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Is it time for a new feminism in Ireland?

The position of women in Irish society is highlighted again this weekend. Seemingly one qualified doctor is not enough to determine whether a woman is suicidal or not. Besides the whole abortion debate, it illustrates a worrying idea that ‘the women’s are not to be trusted’ (followed by someone shaking a stick at a camera in Salem).

This follows on from a week where maternity leave for female deputies and senators was rejected. Adding to a month where Croke Park II was found to be ‘anti women’ in an independent report. Furthermore, the role and value of women in the workplace was put in jeopardy by plans for income readjustment in the new Insolvency Regulations.

Is it just me or has the government launched some war on women?

So let me get this straight, the current government doesn’t trust women to do the following:

  • Have an independent economic role (Insolvency, Croke Park II)
  • Be able to accurately communicate the state of her mental health (Abortion)
  • Have financial supports when pregnant while acting as a public representative (Maternity Leave)

Does the government trust women to do anything at all?

Apart from the gender quotas legislation nothing much has changed for women. Oh and woe betide them if she decides to start a family while she has benefited from these quotas! Maternity leave should be there for women seeking to start a family. It should also be possible to split such leave between parents. But that’s an argument for another day.

The abortion issue is not just about life and where it begins but the value that society places on a woman. With the prohibition on abortion in Ireland, the status of a woman while pregnant is an uncomfortable question of which life takes precedence? Do we protect the mother or the child? Do we wait until both are at deaths door before intervention can be taken? In my opinion, the State has put the life of the mother below that of the life contingent (to borrow the X case phraseology) of the unborn child. The current draft legislation is unworkable and the only reasonable solution is to repeal the 8th Amendment.

When it comes to the economic value of women, we have only just developed from the days when women had to give up their jobs when they were married. Whether the Insolvency guidelines have been reformed or not, it still shows that the position of the mother in the workplace is viewed by some in power as more of a hobby which should be knocked on the head if and when childcare costs exceed her income.The fact that some women need, for their own sanity, a role outside of the home (which apparently women don’t know anyway).

Furthermore, the real insult by the government and the economic role of a woman is the reforms in Croke Park II. Thankfully, this shambles of an agreement was rejected by the grassroots civil and public servants. The agreement tried to push through amendments to working conditions which would have overwhelmingly have seen women placed in a worse position to their male colleagues. Flexible hours and leave to allow women to work around school timetables and holidays were to be cut. People may scoff at the conditions of the Public/Civil service, but it must be remembered than many shunned the lavish salaries of the Private sector in the Celtic Tiger period in order for a family friendly workplace.

The time has come for women to reassert their role in Irish Society and be counted. This is an economic and rights argument which needs to be heard. Is it time for feminism in Ireland to be re evaluated?


4 thoughts on “Is it time for a new feminism in Ireland?

  1. Jennifer,

    Re maternity leave for public reprentatives. Tds and Senators get full pay when they have a baby including when they are in hospital or at home. Pairing arrangements and time off are very much facilitated informally and I can vouch for this because I had a baby in the Seanad. What the Government said it would do on Friday was work with FF, who had tabled the Bill the debate of which was reported on by the Media, on amending Standing orders to formalise the pairing and other supportive arrangements, this not just for TDs that become mothers, but also for TDs that become fathers too. This would be in keeping with recommendations of the International Labour Organisation on the issue of supports for women in politics. It also promised to look at other ways that supports for new parents in the Dail and Seanad could be improved. Despite some media reports Fianna Fáil agreed to this approach and therefore not to push a division on their bill which as was pointed out unconstitional because the legal and Consitutional position is that TDs are not employees they are office holders, but more importantly the are deputies to the Dail on behalf of constituencies. You yourself refer to the Constitutional basis for Dail representation in your blog and would realise you can’t take leave from the role of being a Teachta Daila any more than a presentative could take leave from her role and nor should a progressive society want women with babies to be missing from decision making in the Dail, Seanad, Councils or the office of the presidency. Rather we should emulate those chambers like the Swedish Parliament and (believe it or not) South Dublin County Council that allow mothers of new babies bring their babies into the Chamber, while at the same time providing other important supports including child are facilities and breast feeding facilities.


    Joanna Tuffy

  2. Hi Joanna

    In fairness, your experience depends on the benevolence of party lines. This ‘informal’ structure may not be available to others. It is even debated if our current standing orders are truly democratic when the position of independent TDs is considered.
    The rest of you reply does tend to miss the point raised in the post. In fact they are superfluous to the main argument of the post. The essence is, why do policy makers regard women with such contempt? There seems to be an acceptable level of misogyny against the role of women from departmental level.
    As a TD I would be grateful if you could raise this in government as it’s unacceptable for women to be treated in this manner.

  3. Jennifer,

    That is true re the problem with informal structures, however what was agreed last week between Government and opposition, was to make formal those structures by incorporating them into the rules, i.e. standing orders, and to provide other supports, which might include for example a family room, because mothers of new babies that are members of the Oireachtas, like I was once, need to be able to bring their babies and children into Leinster House and while baby changing facilities and a creche were introduced to help TDS (of both genders) that bring their babies and children into Leinster House with them, more is needed, because when you have a baby you still want to have a voice in decisions by our parliament, and to represent the people you elected in that regard.

    I didn’t miss the point it was rather that I wanted to clarify one particular issue you wrote about in your blog post.

    But I will go through your 3 other issues and the points you make:

    Re Croke Park II – that was not an independent report. It was commissioned by trade unions opposed to the Croke Park II proposals. Impact which supported Croke Park II and the majority of whose members also supported Croke Park II and which represents huge numbers of women, stated that the report by Niall Crowley was “scaremongering and completely untrue” and also stated that “without an agreement there will be nothing to stop employers changing or even abolishing work sharing and flexitime arrangements”. Most women in the private sector would be incredulous at the suggestion that the arrangements under Croke Park II are anti women having compared those arrangements with their own in private sector jobs. The public sector sets a high standard for work life balance including career breaks, short term working, job sharing etc. and under Croke Park II it would have continued to set a high standard, albeit some of it rolled back and that is a concern but hopefully those concerns can be addressed in the future. You say that “the agreement would have overwhelmingly have seen women placed in a worse position than their male colleagues”. I cannot see how that could be as the proposals applied to all public sector workers, male and female, and women in their thousands voted for it (and in their thousands voted against too, I accept).

    Re the Insolvency guidelines – these guidelines are indicative and flexible, they are not “regulations”. Despite early reports based on comments made by Minister for Transport Leo Varadker, there is nothing in the guidelines on personal insolvency to allow banks to force parents to give up work if childcare costs are more than they earn.There is a reference to “the reasonableness” of childcare can be considered. Personal insolvency practitioners who act as mediators between banks and debtors, will consider “the typical cost of childcare in the debtor’s locality”. t says ” Childcare costs are also subject to variance depending on how much childcare is required and who is providing the childcare. Accordingly, childcare costs, like housing costs, have not been included in the set costs.” They were based on the guidelines used by MABS that have been working with debtors for years and much of the debate around the guidelines was sensationalist and out of context.

    Re the need to legislate for the x case – it is a contentious issue reflective of diverse views in Government and amongst the public. It would be amazing after 20 years and a Government finally contemplating legislating in line with the Supreme Court Judgement that there would not be a lot of debate otherwise known as “rows” and “division” but in fact part and parcel of a democracy and free speech.

    However I agree with you, Government policy should take into account at all times the impacts of policies from a gender perspective (and for example the Government is discriminating against men by refusing to legislate for paternity leave, which would also benefit women, and for guardianship for unmarried fathers) and I will raise your concerns in relation to the above.

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