Second Opinion: In the world of sport, women are still making the sandwiches

Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin writes about his ‘15 minutes of fatherhood’ in his new book. Photograph: Alan Betson

Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin writes about his ‘15 minutes of fatherhood’ in his new book. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

I am an avid fan of RTÉ Radio 1 but there were times, over the past few weeks, when I had to switch off, move the dial, or leave the room. The amount of media coverage given to sport, in particular the GAA championships and Rugby World Cup, was over the top. From morning until night radio programmes broadcasted hours of hurling, football and rugby. And it didn’t stop at matches: listeners were subjected to endless interviews with team managers, coaches and commentators, and lengthy post-match discussions.

Every RTÉ Radio 1 programme included extra sports items. For weeks on end self-satisfied males, many of them with a sense of importance and entitlement, were asked to express their opinions about all sports matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-sport. Sport is positive. The GAA and other sports organisations do great community work. The problems arise with the amount of media coverage given to male sport, and a complacent listenership. Irish sexist attitudes mean most people think the excess coverage is normal. Women are so used to being left out, ignored, sidelined, and occasionally indulged, that even they think the coverage is normal. When it comes to sport, women are making the sandwiches.

In the week following the All-Ireland hurling final, Seán O’Rourke interviewed Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin, who described his parenting when training as “15 minutes of fatherhood”. He writes about parenting, and how it impinged on his sports career, in his new book, The Autobiography. “I’d describe myself as a modern father, in that I’d happily change nappies, do my little bit.” On his 15 minutes of fatherhood: “I leave the house at 5.30 [15 minutes after he gets home from work], when I’m pulling back in the gate everyone’s in bed and asleep.”

Crying babies upset his routine: “To be woken by a teething baby in All-Ireland final week is to feel a rising panic. What if I don’t get back to sleep and end up feeling drained?” Who cares? Is sport as important as a child’s needs?

Unfortunately, this behaviour is par for the course, not only for sportsmen but for many Irish males. The Gender Equality Index 2015 shows that twice as many Irish female workers as males are “doing cooking and housework every day for one hour or more”. According to the Central Statistics Office, 98 per cent of those looking after home and family in Ireland are women.

There is no doubt that Ireland is still an extremely sexist society. In June 2015, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published its concluding observations on the third periodic report of Ireland and, among other matters of concern, its findings in relation to equality. “The committee regrets that article 41.2 [on women’s duties within the home] of the Constitution on the role and status of women in Irish society remains unchanged. It is also concerned by the pervasive gender inequality in the State party, in particular the under-representation of women in decision-making positions across all sectors in [Ireland] and the widening gender pay gap, as well as the strong gender role stereotypes in the family and society.” The committee criticised the “pervasive domestic violence”, [level of] maternity and paternity benefits, and the dearth of “affordable public childcare services”.

In its submission to the same committee, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission acknowledged the stereotypical attitudes towards the role of women in Irish society but seem powerless to do anything about it other than repeatedly recommend that politicians take action.

Women in Ireland will never be equal until the Government introduces State-funded childcare. And not just a second free pre-school year. Pre-schooling is not childcare, which should be available from early morning until evening so that both parents can work full-time. Women need to be able to pursue careers and promotions, in the same way that top sportsmen, who usually have wives at home to do the childminding and housework, can.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like affordable childcare will be provided any time soon. A recent Irish Times survey of 1,200 adults found that only 3 per cent want Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to increase spending on childcare in the Budget. Maybe the GAA could take up the cause. If sportsmen and their fans spent even a quarter of the time, energy and zest they devote to sport, to a campaign for publicly funded childcare, the country would be awash with cheap creches by Christmas. In fact, it is scary to think of how quickly they could make it happen.

drjackyjones@gmail.com Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion and a member of the Healthy Ireland council.

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