Rural women ‘pigeon-holed’ into low-paid jobs if returning to work

Longford meeting told it is a myth that homelessness is confined to cities

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop: she  said women seeking treatment for mental health or addiction problems were often dependent on neighbours to get to appointments.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop: she said women seeking treatment for mental health or addiction problems were often dependent on neighbours to get to appointments. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Women in rural areas who want to return to work and lift their families out of poverty are often “pigeon-holed” into poorly-paid jobs which are not valued by the State, a meeting in Co Longford has heard.

Louise Lennon, policy and communications officer with Irish Rural Link, said rural women trying to return to work tended to be pushed into working as carers, home-helps or child minders – roles which are low paid despite the key role they play in the community.

Citing the added burden placed on people in rural areas who had little access to public transport and vital services such as broadband, Ms Lennon said the pay was so low in many of the available jobs that the cost of transport and childcare meant they were not worthwhile.

She said some 90 per cent of farm land in Ireland is owned by men, and only 12.5 per cent of farm owners are female.

The burden of coping with mental health issues or domestic violence for women living in rural areas who have no access to transport or support mechanisms was also highlighted at a meeting hosted by Longford Women’s Link and the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) in Longford on Tuesday.

Addiction problems

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, chairwoman of the NWCI, said women seeking treatment for mental health or addiction problems were often dependent on neighbours to get to appointments, which was an added burden given the stigma involved .

“There is a stigma attached to accessing mental health services or supports for domestic or sexual violence, and so these problems can remain hidden,” she said. “In rural Ireland it is more difficult to access services especially if you live in a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business.”

Tess Murphy, a member of Longford Women’s Link and vice- chair of the Midlands Simon organisation, said it was a myth that homelessness was a problem confined to cities or that it only affected men with alcoholism or other addictions . “Last year half of our clients were women,” she said.

Simon supported 200 people across Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois, and dealt with 30 homeless men and women in Longford last year. “We come across people sleeping in cars and derelict buildings,” she said.

Ms Murphy said lack of mental health services was exacerbating the homelessness problem. “The issues around homelessness are obviously crucial, but poverty is at the root of it all. People who have mental health issues who have money will not end up homeless”.

Overcrowded home

She said there was also a hidden homelessness problem, with a few generations from the same family often forced to share an overcrowded home. “We come across cases where children are sleeping in the landings of their grandparents’ homes because there is no room for them.”

Ms O’Malley Dunlop said poverty, social exclusion and lack of access to education and employment opportunities were challenges facing rural communities.

“It is shocking that in 21st century Ireland we are talking about women and children experiencing such deprivation.

“ I am talking about the reality of people going without meals, mothers not eating so there will be enough for a child’s lunch the next day...Sadly these are the kind of bread and butter issues we are hearing about today.”