Over the last thirty years, Ireland has gone through a social rebirth of sorts. We have accepted sex is not the dark nasty thing the church made it out to be and allowed access to contraception. We have acknowledged sometimes people are not always happy in their marriages, so we embraced divorce. We have celebrated the fact that being gay is perfectly normal and rooted for our gay friends and family to have the same rights to marry as anyone else.
So how, with all this beautiful liberation flying around our dear nation, can we not implement something that is in fact already constituted into Irish law – equal pay for men and women? Granted, women have been a tricky one for our nation state to deal with. We got off to a good start during the Rising, with Countess Markievicz and Cumann na mBan doing their bit for the ladies of Ireland. However, it seems us girls have been on a slow boat to China ever since, when it comes to equality within both the Irish political and social system.
In 2017, women represent only 15% of our government, we hold only 13.2% of high level board of management jobs and since the establishment of the first university in Ireland 453 years ago, not one female has been a president.
These statistics are nothing new and it’s easy to chalk them down to the never-ending list of societal problems many countries face. However, these statistics, along with various other cultural constructs laid out for women in Ireland, e.g. lack of absolute body autonomy, result in us not having an equal voice.
Our voices are key to gaining equality in a country, that in fairness to it, has been trying its best to shape up its act over the last few years. But, it is our voices in the right places that will make the ultimate difference.
15% of our voices are heard in government, 13.2% in high powered companies and 0% at university level. It is not so surprising then that we, on average, get paid 14% less than men in almost all working industries.
This 14% may seem small to some but it is the percentage difference that screams ‘sorry ladies, you do a good job, but just not as good as some of your male colleagues’. Because, that’s what it ultimately comes down to – equal pay for equal work. It is that simple. However, when it comes to gender in Ireland the picture is not quite the simple composition we would all hope for.
Women do complicated things like take time out of the workforce to have babies. This seems to throw a spanner in the works for many industries. Keeping the human population afloat is an inconvenience for some it seems. In Ireland, equality gets blurred and muddied when babies and families become part of the narrative.
In finding the root of the problem, apparently we can’t blame the education system, as girls are outshining boys more than ever before at Leaving Cert level. But, in taking a deeper look at how we’re educating our women, maybe we can blame ourselves for the lack of gender parity.
Are we instilling enough confidence in the girls of Ireland to go and chase that promotion or run for office or ask for that wage increase that will bring them on par with their male counterpart? It is this tenacity that could possibly help in closing that 14% gap and that’s something as a society we all need to take responsibility for.
Equally, are we educating our men that equality is the norm, that women do the same jobs as them and deserve to been seen in the same light?
It is a lazy argument to maintain that men are to blame for the lack of pay parity. The ugly truth is that we are all to blame for this. If you sit in an office and bemoan the fact that your female colleague has ‘baby brain’, if you change the station when they cover women’s sport on the radio, if you politely laugh off ‘silly women driver’ jokes – all this, be you male or female, reinforces cultural nuances which render women in Ireland unequal.
However grim this may sound, all is not lost in the search for the equality nirvana! Ireland is embracing cultural change at rapid pace. We have now a gender quota in government which will help (albeit forced!) to bring equality to the parliament of Ireland. The recent citizens assembly overwhelmingly voted for a referendum on the eighth amendment which will happen next year. Women’s representation, or lack thereof, in media and the sporting landscape is now a frontline issue for discussion on the public agenda.
So, although women still are not equal in the Irish workforce, change is in the air. Perhaps one day, not only can we say we were the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by referendum, we can be the first in the world to grant equal pay for equal work.