Statements on International Women's Day
8 March 2021
I welcome the Minister and thank him for attending this morning to deal with the Labour Party's Commencement matter on the gender pay gap. I wish colleagues a happy International Women's Day. Today has a long and proud history. We started International Women's Day as a day of protest, struggle and socialist and feminist campaigning for women's rights. It was only in 1977 that the United Nations recognised 8 March as an international day for women everywhere. Only in recent years in Ireland has it become a day of celebration more than just a day of protest. As a student in Trinity College Dublin in the 1980s, it was a day of protest and for pointing out so much that was wrong for women and so much law that needed to change, in particular laws on reproductive rights, healthcare, abortion rights and contraception.
I am struck by the personal stories that Senators have told the House, how much resonance there still is and how much remains to be done.
While we are now celebrating the repeal of the eighth amendment in 2018 and the reform of much of the law that was so problematic for women in the 1980s, we still face very significant burdens and obstacles.
I thank the Minister for acknowledging the report I compiled for the justice committee in 2019, on women's participation in politics, in which we produced a clear outline of the evidence as to the barriers women face, not just in political careers but in all careers and professions. We named those barriers in respect of politics the five Cs but four of those Cs apply in every walk of life for women. They are a lack of cash, a lack of confidence, an old boys' culture and a lack of access to childcare. At every forum at which I have spoken and from any woman I know in any job or profession, I have found that those four Cs hold us back as women in our career progression.
In politics, as we all know, there is a fifth C, candidate selection procedures in political parties. We sought to address that through the gender quota legislation in 2012. That is very welcome and there has been some improvement for women in politics but, as others have said, a great deal more still needs to be done. When the 30% quota was first introduced in the 2016 election, the proportion of elected female Deputies jumped from its previous high of 14% to 22%. Unfortunately, however, in last year's election, there was a stagnation, with just 22.5% of Deputies being women, or 36 of 160. In the Seanad, we are all aware of how much better we are, with 24 women of 60 Senators, or 40%, the highest we have ever had. It makes a difference in our collegiate working, in our collaborative practices in the House and in the sort of legislation we debate.
I speak as someone who, when I was first elected in 2007, saw how pale, male and stale Irish politics was. It has changed and is changing, and given that there will be a 40% gender quota for the next general election, we can all anticipate that there will be an improvement in the numbers of women not only put forward in the election as candidates but also elected. It is not inevitable that that will happen, however, and we must keep pushing for it. It was depressing for me to look today at the International Parliamentary Union, IPU, table and to see we have slipped again. A year ago, we were 92nd in the world classification table for women's representation, and while that was not a cause for celebration, we are 101st today. We have slipped down further.
It is not that our numbers have disimproved but that we have stood still while all around us other countries are improving, taking positive action measures and addressing those five Cs. I refer not just to the candidate selection procedure. Laws are being put in place in other countries that address women's lack of cash and the gender pay gap, and I am glad the Minister is moving swiftly on that. They are addressing childcare by putting in place longer paternity leave and proper accessible childcare for women. They are addressing all the other issues of culture and confidence through measures like those we in the Labour Party have proposed.
We have proposed that, for example, reproductive healthcare leave should be brought in so that women who have to take time off work for early miscarriage or IVF treatment will be enabled to do so. That is a very important step forward for women, along with so many issues that need to be improved on. We have today produced a manifesto called Working for Women and put forward some of the measures we think need to be taken on board by the Government. I look forward to sending the Minister a copy and to working collaboratively with him to ensure that Ireland is a better place for women in the years and decades to come. I hope we will not have to wait much longer to address those five Cs.