Women have benefited hugely from positive policies of EU


OPINION:The EU has promoted equality, dignity and social inclusion, writes OLIVE BRAIDEN

WOMEN FOR Europe believe that a Yes vote to the Lisbon Treaty represents the best and most secure way of strengthening Irish women’s rights, of building on our positive experience of membership of the EU over 36 years and of securing Irelands national interest at this most challenging time in our history.

We sometimes forget just how much Irish citizens have blossomed through EU membership. Irish women, in particular, have benefited hugely from the policy provisions of the EU which are focused on equality, dignity and social inclusion. It is thanks to European directives that women are no longer excluded from working in the public service after marriage and we all are entitled to equal pay, maternity leave and access to training. It was not always so.

For people with disabilities, the EU is leading the fight to narrow the gap in the employment rates between disabled and non-disabled persons.

Contrary to the suggestions of some, it is the EU which is working with its member states to promote universally accessible, high-quality and financially sustainable healthcare for all its citizens.

The EU is also focused on raising public awareness and promoting programmes to eradicate child poverty. It gives real financial support and not just lip service to those networks devoted to the fight against child poverty. It also continues to battle against the historical injustice of high-level pensioner poverty among older women compared to their male counterparts arising from womens traditional lower representation in the paid workforce.

As a Human Rights Commissioner and former director of the Rape Crisis Centre, a particular concern of mine is the enormous increase in the numbers of people being trafficked. A large percentage of these are young women. Ruhama, an organisation which helps women affected by trafficking, published its biennial report recently which records that assistance has been provided to 100 women who have been trafficked into Ireland for the purpose of prostitution. And these are just the women who have been found.

How many more women have been trafficked into the country and disappeared into the shadows of our society?

Article 5 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights attached to the Lisbon Treaty will help combat this horror by prohibiting trafficking in human beings. Voting Yes will enable individual countries within the European Union to co-operate more closely to continue the fight against this serious scourge.

For me one of my most important reasons for advocating a Yes vote is that the Lisbon Treaty will give legal effect to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The charter protects the improvements achieved to date in the quality of life for Irish women, the elderly, and the disabled by clearly underwriting our rights to freedom and justice and to be treated equally.

In the last Lisbon referendum 56 per cent of those who voted No were women. Again this time there are those indulging in unscrupulous scaremongering on issues which they know are of deep concern to women.

It has been claimed that Lisbon will lead to a lowering of the national minimum wage. This is a lie.The minimum wage is decided purely and simply by our Government.

Women have shown themselves to be particularly concerned about our neutrality. There has been a shameful attempt to provoke fear that their children could be forced to take part in military operations by the EU. The truth is a Yes vote to Lisbon in no way changes our neutrality. Our “triple lock” policy means that the engagement of Irish soldiers abroad must have a UN mandate and the mission must be approved by both the Government and the Oireachtas.

Women for Europe is a civil society movement involving women from all walks of life and all parts of the country. We want, for the future of our country, to continue to remain at the centre of EU decision-making as senior Irish women and men are currently doing so competently in the European institutions.

We want to stay the modern, outward country we have become. We want to look to the future with confidence. A Yes vote to the Lisbon Treaty gives us that chance.

Olive Braiden, chairwoman of Women for Europe, was the establishing chairwoman of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency