Republican News · Thursday 31 August 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Women want family-friendly policies

Sinn Féin National Womens' Forum Chair, Anne Speed was a featured speaker at this year's school. The panel on which Anne participated was Women in Ireland Today. Breda O'Brien of the Irish Times addressed the issue of the commercialization of children and Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna spoke about women in politics.

ne Speed's presentation addressed the issue of women as a force in the workplace and in society. She traced the progress made by women over the last century in securing the rights to education, the vote, work and to control their own fertility. She went on to note that while these rights have been secured for women, the issue of equality remains centre stage.

Though equality in one sense means the absence of discrimination, ``treating people `equally' in a strict, narrow, legal sense of the word will not necessarily bring about equality in a more substantive sense, unless everyone is on that famous `level playing pitch' in the first place. To get them there involves a lot more than treating them equally once they have arrived there.''

As women have made significant advances within the political and economic sectors equality remains a major factor in the newest round of struggles facing women today. Issues such as the need for affordable childcare and eldercare; adequate healthcare; access to affordable housing; the improvement of women's pay and conditions of employment; and fair gender representation of women at all levels of the trade union movement and in politics need to be addressed on a much broader scale.

As of 1999, 63% of women aged 25-54 are now full time participants in the labour force and the rate is accelerating. This figure alone illustrates why affordable, quality childcare is such an urgent need.

But the above list does not address some of the other concerns in the battle for equality. The glass ceiling is still firmly in place in Ireland as is illustrated by the number of upper level leadership positions filled by women in the trade unions. ``Over 40% of the workforce is female and one third of the organised workforce is female. SIPTU alone represents 80,000 women.'' While there is a significant involvement of women in the rank and file and shop floor level of the trade unions, representation of women in positions of authority dramatically dwindle as you work your way up through trade union hierarchy. It is a critical issue demanding attention by trade union leadership across the country.

With more women entering the work force as a matter of course, employers are going to have no choice but to take on board the needs of this growing economic force. Family friendly policies will have to be implemented if women are to be expected to participate in the Celtic Tiger. Concluding her presentation, Speed pointed up the fact that as more women are empowered within the workforce, the demands from the Beijing Conference for governments to implement gender perspectives into all policies and programmes will turn ``from a global request into a local demand.''

It is on the local level, here in Ireland, that these demands must be met.

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