Miriam O'Callaghan: Society tries to divide women but we should stand together

The Women's Podcast at Electric Picnic: Miriam O’Callaghan joins Traveller activist Eileen Flynn, asylum seeker Ellie Kisyombe, and more, to discuss challenges faced by women in Ireland

“Society tries to divide us into working women, non-working women, mothers, people who choose not to be mothers, Traveller women, rich women, ugly women, thin women, fat women. Forget about it,” says RTé broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan.

"We're all women and I think the most important thing is that we stand together and we support each other," she told an audience at a live recording of The Women's Podcast on the Sound Effect stage in the Mindfield arena at Electric Picnic last Friday evening.

Borrowing its title from the Maya Angelou poem of the same name, And Still We Rise presented by Róisín Ingle in association with A Lust For Life/Pieta House, delved into some of the key issues facing women in Ireland today including racial and cultural discrimination, the right to bodily autonomy and workplace inequality.

On the panel with Miriam O'Callaghan was Traveller rights activist Eileen Flynn, Direct Provision activist Ellie Kisyombe, disability activist Sinéad Burke aka Minnie Melange and Mari Kennedy, a leadership coach coach who has previously worked for President Mary McAleese.

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Speaking about the challenges she faces as a working class Traveller woman, Eileen Flynn pointed out that while it is important for women to stand together, it is also important to acknowledge the differences that exist and how they contribute to the myriad difficulties faced by women across all sectors of society.

“I tried to make myself fit into society but now I’m looking around and I see that society is not good enough for me. But society is not good enough for these women here beside me either. When you’re born into Ireland, or any country in the world, as a woman you’re disadvantaged. Then when you’re born as a black woman, a woman with a disability, or a Traveller woman, you’re even more disempowered and shoved down all the time,” she said.

Campaigner and activist Ellie Kisyombe is the co-founder of the Our Table project, which helps those going through the process of seeking asylum share their cooking skills and gain experience in catering.

From Malawi, Kisyombe is a mother of two and has been in the asylum system here for the past eight years. For her, every day is a challenge.

“As an asylum seeker woman, it’s very hard for me. Everything is a fight, everything is a battle to get through every day,” she told the crowd.

Sinéad Burke is a primary school teacher, a disability activist and a fashion blogger, whose recent TED talk on design has passed one million views. She spoke about the challenges she faces as a little person in a world that is not designed to meet her physical needs and about the importance of using your privilege to help others without it.

“By saying that I am a white, disabled, working class woman working in academia, that’s wonderful but what am I doing to amplify the voices of women of colour in direct provision? What am I doing to ensure that Traveller women are supported?”

Ten years ago, life as Mari Kennedy knew it changed dramatically. She left her high-flying job in the office of President Mary McAleese, her marriage fell apart and she lost her home.

She spoke about how that experience altered her view of the world and taught her that she "had to descend into the pain and start to question when things fall apart, what is it like to be vulnerable?"

The panel also spoke about repealing the Eighth Amendment, fashion, the gender pay gap, self-care, and much more.

To listen to the full Women's Podcast recorded live at Electric Picnic go to www.irishtimes.com/podcasts, iTunes, Soundcloud or your preferred podcast app.