Ireland is undergoing the next stage of a quiet revolution this winter. Since 2007 we, as a state, have remained in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights making Ireland the last country in the E.U. not to provide gender recognition legislation (GRL), and therefore equal rights, for its transgender (trans*) citizens. Now as the joint Oireachtas committee on Education and Social Protection mulls over the Draft Heads of the State’s GRL bill, and Amnesty begins compiling data for its special report on the human rights situation for trans* people in Ireland there is no sign of outcry or media storms; instead there is a slow steady inevitability about the proceedings. The task now for human rights activists, such as TENI, is to ensure this long overdue legislation, which currently includes clauses such as forced divorce, does not compel individuals, who have waited so long, to choose recognition at the cost of their dignity and families. The situation is clearly shameful but what does all of it mean in the context of development?
Development as a sector pursues the mainstreaming of gender into all best practice reforms and projects. The discourse surrounding gender responsive service delivery, gender budgeting and combatting gender based violence refers mainly to women’s rights and the consideration of women with regards to social hierarchy and the layers of oppression embedded within. The definition of women, however, remains limited while our visualisation of gender equality is restricted to the binary categories of men and women. As states begin to redefine gender and shape legislation to project gender equality in the broadest sense of complex identity, must this not be mainstreamed into overseas development projects and funding streams?
In 2012, as part of my research for my MA at Kimmage Development Studies Centre, I visited a group of activists working in Bangalore for gender and sexuality rights. They highlighted the challenges of funding restrictions and socio-cultural stigma which came, not only from local society, but from larger funders in Europe and North America. The intersectional nature of their work was not presented as an idealised harmony of grassroots organisations but a necessary bolstering of vulnerable groups. Dalit collectives, slum dweller groups, women’s rights organisations and LGBTQ activists recognised the oppression of the other as equal to their own. Activist culture in Bangalore was able to create a network of radicals across lines of caste, gender identity and, at times, across barriers of personal animosity or worse. Within this network a medical service was not deemed to be gender responsive which created access only for women, born with female bodies, living in socially and culturally sanctioned homes. The goal was much more revolutionary than that. Recognition and safety for sex workers, gender non-conforming individuals or families along with sexual health and pleasure rights for all individuals were considered to be the core of project planning and management.
The Irish state is currently being asked, yet again, to re-examine and redefine its conceptualisation of gender and gender equality. Clauses in the new legislation which break apart family units and require mental health evaluations before granting access to full human rights provided for under European law only serve to highlight the cultural and institutional violence enacted towards those whose identity cannot be contained by pre-approved notions of sex and gender in this country. Transgender people face numerous forms of discrimination and marginalisation across the globe and legal recognition is vital to those who are endlessly endangered and discredited in job interviews, airports, social welfare offices, hospitals or schools because their gender representation does not match their official documents. The Bangalore example illustrated to me how much deeper Irish development organisations must delve into the gender policing which occurs within our own society and legal structures, in order to better understand the roots of gender inequality in a global context.
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This piece was originally published on the author’s own blog, Nothing Mentioned Nothing Gained.
My imaginary boyfriend and I have been going out on and off for as long as I can remember. In some ways it’s a perfect relationship. He’s always there when I need him, but he makes no demands of me. There’s no insecurity, given that he’s entirely made up. Unfortunately, the sex isn’t the best, although imaginary sex is generally not the worst either. Imaginary boyfriend exists in the background regardless of whether I have a boyfriend in the real world at the time or not, and all I really know about him is that he is invariably bigger, stronger and meaner than the person I’m describing him to. He is jealous, has anger management issues, and a possible violent streak. You’d think that if you had an imaginary boyfriend he should at least make you happy. But my imaginary boyfriend was born out of sheer necessity, and he’s the kind of man I would never go near in real life.
On Saturday 29th, Irish Feminist Network will be marching at Dublin’s 30th anniversary of the Pride parade for two important reasons- to celebrate everything bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay people have gained in Ireland as well as to still fight for the safety, dignity and rights of those who can’t fully live their lives in the gender and/or sexuality they are comfortable with both within this State and around the world.
Pride is the result of decades of hard work and solidarity by people who wanted social change to arrive in Ireland, not just overseas. That hard work is still being done today by various individuals and community groups.
It can’t be forgotten that same-sex relationships were banned up until 1993 and every year, there’s so many people who leave the country so that family and friends don’t know of their sexual / gender identity or have lost close ties to people they trusted when they came out to them. A lot of us still struggle with our gender or sexual identity either in the educational system, our culture, our religion, the region we reside in as well as other factors that makes it difficult for a lot of children and adults to just be who they are.
It’s one of the defining moments in Irish history. A tight-lipped, proud in defeat Padraic Pearse stands stiffly in front of an almost farcically relaxed General Lowe. It was Easter Monday 1916 and the leader of a disastrous uprising had surrendered unconditionally after just four days. It’s a good photograph but there is one thing very, very odd about it. There are three people but eight feet. Elizabeth O’Farrell was actively involved in the 1916 uprising and stood proudly by Padraic Pearse’s side as he delivered his surrender. However, the conservative media of the time didn’t think it was appropriate for a woman to be seen outside the home and erased her from the photograph, but left out – or left in – a tiny pair of details. Nurse O’Farrell’s disembodied feet remain in one of our best known historical photographs as a reminder of all our forgotten heroines.
This is the centenary of the year that gave us our trade unions. Led by James “Big Jim” Larkin, the workers organised and went on general strike for better pay and conditions. The employers then united and locked-out all of their unionised workers. The dispute went on for four months and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) is usually the only group to be credited for the events of 1913. But if behind every great man there is an even greater woman, it follows that behind every army, or union, of great men, there must be an army of greater women.
At least 80,000 people killed. Children detained and tortured. Civilian populations targeted. Bread queues bombed. Rape as a weapon of war…
Each of these snippets is enough to make the blood boil. Unless we’ve heard them before… unless we’re warned that accompanying reports may be ‘unverified’… unless we’re too concerned with our own insular issues… unless these atrocities happen in one of those places where women wear hijabs and deaths are approximate numbers, devoid of names or faces.
One of our supporters has written a letter to the editor of the Irish Independent:
"To the Editor of the Irish Independent,
While using your website for my daily news update a sub-heading on the menu took my attention.
Clicking on it, it brought me to a page titled ‘independentwoman.ie’.
As a 19-year-old Irish female I feel the need to question this website and its placement on the Independent website. The website includes celebrity news, fashion, beauty, diet and ‘Love&Sex’. I am sure there are many women who would love these topics but they are not for me. In relation to women I’m interested in women’s rights, women in business and in sport. None of this is featured on the website in front of me. If I had wanted to read the topics provided I would have clicked on Lifestyle.
OPINION : The response to the Savita case tells us women’s lives don’t merit speedy action
Five weeks have passed since Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death in an Irish hospital. While much has been written on the circumstances, not much has been said about the messages conveyed by the story to the women of Ireland, and the further contextualisation of those messages in the wider debate on women’s reproductive rights.
The last five weeks have witnessed not, as should be expected in a civilised country, decisive action to protect women’s lives, but a continuation of the shameful 20-year tradition of political inaction that has prevailed in Ireland at least since the X case.
IN THE PAST fortnight, two significant contributions to Irish political discourse were made.
One was a column appearing in the Irish Times by Dr Eddie Molloy about the importance of organisational culture. The other was the repeated claims about what, and indeed who, should and shouldn’t be targeted in the next Budget. Neither phenomena have been understood in connection with each other, which is rather unfortunate, given that they are intimately bound by the idea of homogeneity in decision-making and some people’s capacity to make possible harmful or detrimental decisions on behalf of others.
A RECENT GUARDIAN article examined the current ‘explosion’ in feminist grassroots activism in the UK. New feminist groups are on the rise there, and the intensification of people’s engagement with the feminist movement is being attributed, to a large extent, to young women and men.
Pupils as young as seventeen are reported to have organised in protest against local shops selling magazines that objectify women. There is, thus, a newfound enthusiasm for feminism, spurred by the obvious inequalities that still pervade our so-called liberal democratic societies.
Ireland is no exception in this regard. Recent years have seen a resurgence in feminist activism in Ireland, with new groups like the Irish Feminist Network, Cork Feminista and Feminist Open Forum forming a conduit for people eager to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo and willing to proffer alternative visions for the transformation of social and political structures. Groups focused on specific feminist themes have also sprung up, with the 50:50 Group focusing on women in politics, for example, or Women on Air concentrating on women in the media.
Today marks not only the 101st International Women’s Day but also the day on which the Irish government misses the deadline to implement an EU Directive on parental leave. In a special guest post Deirdre Hosford puts forward the case for reform and argues that we in the feminist movement can turn this failure into an opportunity and put the issues of gender equality, choice and work-life balance for families back on the political agenda.
Today, on the 8th of March 2012, the Irish government will miss the deadline for implementation of an EU Directive on parental leave, which would have extended the period of unpaid leave available to men and women in Ireland from 14 weeks to 18 weeks. Ireland sought a derogation from this deadline, which gives us until March 2013 to implement the directive, owing to ‘the Government’s very heavy legislative agenda’.
Clearly, extending the parental leave rights of our citizens in line with EU policy is not high on the political agenda.
But there is a way that this failure could be turned into an opportunity, one that the Irish feminist movement should grasp with both hands. In response to a parliamentary question from Joanna Tuffy TD on the issue of paternity leave, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter recently discussed the implementation of the EU Directive and stated that:
Women in Ireland currently have a statutory minimum entitlement of 26 weeks’ maternity leave, together with 16 weeks additional unpaid maternity leave. Maternity benefit is payable by the Department of Social Protection if the employee is covered by PRSI and she may also receive maternity payments from her employer, depending on the terms of her employment contract.
Paternity leave, on the other hand, is not recognised in employment law in Ireland and employers are not obliged to grant male employees special paternity leave, paid or unpaid, following the birth or adoption of their child.
Both parents currently have an equal, separate entitlement to unpaid parental leave of up to 14 weeks in respect of a child up to 8 years of age.
A recent report by the ESRI into ‘Households and Family Structures in Ireland’ demonstrated the yawning and ever-widening gap between parental leave policy and the reality of family life in Ireland.
The report showed that, for a growing number of young couples, the woman has higher educational qualifications or occupational classification than her partner. Among couples of mean age 26-40, the woman has higher educational qualifications in 34% of cases, compared to 18% for men, while for 42% of younger couples the woman has a higher occupational classification, compared to 28% where the opposite is the case.
This means that for many young couples, the woman now also has the higher earning power of the two.
The report suggested that policymakers should consider options to re-orientate working arrangements for parents so that the impact of leave is concentrated less heavily on women.
The report also noted that parental leave policy that relies heavily upon career leave for women will have greater financial consequences for households where the woman is the higher earner.
There has been stubborn opposition to reform from business lobby groups over the years on grounds of cost. However, the ESRI has questioned the economic wisdom of their position, since the higher earning potential of women outlined in their report points towards negative impacts for household incomes if leave remains inflexible and weighted disproportionately towards women, while continuation of strictly gendered leave policies could result in economy-wide underemployment of human resources.
Meanwhile, a report by the Family Support Agency into ‘Attitudes Towards Family Formation in Ireland’ demonstrated cultural and attitudinal shifts that are completely at odds with current parental and adoptive leave policies.
93% of respondents to the survey agreed that work-life balance is as important to men as it is to women, compared to 6% who disagreed. 86% of respondents also agreed that fathers should have the right to take paid paternity leave on the birth or adoption of a new baby, compared to 8% who disagreed.
The report also showed that many parents wanted the choice to share responsibility for caring and work more equally between partners. For example, 50% said that they think men and woman should both work part-time and ‘co-parent’, while 40% disagreed. In 2010, the share of part-time workers in total employment in Ireland stood at 34.7% for women and 11.8% for men.
A majority of respondents also said that they would like to see maternity leave changed into leave for one or other parent, with 53% agreeing and 35% in disagreement.
These findings demonstrate a clear desire for more equitable parental and adoptive leave policies, as well as the increasing importance of choice.
Significant disincentives inhibit take-up of unpaid parental leave under the current system.
The take-up rate of parental leave among fathers in Ireland is low. This can be directly attributed to the fact that the leave is currently unpaid in Ireland, as there is a high correlation between the levels of payment in different countries and take-up rates.
Unpaid leave also leads to inequitable outcomes between women. The Pregnancy at Work Report showed that take-up rates for combined paid and unpaid maternity leave among women is related to their ability to afford it, with lower take-up rates for low earners, part-time workers, women with lower levels of education and women with shorter job tenures.
Women’s take-up of unpaid parental leave is also dependent upon resources and financial security, with women whose partner is unemployed or earns less than they do less likely to request unpaid parental leave.
The upcoming constitutional convention will consider ‘Amending the clause on women in the home and encourage greater participation of women in public life’. The convention will also consider ‘Provision for same-sex marriage’. At present, civil partners do not have adoption rights, so they could not avail of more flexible adoptive leave policies if they were introduced. Constitutional amendments in respect of these issues would underscore the discrepancy between parental and adoptive leave policy and our social values and lived experiences.
Calls for more equitable leave policies for parents come in the context of persistent gender inequalities in Ireland, which could be somewhat ameliorated by a more balanced approach to the gender distribution of caring and work.
In 2010, 22% of business leaders in Ireland are women, compared to an EU average of 33%. The employment rate for women with children in 2010 was 76% in Ireland and 76.7% across the EU 27; this fell to 57.1% for women in Ireland with children, compared to an average of 64.7% of women with children across the EU.
And as we are only too aware, 15.1% of the current Dáil are women, compared to an EU average of 24.9%; a situation that will hopefully improve over time with the introduction of gender quotas for General Election candidate selection.
So what should we be calling for between now and March 2013?
We could demand the introduction of statutory paid paternity leave upon the birth or adoption of a child.
We could call for reform of paid maternity leave to make it transferable between partners, at a ratio to be determined by the couple. This would be relatively cost-neutral.
We could demand that adoption rights be extended to civil partners to ensure that civil partners can also avail of more flexible leave arrangements.
We could put the introduction of payment in respect of parental leave on the agenda. This would increase take-up of parental leave among men and lead to more equitable outcomes for women in low income households.
We could set a course for increasing the period of paid paternity leave over time.
But, above all, we should rescue the issue of gender equality, choice and work-life balance for families from the bottom of the political agenda.
In January 2011 the Irish media noted state papers of antiquarian interest dating from 1976, which revealed the attitude held by a senior official in the department of Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave towards the prospect of extending paid maternity leave. The official described the move as ‘a luxury our society cannot afford’ and went on to state: ‘...I suspect that the over-riding body of opinion — even female opinion — would feel that there are higher priorities for [the Minister for Labour] at the present time.’
Let’s make sure that, when it comes to paid paternity leave, history does not repeat itself.
And let's also make sure that, by the time our belated implementation date rolls around in March 2013, we are implementing far more than the bare minimum EU requirements.
Deirdre Hosford is the Education and Policy Officer with Labour Youth.
A Brief Political History of Parental Leave Reform
In April 2002, the Working Group on the Review of the Parental Leave Act 1998 published its findings...
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