Gender imbalance in public life highlighted ahead of Women's Day


THE REPRESENTATION of women in Irish public life remains “pathetic and embarrassing” for a modern nation, the chief executive of the National Women’s Council of Ireland has said.

As a day of celebration and resolution gets under way across the State today, with events to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, Susan McKay said while great strides had been made for Irish women, the fact that fewer than 17 per cent of new TDs were women was a reminder that true equality was a distant aspiration.

“We commend the new coalition for reversing the cut to the minimum wage, for promising legislation to tackle Ireland’s outrageous levels of domestic and sexual violence, and for committing itself to ending the effective exclusion of women from politics,” she said.

“And we are glad that some women with a strong record of support for women’s equality, including Joan Burton, Frances Fitzgerald and Jan O’Sullivan, look set to have positions in which they can make real changes, including insisting that we need legislation to get more women into the Dáil.”

The council will this morning publish a women’s charter for equality, which will highlight, among other facts, that women do most unpaid care work; are concentrated in low-paid and part-time jobs; and account for 92 per cent of lone parents, a group which has the highest poverty risk rate, at 36.4 per cent.

The charter will call on organisations to “include a strong, explicit focus on the needs of women” in their strategies and policies.

At noon in the National Library, at an event titled That Far Off Thing, prominent women such as artist Alice Maher and theatre director Lynn Parker will celebrate women’s work “in and for Ireland”.

The title comes from a quote by the early 20th century Northern Irish feminist and poet Alice Milligan – “Freedom is as yet to all appearances a far off thing” – and the event will feature a tour of an exhibition about Milligan.

Self Help Ireland is urging people to remember the women of Africa and to sign the “Change Her Life” petition, which calls on western governments to guarantee African women a specific portion of international agricultural aid.

Women in Africa get a “raw deal”, doing up to 80 per cent of all farm work, but receiving as little as 5 per cent of available support, such as tools, advice, seeds, credit and training, says Ray Jordan of the organisation.

“This is not about asking for more money. It’s about doing more with the money we have. Studies have shown that if African women farmers receive the same supports as their male counterparts, food production increases by 20 per cent.”

The petition is online at

In the Central Library at the Ilac Centre, at 1pm, Mary Cullen, lecturer in modern history at NUI Maynooth, will deliver a lecture on the history of the suffrage movement in Ireland.

At noon, in Bray, Co Wicklow, 100 balloons will be released to mark 100 years of International Women’s Day, at the steps of the Holy Redeemer Church.

In Cork this evening, Solidarity Books will be offering a free meal at 6pm in Fionbarras pub on Douglas Street, followed by a talk at 7pm by Margaret O’Regan on the struggle for contraception in Ireland, followed at 8pm by a talk by Nicola Morry on the origins of International Women’s Day.

In Drogheda, Co Louth, the Connect Family Resource Centre “welcomes all women for a morning of talks, treats and pampering” at its resource centre at the Moneymore Estate.

Sligo Family Resource Centre will be offering pancakes to celebrate the day from 10am.

Pancakes are also being served in Waterville, Co Kerry at 7.30pm at Teach Amergin, by the Southwest Kerry Women’s Association.

This will be followed by a screening of the movie Eat, Pray, Love. In Portlaoise, the Laois branch of Amnesty International Ireland will host a literary and music evening in Kavanagh’s bar, Main Street at 8pm.

At 3pm the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland is hosting a discussion at Dublin City Council offices in Wood Quay, on the International Labour Organisation’s campaign for decent working conditions for domestic workers, the vast majority of whom are women.

All events are free.

Day of celebration: history of the event

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’s Day 2011 will be marked by more than 1,600 events in scores of countries around the globe and is an official holiday in about 25 of them.

The day aims to honour women’s achievements and celebrate their contributions, past and present, in all walks of life, including the economic, political and social spheres, and highlight outstanding issues affecting women in particular.

The day has its origins in the socialist movement in the early decades of the 20th century, prompted in large measure by the demand for voting rights for women. That campaign gathered momentum in the closing decades of the 19th century, partly by the consequences of the industrial revolution which saw women inducted into the labour force as never before in countries such as Britain, Germany and the United States.

In the US in 1908, some 15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. The following year, the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Woman’s Day, which fell on February 28th and was observed in the US until 1913.

The progenitor of International Women’s Day emerged in Europe in the form of an international women’s conference held in Copenhagen in 1910 by the Second International, an organisation of socialist and labour parties founded in Paris in 1889. At that conference, a German woman, Clara Zetkin, who led the “women’s office” for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, called for the creation of an international women’s day, a day on which every year, in every country, women would press their demands.

The suggestion was passed unanimously by 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. The first International Women’s Day was March 19th, 1911 but in 1913, it was moved to March 8th.

From its birth within the socialist movement, the day has become a global phenomenon and is now recognised by the United Nations and has its own website,

Zetkin’s political trajectory took her from the Social Democratic Party to the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany and to its far-left wing, the Spartacist League, which later became the Communist Party of Germany.

In August 1932, as the chairwoman of the Reichstag by seniority, she called for people to fight National Socialism. When Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party took over power and banned the Communist Party, Zetkin went into exile in the Soviet Union, where she died in 1933, aged 75. - PETER MURTAGH