Women in Ireland: have things changed in the last 30 years?

Today is Womens' Equality Day, which is as good a time as any to reflect on female life in this country.

There have certainly been some shifts for the better since the Eighties. Thirty years ago, in 1984, it was still necessary to present a prescription to purchase condoms. Divorce did not officially exist in the Irish constitution – that development was still 12 years away. As for women in government, just one female minister was serving in the Dáil at that time.

So yes, there are some obvious differences nowadays, but what has really changed? There are more women in positions of power in the workplace than before, but the gender pay gap is still significant, with EU Commission figures showing that Irish women are paid almost 14% less than men. As for the Irish Cabinet, there are still just four female ministers serving in the Dáil, as opposed to 11 male ministers.

Sarah Clarkin of the National Womens’ Council of Ireland, agrees there has been “some development,” for women’s equality, but there is still a lot to do. “Women do not get promoted in the workplace as often as men, and there is definitely a pattern of more women in part-time roles than men,” she said.

As for women in the home, recent CSO statistics showed that 98.2% of those looking after home or family full-time were women. That figure shows a staggering disproportion in the roles of women and men in Irish society, with women still regarded as the main caregivers.

Another huge issue for women in Ireland – one that has not really moved on in any way since the early Nineties when the X case took place – is the right to an abortion. Abortion rights in this country have recently come to the forefront again, with huge controversy surrounding the news that a young woman who became pregnant through rape was denied the right to an abortion under Irish law although she said she was suicidal. The woman then gave birth via C-section.

Thousands – both pro-life and pro-choice – took to the streets of Ireland last week, demanding that the Dáil make its views on abortion clearer. Speaking about the issue, Rachel Doyle of NWCI said “Once again, Ireland is hitting the headlines for its restrictive abortion laws and a vulnerable woman has been caused immeasurable suffering.” 

While Irish women in 2014 are certainly on the road to equality and better provision of rights, the fight is not over. We still need feminism in this country. If anything, we need it now more than ever.