Thursday 20 June 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'Justice for women to remain out of reach unless the Government takes radical action'

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Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Study after study paints a grim picture of life for Irish women. On average, women are paid 14pc less than men, and it's even worse for women with children.

We are funnelled into jobs that pay less, such as cleaning and care-giving. We often experience sexual harassment at work. We're under-represented in leadership positions in boardrooms and government.

Resources aren't going into basic services like childcare - our rates are the highest in Europe - placing the onus firmly on women to step in when the State isn't prepared to help.

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"I don't think anyone can argue that Ireland is a country where men and women are equal," Leo Varadkar told a group of journalists in Dublin yesterday as he announced plans for a citizens' assembly on gender equality. He said it could be generations before we have equality unless efforts are stepped up.

A citizens' assembly is the next step in achieving the Government's aim of making Ireland the first country in the world in which men and women are truly equal. The assembly will begin in October and will have about six months to do its work.

It's an important starting point - real women's voices are too often excluded from national decision-making and a citizens' assembly will help with this.

When policies are designed without putting women's needs at their centre, we're setting ourselves up to fail.

If you go and talk to ordinary women, you'll learn about the stumbling blocks women have to clamber over in order to succeed in life. You'll learn that women are doing more paid work than ever before, but men are not doing more housework.

The Gender Equality Index 2017 showed that almost 90pc of Irish women engage in unpaid housework and cooking compared to less than 50pc of men.

This means that 40pc more women than men in Ireland are responsible for household chores.

These men are falling back on to traditional gender roles that allow them the privilege of not having to do the washing up while soaking up the benefits of living in a two-­income household.

The same study shows that Irish men are more likely to engage in sporting activities outside of work compared with women.

About 48pc of men in Ireland engage in weekly sporting or leisure activities outside the home compared to 40pc of women. Work/life balance anyone?

Talking to real women will tease out how our workplace policies aren't working for women.

Even when a company has benefits like paid parental leave and flexible schedules, women are expected to take them up, men not so much.

Last year, there were about 61,000 births but figures show only around 24,000 men took their paternity leave. Not everyone qualifies - you have to have sufficient PRSI contributions.

But such a low take-up isn't good enough. In 2019 working men are still expected to be breadwinners and women are perceived to be care-givers.

I want to live in a country where it's possible to be both.

How can we fix this? Not by doing nothing.

The assembly is the first of its kind here. It's a radical idea and a positive step from the Government to achieve true equality between men and women.

I hope we can have a major overhaul in government policies to push for gender equality.

We need good jobs for women and men, but also to recognise the kind of unpaid work, like childcare, that keeps a society running.

We also need to improve social services such as health care and childcare in order for women to have a real shot at moving up the economic ladder.

We need to give girls images and role models that expand their dreams. We need to listen to women.

And we need the Government to act swiftly on the recommendations of this vital citizens' assembly.

Irish Independent

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