International Women’s Day 2018: ‘It’s time to look back at what we’ve achieved’

Week’s events call for more space for women’s voices, ideas and professions

Senator Ivana Bacik said 2018 would be a key year for women’s rights in Ireland because of the upcoming referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: michaelbehan.ie

Senator Ivana Bacik said 2018 would be a key year for women’s rights in Ireland because of the upcoming referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: michaelbehan.ie

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“We live in a culture where women are trying to make their voices fit into a space that is not constructed for the female voice.That’s the conversation we need to have; changing the culture of the public space.”

Historian Mary McAuliffe’s words could easily have been spoken 100 years ago when women aged over 30 were first given the right to vote (another 10 years would pass before all women achieved equal voting rights with men). However, the UCD academic’s comments on the need to create a wider platform for women’s voices come in 2018 – a year which feels particularly significant for women not only in Ireland but internationally.

On Wednesday evening Ms McAuliffe joined a line-up of leading female Irish voices to discuss what women’s empowerment and equality means in 2018. Speaking at the Ban Ban event in Dublin’s Sugar Club to mark International Women’s Day, Ms McAuliffe noted that 2018 was a chance to reflect on how women’s lives had changed over the past century.

“It’s a good time to look back and ask how much have we achieved and what more do we need to do. The voices of women are still being silenced, that’s why campaigns like #MeToo are so important. Campaigns for gender parity in politics, closing the gender pay gap and the pension gap are important too. We need to look at the culture of violence against women and ask ourselves why that is. Why does that culture of feeling unsafe still exist?

“Feminism is going through a real Renaissance among young women and young men who are realising that transformation can only happen through activism.”

‘Key year’

Senator Ivana Bacik, chair of the Vótail100 committee, said 2018 would be a “key year” for women’s rights in Ireland because of the upcoming referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. “We’ve waited more than three decades for this recognition of women’s reproductive rights. Markievicz and others weren’t just campaigners for suffrage, they were campaigners for women’s rights in the home, at work... Today we’re seeing more awareness around women’s rights. It’s happening everywhere; it’s at the Oscars, it’s in the Seanad.”

Also speaking at Thursday’s event was Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin who highlighted the sacrifice made by our grandmothers and great-grandmothers in 1918 in their attempts to create a more equal society. She said the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus, which held its first meeting late last year, was dedicated to making women in Irish society more visible and added that a portrait of all current women senators and TDs was set to be unveiled the following day to mark International Women’s Day.

Also taking part in an event on Wednesday evening at the National Concert Hall, Sabina Higgins called for recognition of all the women in the arts who had worked tirelessly to bring female voices to the forefront of Ireland’s cultural sphere.

“In making the case for women’s rights artists have always been to the forefront,” said Ms Higgins. “As we celebrate the centenary of what was a great gain by women, gaining the franchise for women, we can recall that it was in the cultural sphere that the case was first made.

“In the case of our independence the cultural movement, the trade unions movement, the political movement and the women’s movement worked hand in hand.”

Female entrepreneurs

Speaking ahead of an event run by Enterprise Ireland, Bank of Ireland and DCU on Thursday to recognise the contribution of female entrepreneurs, Sarita Johnston reiterated the important role women play in building innovative start-up projects both at home and abroad.

“We can’t move away from this conversation, we need to keep pressing on the pedal and getting more women to start their own business,” says Ms Johnston, who is manager of female entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland. “This isn’t about doing a nice thing, it makes good business sense. More diverse teams have better decision making and better returns.”

Leticia Medina, who is running a round table event of Spanish women who work in science in Ireland on Thursday evening at the Instituto Cervantes, says women still feel a step behind men throughout their careers. Developing your career as a woman in a foreign country is even more challenging, adds Ms Medina who chairs the council of Spanish residents in Ireland.

“Gender equality is not a reality yet. It’s much better than 100 years ago of course but women still earn less than men and it’s more difficult for family reasons to develop their career. Men can still evolve professionally better than women.”

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