independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Mary Davis: Still a long road ahead to equality for women

In 1974, Indira Gandhi said "women's education is almost more important than the education of boys and men". Her central point was that poverty can come in many forms.

Being excluded from the mainstream is for many a corroding experience. Gender is still a form of exclusion and still a reason why women do not have opportunity or choice.

According to global research, more than twice as many women in Ireland are unhappy at work due to a lack of advancement opportunities compared to men. This research, to be launched this morning by President Mary McAleese, also found over half of women surveyed felt underpaid compared to just over one-quarter of men.

It has been estimated that women in Ireland earn an average of €160,000 less than men during their lifetime.

Only 25 out of 166 TDs recently elected to the Dail were women. Greater female political representation is not only desirable, it is necessary for deepening our democracy.

International Women's Day is rooted in the centuries-old struggle by women to be part of society on an equal footing with men. Yes we have come far since 1911, when this day was first celebrated, but statistics show we have more distance to travel.

Let us celebrate exceptional women who have gone before us. The Special Olympics was founded by a strong woman driven by the values of respect for all. Eunice Kennedy Shriver made a lasting contribution to the world around her amidst a family of famous men. She created opportunity for marginalised people and their families and I remember her today.

Women can be more supportive of each other, particularly by encouraging younger women to develop professionally. A critical next step for women is to support and to enable men to be home makers and parents as well as CEOs. If women are to be free to make choices, society has to be free and fair as well.

In an address to Cumman na mBan in 1909, Countess Markievicz said this to her audience: "No one can help you but yourselves alone; you must make the world look up to you as citizens first, as women after. For each one of you there is a niche waiting -- your place in the nation. Try and find it."

Today, it is a message worth repeating.

Mary Davis is managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia, chairperson of the National Taskforce on Active Citizenship and a member of the President's Council of State

Irish Independent

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