100-year anniversary passing of the Representation of the People Act for when Irish women were victorious for female voting rights under certain conditions. While Constance Markievicz was appointed to cabinet in 1919, it took 58 years until another woman became a senior minister. Recently we have seen only the 19th woman to be appointed Cabinet Minister. Since the introduction of women on the ballot paper representation of women in the Oireachtas has been increasing at a dramatically slow pace, with women comprising only 15% of TDs elected in 2011.
However, since the introduction of gender quotas the number of female TDs reached a historic high of 22% following the 2016 general election. Trends suggests that representation is likely to continue to increase over the course of the next elections. The under-representation of females, has consequences of how national priorities are determined and resources are allocated. However, changes are occurring such as Imelda Munster being the first female TD ever in Louth and I hope to see a female Taoiseach sooner rather than later.
Change will also require more women in leadership, and more feminist leadership to drive the change for equality for women in universities as well. While just over half of all of lecturers in universities in the 26 counties are female, these numbers fall dramatically at higher positions as only 21% of professors are female. There has also never been a female president since the establishment of the first Irish university in about 425 years.
The gender pay gap is still at 13.9% and we have an even larger gender pensions gap of 37%. Ireland came in 50th place among OEDC countries in a 2015 report to reap the returns of our highly skilled female work force. The cost of childcare and a marginal tax rate are factors which act as barriers, when both parents are working from the family and due to tax rates, it is difficult for the second person to come out with much money after covering the high costs of childcare. Providing parental leave for fathers can also help females in the workforce.
This year will also be the year in which the Government will need to take steps to rectify how care work is recognised by the state, especially in our pension system, which discriminates against women who took time out from paid work to care for their children or other family members. Women’s experiences and work/life patterns need to be at the core of government policy. We are not doing the worse and small progress is being made but we can do a hell of a lot better. Women should be equally represented in all areas of society, because they are half of all consumers, workers, the electorate, and the world; because they are equally capable of leading.