Seanad debates

Monday, 8 March 2021

International Women's Day: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Today is a day for women to celebrate but also a day for raising awareness about socioeconomic issues that affect women. It is no exaggeration to say that women in today's society face multiple disparities, from unequal pay in their workplaces to housewife values being imposed upon them in their home life through discrepancies in the system that governs them. All women in Ireland, irrespective of background, face sexism. It is a systemic issue that is present in all facets of society.

In the history of the Seanad, there has only been one female Cathaoirleach, Tras Honan, who was elected in 1982. In 2018, Ireland was ranked the tenth lowest in the EU by the Central Statistics Office for representation of women in the national Parliament, with 22.2% of Deputies being women. In the current Dáil, this percentage has increased by less than 5%. Ten counties have not elected any female independents into local government. There are only four elected female Independent Deputies, who are Deputies Catherine Connolly, Carol Nolan, Marian Harkin and Verona Murphy, along with the five Independent Senators here.

Only three women of colour are currently elected into local government, namely, Hazel Chu in Dublin, Yemi Adenuga in Meath and Uruemu Adejinmi in Longford. No woman of colour has been elected into these Houses. The upcoming by-election for the vacant Seanad positions was a groundbreaking opportunity for political parties to rectify the lack of representation in this House. There is no doubt that women of colour face double the barriers that white women do. This by-election could have been an ideal time in our history to promote our diverse political talent.

I want to shed light on the problems that young women face when growing up. My 16-year-old foster daughter wrote about her experience as a young teenage girl, stating that her experience of sexism has been covert. Since primary school, she has noted differences in the way girls are treated as opposed to boys. She wrote that when studying traditionally male-dominated subjects, such as technical graphics and mathematics, she finds herself being patronised by her male classmates or receiving unsolicited explanations from them. She states that in projects, it is always easier to talk over a girl than a boy and that even in social life, girls are expected to laugh at every joke a boy makes or else be labelled stuck-up, and to brush off sexist behaviour because that is how boys are. She writes that the pressure to crave male validation is ingrained in our culture.

The next paragraph is from my 27-year-old daughter, Aoise, about her experience as a young woman in business. She writes that she co-founded her business with two other women. The business delivers procurement services for businesses and public sector organisations. She states that the procurement space is not an easy one for women. It is often led and made up of white, grey men. She states that having spent the last number of years building the business, they have endured countless sexist encounters, been ignored at networking events, been paid less for speaking slots and have been congratulated for being a lady in business. Would one believe that is possible? She states that it represents a change in the way things are being done and the way business is done. That is something to be celebrated. Today is also about celebrating women, and in that spirit I would like to herald all the independent elected women of Ireland. Some of them have been fighting the system for years. Some got into politics in order to create a better future for children. I think especially today of Councillor Ann Norton in County Clare and Councillor Maeve Yore in County Louth. Councillor Miriam Murphy in Wicklow has been a trailblazer for women with disabilities. I also think of strong independent women like Councillor Niamh Kennedy in Donegal, Councillor Marie Casserly in Sligo, Councillor Mary Roche in Waterford and Councillor Mary Farrell in County Wexford have been elected and re-elected by their communities. Some elected independent women found that party politics did not believe in them. I think today of Councillor Mary Linehan Foley from Cork. One could not find a better, hard-working councillor. Under the guidance of Councillor Marcia D'Alton, who is passionate about the environment and protecting nature, the people of Passage West are in safe hands. Councillor Lorna Bogue recently joined the independent ranks when she found her policies were different from those of her political party. Nevertheless, Lorna is out there working for the people daily.

I want to highlight the work of the Dublin councillors – Councillors Gráinne Maguire, Tania Doyle, Deirdre Donnelly, Anne Colgan, Noeleen Reilly and Liona O'Toole and the newly co-opted Councillor Patricia Kinsella. Given the large population growth and the diverse needs of the people they represent, these women never stop.

Great women like Councillor Terry O'Flaherty from Galway and Councillor Brigid Teefy have all given decades of their lives to public life and they must be commended. Councillors Geraldine Donohoe, Kara McHugh, Colette Connolly and Evelyn Parsons from Galway continue to be brilliant examples of politicians in the west.

I watch in envy daily our independent women changing communities and making a difference. I mention Councillors Mary Kavanagh, Mags Crean and Peir Leonard in County Wicklow. I commend the dedicated efforts of women like Councillor Anne Marie Ryan Shiner and the young Máirín McGrath in Tipperary for showing leadership in their municipal areas. The people of Kerry are equally blessed with Councillor Maura Healy-Rae. No one would ever doubt the commitment the Healy-Raes give to their people. I have no doubt Councillors Maura Healy-Rae and Mairín McGrath will have a place in these Houses one day.

Independent Councillor Fiona McLoughlin Healy in Kildare is a strong force within local government for corporate governance. Councillor Ida Cousins in Kildare is another tireless worker for her community. Councillors Kathleen Shanagher and Valerie Byrne are two formidable and driving forces in County Roscommon. It is great to see young women like Councillor Elisa O'Donovan in Limerick not being afraid to simply get out and do what needs to be done. Last but by no means least, Councillors Amanda Smith, Gillian Toole and Geraldine Keogan are all strong public representatives for County Meath.

I want all the elected women of Ireland to know that I see them and I will continue to support them to deliver better for their communities. We must now look at ways to move forward and create a more equal society. I believe the key to this is to support women in their socioeconomic pursuits, dismantling toxic beliefs towards women and empowering female youth to recognise their talent. In a world that oftentimes pushes women to the sidelines, we must step up and fight for the rights that we deserve and create our own platform to uplift each other. We must take the initiative, observe the problems around us and take action to solve them. We must work as a collective in order to ensure gender equality for future generations. Contrary to what society has taught us, it is not a competition, it is a collaboration. That said, I do not want today to be taken as a token and for the Minister to sympathise with us now and to forget about it tomorrow. We are worthy of much more. Personally, I thank all the women who have made me the person I am today and stuck with me and by me to reach my goals.


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