Women ‘far from achieving gender equality’, says Citizens’ Assembly

Chairwoman issues warning as Citizens’ Assembly to discuss issue for second weekend

Dr Catherine Day, chairwoman of the Citizens’ Assembly, says there is a feeling from the assembly  that gender equality is going backwards, not forwards. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr Catherine Day, chairwoman of the Citizens’ Assembly, says there is a feeling from the assembly that gender equality is going backwards, not forwards. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The #MeToo and Waking the Feminists movements demonstrate how far women are from achieving gender equality, Dr Catherine Day has said.

Dr Day, chairwoman of the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality, said both movements had “brought back to people’s consciousness” that the issue was far from settled.

She maintained the #MeToo movement, which began with allegations of sexual harassment against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and has grown to be a worldwide movement, demonstrated that sexual harassment remained a widespread problem in society.

Speaking in advance of the latest sitting of the assembly on Saturday, Dr Day said there was a feeling from the citizens involved in the assembly that gender equality was going backwards, not forwards.

She said people were “shocked” when the Waking the Feminists movement demonstrated in 2016 just how underrepresented women were in Irish theatre.

The movement was founded by a group of women following the announcement of the Abbey Theatre’s Easter Rising centenary programme in 2016 which included only one work by a woman out of 10 commissioned plays.

Dr Day, the former secretary general of the European Commission, said the Waking the Feminist campaign underlined the importance of having verifiable information to back up claims of gender inequality.

She drew attention to the Waking the Feminist slogan – See it, say it, call it, count it.

“They want to provide the data, point out where the problem is, attribute responsibility and accountability, and change things. People often don’t realise things until they see the data. When you look at the data, you realise how far we are from gender equality,” Dr Day said.

Although there has been equal pay legislation for 50 years “we don’t have it in reality”, she said and women were still disproportionately overrepresented in lower-paid positions.

“Childcare and home care are all heavily feminised and they are all much worse paid,” she said.

“Even in healthcare, men still seem to rise up to the management posts and be better paid than the women.”

The second weekend of the Citizens’ Assembly – the first was held in January – will be held online and will focus on women in leadership.

Proposals

The assembly was set up by an Oireachtas resolution in 2019 calling on citizens to bring forward proposals that challenge the “remaining barriers and social norms and attitudes that facilitate gender discrimination”.

Video submissions have already been received from a range of voices on the issue of gender equality including Women in Sport, Women on Air, Lian Bell, one of the founders of the Waking the Feminist movement, Maria Joyce of the National Women’s Traveller Forum, the Irish ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne Nason, and Anna May McHugh, managing director of the National Ploughing Championships.

There will be discussions on gender balance in politics and Gary Kennedy from the 30% Club, which is looking for a minimum of 30 per cent of women on corporate boards, has made a submission.

The 99 citizens will also hear from the Australian group Male Champions of Change which is campaigning for greater representation of women in leadership positions.

Dr Day stressed that the assembly was not just about women’s role in society but was looking at ways of making gender less of an issue in general.

All members of the assembly have been sent the videos in advance. As a consequence, the usual two-day session has been condensed into two-hour sessions on Saturday.

Airwaves

In advance of Saturday’s session, the Women on Air organisation released its submission stating there remains a “serious underrepresentation of women on the airwaves”.

Women, according to the organisation, were often characterised on air as being “shrill”, “high-pitched” and “emotional” while men’s voices tend to be described as “deep” and “authoritative”.

It points out that women are not a minority, but a majority of the population.

“It is obviously of concern that minority groups are underrepresented on Irish broadcast media and that also needed to be addressed; they are two separate issues – women are the majority in Irish society,” it states.

“The classification of gender inequality under the moniker of diversity allows the issue to be downplayed by treating it as one of many inequalities rather than a specific one affecting the majority of the population. And, of course, women may be doubly discriminated against by being ‘female and a member of the Traveller community’, for example.”