Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald urged people to "throw out the stereotype" that women do not help each other as she addressed participants at the National Women's Council's Feminist Futures conference in Dublin on Thursday.
She said the support of women had helped her to get “where I am now”. “I am here as the Minister for Justice and I’m here as a feminist,” she said.
Recalling breastfeeding her baby at the back of a Women’s Political Association meeting, Fitzgerald said she thought, “gosh, will I ever be able to contribute to this?”
She went on to be chair of the NWCI.
Ms Fitzgerald also said the marriage equality referendum has been useful.
“I do think that when it comes to other challenging issues, such as reproduction, there are lessons there. It was very much that the personal is political. The model we have just seen was a very positive model of energising people and involving them in complex decisions.
“I do believe that old stereotypes are being replaced by new thinking,” she said.
The experience of women is critical for economics success, she told delegates. The fact that the majority of graduates are now women throws up challenges in family life and childcare.
Unconvinced by a call for Ireland to appoint a minister for women’s affairs, Ms Fitzgerald said she was proud she was part of a Government which had brought in gender quotas.
Getting a winnable seat is a different matter, “but it’s a start,” she said. Before adding: “If you want women elected, they need your number-one vote.”
The inclusion of women in politics will make a difference, she said, as gender balance is important to outcome.
She said big decisions are made in the Dáil and in the Cabinet and that it is important that women are at the table.
“Let’s make 2016 the year women get there,” Fitzgerald said.
Referring to the conference theme and its trending hashtag of #FeministFutures, NWCI director Orla O’Connor asked delegates to imagine a new world where “women are safe from men’s violence, a world where women have full reproductive rights, and childcare is accessible and affordable.
“Imagine networks of politicised women and boardrooms with gender balance.”
Historian Mary McAuliffe said equality was a cornerstone of the 1916 Proclamation yet the role of women was soon airbrushed out.
“As we approach the centenary of 1916, full equality between women and men will be our biggest battle.”