Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Comment: Gender inequality is no accident - it is man-made

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Stock photo
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

My daughter is active in a number of sports but, all through the spring and early summer, she had a recurring knee injury.

Eventually, we discovered, with the help of an excellent local physiotherapist, that the source of the problem resides not in her knee but in her arches. She has fallen arches, putting her whole body out of line and causing persistent injury.

The physiotherapist prescribed sets orthotic inserts for her everyday shoes and her football boots. These inserts are designed to correct her posture and her stance, and redistribute her weight to the proper pressure points. It’s not all plain sailing — the damage has been 13 years in the making, it will take a time to correct and there will be a little pain involved.

In the past number of weeks, we had a new Taoiseach elected by the Dáil: the youngest in the history of the State, a bright young gay man, the son of an immigrant father. Surely this man — who represents so many unrepresented sectors in our society — will rebalance the body politic and help us to straighten ourselves as we face the many challenges that lie ahead?

What a disappointment, then, when the first choices made by him compounded the evil of gender imbalance that for centuries has crippled our world, leaving it bent and pained and broken. Out of a total of 35 ministerial and junior ministerial positions, only seven were awarded to women.

One able and committed woman — a former junior minister — who was passed over sought an explanation from the new Taoiseach. He told her he had to reward his supporters.

This is so disappointing and disillusioning — the same old shoes, the same old socks, and the crippling continues.

I’m no expert in gender studies but one doesn’t need a PhD in the area to realise that since the dawn of civilisation, the absence of women from positions of power and influence in the affairs of State, faith and commerce has contributed significantly to the development a skewed world marked by division, exclusion and an unequal distribution of resources.

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This absence of women is not an accident: it is man-made, in every sense of the word.

What would a more gender-balanced world be like, a place where women have equal power and influence in all matters? It could hardly be worse than the one developed under the stewardship of men. The 20th century presents a miserable snapshot of a man’s world — one hundred years of murder and mayhem on an industrial scale, a century where boys with their toys developed the potential to destroy the planet.

To redress the centuries of imbalance, we need to take corrective measures in words, in deeds and in the way we think. From the language we use to the way we organise our society, we have to take direct action to undo the damage inflicted by millennia of gender inequality.

The farming sector is notorious for its una­bashed male dominance; we speak of ‘dairy men’, ‘tillage men’, ‘sheep men’ and ‘beef men’ when we talk about the hard facts of the industry, but when we want to pull at the heartstrings, we’ll talk about the ‘family farm’.

Female inheritance is not taken seriously except where there is no son or male heir. Yet farming was always a joint venture, never more so than nowadays, where the mountain of pa­perwork associated with modern agriculture is often undertaken by the woman and where the second income, which keeps many farms on the right side of viability, is brought in by the woman.

In the broader society, it is unbelievable that pay inequality based on gender still exists and, as for the position of women in the Catholic Church, that’s a veritable parallel universe where paper-thin theological window dressing tries to mask crass chauvinism.

Gender inequality is not just a woman’s issue, it is an issue for all of us, we are all suffering across the gamut of realities that go to make up the world we live in. It will take direct interven­tion and interference to readjust, redress and rebalance this fundamental flaw.

An example of such intervention is the ap­plication of gender quotas in politics. These have been proven to work across the globe but especially in the Nordic countries. Such measures are regarded by some as crude and unsophisticated, but when you see a young, seemingly sophisticated leader like Leo Varadkar behave as he did in recent weeks, it is time to call in the political physiotherapists to prescribe corrective measures for the sake of the health and wellbeing of the whole body politic.

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