Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 March 2024

International Women's Day: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

We are speaking about International Women's Day on Friday when the central focus has to be the fact that we will be making really important decisions.

Senator Flynn outlined the multiple areas where policies and services are still falling short and the many really good actions that we set out. I was proud to be a member of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality. Instead of producing a report, we produced an action plan. We listed the many things that could be done in terms of gender equality and supporting care and we outlined not only that they could be done, but when they should be done. We set out a blueprint for delivering in a meaningful way, on care and for families and for women, and for dismantling the inbuilt inequalities that are deep in the State, in the social protection system and woven into every part of our policy-making and established systems.

We also called for a referendum. We also called as a committee, clearly, for the removal of the absolutely unacceptable language that we have currently in Article 41.2 and for its replacement with something that would recognise care in its fuller sense. On this International Women's Day, I will be going out and I will be voting, "Yes" and "Yes". I will be voting for diverse families to recognise that marital families are not the only families in the State and I will be voting to say that care actually matters and needs to be visible.

As a feminist, one of the great longstanding issues that I have campaigned on for 20 years is to make care visible and to say that care matters because even though it is the lifeblood of society, it is not really recognised. When I talk about gender budgeting and when we campaigned for gender budgeting and equality budgeting, central to that is that when we talk about budgets, we need to talk about the invisible work of care and how to make it visible. We need to talk about the need for care and how important it is in society. We need to talk about the value of care and the meaning of care, the fact that we are all in this in a meaningful way together and that we do things because we care. Being really clear, right now care is not in the Constitution. There is nothing that reflects care in the Constitution.

Also, there is nothing in the Constitution, and in Article 41.2 now, about obligations of the State. There is nothing about rights for women. What we have right now, in Article 41.2, relates to the duties of married mothers. That is what is in the Constitution. The reference is to the duties of married mothers and that the State might "endeavour" to help them out and help them stay in the home. That is what is there - weak language and a message that it is up to mothers and it is their duty to deliver not necessarily on care. We have also heard a lot about what terms such as "durable", mean. What I know is that "duties" is a term that maybe needs to be examined because "duties" does not necessarily mean care. It could be cooking and cleaning. It could be all of the many tasks and impositions that have been placed on women over years under the idea that women have duties and that those duties are in the home. That is what is there right now. I will be going out and I will be pushing for care to get recognised and be made visible.

It is mainly women providing that care. That is why recognising care is a feminist issue. That is why recognising care and putting it in the Constitution is a step forward because we say the work that women have been doing for decades matters and it is work that is not theirs because they are women. It is work that everyone should be doing, that all family members are contributing to and that the State should strive to support.

I wanted the language to be stronger. We put forward an amendment to say it should focus on the bonds between family and community because the responsibility for care goes much wider. That is a battle we will continue to have to make sure the State is stepping up in delivering and supporting care. That is why we have the action plan - all those really concrete meaningful actions that are there in the gender equality action plan. Each one of them needs a campaign. I will certainly continue to campaign on each of those but I know that I will be stronger doing so if there is a section in the Constitution that is marked care. I believe that we will be weaker doing it if, in 2024, we send a signal that mothers' duties are in the home, that the way the State needs women to contribute is in the home, that that is where their value is. First of all, we will be tying women in the home. I welcome that the new language is not confined to the home. It talks about care happening outside the home. It talks about care between family members wherever that may be - care that might include personal needs assistance and all of the things that family members need to participate in fully.

Going back to that language that is there right now, the idea that this is something dreamed up by this Government is not true because I have been campaigning for changes on this and I am a latecomer to it. For over a decade, not the citizens' assembly but the constitutional convention, which Labour brought in in 2013, called for the removal of Article 41.2 and gender neutral language that recognised care. The citizens' assembly called for gender neutral language that recognises care. They wanted the wider community in there too. That is the additional battle.

Groups and NGOs, such as the women's council, the Children's Rights Alliance and the trade unions which have been in the fight for women's rights for years, have been calling for decades for change in the Constitution and for the removal of this damaging article. The Government, to be honest, is quite a Johnny-come-lately on the issue.

The wording the Government has come up with is not necessarily the best but how people vote will not be about a message to a Government which will probably be gone in six months' time. How people vote is a message that we send to each other as citizens about what matters to us collectively and how we see each other and what should matter to us collectively is all families being treated equally. What should matter to us collectively is care being recognised, really recognised and made visible and support being pledged to it or, indeed, at least the pressure for support to be added to it.

What I really do not want is that another generation comes up with a background noise of misogyny because of the people who say: "Let us wait and we will do another referendum." It took 20 years to get to this. I do not accept that mothers should offer it up and put up with background noise misogyny in our Constitution or half the population having to accept maybe another five or ten years of background noise of misogyny in the Constitution that might get echoed, as it does, in the school playground in the joke about the women in the kitchen. How do you kick back on that joke when it is in our Constitution? I do not accept having to wait for this change. I will be pushing for "Yes", "Yes".

Because it is International Women's Day, the 9,000 women killed in Gaza and the women suffering around the world were rightly spoken about previously.I am also in solidarity with those women in Hungary, Poland and the US who have seen their rights rolled back. Let us be clear, in that there are people – not historically, but in 2024 – who would love to see the rightful frustration of people with disabilities who want better rights being weaponised against the rightful frustration of women who want equality and ending up with no progress at all. There are those who are waiting for an opportunity to push back on our rights. That is why we push forward for women, care and people with disabilities.


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