Tuesday 20 February 2018

It's still a man's world as women battle for more air time

Maggie O'Kane from ‘The Guardian’ (L) and Katie Orenstein from The OpEd Project at the conference in Dublin Castle. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Maggie O'Kane from ‘The Guardian’ (L) and Katie Orenstein from The OpEd Project at the conference in Dublin Castle. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

More female voices would be heard on the airwaves and on TV if women "stopped saying no" and started to value the contribution they can make to society, a conference heard.

However, key challenges such as childcare and the focus on the physical appearance of women still pose a major barrier to women taking part in public discussions.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte told the inaugural Women On Air conference at Dublin Castle that if women are absent in the decision-making process at the highest level in Irish media, the agenda and analysis "will be flawed".

Women On Air founder Margaret E Ward said that when women's voices are missing from the media and spheres of influence, it leads to a skewed situation.

She said in the last three years we had heard all-male panels in Ireland debating abortion and funding cuts for domestic violence shelters; politicians approving funding cuts that hit low-income women; and in the UK, male panellists being asked to "imagine what it must be like to have breast cancer".

The conference, aimed at addressing the low female representation in the broadcast media, was attended by influential women across a range of industries including law, communications, technology and business.

Amongst contributors were criminal law barrister Una Ni Raifeartaigh; TV3's political editor Ursula Halligan; Deputy CEO of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Celena Craig; RTE broadcaster Aine Lawlor and campaigns editor with 'The Guardian' Maggie O'Kane.

Ms Ni Raifeartaigh revealed how trying to juggle family life with her practice had been a challenge, admitting: "I nearly left so many times. I'm astonished I'm still here so many years later."

In a rare public appearance, the distinguished barrister – who represented the State in the Anglo trial – said she had been back at work six weeks after having a baby but had felt like "a wimp" for doing so, adding that she had heard "legions of stories" about colleagues who had returned just three days after giving birth.

However, Ms Ni Raifeartaigh felt things were improving for women on this front. She had felt "conspicuous" with her bump because pregnant barristers in the courts were a rarity.

"Now I love to go into the CCJ and seeing lots of bumps," she added.

Keynote speaker Katie Orenstein of The OpEd Project in the US, said that many women downplayed their abilities and qualifications because they felt that to do otherwise was "bragging".

TV3's Ursula Halligan told the conference she had watched female colleagues "disappear" because of the challenges facing women in the media, highlighting childcare and the focus on appearance as the two main barriers.

Later this year, the Government will appoint new members to both the board of RTE and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Mr Rabbitte told delegates

He said the Government was committed to enhancing gender equality on state boards.

The minister urged private media organisations to "examine their conscience" on gender equality.

Irish Independent

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