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What do women want to change about Ireland? #FeministAgenda is trying to find out

Orla O’Connor from the National Women’s Council of Ireland on the issues that matter most to women.

Orla O’Connor Director, NWCI

WHAT DO REPRODUCTIVE rights, living free from violence, affordable childcare, economic equality and more women in public life all have in common?

They are all on our Feminist Agenda.

Ahead of the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s (NWCI) AGM, and the launch of our Strategic Plan today, we asked what it was like to be a woman in Ireland in 2016. We asked what would women do to change things for the better.

I want to share some stories from women we spoke to over the past year.

Economic inequality

Often, women spoke of the increasing gender pay gap, and how hard it is to survive on one income when parenting alone.

Others talked about being in the labour market, but being stuck in low-paid work, with a precarious contract and insecure hours. For some women reaching retirement, they only just realised that they weren’t entitled to a pension, even though they have been working in and outside their home for their whole life.

The facts in these stories speak for themselves. The gender pay gap stands at 14.4%, while the gender pension gap is 37%. The majority of low-paid workers are women, and only 16% of those entitled to a contributory pension are women.

Many also mentioned the fact that we have the highest childcare costs in Europe, which block many women from re-entering the labour market or take a more active part in public life.

There are low numbers of women in politics, on boards and in leadership positions in general. Right now, only 22% of our TDs are female, and that is the highest percentage ever, by a long stretch.

Political leadership is required to reduce the gender pay gap by increasing the minimum wage and combating precarious work arrangements that prevent women from making long term plans.

Long overdue is also the delivery of a ‘Homemakers’ Credit’ that is applied retrospectively back to 1973, which would allow women to use their time working in the home towards their pension.

Crucial to our work will be the delivery of a Scandinavian childcare model. As it stands, Irish public investment in childcare is 0.02%, well below the EU average of 0.07% and the UNICEF target of 1%.

We need to prioritise early years education and childcare by significantly increasing public investment into affordable, accessible, quality early years care and education to international standards.

NWCI 2

Violence 

The economic inequality that women face is only one part of women’s inequality. Men’s violence against women is rife in Ireland, with one in five women experiencing domestic or sexual violence during their lifetime.

When it comes to walking down the street, we know that 73% of Irish women avoid certain areas for fear of violence.

There is a real reluctance in Ireland to deal with the issue of men’s violence against women, despite the sheer scale of the problem. No woman should have to leave in fear from abusive partners. Women should be free to go where they choose, wear what they want, and be free from sexual harassment.

The Government has signed up to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). Implementing the Convention in full would go a long way in changing culture and practice in how we address this issue.

We now need to prioritise resources to frontline services and the Gardai to provide women safety and protection and to hold perpetrators to account.

Reproductive rights

Always prominent in discussions on women’s equality are the 12 women a day who are forced to travel to access reproductive healthcare abroad.

A core focus for NWCI and our members will be repealing the 8th Amendment from the Constitution, and replacing it with legislation to ensure women have proper access to reproductive health services.

We know the restrictive abortion laws do not prevent abortion. Instead, they cause hardship for women forced to travel abroad and even more distress for women who cannot travel. We need legislation which provides for safe and legal abortion as part of our maternity services, and real political leadership to deliver it.

Anger

What is most striking in our conversations with women across Ireland is the anger and frustration at the slow pace of change.

We are still stuck having these discussions about exorbitant childcare costs, about the importance of being able to make our own healthcare decisions and about the gender pay gap.

Women’s inequality has persisted for so long that it is inherent in our policies. The renewed interest in feminism and gender equality amongst in particular younger women in Ireland shows that we are not accepting political excuses any longer.

Many women have been sharing their ideas for a #FeministAgenda online over the last couple of days. The solutions to many of the problems are not complex. What we need is real political leadership to accelerate the pace of change and drive women’s equality. We need to see real movement so that we are not repeating these statistics and stories, again and again.

Orla O’Connor is the director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

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About the author:

Orla O’Connor  / Director, NWCI

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