In case you haven’t checked the calendar, tomorrow is March 8th. It’s the only day of the year that’s – a little disingenuously – dedicated to women. A day we celebrate women with opportunistic marketing campaigns, and a day that has become one long pat on the back for a clique of our political and media classes.
If you stopped your average woman on the street today and asked her what day it was tomorrow, she would probably tell you it’s Tuesday. But the women who pioneered the idea of a Women’s Day over 100 years ago wanted to radically change the way society was organized for all workers – male and female.
And if International Women’s Day (IWD) means anything at all, it should celebrate ordinary women. Ordinary, inconspicuous women who go one step in front of the other every day, earn a living, do the laundry, make sure their children are happy.
To the women out there who haven’t been invited to a fancy lunch or paid panel with other achievers, here are my five wishes for 2022
to make Ireland a better and fairer place for all of us.
1. End Irish feminism’s class problem
Many women have reaped the benefits of mainstream feminist politics. Sure, where would upper middle class women be without positive action? The problem is (and if you’re on Twitter you already know this) mainstream feminism does little for the average Irish woman.
Gender quotas for the Dáil and the boardrooms are nice. However, it would be better – albeit a bit politically unsexy – to tackle gender issues. I’m talking about family-friendly workplaces, childcare tax breaks, and more support for women caring for elderly and/or disabled family members and children.
Real stuff because the average woman rarely sits on a board.
2. Make childcare tax deductible
Who has borne the brunt of the care since the pandemic began? Woman.
Mams saved governments and businesses by providing unpaid care to children and other family members.
But childcare waiting lists are long, and demand is so great that you’d almost forget that the expensive fees often exceed what the average person pays for a mortgage. When it comes to investments in early childhood and school care, we are at the bottom of all the tables. A recent Unicef study places us 36th out of 41 countries. We invest 0.2 percent of gross domestic product in early childhood education and care. Average government spending for other European countries is four times higher.
Proper, publicly funded childcare is a pipe dream, but for the time being we could deduct the childcare fees from this year’s budget. Couldn’t we, Paschal?
3. Zero tolerance of violence against women
No one should plan their day to avoid sexual assault, but women are doing just that. After the horrific murder of Ashling Murphy, women started sharing stories online — the tight decisions, all the times we got home safe, but felt things could have ended differently.
There has been anger that every woman has such a story, but the media and political spotlight flickers all too briefly on the issue of violence against women.
I hope big promises don’t fall away after the big outcry has died down. For until those in positions of institutional power realize the magnitude of the problem, women will continue to live in fear, at times paying with their lives.
4. Pay family caregivers a fair wage
Caring is work, and it is work that is exploited by our government. International Women’s Day is meant to contribute to our recognition of women caring for disabled family members at home. And praise is hollow if it’s not backed up by structural change and fair pay. By that I mean paying them at least minimum wage for the hours of care they provide.
Women make up the majority of caregivers. Many already had trouble finding their way. The rising energy bills and cost of living are now putting them over the financial edge. They were ignored when it came to the Covid bonus payment and these women will be the ones I will think of most tomorrow.
They don’t fit IWD’s empowerment narrative, but caregivers are strong, emotionally resilient women doing invisible work. They will never have a public profile as they quietly take care of the cleaning and bathing, feeding, holding hands, butt wiping, soothing, making love.
5. Give yourself a break
Madeleine Albright once said, “Women can have everything, but not everything at the same time. Our life comes in segments.”
We need to redefine success in more human terms, not the dangerous fantasy that women “have it all”.
It can feel a bit like feminism happened and we expected women to be so thankful to have a job that they wouldn’t realize they were being pushed towards an ever less achievable goal.
Working is not a luxury or a choice for the vast majority of us, and we need to stop pretending it is. So forget about excessive expectations at work and at home. Even men who try to walk this path face the same problems. Nobody has everything as we currently define it. Real life requires compromises and choices.
Happy International Women’s Day. Tomorrow, today and every day.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/five-things-we-could-do-to-make-international-womens-day-truly-meaningful-for-all-41417708.html Five things we could do to make International Women’s Day truly meaningful for everyone