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'It's up to people how they define themselves': Citizens' Assembly to examine gender in LGBT community

The chair of the assembly said gender equality was an issue affecting members of the LGBT community.

Members of the assembly gather for the first meeting in the series this afternoon.
Members of the assembly gather for the first meeting in the series this afternoon.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Jan 25th 2020, 4:30 PM

THE CHAIR OF the Citizens Assembly on gender equality said discussions on gender over the coming months will include issues concerning the LGBT community in a bid to recognise that “people are free to make the choices they want”. 

Some 100 members of the public gathered at Dublin Castle this afternoon to begin the process of examining the “barriers and constraints” that exist in relation to gender equality in Irish society. 

Speaking following her opening address to members, she said the assembly will be “inclusive” of all genders and the ways in which people “want to define themselves”.

“We want this to be a very inclusive citizens’ assembly and we’re asked to look at gender equality so I think that’s up to people how they define themselves,” she said. 

But we want to look at genuine gender equality no matter how people define themselves.

“It’s all about, are people free to make the choices they want to make or are some of them predetermined by laws or policies that may belong to another time or may reflect the wishes of the majority that we have to test in the assembly.”

In her opening address, Day spoke of the changing social landscape of gender in recent years and the impact gender inequality has on the lives of both men and women. 

“Gender affects every aspect of our lives, from the moment we are born, until we hopefully reach old age,” she said. 

“Gender has important impacts on the quality of the lives we live, on the choices we are free to make – or that are pre-determined for us by society – and it can be the reason behind barriers and constraints that need to be examined.”

Members of the assembly from a range of different demographics, including age, gender, and location, convened for the first in a series of meetings to examine issues such as gender in the workforce, childcare, and healthcare in Dublin Castle. 

The assembly will meet on five more occasions over the coming six months before a report will be furnished and recommendations made on how gender equality can be strengthened in Irish society. 

Those recommendations will then be presented to TDs and senators, and the government will decide what recommendations should be progressed at a political level. 

‘Uplifting’

Asked if members appeared engaged with the topics when they arrived today, Day said: “It’s very uplifting because I did speak to a few of them as they arrived this morning and first of all they all said, without exception, they were all really excited about this and want to be part of it.”

“I think because there have been previous assemblies, people now know it’s an important process. That their views matter and they can, through their recommendations, lead to changes in policy so what I am picking up so far is great enthusiasm.

“They all say it’s an important topic and it’s great to have that feel of enthusiasm as we start our work. It’s a big time commitment, people have to give up six weekends.”

The last citizens’ assembly, which discussed and made recommendations on the eighth amendment of the constitution, led to a referendum and the subsequent repealing of the eighth back in 2018. 

LGBT+ community 

Day, in her opening remarks today, also said that gender equality is more than simply an issue that affects women but an issue that impacts on the LGBT+ community, which will feature in the discussions over the coming months.

“Some may feel that this assembly will be about women’s issues, and it certainly will be. But gender inequality equally affects and involves men and the LGBT+ community,” she said. 

“Our debates will be inclusive, and we will on succeed in advancing gender equality if everyone engages.

“The public good is advancing gender equality. Through their conversations, citizens can come to an agreement about what procedures, actions, or policies will best produce that desired public good.”

Last summer, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recognised that women and men are far from equal. “We fall very far short of that and the current pace of change and the current rate of progress is too slow,” he said.

Those participating in the assembly were chosen through a door-to-door selection process, along with additional screening procedures. 

Politicians, members of political parties, journalists and members of advocacy groups are not allowed participate in citizen assemblies. 

The next meetings will take place on the weekend of 15 February, while the final meeting will take place on 4 July. 

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