Statement by Minister for Social Protection and Labour Party Deputy Leader Joan Burton on International Women’s Day
Today is a day to celebrate the many and significant achievements of women across the globe, and the progress that is being made in advancing equality, both in Ireland and elsewhere.
But it’s also a day to recognise that this progress is not being made fast enough, and that we need more women leaders in all areas of life.
In this country, just 8% of the members of corporate boards are women, and just 34% of the members of State boards are women.
Just 21% of private sector leaders are women, while just 19% of Department secretaries-general are women.
The figures in politics are no better. Just 15% of the TDs in the Dail are women, and of the 15 senior ministers in Cabinet, just two are women.
What all of this illustrates is that, when crucial decisions are being taken that affect women’s lives, far too few women are in the room, if at all.
Labour in Government is changing this.
My colleague, Equality Minister Kathleen Lynch, is overseeing the implementation of the National Women’s Strategy, and I am confident it will deliver significant progress in the coming years.
In the Programme for Government, we committed to increasing the number of women in politics. That is why we have introduced new laws to ensure at least 30% of political parties’ candidates at the next general election must be women. This will be an important step.
The Labour Party already has an excellent track record in promoting equality, and all three of its European election candidates this year are women – MEPs Emer Costello and Phil Prendergast, and Senator Lorraine Higgins.
The Government has also committed to ensuring that at least 40% of State board members are women. This is a work in progress, as is the continuing effort to ensure more women are appointed to leadership roles in the public service.
But I was proud this week to appoint to the three-member body that will oversee the newly-formed Pensions Authority three women with impeccable credentials and excellent track records – Jane Williams, who will chair the Authority; Dr Orlaigh Quinn of the Department of Social Protection; and Ann Nolan of the Department of Finance. The lack of women with pensions is a significant concern, and is something I hope the Pensions Authority will help us to address.
Overall, we need a critical mass of women in the political, public and private sectors so that the glass ceiling is shattered in its entirety rather than just cracked here and there. This, in turn, will help ensure that women have a proper say in the issues that affect our lives – from education to entrepreneurship, from childcare to healthcare.
Women in all their diversity and talents have brilliant things to bring not just to their families and communities, but to politics, business, academia – you name it, women can do it. But we have to encourage and inspire each other to overcome our reluctance to push ourselves forward. Don’t hold back. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”. In advancing women’s rights, it’s a very useful motto!