Feminist pressure group holds theatre organisations to account

Waking the Feminists slate theatre organisations for below-par gender equality record

Top-funded Irish theatre organisations have the worst records for gender equality in the industry, according to research compiled for the Waking the Feminists movement.

On Monday at the Abbey Theatre, Waking The Feminists held its final public event of a year-long campaign for gender equality. The campaign was kickstarted by the gender disparity in the national theatre's 1916 centenary programme, Waking the Nation.

Abbey board member Loretta Dignam, who is also chairwoman of the theatre's Committee on Gender Equality, spoke at the event, reasserting its commitment to eight principles on gender equality that it announced in August this year. Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, the new directors at the Abbey, said the duty of the national theatre is to represent and perform for its citizens, "regardless of gender, accent, race or money in your pocket".

Representing the wider theatre community in Ireland were: Selina Cartmell, the new artistic director at the Gate Theatre; actors Lisa Dwan and Denise Gough; production manager Marie Tierney; and her daughter, writer Lisa Tierney Keogh. Set designer and producer Lian Bell, whose comments on social media ignited the movement, spoke with pride at its achievements so far – in particular, the concrete changes that have been effected at the Abbey and other arts organisations, and the research undertaken on the movement's behalf, which means "change will be measurable".


Key roles

Dr Brenda Donohue, who led the research team, presented some early results. It studied the top 10 Arts Council-funded theatre organisations, and compiled a gender breakdown for key roles over a 10-year period.

According to Donohue: "The top three funded organisations" – the Abbey Theatre, Gate Theatre and Dublin Theatre Festival – "had lower percentages for female participation in all categories" than the other organisations surveyed. Donohue and a team of six colleagues will continue their research over the coming year with the support of the Arts Council.

There were also contributions from the international theatre community. Emma Rice, who controversially left her position as artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London last month, made an appearance via video link. Playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues, flew in from the US. In the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, she said patriarchy is "a stubborn and insidious virus . . . without constant vigilance it is easy to slip back".

Laureate for Irish Fiction Anne Enright spoke about gender inequality in the world of literature. Said had previously been reluctant to speak out, but Waking the Feminists "gave me my politics back".

Col Maureen O'Brien, the first female colonel in the history of the Defence Forces and botanist Dr Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington spoke about overcoming inequality in their respective careers. Karen O'Loughlin, campaigner and equality organiser with Siptu-Irish Equity, said: "The barriers to equality remain the same for women as they were more than 122 years ago: child care, low pay, length of day. "

While this event marked the end of the public campaign, Waking the Feminists will continue working with the theatre community to improve gender quality over the coming years.

It is calling for gender parity in the theatre within five years.