Sabina speaks at the Listen and Launch of the Equal Ireland Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) Working Women Project
Connacht Hotel Galway Wednesday, 2nd May, 2018
It is a great pleasure to be here today to attend the launch of EQUAL’s Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL), which aims to provide women with qualifications that will open up an important pathway back into the workforce.
I am particularly delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you during this important year when we mark the centenary of women gaining the right to vote, and celebrate the courage and tenacity of the many suffragettes who fought for women’s rights. These women had to petition, march, break windows and even go on hunger strike in order to gain that most basic civil right; a voice in the shaping and crafting of their society.
There can be no doubt that many women in 21st century Ireland can dream and hope to realise their potential in ways that would have been impossible for their grandmothers and great grandmothers.
However, we still have a long way to travel before it can be claimed that women have achieved true equality in our society or live in an equal country or in an equal world.
Here in Ireland, as in so many countries across the world, female labour market participation remains significantly lower than that of males. There are many reasons for this, some rooted in a cultural and social norm which saw women as doers of unpaid work or should they marry be obliged by the ‘marriage bar’ to depart the workplace.
Like women around the world, they continue to face systemic barriers and frustrations as they seek to remain or become active members of the labour market. The challenge of the high cost of childcare, and of organising childcare, and trying to balance work and family life is often an insurmountable problem. The lack of flexibility and the refusal to require flexibility in the workplace is a major barrier and discriminates, particularly against women.
In 2016 a World Economic Forum gender gap report placed Ireland top of the table for educational attainment, indicating that there is no difference in terms of educational attainment between men and women. However, when it came to economic participation and opportunity, Ireland dropped to 49th position, due to lower female participation in the workplace, and lower average earnings for women.
As well as practical obstacles there are, of course, the well-documented emotional difficulties which many women experience when they contemplate entering or re-entering the labour market. It is worrying, but sadly unsurprising to learn that guilt, lack of confidence, low self-esteem and anxiety continue to be impediments for many Irish women who are considering a return to work.
This is where the inspired initiative of establishing this community-based education facility of EQUAL Ireland comes in. In this society, where women still struggle to achieve equality in the workplace, where mothers and carers do not receive due recognition for the important and skilled work they do, and where many females cannot enter or remain in the workforce due to lack of flexibility from employers or prospective employers, we can be very grateful indeed for the EQUAL Ireland Working Women project and the wide range of training and education interventions it offers its participants.
Through the programme, participants will be re-introduced to the discipline of learning, work towards the achievement of certificates and a BA in Business, Enterprise and Community Development, while building their confidence, self- esteem and sense of achievement in an environment that is inclusive and non-competitive.
I am particularly impressed by the worth and respect that is given to the lived experiences of the participants, and the recognition that those experiences have so much of value to offer to this programme, as do the garnered talents, skills and wisdom of all of its participants. It is a programme that recognises that none of those taking part are starting with a blank sheet but have already learnt much on their life’s journey, and their participation in EQUAL Ireland’s Working Women project is yet another step in that onward journey.
I have noticed the high number of graduates who are in the rural areas, that is so important considering the importance of preventing the depopulation of the regional areas.
In a world that has become more divided and unequal, and the gap between the rich and the poor has increased to an unsustainable level, both between countries in different parts of the world and inside countries, the solutions have to be global, if life on the planet is to be saved. Action to remedy the situation has resulted in the signing up in New York in 2015 by 200 countries at the United Nations to the Sustainable Development Goals, and to 169 countries in Paris signing legally binding pledges to tackle climate change needs.
The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a set of goals to end hunger, poverty, protect the planet, empower women and ensure education and prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Five of its goals depend on the ending of discrimination against women, and gender violence, and giving priority to the empowerment of women. As global citizens we must all be enabled and be willing to play our role in becoming informed participants, willing and able to engage in discourse, on the creation and implementation of new models; courageous citizens prepared to challenge, to question and to explore better alternatives.
The aim of community development is to bring together people in a community that would have a sense of solidarity, of cohesion and self-worth and that would become a community of informed active citizens in caring for themselves and their communities. It provides a second chance of further education for those who wish to access higher education but whose circumstances, including the cost or geographical location did now allow them the opportunity. The participants in this second chance education facility will be well qualified, and have the tools to be able to play a really important role in realising the goals.
I congratulate all of those determined women who have come here in search of a better future, and have found a voice and the confidence that has allowed them to play a part in crafting that future for themselves, their children, their community, and through that the wider society. I wish you all success as you continue with your work of transformation.
It is important to recognise the personal sacrifices that must be made to find the time and space to study, learn and grow.
In conclusion, may I thank and commend all those involved in designing the Working Women Project, and wish its’ participants an enjoyable and inspiring experience that will lead them down new and successful pathways.