Seanad debates

Monday, 8 March 2021

International Women's Day: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator McGreehan for facilitating me to make a contribution to today's important debate. I wish all of my colleagues a happy International Women's Day. The women leaders in my life are my mum, Mary, my grannies, Phyllis and Bridie, and my three sisters, Ciara, Michelle and Karen. They are my inspiration for the work that I do, the people who surround me every day and drive me to do the work that I do to make this a better country for the women and girls coming up behind us. We all know the statistics and are very much familiar with the gaps and imbalance that still persists for women in Irish life. While we have come a long way, the biggest impediment now to achieving true equality is the notion that we have already got there, that equality is done and dusted and already achieved. We have not achieved equality and there is a long way to go.

Some of the pushback that I often get is that others ask why I am still discussing the matter because I am in politics, got elected and can do whatever I want. It is not as simple and obvious as that but those barriers are real, ever present and there to be taken down. It is incumbent on us, as public representatives, to lead and be role models for young girls coming behind us, and to young boys who are coming along the way. Those boys should see that this is a country that values equality and wants to reach a point where we can truly say that men and women are equal in all aspects of Irish life.

When we look at our Parliament, less than 23% of Deputies are female and 40% of Senators are female. The percentage of Senators is an example of what can be achieved with determination to achieve balance. Only 25% of councillors are female and there is a considerable imbalance across the regions. Mayo County Council has 30 councillors, only two of whom are female. There is a huge imbalance between rural and urban Ireland at local government level and that needs to be addressed.

We know that Equal Pay Day falls on 9 November. That is the day on which women in this country stop getting paid, effectively, because of the 14.4% gap in gender pay. We think that happens in other countries but not here. It does happen here. Women get paid less and that has a knock-on effect on pensions in later life. Women are at greater risk of being in poverty in later years.

We also know that female representation on boards is not where it needs to be. Only 10% of women comprise corporate boards in this country. The figure is slightly better for State boards where women represent 36% of the total but there is still a bit to go before equality is achieved. Only 7% of women lead those boards. We have a long way to go yet.

It is important that we ask why there is such low representation of women in, for example, political life. Why are women not attracted to entering politics, running for election and staying in politics? What are the challenges that persist? There are times when I get quite frustrated that the debate always seems to centre around caregiving and childcare, as if those things are only the responsibility of women. We know that those issues are significant barriers for women because, time and time again, they are identified as the key reasons women feel they cannot enter public life. They also leave public life for those reasons because they find the balance hard to strike. That is because women are still the primary caregivers in many families and that pressure still falls to them. That is why we, as legislators, need to do an awful lot more to address parental leave to give fathers that opportunity to take time off to be at home so that the women who want and choose to go back to work earlier, or whenever they choose to go back, have the option to do so. As it stands, the high cost of childcare is a financial barrier to some women getting back to work and some families would be worse off if the women went back to work.

We need to challenge some of the stereotypes that persist about women in leadership positions, not only in political life, but in business and every aspect of Irish life. We often hear a man described as ambitious, a great negotiator or a strong advocate for X, Y or Z. A woman who adopts a similar stance is often seen as aggressive, not very nice or a little bit cold. That is the terminology, the language we use to describe women who are just doing their jobs well, want to be ambitious and to succeed in their careers. The words we use to describe women who follow those pathways are always negative while positive wording is used to describe men in similar positions.Sometimes women can be as difficult when criticising each other. It is as important that we do not pull the ladder up after ourselves and that we encourage women to enter politics, public life and business. We should be there to facilitate others coming through and make that as easy as we can. That is why the work of organisations such as Women For Election is fantastic. I have been involved with that organisation since its inception. I have been through all of its training programmes. The training was top class and I learned so much in those programmes, and the collegiality was also fantastic. I met women from all different parties and none. Some of us entered the Oireachtas together, at the same time. It was fantastic to have access to people who came from different walks of life and wanted to enter into politics, and maybe had different perspectives, but that was okay. I thank the Acting Chairperson for facilitating me. I appreciate Senator McGreehan letting me in. I thank the Minister for being here and wish everybody a happy International Women's Day.


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