Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 March 2024

International Women's Day: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister. Friday, 8 March is International Women's Day worldwide but sadly, Ireland has much progress to make in truly supporting women in 2024. It is important on this occasion to salute and support the courageous sportswomen who face the existential threat to their pursuits. I commend Irish pool champion Kim O'Brien who refused to play a biological male competitor and forfeited the European championship pool final recently. It is highly regrettable that women are forced to take a stand because politics fails to protect women and our interest. Sportswomen inspire young girls to pursue discipline, skill and mastery. What message do we send as a country to our girls when we tell them that they are not important enough to have legal protection in their pursuit of their dreams? Do we care that a man can run a race or swim in their lane at a much faster rate? By failing to protect women in this arena the Government risks erasing women's sports altogether and is an affront to the world-class sportswomen Ireland has produced. What will it take to reach breaking point? Will a female boxer be sacrificed in the name of equality and forced to compete against a biological male who identifies as a woman? Without constitutional protection of her identity how could she feel recognised and safe and defend her human right to compete with peers of her sex? No man can ever be considered the physical peer of a woman and to suggest so is insidious. Biological men now occupy women's prisons. This is a harrowing reality and an affront to the rights of women in our prison system. Women can only truly be physically safe when women's spaces are formally and rigidly protected. Domestic violence refuges are at risk. The entire premise of these centres is the protection of vulnerable and endangered women. We cannot take for granted the success and stability these centres offer, and their success is attributed to these centres being women run and women-led services. The trauma, danger and violence women face at the hands of harmful men cannot be trivialised for the sake of political opportunism.

On the matter of political opportunism, this vote on Friday is a waste of millions of euro on what is inconvenient language for the Government. Much of the commentary on the referendums talks about the need to amend Article 41.2.1° of the Constitution. Is it demeaning, sexist and outdated, to quote a few TDs who have spoken on this provision? This article in the Constitution is sadly endlessly misquoted as saying that a woman's place is in the home. In fact, the article instead acknowledges the unique role of mothers and women and particular life stages of the vast majority of women, and salutes their heroic role as mothers. According to the CSO, the population of female workers who work part-time is more than three times higher than the proportion of males at 23% and 7%, respectively. This is a clear demonstration of women balancing their home life and work commitments. Women balance the many demands of life between fulfilling jobs and careers and their own families. Those who seek to undermine the representation of mothers in the Irish Constitution are out of touch with the lives lived by most women in Ireland. Single mothers in particular are often the primary or sole caregivers in the home and juggle this heroic feat balancing work and personal life at the same time. To all the mothers of Ireland I say, we recognise you. Mothers are free to choose to balance their home life, their work life and their individual personal life. For anyone else to vote away the pedestal on which the Irish Constitution rightly holds you dear is nothing short of a tragedy. It endangers the hard-fought privileges enjoyed by mothers today.

Where this Government is intent on dismissing and ignoring the needs of women, we can turn to our European neighbours to see good examples of positive legal provisions for women, mothers and their families. Hungary, in particular, leads the way in tackling its demographic crisis and acutely understands that empowering women with the freedom to choose to stay at home or have favourable tax and labour conditions is fundamentally pro-women and pro-mothers. In Hungary, mothers between 25 and 30 have been offered an enormous tax relief since the start of 2023. If a Hungarian family goes on to have four or more children they are income tax-free for life. Why should Ireland strongly consider similar pro-women and pro-family policies? It is because fertility rates in Hungary have risen by approximately 25%, which is above the EU average. As we face demographic decline, I call on the Government to truly support the majority of women who are mothers or hope to be mothers in the future. For those women who are young, and in the future will become mothers, the failure of the housing crisis is economically impeding people in their 20s from starting a family of their own. Some 68% of the people in this country between the ages of 25 and 29 live at home with their parents. Starting a family or having their own home is out of reach for most people in their prime years of fertility. According to the CSO, the average age of first-time mothers in 2022 was 31 and a half years, down by one year from 2021 and up by from 25 in 1973. The average age of mothers at maternity for all births registered in 2022 was 33.2 years, down by 0.1 from 2021 and up from 29 in 1973. As a majority of women are now waiting until they are past the peak years of their fertility and health before having children, we cannot ignore the failure of the Government to provide incentives to tackle our demographic decline. Supporting women with pro-family and pro-woman policies would help enable this. This Government has created policies it deemed appropriate for unplanned pregnancy but what about the emerging issue of unplanned fertility and unplanned childlessness? In an age where people have critically or mockingly asked what a woman is, this vote is a danger and a sinister attack on the identity of all women.The politically correct and cultural radicals want to erase any understanding of the term "woman", which is rooted in science, reality and common sense. The Government is falling over itself to join these ideologues. The consequences of changing the Constitution echo to the depths of all parts of life. If a woman cannot be recognised as distinct from a man, with her own unique characteristics and irreplaceable role as mother, then the question must arise as to who she is. I urge all the people out there this Friday to go out and vote against the amendments the Government has put down. I will be asking the people to vote "No, No" on this International Women's Day on Friday.


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