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Speech of An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D.,
Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk,
Saturday 7 March 2020.
Good afternoon everyone.
Thank you Norah for inviting me to join you today.
First, I want to congratulate everyone involved in bringing this global event to Dublin.
One of the questions I hate getting asked by journalists is ‘what’s my favourite this’, or ‘my favourite that.’ I don’t do superlatives. But I do have a favourite poet and it is Maya Angelou, someone whose words radiate an extraordinary lived experience.
Maya Angelou believed that ‘every journey begins with a single step’. And that’s what today’s global mentoring walk is doing. Taking those first steps, despite the barriers and the frustrations and the obstacles - and moving forward anyway.
Your stories are inspirational – and I believe you have found mentors who will help you achieve your extraordinary potential.
As a society, we will be stronger when we hear women’s voices. With gender equality we can enhance our capacity to think creatively, and our ability to come up with new and better solutions.
Only 19 women have been Cabinet ministers in the history of the State. That must change and I hope that will change when a new Cabinet is appointed once a new Government is formed.
I was fortunate to be able to lead a Government with Ministers as talented as Heather Humphreys, Regina Doherty, Katherine Zappone and Josepha Madigan, and not forgetting Frances Fitzgerald who was my first Tánaiste. There was also Helen McEntee acclaimed for her work on Brexit, and Mary Mitchell O’Connor who sat at Cabinet and took the lead on higher education.
It is disturbing that of the seven names I have mentioned three lost their seats in the recent general election and that they have all opted out of electoral politics at least for now. A fourth – Frances Fitzgerald – resigned her seat when she was elected to Europe as an MEP. More positively, she is one of six female MEP’s out of 13 of whom 4 come from my party.
Fine Gael also has more female councillors than any other party at local level.
People often ask me why I didn’t have a gender balanced Cabinet.
The truth is that only 11 women TDs supported the last Government - we needed more women TDs. Of those 11, 7 held ministerial office and 2 were committee chairpersons.
I know there has been some criticism of the candidates Fine Gael has put forward for the Seanad.
There is some validity in that criticism but again the truth is a little different to what has been reported. Fine Gael is running 11 women candidates for the Seanad on the two different tracks, with a certain number of seats allocated to each of the tracks. 4 on one track, 7 on the other.
We expect to win about 11 or 12 seats in total, so we have enough female Fine Gaeler’s to win them all but we all know that won’t happen.
Quotas are good policy but they don’t automatically translate into electability. The fact that the new Dáil has only one more female than the last is further evidence of this.
It’s going to take more that quotas and we need other accelerators and actions to ensure progress.
As far as gender equality issue goes, I believe closing the gender pay gap should be a priority for the next Government.
New figures published last month show the gender pay gap is 14.4% in Ireland.
The passage of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill was disrupted by the election, but it should go through in the new Dáil. It will require employers to publish gender pay gap information.
The legislation requires employers to set out the steps they are taking to eliminate or reduce any pay gap. This will incentivise employers to deal with the underlying issues that give rise to the gap – unequal promotional opportunities, lower pay in roles traditionally done by women.
We’ve also established a Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality and in the months ahead I want to make sure we drive forward with its recommendations and build a society where we have true gender equality at all levels – in homes, in workplaces, in Government, and throughout our country.
I believe we need to build on the achievements of the outgoing Government, including more parental leave, better maternity and paternity benefit, and greater financial support for childcare. We need to do more to help empower women, remove structural barriers and create opportunities across all areas of life – in the workplace, in education, in the family, on public and corporate boards, in sports and the arts.
Last year we ratified the Istanbul Convention, and afterwards we ran a major national awareness campaign to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
Domestic and sexual violence has a grip on too many women in Ireland today. Equality doesn’t feature for them. I want to change that through more resources, awareness and educating a younger generation.
I know you don’t need me to remind you of all this. Your stories speak more eloquently than any speech, and your achievements I hope will inspire more.
My thanks to Norah and everyone involved for working with Vital Voices, both here in Ireland and internationally.
Finally, my thanks to all of you for allowing me to spend International Women’s Day in your company.