Statement on International Women’s Day
Date: Tue 8th Mar, 2022 | 17:23
International Women’s Day is one of the most important days in the year for Sabina and I as President of Ireland. It is a special day when it is appropriate for all of us to celebrate the achievements of all the many great women who leave such a lasting mark on all our lives, but, and even more importantly, it is also a day to challenge the many great wrongs which continue to be inflicted on women across our society and across the world, and in particular the many horrific acts of violence which continue to be inflicted on women.
On this International Women’s Day 2022, I know that all our thoughts will be in particular with those brave women fleeing with their children from horrific violence in Ukraine. We stand with the women of Ukraine, and once again call on Russia to withdraw troops, and see the urgent necessity of restoring peace.
At home in Ireland, we have as a nation been through a most difficult two years as we battled, and indeed continue to meet the challenge of the Coronavirus Pandemic. For all of us, it was a time that called upon us to make sacrifices in the way we lived our lives, and to demonstrate a spirit of resilience and solidarity as we navigated our way through unprecedented times. We must recognise that some, particularly those with little resources, and among so many of them women, suffered more than others.
Women’s Aid have reported an increase of 43% in those seeking their assistance during 2020 compared to 2019. We also know that the number of protection and interim barring orders granted to victims of domestic violence increased enormously during that time. May I say what a debt we owe to those organisations exposing this violence and who are working to help the victims of this violence, victims whose courage in speaking out are encouraging those seeking to muster courage.
In recent times we have also been shocked by more recent tragic events of violence, leading to the deaths of young women. Young women with so much potential and possibility to offer our society, have had their lives taken, leaving heartbroken those who loved and cared for them. The families who mourn them have been failed by a society that continues to hold in it and tolerate behaviour that allows women become the victims of discrimination, belittlement, abuse and aggression.
There can be no doubt that we must now re-examine, in a spirit of some urgency, all of those factors allowing this to continue and all of the disrespect and exclusions too that prevail for women in our society. Yes there has been progress, and it is important that we recognise the many positive changes that have been brought about, often due to the work of hard working and courageous women across our society over the generations, indeed there are events taking place all across the country today where many of these achievements will be celebrated, but there is so much more which we must do.
We are past time for giving urgent consideration to the actions we might take in order to ensure that violence against women, in all its forms, is removed from our society along with all behaviour that contributes to the continuation of a society which is not fully inclusive. We have not been valuing the voices and respecting the rights of all our citizens. I recently visited women of the Travelling community. Why should it have to get to the Supreme Court to establish their basic rights?
We are a country that strives to be a Republic, with a commitment in our Constitution to cherishing all our people equally. That is a commitment we have sadly failed to fulfil, in a country where women cannot walk alone in many places without fear of being attacked or subjected to unwanted attention or comments, where one in five employees have been sexually harassed at work – the majority of them women, where so many simple daily actions and situations place women in an environment where they feel unsafe or vulnerable.
In recent times more and more courageous women have come forward to tell their stories of abuse, harassment, discrimination and humiliation, including in institutions of the State from which we were entitled to witness the setting of an example, rather than reports of abuse.
All too regularly we read reports of women being abused physically and psychologically, controlled, humiliated, stalked, attacked, and terrorised. We hear of the organisations that fail to deal with abuse, hierarchy who turn a blind eye to the exploitation and ill treatment that continues to be experienced by so many of their female members.
We witness the casual misogyny, the vulgar comments, the online abuse meted out daily to women and considered by many men to be acceptable, harmless and even humorous.
We listen to their stories and it is reported that we are shocked, we are appalled, we are angered, but are we? Listening, however, is not enough, we need to talk and we need to act. Calling for a national conversation on how we, as a society, can create a fairer and safer environment for our female citizens is by now becoming repetitive. It cannot wait. Why has it to be so? Perhaps the answer is that a frozen bureaucratic structure is unable to unfreeze itself from old failed and damaging assumptions.
We cannot begin the change too early. Even in the creches, the areas of play, all spaces of interaction.
Across all spectrums and fields of Irish society we must begin to consider and discuss the ways in which we are at best continuing to ignore, and at worst facilitating and enabling, the discrimination and abuse that so many women suffer and tolerate in their daily lives. We must recognise that a culture that accepts and fails to speak out against the daily forms of abuse and belittlement of women is a culture that silently enables its endurance and escalation, with often serious consequences such as ill treatment, exploitation and even death.
Countries that are safe for the women and girls who inhabit them can only grow from societies and communities that are respectful and inclusive of all their female members. In order to ever achieve such places, and they are too rare, we must teach our young males to be respectful of women in the way they treat and speak about them.
Surely it must be basic to ensure our workplaces are spaces where women are free from inappropriate comments and gestures, and where their salaries and opportunities for development and promotion speak of organisations of which their female employees are fully valued and respected members.
We must ensure that women are strongly represented at all levels and particularly in leadership positions and key decision making roles in the public sector, private sector and boardrooms and break down the traditional and stereotypical career expectations which continue to see areas of employment such as clerical and office work and caring duties to be dominated by women; significant gender segregation in the uptake of subjects in the STEM fields of science, technology engineering and mathematics; the building of obstacles that deter so many women from remaining in professions for which they are fully qualified, and in which they have so much to offer.
We cannot ignore either the significance of to the lesser status accorded to work of care, compassion, kindness – work that is carried by women, and by men too, to a lesser degree.
Beyond the workplace, in every area of life we must examine the change we need. We must ensure our sporting fields and arenas are even playing pitches in every way, women’s achievements receiving the equal promotion and media recognition that is not only deserved, but is essential to the achievement of equal pay for all of our sportswomen. In addition, we must make certain that the sportsmen we present to our young people as role models and heroes must be fully deserving of those titles, in their behaviour both on and off the field.
That women are appropriately and accurately represented in the most important and enriching world of arts and culture is so important, with gender equality and gender bias in the Irish Arts must be very firmly made a thing of the past.
Today, Sabina and I had planned to bring together key organisation from across all sectors of society at Áras an Uachtaráin to consider actions which they can take as individuals or as organisations to realise the dream of a truly equal world in which the relationships between the genders is one of solidarity, equality, and respect and defined by a spirit of shared humanity.
While we have unfortunately had to postpone this event due to our own positive COVID-19 tests, we look forward to the rearranged event taking place on 23 March where we can further explore these issues and continue the work of bringing to fruition of that dream.
Míle buíochas daoibh uilig as bhur n-iarrachtaí go dtí seo agus gach rath oraibh don todhchaí.
I know in my heart that together we can begin the vital work of forging a new and better relationship between men and women and a culture and society that is fair, inclusive and respectful of all its citizens in all their diversities. Let us all take the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day not only to reflect but to make a commitment on the actions we can take to make that a reality.