Few would disagree that life for Irish women, and women in Ireland, has improved significantly in recent decades. Even the last four years alone have brought seismic, positive change.
We as a country have legalised gay marriage (2015) and given women bodily autonomy with the legalisation of abortion (2018). For a place that once demanded women leave employment when they married (Marriage Bar, which was abolished in 1973), it has been an incredible leap.
However, while much has been done to improve the lives of women in Ireland, there is still more to do. This International Women's Day, we're thinking of the obstacles still to be overcome, but know the power Irish women now have to meet such challenges.
1) Reproductive rights for women in Northern Ireland
The Repeal the Eighth campaign, carried so powerfully by a core of brave and determined women, saw the Republic of Ireland affording its women control over their own bodies in 2018. However our sisters north of the border are still faced with having to travel to access safe abortions.
The champions of the Repel campaign are already on the case - and the march in Dublin on International Women’s Day is a public declaration of solidarity with the North and a promise that Ireland’s women demand change.
2) Period poverty
A topic that has been receiving increasing coverage in the media in Ireland and beyond. According to Plan Ireland, a survey of over 1,100 young women aged between 12-19 years revealed that 50 per cent of Irish teenage girls have experience affordability issues around sanitary products. Period poverty also has a huge impact on Ireland’s continually growing homeless population.
Homeless women have limited access to sanitary products and often don’t have the money to purchase them or any supplementary period care such as painkillers. Groups such as The Homeless Period Ireland project are working to change things. Hopefully Ireland will soon follow Scotland’s lead and provide sanitary products to low income women free of charge.
3) The gender pay gap and glass ceiling
According to Eurostat, the gender pay gap in Ireland was a hefty 13.9 per cent in 2014 (although we weren't the worst: the EU figure was 16.7 per cent). And a recent Higher Education Authority's (HEA) survey shows that male teaching graduates earn almost €4,000 more than women.
The presence and visibility of women in management and more senior roles is also something that needs to be improved - and, thankfully, things are moving in the right direction. According to Grant Thornton International's Women in Business report, Ireland sits eighth out of 35 countries globally in terms of percentage of women in leadership roles. And, while 22 per cent of firms here say they have no women in senior management roles, that’s a marked improvement on 2017 (when it was 39 per cent) and 2016 (41 per cent).
4) Safety for women
It seems that hardly a month goes by without news of some shocking violence carried out on a woman in Ireland. Women’s Aid's Femicide Watch 2018 report, published in November 2018 revealed that, at that point, 225 women had been murdered in Ireland since 1996. Even more shocking was the news that nine out of 10 of them were killed by a man known to them. (Already in 2019 there have been further violent and fatal attacks on women in this country, including the death of Jasmine McMonagle in Donegal in January and Cathy Ward in Dublin in March.)
Women's Aid's findings prompted the charity to call for the urgent introduction of formal reviews of domestic killings "to help protect women and children and save lives”. The Domestic Violence Act came into law in 2019 and recognises the damaging effects of coercive control and mental abuse. Charities and activists are hoping that structures, such as training and resources for Gardaí, will be put in place to ensure this leads to more security for Irish women.