On Nollaig na mBan it is time to demand action for women

Women’s equality must be at centre of change in Ireland, beginning with the Constitution

This Nollaig na mBan, the day when men traditionally took over household chores so women could celebrate their Christmas, it’s time to commit to advancing women’s equality and increasing the pace of change.

There is a greater spotlight on inequality for women as a result of our experience of Covid-19. Domestic violence against women is considered the shadow pandemic, women remain the carers in Ireland with minimal shift in our culture of care, and our childcare costs are among the highest in Europe.

Meanwhile, we continue to battle the interference of the Catholic Church in our reproductive healthcare and the future of our new national maternity hospital.

Women’s equality has witnessed some monumental changes in recent years, yet the pace of change is too slow. We are approaching the midway point in our current Government’s term, and it is time to demand action for women.


Central to this conversation on care is the persistent issue of childcare that no government has effectively addressed

This is why the National Women’s Council (NWC) will hold a rally outside the Dáil to mark International Women’s Day in March, to ensure women’s equality is at the centre of change in Ireland.

Change has to start with the Constitution, and 2022 should be the year of a referendum to remove the sexist and outdated language of a woman’s place being in the home in article 41.2 to one that recognises and values care for the common good of our society.

In addition, a new definition of the family is required which replaces a definition based on marriage to one that recognises the full diversity of families in Ireland. This referendum should drive a new conversation on care in Ireland.

Central to this conversation on care is the persistent issue of childcare that no government has effectively addressed. The absence of affordable and accessible childcare remains a crucial barrier to women’s equal participation in all aspects of society and particularly in paid employment. While most parents are affected by the high cost of childcare, it acts as a significant barrier to employment for women who are not high earners.

Lone parents are particularly affected by affordability, with 60 per cent unable to pay for childcare services. At the same time, childcare workers are some of the worst paid in the country. Investment in crucial public services, especially childcare, is a cornerstone of the political change we need to see.

Abortion legislation review

When it comes to healthcare, women must have access to a full range of reproductive healthcare, including abortion. The review of our abortion legislation will be a significant opportunity for Government to widen access to provide abortion care for all women who decide to have an abortion at home.

Central to women’s reproductive healthcare is the development of our new national maternity hospital. We need to bring an end to the controversy surrounding a new national maternity hospital and establish a publicly owned and controlled hospital that will provide for women’s reproductive health now and into the future.

There can be no equality for women without a transformation in how violence against women is addressed to protect women and to hold perpetrators to account. The Government will launch a new national strategy on gender-based violence this year. This requires high ambition, clear leadership and responsibility at the highest level of government.

Again and again during this Covid pandemic, we are shown meetings of men making crucial decisions that affect all of our lives, without a woman in the room

Supporting women at the point of disclosure is critical. We know that a key reason why a woman stays in an abusive relationship is simply that she has nowhere else to go. In Ireland, we have one-third the recommended refuge spaces for women, and the reality on the ground is that nine counties in Ireland have no refuge spaces at all.

There has never been more of a need, as Covid has placed immeasurable pressure on our frontline services and violence against women is significantly more prevalent than we estimate.

This is a national crisis around which so many people are already organising; we are seeing so many local campaigns around the country standing up and demanding much-needed refuges.

Marginalised women

Women’s voices are often invisible, which can be a real barrier to progressing feminist change. This is even more so the case for marginalised women such as Traveller women, disabled women, women of colour who are invisible from our decision-making structures.

Again and again during this Covid pandemic, we are shown meetings of men – politicians and public health experts – making crucial decisions that affect all of our lives, without a woman in the room. We need more women in decision-making spaces, so we get better decisions for all, but especially for women.

So this year, let’s use our feet and our voices to ensure that no woman is left behind; let’s rally to ensure women are at the centre of our own healthcare, that women are safe, that women’s voices are heard and that women have access to crucial public services, especially childcare.

Orla O’Connor is director of the National Women’s Council