Introduction to ‘Ar Aghaidh le Misneach agus le Chéile’ - International Women’s Day 2021
8 March 2021
Is inniu lá idirnáisiúnta na mBan, agus ar an lá speisialta seo tá seans againn ár mbuíochas a dhíriú ar dhúshláin, ar iontas, ar ghaiscí agus ar mhisneach na mban in Éirinn agus ar fud na cruinne i gcoinníollacha speisialta COVID-19.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to mark, again, a date on the global calendar that I consider one of our most important dates, International Women’s Day. In previous years, Sabina and I have had the pleasure of celebrating this day by welcoming to Áras an Uachtaráin some of the women who, in breaking new ground, have contributed to the pursuit of a better and fairer world for their own, and for new generations of women yet to be born.
It is a day where it is appropriate, after all, to take stock of what has been achieved, the ongoing and new challenges that face us. When the contribution of women is not present in any aspect of society, society is lessened and we all lose.
Today, in the special circumstances of the pandemic, I have invited some remarkable women to combine and unite their voices in song, poetry, reflection and thought under the heading of ‘Ar Aghaidh le Misneach agus le Chéile’, ‘Going Forward with Courage Together’, our mission statement for this special year.
What we have achieved in terms of equality has not fallen from the sky. It has required courage in several generations. And that is still the challenge.
Making a difference is, of course, never easy. It takes immense courage to stand out, to refuse to accept cultural or behavioural dimensions of thinking, and to stand up to, and work to put an end to, authoritarian and paternalistic controls that others may have been conditioned to accept as normal.
We are so indebted, then, to all those who not only fight on behalf of those who are marginalised or oppressed, but who join in the fight with them, walking alongside them on a shared journey towards parity and equal opportunity.
Today forms an important part of two of my Presidential Initiatives - ‘Participation and Transformation’ and, ‘Samhlaíocht agus an Náisiún’ (‘Imagination and the Nation’). Both of these two projects are aimed at giving recognition to the vital importance of allowing, facilitating, the fullest participation by all in contemporary Irish life, and through such participation being part of the crafting of a better, shared future.
Today, International Women’s Day, is a most appropriate day for recalling and re-affirming our responsibility, too, as global citizens. Goal Number 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls on all its signatories to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” While COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to citizens around the world, we know that in its incidence and responding to it, it is women who are carrying the greater share of its economic and social consequences. In countries across the globe, women are carrying that heavy burden, so often without recognition or rights, not only in care and healthcare, but also in many of the industries, including hospitality, retail and food service, which are suffering most under COVID-19.
Six years ago, in February 2015, I accepted the invitation of the then UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, to become a Champion of the HeforShe campaign. In taking up this role, I committed to using the influence of my office to convey the simple but important message: that men must walk in solidarity with women and girls around the world if women's rights are to be fully achieved.
On this International Women’s Day, as we pay tribute to the extraordinary and the everyday contribution, vitality and courage of Irish women, I call on all of our people to accept responsibility for the vital role of men in recognising a world founded on mutual respect, support and equality between genders. We must all work together in conditions of full equality and unequivocal mutual respect.
So, drawing on the spirit and bravery of so many inspiring women, let us resolve to come together with renewed commitment and in solidarity with all women across the world, as we embark on a shared voyage that is driven by the compassion and empathy necessary to steer us towards a better future, and a fairer and more equal world.
Ar aghaidh linn le misneach agus le chéile. Beir beannacht.