Friday 19 July 2019

Editorial: 'Women have made gains but more battles must be won'

Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath
Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath


'Dress suitably in short skirts and sitting boots, leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver." Such was the characteristically practical advice given by Countess Markievicz to would-be revolutionaries in a call to arms in 1916.

A century on, the countess may find a place on a pedestal in the capital's O'Connell Street; when she eventually does she will still be out numbered six to one by men.

Today being International Women's Day, issues like gender equality and discrimination are to the fore, but a celebration of women's achievements is also apt.

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Yet, according to Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the day could do with a make-over to be more meaningful. The Minister of State for Higher Education feels it is in danger of becoming "what holy days used to be" and "a chance to skive off with friends".

She pointed out how the majority of people attending events like the one she was addressing to commemorate the day would be women as the level of interest from men was "small".

"We're all making a huge mistake if we think that by talking about women's issues to groups made up almost exclusively of women, we're going to change things," she added.

It was Gloria Steinem who wrote: "A feminist is anyone who recognises the equality and full humanity of women and men."

Yet if you're a woman with a just expectation of being on an equal footing with men, you would be wise to uproot to work in either Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg or Sweden.

For according to World Bank research - in which it tracked legal changes for the past decade - these were the only countries in the world to enshrine gender equality in laws affecting work.

The study, which measured gender discrimination in 187 countries, concluded a decade ago no country gave women and men equal legal rights.

True progress is being made; and Europe ranks among the safest and most equal places for girls and women in the world.

But inequalities and threats in their everyday lives - abuses and harassment, lower wages, fewer job and career opportunities - are still too prevalent. New challenges such as online sexist and hate speech have also emerged.

Thankfully, male bastions in boardrooms and in the higher echelons of academia are being broken down, but slowly.

There can be no grounds for congratulation when the director of the National Women's Council, Orla O'Connor, must point out that women aged between 18 and 29 were still most likely to experience sexual harassment and violence.

In her 'Vindication of the Rights of Women', Mary Wollstonecraft put it succinctly: "I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves."

Perhaps, if that deficit of recognition, understanding and respect was addressed more seriously, there would be no need to designate such days. But we are some way from this.

Irish Independent

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