Extract from President Michael D’s Speech at Áras an Uachtaráin for International Women’s Day 6 March 2020:

“Women’s rights, and how they can be fully achieved, is a question that challenges the fundamental structures and values of our society. If we wish to realise full equality between women and men, we can only do so by ensuring women are enabled to shape the policies and participate on an equal basis, in the decision-sharing, decision-making and implementing processes that define and underpin their own society.

Geraldine McDonnell, Mental Health Worker Pavee Point; Sabina Higgins; President Michael D. Higgins and Megan McDonnell, Violence Against Women Programme Pavee Point at Áras an Uachtaráin for International Women’s Day 2020. Photo Maxwell Photograph.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action brought strong political resolve and focus to the issue of gender equality. It united women’s movements on a global scale, and brought activists together in clear agreement on how to proceed in the pursuit of equity and empowerment for women.

Since then, the promises made by the Platform for Action have been converted into real actions in many countries and regions, enriching and improving the lives of their female citizens.

Geraldine McDonnell, Alice Mary Higgins and Megan McDonnell at Áras an Uachtaráin IWD 2020

We have, in recent times, witnessed such solidarity through the coming together of many women in different parts of the world, to share their stories as victims of abuse and of the consequences of the imbalances of power.

Those stories have been a salutary reminder too that no society, no matter how nominally ‘advanced’, is immune to harmful regressions in the areas of rights painstakingly won. The lesson is clear. It is that we must never let down our guard, be willing to confront not just violence but prejudice and disrespect wherever it arises. 

Norah Casey, Megan McDonnell and Geraldine McDonnell at Áras an Uachtaráin on IWD 2020.

..While women have made considerable advances in terms of participation in third-level education they remain considerably underrepresented in politics, on state boards, at senior levels in public and civil service, and in many other areas of decision making and policy formation. In higher education, approximately three-quarters of Professors are male despite women comprising over half the workforce in that particular sector.

Beyond the workplace, the significant caring work undertaken by women continues to be greatly undervalued in our society, and is a significant factor in the lower economic status of women in this country.

While awareness of gender-based and sexual violence has undeniably improved, the prevalence of violence against women remains a grave cause for concern.

Equally concerning is the finding, in the Pavee Point Joint Shadow Report to UN CEDAW Committee, that Traveller and Roma women are among the most marginalised and excluded individuals and groups in Ireland today.

May I at this point acknowledge the important work of Dr Sindy Joyce, a great human rights activist, who is not only the first member of the Travelling community to be awarded a PhD, but also the first to be appointed to the Council of State.

International Women’s Day 2020 at Áras an Uachtaráin.

A quarter of a century has now passed since that seismic moment when thousands of women gathered in China to agree an agenda for women’s rights and empowerment. It was to be a moment that would signify a critical turning point in our global struggle for gender equity and justice.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we must renew our commitment to increasing women’s participation in decision-making, challenging societal norms and values, and confronting deep-rooted prejudices as we work to achieve a global vision of full gender equality.”

International Women’s Day at Áras an Uachtaráin 2020. Photo by Maxwell Photography