Written by Sally O’Brien, CNN
They have made our list of the world’s 100 most powerful people this year. But while the record number of Irish women making this year’s Forbes “power list” may have been welcome news, it has highlighted the paucity of visible female leaders in Irish society as a whole.
The vast majority of Irish parliamentarians are men and women currently make up just 21% of general political party leadership in the Dail. With only nine female Fianna Fail parliamentarians in the Dail and with political parties all over the political spectrum largely unchanged since the 1980s, not much is changing.
But things are changing — because Irish women — in various spheres of Irish society — are continuing to make real progress, forging their own path in the country’s unforgiving political world and growing in influence and prominence.
“Irish women are pushing boundaries and progressing at unprecedented rates, not just in politics,” said Mary O’Rourke, director of the The European Forum in Ireland, which aims to support and develop women in public life.
In 2018, politics had its most successful year in a decade, with Ireland elected its first female Taoiseach (head of state), a record number of female TDs (members of Parliament) and female MEPs (members of the European Parliament), and a new election winner in Irish Europe’s Deputy Prime Minister, Fianna Fail’s Simon Coveney, becoming the second male Fianna Fail leader to win power in the past decade.
Similarly, empowerment is key — for women and their families. As issues such as sexual harassment, pay inequality and the shrinking workforce hit home in Irish society, many women are talking about what they can do to improve their own situation. One woman is trying to make politics more gender equal by empowering other women to run for office through Fierce Women — the Irish NGO that supports women to seek and achieve leadership positions.
“Fierce Women was really established to empower women to run for office,” O’Rourke said. “I have known, and known of, women in their 40s and 50s who did not think of going into politics because they weren’t thought of as being suitable for running for office.”
These women had also had children and were balancing work and home life, and had realized it was harder for women in politics than it had previously been. And the non-profit had also recognized this and started encouraging them to run, giving them the tools they needed to not only think about it but become more successful, and more positively affect Irish society at large.
Other women are founding organizations to tackle the pervasive attitudes that still exist in Ireland towards motherhood and parenthood.
These include motherhood support groups, whose aim is to help parents “to make life as a family good as possible,” Fierce Women says, with work rights that match and children’s rights for gender equality.
Another local organization, Women’s Strategy Action Hub, which started on March 6, 2013 — International Women’s Day — which encourages women in Ireland to find their own political power.
“In Ireland, we feel like for long enough we haven’t been able to move forward,” said Justine Kelleher, coordinator of Women’s Strategy Action Hub. “The society we live in, and most importantly the Irish political structure, we haven’t had a good enough push back from women. We want to change that, and just get more women out there.”