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Opinion: Women of Ireland, 2018 will be our year

Women’s voices are vibrant, we are energised and engaged, writes Orla O’Connor.

Orla O'Connor National Women's Council of Ireland

2017 WILL BE remembered as the year that an avalanche of women’s voices and stories came together to call for change.

While we are faced with daily reminders of the inequalities women still experience around the world, as Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the events of 2017 leave me more convinced than ever that 2018 will be our year.

It stops now

NWCI knows from the work that we do with young women that sexual harassment is often a daily reality in their lives. This year NWCI launched our #It Stops Now campaign to end sexual harassment and violence in third level institutions.

We are working with universities and young people to create a culture of zero tolerance for these crimes and to establish clearer support structures to enable greater reporting of incidences.

The #ItStopsNow campaign fits closely with the aims of the hashtag #MeToo which so quickly and prominently became a rallying cry against sexual assault and harassment this year. Violence against women is about abuse of power, it is about the culture which blames the victims and lets the perpetrator off the hook. It seems that finally we are talking about it in a way that can bring about real change.

More women in leadership

Change will also require more women in leadership, and more feminist leadership to drive the change for equality for women. Our #FemFest conference with young women showcased the huge leadership potential that exists.

However, there are also legacy issues that we must deal with. The gender pay gap is still at 13.9% and we have an even larger gender pensions gap of 37%.

In 2017, women from across the country joined with us to call for a fair and equal pension system that recognises both, the unpaid care work that women do and the detrimental impact of the marriage bar on women’s pensions.

Reforming the pensions system is high on the Government’s agenda for 2018 and we must place women’s experiences and work/life patterns at the core of those reforms.

Women’s health and safety

2017 saw a firm commitment to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. From talking to women from across the country for many years we know that the Eighth Amendment is a fundamental barrier for doctors to provide the full range of reproductive services that women and girls need.

We must now work to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution and develop a model of healthcare that will provide for all of women and girls health needs.

It is 2017 and one in five women still experience domestic abuse. The Domestic Violence Bill has the potential to make a real impact on the lives of women experiencing domestic abuse as it will make psychological abuse and controlling behaviour within a relationship a crime. While we have much more work to do on eliminating men’s violence against women, this amendment to the Bill has real potential to increase women’s safety and hold perpetrators to account.

Almost 100 years since Constance Markievicz became only the second woman in the world to be appointed Minister, Ireland has only ever had 19 women Cabinet Ministers. We will hear much more about women’s place in politics and society as we remember the centenary of women’s right to vote next year.

I believe 2017 brought about progress for women. Women’s voices are vibrant, we are energised and engaged. Most importantly, we are ready to make 2018 the year for women.

Orla O’Connor is Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Ireland’s largest women’s membership organisation.

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About the author:

Orla O'Connor  / National Women's Council of Ireland

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