In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature a Donegal woman shares her thoughts on why we should celebrate International Women’s Day, highlighting the importance of reflecting on achieves made in advancing women’s equality but also recognising the work that still has to be done and remembering those women whose voices go unheard and are excluded from realising their full potential.
Sunday 8th March is International Women Day, a day to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women worldwide. The overall purpose of this day is to draw global attention to gender inequality and violence against vulnerable women. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on progress, change and to celebrate those acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Imagine a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities, where gender equality is the norm. Men and women sharing the care work at home and getting paid equally for work of equal value. Picture equality on factory floors, corporate boardrooms and in political leadership. Women would have an equal say in decisions that affect their lives, their bodies, their policies, and their environment.
It’s easy to dismiss International Women’s Day as a day just for women and why it’s needed. If we look at the typical life of a woman in a country like Ireland, you might be slightly cynical as to why it would be necessary. After all, women can do what they want here – they have the vote, can work where they want, receive the same education, everything on the surface seems straightforward.
But it’s important to remember that International Women’s Day is over 100 years old. And here in Ireland no less than 50 years ago, women had to leave their job in the civil service if they got married. Women were not permitted to own property outright and were also prevented from collecting child benefits – it had to be paid out to the father. And while there has been much improvement within the last 50 years or so, regarding Irish women’s position in society, this is not the same in every country.
We must look back as well as forward, and remember the struggle that women faced throughout the centuries in gaining fundamental rights. The rights that are often taken for granted in western countries, and are urgently required in many developing ones, for instance, the right to vote, own property, and to have an education. Those rights were required in a hard fought battled against those who sought to deny them.
International Women’s Day is a further opportunity to honour the incredible achievements that women have made throughout the world. All too often women have been erased from the history books, and this particular occasion is a great opportunity to experience the wonderful literature, music and scientific discoveries as well as all the contributions for which women have never been accredited.
Women like Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell (1883-1957) who was a member of Cumann na mBan, and a dispatcher during the Easter Rising for the rebels. She was a midwife and a fierce Republican who stayed in the GPO throughout the rising caring for the wounded. However, Nurse O’Farrell was ‘airbrushed’ out of history when her shoes were all that remained in a photograph of the 1916 surrender, in which she appeared alongside Padraig Pearse.
Also women like, Jenni Wyse Power (1858-1941) who is one of the better-known female figures in the Rising and politics of the 20th century. She was an activist, feminist, politician and businesswoman, a founder-member of Sinn Féin. She was appointed to the first Seanad, and used her position to campaign for women rights. Stories such as these are commonplace, and therefore it is important that women are remembered for their contributions to society.
Ireland is imperfect to the law of equality, for example, the wage gap disputes and also the vast inequality in politics. However, we need to recognise that events like this are an essential step of active solidarity for many women around the world. We, therefore, must reflect on the work that still has to be done and remember those women whose voices go unheard and who continue to be excluded from realising their full potential.
This is why International Women’s Day is essential – it provides otherwise silenced women with a voice, which is a vital step in the right direction.
NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.