Gender Equality in the face of Covid-19

On March 8, Volt kick-started this year’s International Women’s Day with the Women’s Month Project, as part of which the Women of Volt group organised debates and events in relation to women empowerment. There are two events remaining for which you can still register on Facebook:

29th March at 7pm: How to brand yourself in politics
31st March at 7pm: Meet women working in politics.

Across Europe, women are fighting for their rights and for full equality, addressing issues like the gender pay gap, women’s health & reproductive rights, and violence against women. In Ireland, we have seen important changes with regards to gender equality and women’s rights, such as the Repeal the 8th campaign in 2018 which resulted in the removal by referendum of the total ban on abortions from the Irish constitution. But let’s not forget that this was only one step in the feminist fight against misogyny and discrimination.

The recent debate about the Mother and Baby Homes report highlighted again the high levels of institutionalised oppression of women in Irish society. For decades, women were victimised in a system of absolute power exerted by the Catholic Church and tolerated by the Irish State.

And although generations of feminists have fought to make Ireland a safer and more equal place for women to live, a majority of women still experience discrimination and sexual harassment on a regular basis. This week, the Irish Times published their article 30 Irish women on harassment and assault, which we highly recommend, especially to all male subscribers, to get an understanding of day-to-day misogyny.

To discuss gender equality in our societies – both in Europe and in Ireland – we now want to have a closer look at the following three areas: inequality at home, inequality at the workplace and inequality in politics.

Inequality at home

Covid-19 has unmistakably shown that women are still responsible for the majority of all care work: in relationships, they often shoulder most of the housework and look after the home-schooling of their children while also meeting the responsibilities of their own full-time jobs. This means an unfair pressure on the female half of the population. In fact, many women were disappointed to see the traditional role allocation between men and women re-emerge during the crisis after decades of feminist progress.

But one of the most severe impacts the pandemic had on women was the significant increase in domestic violence since the start of lockdown as, for many women, their homes would often not be a place of safety. In her Guardian article, Anne Enright reminds us that domestic abuse needs to be clearly addressed as what it is: male violence against women. These support groups are doing their best to help women and children who suffer from domestic abuse.

Inequality at the workplace

The pandemic also affected women at the workplace. As women work more often in essential and frontline jobs such as care and retail, they experienced a much higher risk than men to get infected with Covid-19. This comes on top of the already existing financial inequality resulting from the fact that jobs in care and retail are often less well paid than jobs in sectors that would traditionally attract more men. The spark of solidarity with essential workers that we could witness at the beginning of the pandemic, including debates about the remuneration of essential workers, has already lost most of its initial momentum.

Looking at pay in general, there is a deeper underlying problem. In 2019, Ireland had a gender pay gap of 11.3 %, and although Ireland ranks above EU average, it is clear that this is not good enough and that equal work requires equal pay.

Women’s careers are also disproportionately affected by having children. To support women after childbirth, all maternity leave should be paid for by the employer. And to further guarantee equality between both parents, all paternity leave should be increased to the same level of 26 weeks and should as well be paid for by the employer. This would create an even playing field for men and women. In the recent weeks, many must have been astonished that Ireland didn’t even have legislation that allowed women parliamentarians to go on maternity leave!

Inequality in politics

This indicates that many of the inequalities in society between men and women stem from an imbalance of representation in positions of power. As political representation is one of the key foundations of our democracy, it is crucial to enable equal participation. Only this can guarantee the highest level of freedom and self-determination for all women in our society.

Sadly, there currently still is a clear imbalance of power in Irish and European politics. When it comes to women and national political representation, Ireland ranks only 16th among all EU countries. In the current Dáil, only 22% of the seats are held by women. This is significantly lower than the already low EU average of 30%, with Sweden leading the table at nearly 50%.

There also was a clear lack of women in decision-making positions during the pandemic resulting in a very male-centric approach and policies.

Volt has a clear goal: We want fair representation in order to address the ongoing inequality between men and women in pay, in safety and in health – in short, we want Europe to be equal in 2025!

If you want to help us achieve this goal, please consider getting actively involved in the Irish Volt team or at the European level where you can join women from all over Europe to fight for women empowerment. If you want to learn more about Volt’s position on gender equality, you can read this op-ed written by our Treasurer, Mihaela Sirițanu.

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