Seanad debates

Monday, 8 March 2021

International Women's Day: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I have enjoyed the conversation. One could not call it a debate. It was a really engaging conversation from the very beginning and all the way through. Everyone brought up really poignant topics in their contributions across the whole two hours.

It is amazing when one sits down and reflects on one's own time and how one ended up in politics. For me personally, it goes back to my mother. There was a pothole down the road from where we lived so she drove into the council office one day. The pothole had been there for quite a length of time. She went in and told PJ in the office that the pothole was back again. PJ told her not to worry and that council workers would be out later. She told him that she would sit in the car and follow them out. That shows a little bit about us. If women want to do things, they just get into it and do it. That tells us a little bit about us. That is how we got here. We persevered. We broke our own personal glass ceilings to get here. Whether we got here in an independent capacity or through a party, we have all faced challenges. Of that, there is no doubt. Some of us are single women, some have had to deal with childcare and some have had to deal with health issues. I do not remember who mentioned it but someone pointed out that one gets asked questions like "How will you cope?", "How will the family manage?" and "Who will mind the kids?" The guilt starts straight away before one even puts one's name on a ballot paper. Senator Dolan spoke about subconscious and unconscious biases. That was a valuable contribution. We need to start challenging unconscious biases and wondering what they mean.

I need to share another experience with the ladies in the House. They may know that I ran for election to the European Parliament back in the day. One day, I found myself in Dunboyne or Ashbourne. The car was pulled in and I was eating a little bit of lunch. There was a knock at the window. I looked out and saw the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Doherty. When she came over I pointed out that I was in her neck of the woods. She asked me to get out of the car and take a photograph. I said that she was with the other side but she said that strong women should support strong women. That tells us a little bit about us. We need to be able to support each other. For far too long, we did not.

One of the wonderful things that happened in the Thirty-second Dáil was the founding of the women's caucus. I extend my reverence to the chair of the current women's caucus, Senator O'Loughlin. The caucus gives us opportunities to have conversations that are always left on the periphery and which never make their way through those magical brown doors. There are many issues that need to be the focus of conversation, some of which Senator Clifford-Lee mentioned. Time and again, they fail to make their way in here. Period poverty was one such issue knocking on the door of the Thirty-second Dáil and which is now being addressed in the Thirty-third Dáil. The Senator also talked about maintenance. That is a very significant issue in all of our council areas. It is a barrier to women's existence. Senator Fitzpatrick talked about having to look into the eyes of a person who does not know where they will sleep that night, where the front door is or where their children can crawl about. She also spoke about the ambitious housing plan. These are really concrete issues that need to be discussed. I had a speech prepared, but I took down notes as the debate progressed. We talk about women in sport, the 20x20 campaign and so on. Women do not need to make it into the Oireachtas to be a positive influence on young girls. It is all down to the nice teacher they meet in national school or the woman on the sports pitch who shows young girls how to pick up or kick a ball. The same goes for gymnastics. It gives girls a bit of extra time and coaching. As they say in the mental health field, all you need is one. It is the same for women who want to make their way through - we just need one sounding board, one to push us through, one to say we can do it, one to reinforce us.

While that would be wonderful, we also need to go back to where it starts, namely, at the council and, before that, the Tidy Towns committees in which we were all involved. We can consider the numbers on councils currently. It is fantastic to listen to the National Women's Council and to hear that the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and local government are supporting initiatives to develop the outreach model of the caucus system of councils regionally, as we do not have enough women. We do not have that diverse voice. It sometimes pains me to hear that local councils cannot get enough women onto education and training boards, ETBs. While legislation requires a proper board composition, women cannot get onto them because it might disturb who sits in what chair on some strategic policy committee.


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