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Zappone joins UN Celebration of 100 years of Irish Women's Suffrage. Launch of Poem to Celebrate Votail 100 By Eavan Boland.  Opening Remarks by Dr Katherine Zappone, TD 

Zappone joins UN celebration of 100 years of Irish Women's Suffrage

Our Future Will Become the Past of Other Women

UN Launch of Poem to Celebrate Votail 100
By Eavan Boland

Opening Remarks by Dr Katherine Zappone, TD
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Government of Ireland

It is right and good that we gather here today to celebrate the achievement of suffrage for some women in Ireland a hundred years ago.

Until that winter of 1918, Irish women lived ‘outside history’, or at least of official history, the history of participating in ‘the search of a nation’. Ireland was so much the poorer for that.

Let us take a moment, then, to reflect on what we can learn from that past campaign for suffrage, for present and future attempts to ensure representation and participation around the world.  In doing so, let us remember that women do not yet enjoy full suffrage everywhere around the world, and that gender parity which should be what we strive for, now that speaking and not only being listened to is what women´s democracy requires, has not been achieved in most polities in spite of the world-wide trend of gender quotas.

The history of women’s suffrage shows that this goal was sometimes de-prioritized in order to promote other political objectives. Class struggles and other broader political struggles were all too often put first, with women being assured that our representation would come later. 

The intimate connections between suffrage, representation, and the creation and pursuit of more meaningful and inclusive citizenship for all are suppressed when women’s suffrage and representation are de-prioritized.

Ruth Rubio Marin has shown that when it came to suffrage this happened across polities of all political philosophies.

Yet suffrage provided more than the vote for women. It also created opportunities to reshape our public sphere by bringing into formal political settings the feminist commitments and approaches that the women’s movement had already embedded within itself, inclusive of search for social, civil and reproductive rights.  This was their future, and it is an extraordinary gift to us.We cannot govern disconnected from the material conditions of life and the  impact of our decisions. To do so is a profound neglect of the responsibilities of our position, as politicians and members of the United Nations.

I hope that, if elected to the Security Council, this is an insight that Ireland can bring to our role there, conscious of the call from Fionnuala Ní Aoláin as Special Rapporteur for the Protection of Rights while Countering Terrorism, to improve international security by making the Security Council a space of greater participation from and engagement with civil society.

A commitment to such participation and engagement follows the ethical commitments of suffrage. It also envisages what Fiona de Londras calls a ‘sustainable security’, which I already called for when I spoke about children and security in the Security Council this summer. That is a vision of security in which we see and treat as important the impact of high-level
law and policy on the lived experiences of insecurity especially for women and children, those who experience poverty and are marginalized.

For these people insecurity is too often the ordinary condition of life, and it is critical that in pursuing ‘international peace and security’ we recognise alleviating this as a critical task by foregrounding the concept of human security.

These are just some of the lessons that I think we can draw from our history of achieving suffrage and the underpinning commitment to a more representative and inclusive politics and mode of governance.

The pasts of those who fought for our right to vote became our presents, and we must now work to shape a better future of greater representation, greater participation, and fuller and more equal citizenship for women and girls around the world.  This includes the disestablishment of the legacy of what Carole Pateman called the sexual contract so that women and men
equally participate in both public and private spheres.

As Eavan Boland will powerfully remind us in a moment, our future will become the past of other women and girls. Let us strive to make it a more equal one.