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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 8 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 3

International Women's Day: Statements

I will begin my statement today by again acknowledging the bravery of the women of Ukraine, the women of Afghanistan and all the women who are experiencing conflict at this time. Women face particular challenges and hardships in times of conflict and it is important that any response to conflict and the displacement of people specifically and particularly acknowledges the needs of women and children. I know that everyone in this House is thinking today of the women facing impossible choices as they try to protect their families from war.

Anuraidh, ar Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan, labhraíomar faoi thionchar na paindéime ar mhná. I mbliana, táimid i riocht i bhfad níos fearr agus srianta á scaoileadh againn ach caithfimid fós a bheith aireach ar na torthaí fadtéarmacha a bheidh ag na freagraí ar an bpaindéim ar fhostaíocht ban agus ar dhualgais chúraim. Tugann an ghluaiseacht gan fasach i dtreo na cianoibre deis dúinn ráta rannpháirtíochta saothair na mban a mhéadú ach beidh gá le monatóireacht chúramach ionas nach bac eile a bheith ann do dhul chun cinn gairme na mban.

At this time last year, we were reflecting on the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions on women. Twelve months on, we are in a better place when it comes to the pandemic but now is the time to apply some of the lessons we have learned from that experience. For example, work-life balance should not be a choice between a successful career and a fulfilling family life. The pandemic has reminded us all of the value and benefits of time with family. Parents should be able to feel like they can continue to have a better balance in their lives and the Government is committed to introducing measures to support this. Significant advances in the provision of family leave have been made over the past few years, beginning with the introduction of paid parent's leave. This provides an entitlement to each parent individually to encourage a sharing of the care of a child in their earliest years. Unpaid parental leave has also been extended.

The Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2021 extended the provision of paid parent's leave to five weeks for each eligible parent and made important changes to the arrangements for adoptive leave, providing, for the first time, choice in which parent avails of the leave. Parent's leave is due another extension in July this year, which will bring the entitlement to seven weeks for each eligible parent to be taken within the first two years of a child’s life or adoptive placement. The Government will also shortly consider legislative proposals to transpose the remaining elements of the EU work-life balance directive, including a right to request flexible working within the terms of the directive and an entitlement to leave for medical care purposes.

Unfortunately, the gender pay gap remains significant in Ireland and around the world. It is indicative of the work still to be done to ensure that women have equal access to economic empowerment. The effects of the gender pay gap are lifelong and result in women experiencing poverty at higher levels later in life. According to the latest figures published by EUROSTAT, the gender pay gap in Ireland in 2018 was 11.3% while the gender pay gap across the European Union overall was 14.1%.

This Government is serious about further reducing the gender pay gap. The national strategy for women and girls includes specific commitments on the issue while the programme for Government promises to legislate to require publication of information on the gender pay gap in large companies. The Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 introduced a legislative basis for gender pay gap reporting in Ireland and reporting by organisations with more than 250 employees will begin this year. Regulations to give effect to this legislation are in preparation and will be published in the coming weeks along with guidance for employers. Reporting requirements will then be rolled out over the next few years to organisations with more than 150 employees and then to organisations with more than 50 employees. These requirements will eventually encompass approximately two thirds of employees in the State. Gender pay gap reporting will help employers to identify the drivers behind their individual gender pay gaps and employers will be required, as part of the reporting process, to explain their gender pay gaps and to propose measures and steps to be taken to address them. It will also provide transparency for employees on which companies are doing the most to address their gender pay gaps.

Another area where women have been let down in the past is their health. Women have specific physical, mental and social health needs and, over too long a period, these have not been sufficiently recognised and invested in. The Government I lead is committed to changing that. Today, my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, joined by all his female colleagues in Government, launched a new women’s health action plan for the coming two years. This plan will see a massive increase in investment in women’s health. For context, in 2020 we spent €4 million on new funding for targeted women’s healthcare measures. In 2022, we will spend €31 million. That is €48 million in a full year. We will embed the initiatives we introduced over the past year and we will significantly grow the available supports, services and expertise in contraception, breastfeeding, menopause care, women’s mental health and gynaecology.

I am grateful for, and acknowledge, the enormous effort from the diverse range of stakeholders who came together to develop this strategy with the Minister.

The Citizen’s Assembly on Gender Equality made 45 recommendations. In line with the programme for Government commitment to consider each of the recommendations, Departments are examining the recommendations in detail. The recommendations are comprehensive, covering care, social protection, education and leadership, as well as recommendations for constitutional amendment. The Joint Committee on Gender Equality will play a valuable role in the consideration of these recommendations and I know that detailed briefing has been provided by the relevant Departments to assist the committee in its work.

Tugann Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan deis dúinn féachaint conas atáimid ó thaobh comhionannais inscne de. Caithfimid admháil cá bhfuil obair fós le déanamh, ach caithfimid freisin an obair a rinneadh go dtí seo a aithint. Trí fhorbairt straitéise nua in 2023, a leanfaidh straitéis náisiúnta na mban agus na gcailíní, beidh deis againn aithint cá rachaimid sa todhchaí chun céimeanna suntasacha breise a thógáil sna blianta atá romhainn.

International Women’s Day is an important opportunity to take stock of where we are as a country when it comes to gender equality. While some progress has been made, there is still much work to be done. Last year, 2021, was a very challenging year, not least in terms of the national reckoning on the issue of violence against women. In the coming year, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that we meant what we said about things needing to be different in future. I believe that this can be a watershed year when it comes to gender equality and I look forward to working with Deputies from all sides of the House to try to make it so.

I start by wishing everyone, particularly my female colleagues, a happy International Women's Day.

Over the past ten days or so, the images reaching us of the devastation from Ukraine have been shocking and almost incomprehensible. One of the dangers for us, at this remove, is that we become inured to the violence and suffering, that the repetition and relentlessness of these images and stories simply becomes too much, that we become desensitised, that we turn away. It is important that we guard against this and that today, on International Women's Day, we continue to consider and reflect on the particular plight of Ukrainian women and their families. Today, and in the days and weeks ahead, we must not succumb to a sense of helplessness or apathy as we see images of more and more Ukrainian women fleeing their homes for sanctuary in desperate circumstances. They are often fleeing with young children or elderly relatives and often having left their partners behind to continue fighting for their country and for their freedom. We must give what support each of us can give. That may be solidarity or it may be charity. It may be prayers or it may be the offer of sanctuary. It may be a combination of all of these things, or something entirely different, but we all must do what we can.

Closer to home, I am also conscious of the need to support women here at their most vulnerable. Extensive work on the new national strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence continues ahead of it being brought to Government next month. The strategy has been developed in partnership with the sector to ensure it is targeted, comprehensive and effective in achieving all the goals set out.

Last month I updated those working in the sector and presented them with the final draft, and there has been a follow-up workshop. In parallel, a public consultation on the strategy is ongoing and will finish this Thursday. I encourage anyone who has not completed this survey to do so. The outcome of the workshop and public consultations will be used to finalise the strategy. It is a strategy that recognises that while both men and women can be victims or survivors, women, girls and children are disproportionately affected by violence. As a result, there is an emphasis on protecting and meeting the needs of women and girls. However, much work needs to be done not only to protect and help women, but also to ensure that women's voices are heard at all levels and that women are encouraged to make their voices heard.

It is obvious that we have work to do in politics to provide better supports and to tackle one of the themes of International Women's Day, which is breaking the bias. There are still many barriers to women entering politics. Just 23% of Deputies in this Dáil are women. Just four out of a total of 15 Ministers are women who hold full Cabinet positions. I know many women are interested and involved in politics but may not have the confidence to run for office, and, crucially, may not feel that the supports are there for them, be that childcare, working hours or female mentors.

To support, protect and empower women in all walks of life and at all stages of life we need to do more. To ensure every woman and girl has equal opportunities and full equality we need to do more. Until we can objectively stand here and say that no woman is left behind, we need to do more. We need to lead on the changes required to secure equality and empowerment for women. While each and every one of us on this island has a responsibility to work with us to deliver this, those of us fortunate to be where we are today must be prepared to lead. Until we have well and truly broken the bias, we all have more work to do.

As we stand here today on International Women's Day, we have the first women's health action plan that shows a new future for women and girls in our country when it comes to health and wellness. As Minister for Health, improving the outcomes and experiences of women in our health system has been, and will remain, a top priority for me. Step-by-step, we have been tackling big issues that matter to women. Today we bring that work together in an action plan that will have a direct and tangible impact on women across the country and at all stages of life.

This action plan tackles a taboo in Irish society, menopause. We are shining a spotlight on better menopause care for women by strengthening the supports available at primary care as well as opening three specialist menopause clinics nationally.

The action plan pushes reproductive rights for women further forward by giving young women access to free contraception and better supports to make informed contraceptive choices in partnership with their GP. At the end of the year, we will have a national network of 20 see-and-treat gynaecology clinics. These clinics are reducing waiting times for women and providing care in just a few hours on one day instead of multiple visits over many months and sometimes years. We are opening special clinics in endometriosis. We are launching initiatives to tackle period poverty. We are opening new services in mental health, including supporting self-harm, eating disorders and perinatal mental health. We are fully funding the national maternity strategy for the second year. We are doubling the number of lactation consultants, opening fertility hubs and much more.

We do not need incremental change in women's healthcare. We do not need things to get a little bit better each year. We need a revolution in women's healthcare. This plan is a big step on that path. All of this work and more have been supported through budget 2020 with the allocation of a milestone figure of €31 million specifically for new developments in women's health services. The full-year cost of these measures is nearly €50 million. We did this to support our goal of improving women's experiences in the health sector by ensuring our action plan for women's health was fully funded from day one.

Today, International Women's Day, marks day one. It is a day to celebrate and to shine a light on the many voices of women who worked with us over the past two years to shape and inform this action plan. Women told us again and again that they wanted a health service that is empathetic and responsive, and that gives women access to expert and compassionate care when they need it. They were clear with us that the issues prioritised in this action plan need to be urgently addressed. They asked us not to delay, not to create the perfect plan, but to act.

I thank women and men throughout Ireland who joined us and shared their experiences with us. I thank the health professionals who have worked with us to shape the ideas and initiatives in this plan. I thank our partners on the women's health task force who worked with us to build so much momentum for change in such a short space of time. I thank the many Deputies and Senators who have campaigned so well, sometimes for years, for many of the measures contained in this plan. The publication of the plan marks a new era in women's health in our country. With this plan, we reaffirm our commitment to keep listening, our commitment to keep acting and our passion to support a health system that prioritises women's health outcomes.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the House today as we mark International Women's Day. My immediate thoughts are with the women of Ukraine and the monumental challenges they are currently facing - the mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, wives, sisters-in-law and friends. Yesterday, I was very struck by a picture on the front of the Irish Independent of a mother and her four children. Out of context, it might appear like a normal picture of a mother taking her young children on a forest walk on a cold spring day. They are wrapped up in warm winter jackets and woolly hats. The eldest of the children is running forward, leading the way as the siblings eagerly follow behind and the mother helps her youngest along at the back. The image mirrors so closely the peaceful woodland walks we, as mothers and families, enjoy so much at this time of the year.

The stark reality, however, is one few of us can comprehend. This woman and mother, who had lightly said goodbye to her husband for possibly the last time just days earlier, was fleeing the carnage the war had brought to her home, to her very doorstep. In the photograph she is guiding her four children over an isolated train track through a Ukrainian forest to a border crossing in south-east Poland. She is the only one carrying a small backpack with provisions for the five of them. Such expeditions are being undertaken by women and children throughout Ukraine as 2 million people have fled from the borders in what is now the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. I believe it is only right on International Women's Day that we recognise the fortitude and bravery of so many courageous Ukrainian women who have been charged with the gravest of responsibilities to navigate literal life-and-death situations while keeping their children and elderly loved ones safe as their partners are forced to go to war.

On Sunday, I joined many colleagues and the people of Waterford when we met Ukrainian refugees who had come into the county only the day before. I spoke through an interpreter to one couple who had managed to bring five children to safety and I will never, ever forget the woman's face - her picture was in the media yesterday - and that look of fear and exhaustion, of sheer distress and terror, knowing she had left her mother and her elderly grandmother behind in Ukraine and may not see them again. The women of Ireland and around the world should take inspiration from these women's strength in facing our own challenges here at home.

Gender-based violence is still a scourge in our society. Combating all forms of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is a huge personal priority. The terrible murder of Ashling Murphy was a chilling reminder to us that, as a national community, we face the harsh reality that many women in Ireland are, unfortunately, living in fear of violence. We must reflect deeply on that and the picture it portrays of our so-called modern society if women do not feel safe in their own communities. Our goal has to be very clear: zero tolerance of violence and abuse against women. Everyone has a contribution to make to this movement, which needs to start from the ground up and requires a whole-of-society approach. We must not and cannot accept the normalisation of fear and harassment and violence against women to any degree. We cannot be bystanders; we must call out all misogyny, intimidation and violence against women wherever and whenever we witness it.

I wish to touch on the announcement today by the Minister for Health on the Women's Health Action Plan 2022-2023. This morning, following the launch of the plan in Dublin Castle, I visited the Rotunda Hospital. As Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people, I just felt like going there and meeting the perinatal mental health team that is in place. I am delighted that all 19 perinatal mental health midwives are in place across the country. This is a hub-and-spoke approach. Today I met the multidisciplinary team in the Rotunda. There are ten members of the team. I was absolutely shocked to hear that 9,200 babies were born in the Rotunda last year but approximately 2,000 women looked for mental health supports. The perinatal mental health midwives are in place to support people before, during and after pregnancy, for up to 12 months. It is important to get the good news out as well, and I am delighted that we now have 75 clinicians working in perinatal mental health throughout the country together with the 19 midwives. I felt that today, on International Women's Day, it would be nice to go along and thank the team for all the work they are doing. It would be remiss of me not to think of all those who have worked on the front line for the past two years. Gabhaim buíochas leo go léir.

I too send my solidarity to all the women of Ukraine, some of whom have fled, many of whom have remained, all fighting for their families, for their homes and for the very survival of their country. Each has shown courage, resilience and humanity that has won the support and admiration of people across the globe. Of course, the priority now has to be to stop this war, end the conflict and secure a Russian withdrawal. Our country, Ireland, must be a voice for peace, justice, demilitarisation, disarmament, freedom and democracy.

International Women's Day is a time to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women in pursuit of equality. In Ireland there has been much progress. Generations of women have stepped forward and campaigned tirelessly and relentlessly for change. These are women who have stood up to a system that sought to hold us down and to keep us in line and in our place. Is iad sin na mná atá ag obair le chéile agus ar son a chéile, atá i gcónaí chun tosaigh sa streachailt chun ár gcearta agus todhchaí níos fearr a bhaint amach. The State cannot continue to be the blockage to progressive change. That means the Government must stand up in tangible and meaningful ways. There can be no delay in implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. Its members were definitive and their sense of urgency leapt off the pages of their report.

We know that the mindset that sought to subjugate women has not gone away. It lingers still in the halls of power in new forms and different expressions. The outworking of this circuitry of misogyny is the lived experience today of every girl and woman in the persistence of the gender pay gap and the feminisation of poverty. We see it also in how both the austerity era and the pandemic deepened gender inequality. We see it in the lack of ambition on the part of successive Governments to tackle areas of public policy that have an acute and disproportionate impact on women. When childcare is unaffordable, it is always women who pay the highest price for their aspirations. When social protection measures are weakened, it is always women, particularly single mothers, who have to shoulder the greatest burden. When there are failures in healthcare, it is too always the lives of women that are restricted, ruined or lost.

Of course, we see the most extreme manifestation of this in the horrendous violence and abuse perpetrated against women. Tá foréigean inscne in Éirinn ag leibhéal tubaisteach. Whether it is at the hands of strangers in public spaces or intimate partners in their own homes, women are coerced and attacked, women are raped and women are murdered. These horrific acts of violence do not just happen; they are the result of the insidious culture that normalises everyday degradation, harassment, bullying and humiliation of women and girls. To truly turn the tide on violence against women and girls, the Government must deliver the legislation, the policies and, critically, the resources and funding urgently needed. The third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence must be fully resourced and urgently implemented when it is published. Ministers and agencies must work hand in glove with existing services because that is where the solutions will lie. The crisis in provision of refuge places must be brought to an end, full stop - no excuses, no equivocation, no delay. Women and children in desperate need of an escape route out of violence do not have the luxury of waiting. They need safe haven, not just with a bed but with wrap-around services such as childcare and counselling on site. That is what real refuge is.

The women of Ireland will not be denied our futures. Tá mná agus cailíní chun tosaigh leis an athrú seo agus tá siad ag éileamh ár gcearta. I am absolutely certain that this generation of women and girls will be the generation to realise a new Ireland rooted in the equality and dignity denied to our sisters, on whose shoulders we so proudly stand today. I for one look forward on this International Women's Day with confidence, hope and optimism.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to these statements on International Women's Day. I have just stepped out temporarily from the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, where we are discussing a large number of amendments to the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022, which, as we know, came as a result of the mother and baby institutions.

That is one of the negative parts of our history and of how we treated women and children.

I will focus primarily on the early years and childcare sector, mainly because we know through numerous studies and surveys that one of the key reasons women are locked out of the workforce and returning to education is trying to access and afford childcare. It is also a predominantly female sector. Of the approximately 27,000 people working in the sector, easily over 90% are women. It is not the only workforce where women are in low-paid employment. If one looked through all the low-paid work that exists, women would, unfortunately, top that list time and again.

We hear many excellent speeches and I feel honoured to be in this Chamber. We talk about various things we would like to see happen, including the progression of women, whether through returning to education, getting back into work or going from part time to full time. Many women try to take parental leave in their job, which obviously affects their career progression. People say it does not but we all know it does. It also has an impact on women's pensions when they come to that age. Many of us do not think about that until later in life but it is important. If we are serious about the progression of women, we have to be serious about tackling the issue of the cost of early years, and those working in the sector need to be respected with proper terms, conditions and wages. They should not have to sign on to social welfare over the summer and parents should not be paying, according to the Government's research, in the region of €1,350 per month per child for childcare.

In 2020, we launched an initiative called My Childcare Story and had a number of people give us feedback on that. Some 90% of people said childcare costs were a barrier to them returning to the workforce, while 73% had serious difficulties accessing a place. I want to take the opportunity, when speaking on issues particularly affecting women, to look at that. There are many issues and I am always torn about what I want to say when we speak about the various things that impact women, but that is one of the key things.

I will touch on gender-based violence. Our first week back after Christmas was one of the few times I saw the House seemingly in agreement on an issue, which was on tackling gender-based violence. We cannot just have the odd day where we come in here, say it is terrible and we had better do something about it, then all go away and nothing gets done. We need to see that strategy published and properly resourced. I welcome that the strategy is going to be under one Department. That is key because it does not allow for passing the buck when things are under one Department. It is important that it be resourced properly. We know already we do not have enough refuge beds and, in my constituency, we have an entire county with no refuge for women fleeing domestic violence.

Today is our day for women to celebrate and mark time in our struggle for equality and remind ourselves of the importance of international solidarity. On International Women's Day, I express my solidarity with the women of Ukraine, Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, and with all women who are struggling at the moment. We know and are in contact with them and we know what they are suffering. We need to acknowledge that, globally, there are women struggling and their fight and struggle should not be forgotten today.

I raise an important workers' rights issue that directly impacts women on a number of levels. Yesterday, I met with Emma Reidy and the team in Aoibhneas in Swords. I know from the number of referrals I make to them from both of my offices and from talking to them that they are overstretched. They provide a lifeline for women and children in Swords, Fingal and the surrounding areas. It has been over a decade since they had a pay rise. In that time, landlords have had plenty of pay rises, the cost of living has skyrocketed and the managers of services are struggling to hold on to workers who have built up relationships with the women they are working with but who cannot afford to live in Dublin anymore.

There is a clear need for a joint labour committee, JLC, or other wage-setting mechanism for this important group of workers. We need them in Swords, Fingal and throughout the State. We would be lost without them. Aoibhneas, like other shelters and refuges, is struggling to hold on to staff. The cost of heating and lighting the refuges has also risen, with no consequent rise in the level of support. Where is the money supposed to come from to keep the lights on and the vital services running? The Ministers will know that if there are no workers, there is no service. They are struggling to hold on to the workers.

The sector was told to professionalise itself in 2007 and did so. Workers upskilled but have never received professional wages to go with the professional job they do. Those working in the sector recognise they need to be able to offer decent wages to be able to retain staff and deliver vital services, but they cannot do that unless the Government recognises there has to be an increase in the supports they are given. It is not that long since we all stood in this Chamber and collectively said "Never again", but unless we recognise that we have to reward properly the workers providing services to get women to safety and keep women safe, we cannot say "Never again" with any credibility.

I wish everybody a happy International Women's Day across the House, including Members, staff and former Members. We all share the solidarity we want to send to the hundreds of thousands of women and girls fleeing Ukraine, and many who have stayed behind and are actively involved in resisting the Russian invasion. I offer my unwavering solidarity at this deeply distressing time. We all recognise the importance of sovereignty and the right to self-determination. I hope the compassion rightly shown across the EU for Ukraine is shown to women throughout the world. Some 62 million people are fleeing conflict as we speak. Other women have been displaced.

I will come back to women in our country. They have a right to live without fear but, unfortunately, many women will go to bed tonight afraid they will not wake up in the morning and of what will happen to them and their children overnight. Some of it is as simple as not having anywhere to go and not having an alternative housing arrangement. Many women have told me in recent weeks that they want to go, need to go and are in a dangerous place, but they do not want to be homeless. That is the dilemma women throughout this country face. Words are fine but, as my colleague Deputy Funchion said, we must do something about it as a matter of urgency.

I remember carers today. We rightly thank them, but when the opportunity came to give them the Covid bonus, we turned our backs on family carers again. That is not good enough. Too often we pay lip service but do not follow it up. We know family carers save us about €20 billion per year by the work they do. By giving their time to care for a loved one, they keep hospital beds free for others and reduce the need for State-funded care facilities. They have suffered during Covid and have not had any respite, yet we turn our backs and refuse them the Covid payment. We all need to question ourselves in terms of the decisions made around the distribution of wealth in this country. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We need to show it and to share it.

As we debate and celebrate International Women's Day in this peaceful corner of Europe, we all think of the women and children fleeing the brutal bombardment from Russian forces in Ukraine, and we think of all those in Ukraine suffering and enduring under the horrific invasion that is unfolding before us.

We are entering the second week of it and we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and in condemnation of Russian aggression.

As we celebrate International Women's Day here at home, we can reflect on our many achievements. In 2018, I was proud to chair the Vótáil 100 programme celebrating the centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland. In the 100 years since Constance Markievicz was elected as the first woman Teachta Dála, we have undoubtedly come a long way. We saw the repeal of the eighth amendment in 2018 and a real groundswell of support for feminist principles. There is, however, so much more to do. I am glad to be playing a part, on a cross-party basis, in seeking to bring about further change in my role as Vice Chair of the women's caucus, ably led by Senator O'Loughlin, and as the Chair of the new Oireachtas Joint Committee on Gender Equality, with Senator Pauline O'Reilly as the wonderful Vice Chair. We are seeking to make progress on equality for women and on equality for all. Gender equality cuts both ways and must look at how gendered inequalities affect men and women.

I commend Dr. Catherine Day and the Citizens' Assembly which produced for us 45 clear and concise recommendations, what I have called a blueprint for gender equality. Those recommendations set out substantive policy changes that must be made to ensure a more equal Ireland. They address a range of issues, including gender-based violence, stereotypes in education, leadership, politics and the workplace, childcare, and care more generally. We commenced our public hearings with Catherine Day last week. We will be holding another public hearing this Thursday, when our cross-party committee will be looking at constitutional change. I hope that one of the first tangible outcomes of our committee, which will be reporting in December, will be a referendum to be held early in 2023 to remove the sexist and outdated language about women and mothers from our Constitution. There is no longer any excuse for having retained this gendered language in 2022, which refers to mothers as having "duties in the home" but that gives no recognition to fathers, which means it is also sexist in its view of men.

I also want us to act, as the Citizens' Assembly has required, to extend the gender quota in politics to provide for clear gender quotas in politics but also across public life and concerning companies and boards as well. We heard today at an International Parliamentary Union, IPU, event that I addressed how poorly Ireland is doing in respect of women in politics. We all know that, when we look around this Chamber, less than one quarter of Deputies are women. My election last summer brought us up to the dizzy height of women constituting 23% of the House, meaning more than three quarters of our Deputies are men. Yet this is the highest proportion of women Deputies we have ever had. Therefore, we must do more with positive action measures to address this situation.

I welcome today's announcement by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, regarding gender pay gap reporting. It is very welcome, albeit long overdue. Some years ago, I introduced a gender pay gap Bill in the Seanad that would have had a broader application to a wider range of companies and employers. It also provided for stronger sanctions and an enforcement mechanism through the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. I am, however, glad to have seen this Bill at last being introduced. It will be revealing to see the required statements setting out employers' understanding of the reasons for the gender pay gap, as well as what they propose to do to address it. I refer to the action plan, which has been seen as being so crucial in other countries. This is a welcome measure and something the Citizens' Assembly recommended we introduce.

Clearly, however, this is not enough to tackle gender inequality in the workplace. What we must see, essentially, is far greater recognition and acknowledgement of women's disproportionate share of caring responsibilities. The Citizens' Assembly has again given us a blueprint for change regarding care, particularly for childcare, but also concerning elder care and support for carers more generally. The Citizens' Assembly has also called for a radical change to our childcare provision to ensure we have a publicly funded childcare system, which I have called for in terms of a Donogh O'Malley moment in childcare provision. I refer to a situation where every preschool child has a guarantee of a place. In my constituency of Dublin Bay South, and in every constituency in Ireland, parents are faced with greatly concerning increases in fees for childcare spaces and a real challenge in even obtaining childcare for their children. We must move away from that situation and ensure all children have a right to a place in childcare.

My party, the Labour Party, has a proud history of fighting not just for the rights of workers but specifically for women at work and for women across society. Some of our achievements include the introduction of the Equality Acts and the creation of the Low Pay Commission. We have also seen the great impacts of campaigns led by Labour Party women such as equal early years in the context of ensuring publicly funded childcare as well as on issues such as abortion rights, access to contraception and much more. On International Women's Day, I restate our commitment to continuing that campaign for equality to address all facets of gender inequality and sexism in society and ensure we break the bias in this regard, as the theme for this year requires.

Turning for a moment to the intersection of women's rights and climate action, this is also a crucial aspect as we face this climate catastrophe. The awful conflict in Ukraine is compounding energy and security issues and causing all sorts of other pressures too. These issues will impact more on women than on men. Women labouring in the textile industry, for example, work in dangerous conditions for poverty wages so that fast fashion companies can market discount clothes to women, girls and everyone in this country. These are the sorts of interconnected issues we must address. We must see the speedy introduction of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requirements at EU level and here. We must act in respect of women's labour rights, recognise the gendered impact of the climate crisis, as UN Women has noted, and ensure this year's other theme for International Women's Day, gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, amounts to a rousing call to action for all of us, women and men alike.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to today's discussion as part of International Women's Day. Sadly, today's debate is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine. More than 1.5 million people have fled from Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, and the sad reality is most of those are women and young children, because Ukrainian men aged between 18 and 60 are remaining to fight. Many of those women are leaving behind their husbands, partners, fathers and children, not knowing if they will ever see them again. These are vulnerable women and children who are scared and who have had their whole world turned upside down. Many of them will be arriving on our shores. Indeed, more than 2,000 have already arrived here in the past week.

My Department of Social Protection and my officials are working to ensure personal public service numbers, PPSNs, are provided swiftly to Ukrainian citizens when they arrive. That will allow mothers and families arriving here to access immediately supports such as the supplementary welfare allowance and child benefit payment. All the details in this regard are available on my Department's website, and this information has been translated into Ukrainian and Russian. My Department, together with the Department of Justice, will also have a presence at Dublin Airport so we can help and assist people as soon as they arrive. I ask any Deputy who knows a Ukrainian family already in the country to put them in touch with their local Intreo office. The message is very clear: we are here to help. If the Russian invasion and the actions of President Putin represent the very worst of humanity, then let our national response represent the best of it. I just wanted to put that message on the record because it is vitally important on International Women's Day for us to let Ukrainian women and children know we stand by them and that these supports are available.

In the time remaining, I will touch briefly on some of the other policies I am progressing across my two Departments. I am a strong supporter of remote and flexible working. Recent statistics from my Department show female employment rates increased during the pandemic and are now at the highest level ever. I believe this is largely due to the move to a blended working model. If one positive has resulted from Covid-19, it is that the pandemic allowed us to have the largest ever pilot project on remote working and it proved it could work. The pandemic tore up the traditional view of the nine-to-five working day. We do not all need to be sitting bumper to bumper trying to get into the office for 9 o'clock every morning. There are better ways to manage our time. If we can take a more flexible approach, that will allow women and men to balance their work life with their family life. A blended working model presents significant opportunities to support women to get back into the workforce.

As part of the Pathways to Work strategy I have asked my officials to examine the idea of "returnships", where we would work with companies specifically to help women who may have spent some time out of the workforce after having children to get back into employment.

We now have approximately 220 remote working hubs on the Connected Hubs platform. Those are dotted in towns and villages throughout the country, close to local communities, schools and childcare facilities. Those hubs can and will help to facilitate the move to remote working nationally.

I know carers have been mentioned and my Department of Social Protection saw the carer's support grant increased in last year's budget to its highest ever level. It is also a priority for me that carers get the pension for the time they spend caring for people in the home. It is something that is very much a priority for this Government as well.

I am a firm believer in the phrase, "if you cannot see it, you cannot be it". That applies to politics, business, sport and right across our society. We need more women in this House and there is no getting away from that. We have made some progress in recent years, but let us be honest, we have come from a low base. We all need to do more, and I include my party in that. There is no point putting women on election tickets for the sake of it and just to make up the numbers or meet a quota requirement. We need to put forward women in constituencies where they have a realistic chance of winning a seat. As a Government, we have a target to have 40% gender balance on State boards but, ironically, the Cabinet has never in the history of the State met that target. There are four female Cabinet Ministers currently out of 15, and that represents approximately 26% of the Cabinet, well short of the gender balance target we have ourselves set for State boards. We should not fool ourselves on this or gives ourselves a pat on the back. We have made progress but we have a long way to go.

I am proud to say we have a wonderful generation of young people in Ireland, particularly young articulate women. I was delighted to attend an event last night to celebrate International Women's Day in the Íontas centre in Castleblayney. It was organised by the local women's group, Blayney Blades. At the event, a 14-year-old girl, Molly Ward, launched a book she has written on a trailblazing Monaghan woman, the late Sister Celine. Sister Celine led and supported so many women and men in the local community. As I said, if you cannot see it, you cannot be it. Celine probably did not realise it but she certainly inspired many women, young and old, and women must support each other in all walks of life. We also need the support of men to help us realise our full potential and ambitions.

Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan sona go léir. Happy International Women's Day in particular to all the amazing women elected to the Dáil, past and present, as well as all those in the Seanad and all women in politics. We remember in particular the women and young girls of Ukraine today, fleeing conflict and war and leaving behind husbands and fathers. We remember all women and girls fleeing or caught up in conflict. The words of a great woman, Ms Patti Smith, come to mind:

And the armies ceased advancing

Because the people had their ear

We hope this war ends soon.

It is at times like this we cherish our democracy, flawed and all as it is. In that regard, I will speak briefly to the role of the electoral reform Bill that was before the Cabinet today in helping to reshape democracy and make it more representative for and by women. I will start by focusing on the submission of the National Women's Council on the electoral reform Bill. Some of the observations it put forward were around promoting gender balance in political life and electoral contests, including necessary changes to support women's access to elected office, using a broad range policy role to engage groups facing barriers in participating in electoral systems, and safeguarding equity of access for all, including Travellers, young people, disabled people and people from minority ethnic backgrounds. It advocated the creation of conditions for safe and fair elections, electoral competition and electoral communication.

There were a number of recommendations. The council welcomed our inclusion in the Bill of the recognition of the need for anonymous registration where there are issues of a woman's safety due to experience of intimate partner violence and where such women may be compromised by having a name and address being publicly available on the electoral register. There is the inclusion of a proposed register for young people aged 16 and 17 in schools before they become eligible to vote, and that will be included in the Bill. There is also the question of ensuring equitable balance between women and men as members of the commission, and we will include that as well.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, mentioned general and local elections. The impact of gender provisions was clear in the 2016 election, with a total of 163 women contesting the election, representing 30% of the 551 candidates. This was a significant increase over the 2011 election, when only 15% of the candidates were women. In 2016, 35 women were elected to Dáil Éireann, representing 22% of the total membership, compared with 15% in 2011. It is still not enough, although there was an increase in 2020. We can see only a very marginal improvement between the 2014 and 2019 local elections, going from 21% to 23%. I know the recommendation from both the National Women's Council and the Citizens' Assembly on gender is for gender quotas for local elections as well.

There is an onus on all of us in political parties to work together and go beyond these recommendations. The commission will have an important role to play in changing our political system and make our council chambers and Dáil more reflective and representative of those who live here. We must look to ourselves and our political parties, as well as our independent structures, to ensure we go beyond mandatory quotas or token representation. We must be proactive and reach out to women to ensure they can stand for election. We must reach out to minorities and Traveller women and we must make party structures more welcoming to diversity and positive discrimination to women candidates.

The commission's awareness and promotion capacity will be built over time and it will play an active role in voter participation. There is the idea of pre-registration of youths aged 16 and 17 and consideration of reducing the voting age to 16. I have my own views on that and it is important we have an informed and impartial view of such concepts. Greater participation in elections and referendums by more people of all ages and genders will, over time, transform how we as politicians and political parties engage. It will transform a range of matters we are campaigning on in local, European and Oireachtas elections, with a focus on gender equality, climate, biodiversity, inclusion and diversity.

What will our next scheduled local election events look like if this works? We could see at least 40% women candidates with targeted resources allocated by parties to help them get elected. We could see greater diversity, with successful candidates from minority communities, including our Traveller community. We could see a reduction in the voting age to 16. We could see a more women-friendly schedule for council work and for work-life balance. We should see a transformation but it will require our collective action to achieve it.

They say a woman's place is in the revolution and on the Continent of Europe, Ukrainian women are showing up to defend their country, freedom and values. They are an inspiration to women everywhere. More women have had to leave on foot or by car and train, taking elderly relatives and young children to safety to defend the next generation of Ukrainians. To those who will come to Ireland, I say tá fáilte romhaibh go léir. We are thinking too of a young Irish woman, Ms Racheal Diyaolu, from Carlow, who is fleeing to the border with Moldova to get back from Sumy.

Where are our values when all across the State we have carers, the majority of whom are women, effectively locked in their homes? They are on paltry supports, despite the billions of euro they save the State. Where was their voice last Saturday, when women rallied in Dublin? Where are the voices of the women who have contacted me to say they are shattered and hanging on by a thread because they have received an eviction notice and they and their children have nowhere to go? Our women carers are invisible women, wiped from public view because of poverty or disability in the family, leading to a precariousness in their position. Today, on International Women's Day, it is important we bring their voices to their Dáil. I say to them that change is coming.

When women can actually find childcare, and that is difficult enough to do in north Kildare, they have to pay the baby mortgage for it. That is generally for the privilege of earning a percentage of what their male counterparts earn. We women hand over our children, in the main to other women, to be minded. There is solidarity in that act and women who mind these children deserve to be paid well. Sinn Féin has a plan to reduce childcare costs by two thirds so there will be top quality, available, affordable and local childcare. We have seen the neon signs blazing. She believed she could do it but because she could not get childcare, she did not. Please do not let us be saying that again this time next year.

Guím Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan sona ar gach duine laistigh agus lasmuigh den Teach. I would like to pay tribute to the many women who are helping other women to navigate the misogyny that still exists all over the world. I attended the rally at Leinster House on Saturday and the event that followed in the Gresham Hotel. I heard many uplifting stories from Joanne O'Riordan, Karen Kiernan, Miriam Holt and Dr. Salome Mbugua. The speaker who really resonated with me was Anne Clarke of the Offaly domestic violence support services, who is also a board member of Safe Ireland. Her contribution struck a chord with me because of the epidemic of domestic violence my office has experienced in the past two years. The Government must do more to help victims of domestic violence. Every local authority area must have at least one domestic violence shelter. Anything less is not acceptable.

A lady I was helping recently was asked by a council employee would she not just go back with her abuser, it had to be better than living in emergency accommodation. We are living in 2022. Ireland has changed greatly in the past 30 years but there is still a long way to go. I attended a Garda station this morning to discuss another domestic violence situation. The Garda station was closed but I knocked on the door and it was answered. I handed the garda some details about the situation and he said he could not discuss it with me. He also said the Garda was aware of the situation and that the lady was not really willing to help herself. I reminded him that there are children involved. He agreed to call around but I am not really hopeful. I wish these attitudes were isolated incidents. We saw the scandal where the 999 calls were going unanswered. There is a need for a change of attitude towards domestic violence.

Anyone who has really tried to help victims of domestic violence will know the trauma that exists. Civil servants and front-line workers must be given trauma-informed training to give them the tools to understand from a victim's point of view. No more hiding behind excuses. The women I assist know about hiding. They know the cover stick make-up, the scarf, the long sleeved top and the heavy tights and prepared excuses. Today should be a day of celebration to remember how far we have come but until domestic violence is stopped we have little to celebrate. Things have to change.

The west Cork author, Louise O'Neill, wrote over the weekend that she did not feel like celebrating International Women's Day this year. Louise, as Members probably all know, powerfully captures the complexities and realities of being a young woman in Ireland. She describes the ongoing issues girls and women face, the weariness of having to raise the same points over and over and over, and the disillusionment she feels when nothing ever changes. I know exactly where she is coming from. On one level it is great that statements on International Women's Day is almost a standing annual topic in the Dáil. Women and girls and the issues that directly affect them deserve and need that attention. However, it is also symbolic of the tokenism that surrounds International Women's Day. I genuinely considered giving the same speech I did last year. Would anyone notice? Would I notice? I could talk about the same issues with a few updated statistics. It is the same problems year after year.

There is amazing work being done by women and their allies. Progress is happening, slowly, but it takes so much effort. We still have to fight for places in leadership, for period products to be appreciated as essential, for female role models to be given a platform. This year of all years we would have hoped for something different. After the tragic killing of Ashling Murphy, the need for substantive change was palpable. It took the death of another young woman and a national outpouring for the Government to eventually act. Apparently we are moving towards more domestic violence refuge spaces. Currently we only have about one third of the spaces required for our population because for years Governments have failed to meet our obligations under the Istanbul Convention. When meeting the bare minimum of required spaces is championed as a good news story, it shows how far we still have to go. In January there was an urgent need to change our culture around gender-based violence. By February, banter was back. Gender equality matters every day. The support and solidarity and protest matter today but what is the point if they are not followed up by action on the other 364 days of the year?

Oftentimes we cannot even have today. Online searches for International Men's Day spike on International Women's Day. To all those asking on social media, International Men's Day is on 19 November and yes, I spoke then as well, highlighting issues affecting men. What did you do? If you are only concerned about men's day on women's day, it is safe to say we all know what is your real priority. Given the evidence, it is clear that besides days like today, women's issues are sidelined. We see it in uncertainty around control of the national maternity hospital, the lack of progress on eating disorders and the continuing disgraceful treatment of women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal. The list goes on. Incredibly important issues are allowed to drag on and on. Too often, it falls to female public representatives to raise these issues and it is exhausting. There are too few of us and there are too many issues.

The women in agriculture stakeholders group does incredible work supporting women in the sector and encouraging greater participation. However, when the farming organisations are dominated by men and the Oireachtas agriculture committee has no female Deputy, progress is restricted. We need consideration and conversation around how gender impacts all issues. Housing is a women's issue yet the Government's Housing for All plan has worryingly little reference to the supports needed by women and children fleeing domestic violence. Child support is a women's issue. A lack of access to public transport is a social and economic limitation but it is also a safety issue. Waiting for buses and trains in poorly lit spaces puts women off even going out.

Our policies also have to be intersectional. International Women's Day is equally about disability rights, trans rights, migrant women and Traveller and Minceir women and girls. Refugees are rightly foremost in our national conversation this week. Women and children make up 80% of refugees and displaced people. However, we have obligations to refugees fleeing all conflicts. There are still Afghan, Syrian and other refugees we can and should assist. Ireland has amazingly dedicated women working in communities driving action through solidarity on shoestring budgets. West Cork Women Against Domestic Violence does literally lifesaving work. The sexual violence centre is Cork is 30 years ago today. Anew supports pregnant women and new mothers experiencing or at risk of homelessness. I could go on all day. We have a strong bottom-up approach. What we need now is a top-down one.

I cannot help but return to the lack of women and diversity in the Oireachtas and in boardrooms. The family friendly Dáil reform committee has a report and actions which are ready to be implemented. Political parties are getting more funding to improve their gender representation but this requires commitments to electing women, not just running candidates and putting names on tickets. It is clear what needs to be done. The question is whether it will actually happen. I can only hope that things will be brighter next year, that we do not have to repeat the same speeches, the same talking points, form the same kind of committees and produce the same kind of reports over and over again to be followed by no actions. In closing I will return to Louise O'Neill's words:

"On International Women's Day, I don't want to go for a Prosecco brunch with my best gals and I don't want to post a photo of my mother on Instagram, with a caption about strong women - may we know them, may we raise them, may we be them, etc. I want real, institutional change. I want a country that protects its women and girls. I want to feel safe."

I wish everybody in the Oireachtas a happy International Women's Day. I will use my time to highlight some of the areas in which we need to continue to make real progress for women.

In recent years, we have delivered significant improvements in our country's approach to women's healthcare. The repeal of the eighth amendment, for example, was a momentous achievement for all of those who campaigned tirelessly and for so long to achieve it. Unfortunately, the legislation is not providing the access that many hoped it would. I have heard heartbreaking stories of parents being told their baby has a fatal foetal anomaly, rather than abnormality, and limited chance of making it to full term, never mind surviving outside the womb. These parents cannot legally be offered a termination in Ireland. In 2020, in fact, one out of three women who travelled to the UK for an abortion were seeking a termination due to a fatal foetal anomaly. When Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal the eighth amendment, this is not what we expected or intended. I add my voice to the calls for a timely and practical review of the legislation to ensure it is serving the women of Ireland adequately.

We know there are still counties with no abortion services and that needs to be addressed. We know that part of the reservation for many GPs in providing a service may come from not wanting to attract protests and intimidation from anti-choice groups. I have raised the issue of safe access zones before in this House and I again call on the Minister to enact legislation quickly that will protect women, couples and healthcare professionals from these cruel acts of intimidation. Not only are protests are happening on a regular basis outside GP clinics and hospitals providing abortion services, but also we are now seeing anti-abortion advertising outside these healthcare settings. It is really important that a ban on such abhorrent advertisements is included in our safe access zone legislation.

In 2019, the women's health task force recommended that we improve supports for women experiencing menopause. Last year, we saw the establishment of the country's first specialist menopause clinic in Dublin, which is very welcome. Three more clinics are on the way and I have called on the Minister to work to deliver them as soon as possible. The Menopause Hub reports that 22% of women experiencing moderate to severe menopause symptoms have missed three or more days of work and 85% of them felt they could not tell their employers the real reason for that time off work. Almost half of these women have considered giving up work because their symptoms are so severe. Many organisations are beginning to recognise the challenges of menopause for women and are doing more to educate their managers and broader workforce. It would be great to see more employers designing organisational policies on the menopause as well as delivering menopause training for management and human relations staff to increase awareness of these issues in the workplace. Women's healthcare does not begin and end at family planning. It is multifaceted. I hope we will continue to see further development in the area of menopause support.

We often look to New Zealand as an example of progressive and inclusive leadership. Its approach to miscarriage leave is one I would like to see replicated in Ireland. A number of colleagues, including Deputy Carroll MacNeill and Senator Seery Kearney, and I have been advocating for statutory miscarriage leave to be introduced to provide women with the necessary support in the event of early pregnancy loss. Sadly, one in very five pregnancies is lost in the early stages. The trauma of early pregnancy loss needs to be addressed. Women should be supported in taking the necessary time to heal, both physically and emotionally.

The role of women in business is an issue that is really important to me. I came to the Dáil from the corporate world , where I saw at first hand the impact strong female role models can have in a company. That is why I was delighted to bring the Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill before the Dáil last year. It will legislate for gender quotas at a boardroom level and require all company boards to comprise at least 40% female membership within three years. Ireland is making progress in the representation of women in the boardroom and I welcome the further progress announced today. However, that progress simply is not happening quickly enough. Balanced boardrooms are proven to make better decisions, yet we still have five listed companies in Ireland without a single woman on their governing board. In 2022, that simply is not good enough.

I welcome the significant progress the Government is making on tackling the gender pay gap. The Gender Pay Gap Information Act was signed into law last year and will require organisations to report on pay differences between male and female employees. I urge State bodies and other organisations not to wait for the law to come into force but to start gathering that information now. We have seen An Post lead the way on this.

Unfortunately, it is well documented that women and children suffer disproportionately in times of war. They are viewed as safe targets, deprived of their human rights and may become victims of trafficking or sexual abuse. On International Women's Day, with everything that is happening in Ukraine, it is a time for us to have those women and children in our thoughts, prayers and actions. It is very good news that we will be welcoming 100,000 Ukrainians to our shores in the coming weeks.

I am delighted to speak on the important occasion of International Women's Day. I am even more delighted to be following my good friend from college, Deputy Higgins. We have soldiered together for a long time as politicians and friends. There are three areas on which I will briefly focus. I could speak for an hour on each of them, as could many others in the House.

The first relates to the report commissioned by the Ceann Comhairle from the forum tasked with examining how the Oireachtas can be made more family-friendly. I was very lucky to be part of that body, along with other Members and people from outside the House. I want to use this time to say to the Government and the Ceann Comhairle that it is imperative that the many instances of low-hanging fruit recommended for action within the report are seized upon rapidly and the changes made very quickly, not just to make the Oireachtas a more friendly place for families of all shapes, sizes and formats but particularly for women. A recommendation I was very keen on relates to privilege at committees. There is no need for people to travel from outside Dublin on a Tuesday simply to speak at a committee meeting when they could participate remotely and have an extra day at home before they need to come here. That would make a huge difference. It would not amount to a massive change for the operation of the Oireachtas but would be a massive change for the individuals concerned. There are some 53 recommendations in the report but much of the change needed comes down to the culture of the Oireachtas. To be frank, much of that culture is not conducive to encouraging more women to go into politics. A great deal of it comes down to the back-and-forth nature of politics, which certainly has changed a bit in my short time in politics but not quickly enough.

A related point is the issue of mentoring. This may not be something for which specific provision can be made but it needs to be offered to new Oireachtas Members. When someone approaches any of us with an interest in getting involved in public life, regardless of which party they are interested in or if they want to be an Independent representative, we have a duty, as Oireachtas Members, to encourage them, particularly if they are young women or girls. I was very lucky that I had a former Deputy, Olivia Mitchell, as my mentor. I worked in her office for five years and am lucky to have counted her as a friend for more than 20 years. She walked every highway and byway of Dublin South, now Dublin Rathdown, with me right up to the most recent general election. If it were not for her mentorship, I do not think I would be here and, I would argue, nor would my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan. This is an issue to which we all should give attention. The next time we get an email or telephone call from a young or not so young person asking for a week's work experience or an internship, we need to consider how we can make that easier and whether we may need to go out of our way to make it happen. I have in mind one intern who went on to have very different politics from mine. I will not say which party he ended up working for but its Members are not sitting on this side of the House. I was happy to take him on as an intern and teach him the intricacies of how to put a poster on a lamp post. We need to do more of that, particularly for young women and girls. Politics should not be intimidating for anyone.

Another issue I feel very seriously about is that when it comes to issues that are perceived as women's issues, we, as the men in this House - unfortunately, there are a lot more men than women - need to take ownership and responsibility to break down some of the stigma, talk about the issues that affect the women in our lives and being their voices into this Chamber. Earlier today, on the Order of Business, my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, raised the need for a national endometriosis strategy. This is an illness that is impacting many women, particularly those around my age. They are dealing with an extremely painful condition and sometimes are left bereft by the news that they will never be able to bear children. We must bring their stories to this House and put pressure on the Government to follow the lead of other countries in this regard.

There is a need for a greater focus on a publicly funded fertility system. I am starting to hear a lot about this from my peer group or age group.

My last point, which is on the issue of postnatal depression, is very much personal in that it has affected my home after the birth of both of my kids. We must normalise the discussion on mental health. Deputy Mark Ward has done so much in this area. The men in this Chamber should know the signs of postnatal depression in their partners, wives, daughters and friends, but they should also be comfortable talking about it. When identified, there are supports. It should not matter what one's postcode, background or family circumstances are. As a society and, more importantly, as a political collective, we must talk about these issues frankly in the Chamber. These are issues that we do not need to score political points on. These are issues on which we should all have a collective will. Trying to fit all of these issues into a five-minute debate once a year is fine but they should be raised every day we have the privilege of being in here.

Once a year, on International Women's Day, we come in here to talk about the issues that face half of the population. We must recognise continually that we are failing as a society when we have to recognise that so many of our women find the rights for which they have struggled for so long have still to be achieved. A century ago, it was about the right to vote. We believe we have come such a long way since then but there is still so much to travel.

Reference was made to the gender pay gap. When I speak to many women in my constituency in professions dominated by women, I realise they are at a huge loss as to why they must struggle continually to achieve decent pay and conditions. I am thinking in particular about women in section 39 employment, which usually involves healthcare and social care. It is predominantly women in these sectors. Every day they are fighting to get decent salaries so they will be independent if, as is often the case, they find themselves without a partner, with a difficulty in life or on their own trying to raise children. All of these problems are in addition to the gender pay problem, and women continually find it is a struggle.

Every day of the week, Deputies raise issues concerning childcare, time off and other such matters. This indicates that we do not deal with them often enough. I fully respect Deputy Richmond's point that we should not be discussing these matters here for five minutes once a year. We need to take the initiative to make what is desired happen as quickly as possible.

The issues that have dominated for the past couple of weeks, particularly what happened Ashling Murphy and how it resulted in a focus on how women are so afraid in society, show that we have so much to do to protect women so they will have a fearless place in society. We have a lot to do to change men and their attitude regarding all this.

I am conscious of what is happening in Ukraine. In my community, I have been working with a family from Ukraine that has been bringing people over here. In the past week, it has brought 18 people connected to it here. All of them are women. In one case, there were two small girls and their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother — four generations fleeing from war. We should be very grateful that we are not in that position in this country. However, at the same time, we have an awfully long way to go to have equal status for women.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak on International Women's Day. Last week I was invited by students from Lucan Community College to hear their presentation on how church and State relations continue to affect women's rights in Ireland. Taking on board what Deputy Richmond was saying, we have an obligation in this House to encourage all young people to get involved. I said that if I had an opportunity to do so, I would let their voices be heard in the Dáil. Amber and Chloe, under the supervision of their teacher, Ms Mulhern, gave me a comprehensive report on how the church and State still affect women's rights today. They gave me a history of contraception in Ireland from its prohibition to today, when there are still forms of financial prohibition, with a cost of up to €20 monthly for the contraceptive pill and a further €50 for doctors' fees and prescription charges. The students welcomed the fact that there will be free contraception available in Ireland for women between 17 and 25 from later this year. However, they pointed out that the average age at which a woman stops menstruating is 50 and that while the pill is a contraceptive, it also helps to regulate menstruation. On that note, I acknowledge Ms Claire Hunt of Homeless Period Ireland, with whom I did a fair bit of work over the years, for providing free period products to girls and women who need them. Periods happen every month. I cannot wait for the day when a service such as Homeless Period Ireland is no longer needed and women and girls can avail of free period products when and where they need them.

The pupils I was speaking to mentioned that while the repeal of the eighth amendment was really welcome, safe access zones need to be in place. We cannot have anti-choice protests, intimidatory behaviour and inappropriate communications about abortion at the zones. These need to be prohibited.

Time does not allow me to talk about all I would like to talk about today so I will finish with the words of our party leader, Deputy McDonald. At the weekend, she stated women demand the right "to explore every horizon, to reach for every dream, we demand the right to be free, to be ourselves, without fear, without apology and without humiliation — the right to live a full and free life together". I do not believe that is too much to ask for in modern-day society.

People Before Profit sends solidarity to women across the world who are suffering from the absolute brutality of war, particularly in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine, and, indeed, Syria and beyond. Wars, like all emergencies, be they related to housing, health, poverty or climate change, always affect women and children disproportionately. Of the 365 days in the year, we focus on this incredible inequality on only one. It is remarkable how inequality has been perpetuated down through the decades and centuries.

The oppression of women, sexism and misogyny stem from an economic system that devalues the labour of women in the home and assigns them to the role of raising the next generation as cheaply as possible for that system. More than 100 years on from the first International Women's Day, our world may look different but the issues that have dominated are still the same. These include unaffordable childcare; inadequate resources for the whole care sector, including family care and, in particular, home care; and unequal access to healthcare, especially reproductive healthcare and abortion rights. Wages are always lower and conditions are poorer predominantly in female work in the care sector, nursing, retail and hospitality. These are the real issues facing women. Whatever progress we have made in the intervening years, we still have these problems and inequalities. We still prioritise the needs of an economic system over human needs, particularly the needs of women and children.

What the Russian revolutionary movement set out to achieve 100 years ago when Clara Zetkin named 8 March as International Women's Day is still unfinished business. International Women's Day has a history based on opposition to war and a capitalist system that breeds war and oppression. It is, in fact, working women's day in a struggle for equal pay, the right to vote and the abolition of the slavery of workers. I do not think that, down through the years, most working women were concerned with the number of women who were on the boards of corporations; rather, they were concerned with the inequity in society and the fight to end poverty.

In this country, we have been dealing with the legacy of systemic abuse of women in one form or another, and the issues in this regard have dominated the past two Dáileanna. Included are the issues of the eighth amendment, childcare costs, mother and baby homes, the lack of redress, Magdalen laundries, symphysiotomy, CervicalCheck, gender-based violence, the lack of refuge spaces and the economic struggles that women have faced, including, significantly, those of the Debenhams workers, nurses and teachers, who are mainly women.

I want to take time to deal with the national maternity hospital. The historical role of the church in subjugating women and their reproductive lives has to be put to an end. If we do nothing else in this Dáil, we must ensure the national maternity hospital is publicly owned and controlled. The State is paying more than €1 billion for it but it is not going to be owned by the State.

It is still unclear how all the procedures that should be legally available to women and other genders will be available under this arrangement. There is a sinister and disingenuous attempt to paint campaigners as delaying this, when it really comes from the religious orders that refuse to hand over the freehold to the State. We need to see the deal that the Minister for Health is allegedly due to sign off on. We need a proper national reproductive care centre that is free of Church influence and is publicly owned and controlled. For that reason, we need a full Dáil debate on the issue.

I want to salute the role of working women everywhere. In the pandemic, so many women were, and are, key front-line workers in health, education and retail. In many countries during the pandemic, it was women who carried the banner for workers' rights. In this country, they did so at Debenhams. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to express their grief and anger at the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence after the killing of Ashling Murphy. I say to Government Ministers that they should respect that grief and anger. I ask them to stop stonewalling the Women of Honour and not to push the goal of reaching the Istanbul targets on refuge places off to the medium or long term, when they report on them next month. Capitalism's cost of living crisis has shunted millions of women from the front line to the breadline. According to the World Economic Forum, if closing the gender pay gap was 99 years away according to trends in 2020, it had risen to 136 years by 2021. On our TV screens, we see 2 million refugees - the old, the sick, women and their children. We express solidarity with the women of Ukraine and all other refugees, who are often people of colour. It was the strike of women workers on International Women's Day 105 years ago in Petrograd that marked the beginning of the end of the great slaughter of the First World War, as well as the beginning of the end for both tsarism and capitalism. It is that system, the system of capitalism, which lies at the root of women's oppression in the world today, through gender-based violence, economic inequality and war. On this International Women's Day, socialist feminists renew our commitment to fight for women's rights and to fight against that system which has denied those rights for so long.

As others will have done, I sat down and opened my emails this morning and received a number of positive updates concerning women, which was befitting for International Women’s Day. They included updates on the launch of the women’s health action plan, the roll-out of free period products in further education, the introduction of gender pay gap reporting, and research commissioned into gender-based violence against people with disabilities. We also had the first public sitting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality last week. We are making progress, but today remains a particularly difficult International Women’s Day.

There are two issues that I want to highlight in my contribution today: the vulnerability of women who are fleeing their homes and countries and the dangers of war, and the trafficking and involvement of women in illegal prostitution against their will in Ireland. Many colleagues have spoken today with passion and solidarity about the women of Ukraine, who are facing unimaginable challenges today. There are women who have moved and are moving across Ukraine, with their children, their parents and their families. There are women who are leaving their partners behind as they rush to get to safety. There are women who are hiding in Ukraine. They are hiding themselves and their children from the brutal indiscriminate violence of Russia - its illegal and unwarranted invasion of a democratic state and the murder of civilians that we have seen so repeatedly and desperately over the past 13 days. These women are at huge risk today. It must be said that many remain at risk, even when they reach the relative safety of the border. We must remember that sadly, global conflict has many dark reaches and many dark opportunities for criminals to prey on the vulnerable. We must be alive to that risk.

Today I met with the lead researcher from the Sexual Exploitation Research Programme, SERP, of the Geary Institute in UCD, Ruth Breslin, to discuss that concern, namely, vulnerable women in a time of war. The concern of the Geary Institute and the reports it is receiving are of women and children in desperate circumstances. Some - not all - women are being offered help, including lifts and accommodation, from strangers. There are already reports of women disappearing from view. This is not a new phenomenon. When it comes to trafficking for sexual exploitation, one of the greatest risk factors for women and girls is being a refugee fleeing natural or man-made crises. Exploiters will always prey on such vulnerability. SERP has received many concerning reports of incidents of sexual violence and exploitation. As a Parliament and as a member of the EU, we need to be alive to that risk as we respond to the humanitarian need of people coming from Ukraine.

Of course it is just as important to highlight the risk to women in other countries. This morning I had the opportunity to hear from Fawzia Koofi, who was the first woman second deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament, the head of the Afghan Parliament's Women Affairs Commission, a staunch advocate for women and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2020, to name a few of her achievements. We were both panellists on an Irish Women’s Day event hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Ms Koofi used her time to talk about the extraordinary existential risk to women in Afghanistan.

The second group of women that I wish to highlight is women working in prostitution in Ireland today. As of 12 noon today, International Women’s Day, there are 744 women for sale on Ireland’s main prostitution website. That is 744 women for sale in Ireland alone. This figure was checked and confirmed by SERP in UCD. More than 90% of these women are migrants. As Deputies will be aware, buyers select the women whose bodies they want to purchase sexual access to, with many returning later to the same site to rate each woman out of five stars on her physical appearance, the satisfaction she gave and the value for money she provided. Some will also write about the details of the woman’s appearance and the various acts they purchased from her, reviewing each woman not as a person but a product. That is happening today. As I said, more than 90% of these women are migrants. The research carried out by SERP has shown that most of these women are young and vulnerable, drawn or forced into the sex trade by poverty, coercion or a combination of both. Many are fleeing violence elsewhere only to meet new violence in Ireland, daily violence committed by perpetrators, members of organised crime gangs and others. For fear of the criminals who control them, these women often fear the Garda, which has made so many renewed efforts to help and offer welfare interventions. These efforts have been highlighted as important and positive interventions by the women who have engaged with SERP, notwithstanding their general fear of the Garda because of what they have been told.

The HSE’s women's health service is a lifeline as a specialist health service for women in prostitution. Interviews conducted by the service with women who use the service demonstrate the extent to which the sexual and mental health of these women is harmed. This is what is happening in our modern Ireland today, on International Women's Day, when women’s rights are meant to be equal and protected. Ireland’s laws to combat the highly exploitative trade are currently under review. For the safety and well-being of Irish women and migrant women who have come here for a better life, it is most important that we target every element of the trade, including the sex buyers, the pimps, the traffickers and the organised crime gangs profiting from abuse of vulnerable women. Women are not products to be reviewed. Vulnerable women remain at risk daily. We need to be aware of that risk in all forms at this time. We need to be aware of the risk to other women who are fleeing violence in Ukraine. We must ensure the steps we take to protect them at every point in their journey, as they seek refuge in Ireland and across Europe, consider that risk.

I wish Members a happy International Women's day. European International Women's Day dates back to 1911, which is 111 years ago. The UN first formally observed a global day of recognition in 1977, 45 years ago. Regrettably, we are nowhere reaching its target. While the world has changed dramatically in the years since the first days marking this occasion, and many improvements at home and abroad for women and girls have indeed been made, it occurs to me that more men need to become heavily involved in achieving the goals that are outlined within the movement, including delivering an equal society between both genders, and that barriers need to be removed not just within our society but also within this House, as my colleague Deputy Richmond highlighted. We recognise that progress has been made, but it does serve as a reminder that a considerable body of work is yet to be achieved. If we are truly honest with ourselves, it remains a sad reality that men and boys in Ireland today lead safer lives, largely free from worry or even consideration of harassment or unsolicited attention.

They will not have to worry about impacts on their careers resulting from childbirth and rearing children.

In an illustration of the scale of where we are today, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, reported that in 2019 only 26% of senior roles in large enterprises were held by women. Only 11.5% of CEO positions and just 19.6% of board positions are held by women, while a meagre 7.4% of chairperson positions on those boards are held by women. In 2018, 98.8% of recipients of the one-parent-family payment were women. That is nearly all of the 39,000 people in receipt of that payment. Those are just a taste of the realities faced by women in Ireland today, that is, that family responsibilities still fall too often on women alone and that top-level positions occupied by women remain too much of a rarity in comparison with their male counterparts.

Despite the stark nature of these statistics, we have made progress on this issue in recent years. Improving gender equality in Ireland is an increasing priority for this Government and I believe there is a broad consensus on the issue across this House. The Gender Pay Gap Information Act and the Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021 introduced to this House by my colleague Deputy Higgins are all examples of that progress, as well as expanding the rights of women over their reproductive rights. There can be no doubt that empowering women and elevating them to leadership positions across society will benefit the entire country. Our job in the weeks, months and years ahead is to ensure we are creating a country that is as open and as progressive as possible and that we bring in legislation that moves us closer to full gender equality.

Of course, legislation alone will not resolve many of the issues that remain. We need an open and frank discussion in respect of gender imbalance in Ireland. That is why I referred earlier to men having to play a greater role in accepting and addressing that issue. There is an epidemic of gender-based violence. I see no other way of describing the increasing trends in domestic violence calls to An Garda Síochána, the rising levels of anti-social behaviour and the casual sexism that has permeated through homes, businesses and social settings across Ireland for many years. To tackle these issues, we must engage with all levels of society in different circumstances. We have to engage in extensive educational supports that can begin to show these unacceptable behaviours for what they are. We need the institutions of the State to reflect the modern country we have become and want to become. I recently spoke in this House on the problematic patriarchal and engendered culture within the Defence Forces but the issue is not limited to that particular arm of the State. The Constitution is something that most Members of this House hold dear, yet we are aware of the deeply insulting and problematic language contained within certain sections of it. I have been listening to that being debated in this House since I joined it in 2011, yet we do not appear to be any closer to holding a referendum on it. Article 41.2.1°, commonly known as the women’s place in the home clause, has been discussed for many years, as I mentioned. Even if it is symbolic, it must be addressed, and promptly.

I look forward to the forthcoming publication of the third national strategy on sexual, domestic and gender-based violence which my colleague the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has been preparing and remains committed to implementing. It is an important step in planning our approach to tackling gender-based violence in the coming years.

In the few moments I have remaining, I wish to mention a delegation of Oireachtas Members of all parties and none that attended the Russian Embassy this morning alongside the Ukrainian ambassador, H.E. Larysa Gerasko. I apologise if I mangled the pronunciation of the ambassador's name. I was taken by a young woman who was there. She is not Ukrainian but is from eastern Europe. She spoke of the women of Ukraine who are currently facing war and are protecting their families, often without their partners who are engaged in the war. If the women themselves are not engaged in the war, they are protecting their families. The courage they, and indeed women in other war-torn regions such as Afghanistan and Yemen, demonstrate for all of society must be commended and remembered on this day.

Táim sásta deis a bheith agam labhairt ar Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan agus é a cheiliúradh. The truth is that gender equality or, more properly, gender inequality comes into almost every aspect of our lives. This year on International Women's Day we focus on breaking the bias, stop a chur leis an gclaonadh i dtreo dearcadh nó gníomh áirithe nó cinneadh. We must break the bias in society. We must break the bias in childcare. The crippling costs of childcare push many women, particularly single mothers, out of their careers, while early years educators are still facing unfair pay and precarious employment. We must break the bias in education, where girls are less likely to get an autism spectrum disorder, ASD diagnosis and a lack of action on period poverty means many young women miss out on days of school every month. We must break the bias in workplaces. In politics, female Deputies, Senators and councillors still have no proper maternity leave scheme in place. We must break the bias in the healthcare system, where women are waiting years for crucial and sometimes lifesaving gynaecological appointments agus go bhfuil tacaíocht mar is cuí fós á diúltú do mná atá ag iompar clainne ag coinní máithreachais. We must break the bias for women escaping domestic violence. Despite increasing demand for refuges in the past five years, shelters such as Mná Feasa in Cork actually saw a 12% decrease in funding. Ó thaobh dlí agus cirt, na meáin, spórt agus gach áit, caithfimid an claonadh a bhriseadh.

On this International Women's Day, we remember those who have suffered violence against women, such as Ashling Murphy and thousands more. We must commit to not allowing this issue to slip off the agenda today, tomorrow or any other day.

As a final thought, it is worth reflecting on the fact that there is a focus today on unseen care. Covid has very much highlighted the fact that so much care that is often provided predominantly by women is completely undervalued economically, socially and in every other respect. It is true to say that so much of society would collapse without it. Lá sona Idirnáisiúnta na mBan do chách. Let us continue to put the work in to ensure an equal Ireland.

I wish all women a very happy International Women's Day, especially my mother, my wife Angela, my daughter Kerry and all my friends and comrades. I think in particular of my mother, who raised seven children in the north inner city in circumstances of great difficulty, as did many women at that time. She really did a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances.

I extend my solidarity to women across the world who are experiencing violence, fear, threats or intimidation in their homes, communities, cities or countries. In particular, I extend my solidarity to the women of Ukraine, Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, as well as those in all other parts of the world where there is war and occupation by bigger and more powerful countries, in their struggle for justice and peace. The pictures of tens of thousands of women and children fleeing war in Ukraine are heart-breaking. We constantly see similar pictures of women in Palestine, Yemen and Afghanistan who are fighting for civil and political rights while also raising their families. We saw the same in our country for many decades in the Northern Six Counties of Ireland under British state oppression.

A short while ago, following the brutal murder of Ashling Murphy, Deputies stood in this Chamber and made promise after promise that this would never happen again. We were repeatedly told neither funding nor resources would be a problem. Unfortunately, I do not see a significant focus on ensuring that everyone who is experiencing domestic violence will have a safe place to go when they need it.

I commend women whom I have met through the years who are the backbone of the struggle against oppression. I refer to those in the anti-drugs movement, seeking civil and political rights or fighting against inequality, injustice and poverty using community development structures that, sadly, have largely been scrapped. There is much to celebrate on International Women's Day. However, there is still so much more road to travel to achieve equality, economic and social justice for all women.

I listened intently to the contribution of Deputy Alan Farrell. His analysis of the inequalities women are facing was spot on but imagine what he could have done if he were in government for the past decade or more. Oops, he was. Sorry.

The marking of International Women's Day becomes more important and gains more attention with each passing year. That is a positive, yet it is also a concern. What should be a day of celebration across the globe to mark the achievements of women is instead an opportunity to highlight the ongoing obstacles they face in their everyday lives.

These are obstacles that governments and society in general should have taken greater steps to address.

International Women’s Day became official in 1975 when the United Nations started celebrating the day. The first theme adopted was in 1996 when Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future was chosen as the aim of the growing movement. The intervening 26 years since that very first theme have seen progress but they have by no means seen the achievement of true equality for women. Today the motto is calling to break the bias, the bias that still exists. Women have a very clear message that has remained consistent. They simply want fairness and the equality. They are not asking to take over the world. They are asking to take their rightful place in it and are asking that their contribution be considered equal to that of men, that their involvement be valued equally and that their participation be equally acknowledged in all walks of life. Women are asking for respect, for protection from harm, to be valued, and asking for change to happen. They are not asking men to make these things happen for them but are asking for men’s help to make it happen.

It is not good enough that in the year 2022 there is still a gender pay gap of 14% in this country. It is not good enough that for every euro that a man earns a woman will receive 86 cent for the same work in many areas of employment.

It is not good enough that women do not have peace of mind to live their lives free from fear of harm. How many women in any part of our country would confidently go out alone after dark? This freedom is denied to women because we tolerate it despite constantly decrying it. We tolerate laws that are not a sufficient deterrent to prevent men from intimidating, harassing and attacking them, or worse. The vast majority of men do not live with this fear and women should not be expected to live with it either.

These are just two basic examples that happen in everyday life where change could happen. This is change that could be brought about by men and women working together, which could bring about a difference and could pave the way for further change.

This is not a topic we should discuss in this House simply because today is International Women’s Day. The points raised by everyone addressing this topic are the everyday realities of life for women across the country. They are not just the issues of International Women’s Day but are the issues of a lifetime for women down through history who have had to fight for equality, to be heard and to fight for fairness. They should not have to fight or demand and, in fact, they should not even have to ask.

The question of lack of equality between men and women should not even exist. Our ancestors allowed it to take hold and subsequent generations allowed it to continue. We must be the generation which wipes it out.

For the second year running, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the topic of International Women’s Day. In my speech last year I spoke primarily about the positive strides that have been made over the past few decades with regard to women in politics, education and in sport, while at the same time highlighting a number of areas that needed further attention.

I spoke last year about carers and the fact that a large number of carers are women. The programme for Government committed to a pension solution for carers. I had hoped that in the intervening 12 months a pension solution would be in place. It is disappointing that, as yet, a solution is not in place. It would provide a level of security in latter years for thousands of people who have given of themselves so selflessly by dedicating themselves to the care of others. These people are unable to build up the normal number of PRSI credits to qualify for a pension in the usual manner and deserve some flexibility.

Last year I also mentioned the fabulous female sportspeople we have. Since then there have been further wonderful achievements by Ireland’s female sports stars. Kellie Harrington’s performance in Tokyo has cemented her place amongst Ireland’s sporting greats. Rachael Blackmore scaled new heights by being the leading jockey at Cheltenham Festival before becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National only a few weeks later. Earlier this year Leona Maguire became the first Irish female golfer to win on the Ladies Professional Golf Association, LPGA, tour while she also put in the best performance by a debutante in Solheim Cup history. Katie Taylor won a further three fights bringing her unbeaten professional boxing record to 20 wins. In recent weeks the Irish woman, Dr. Karen Weekes, sailed solo across the Atlantic taking 80 days to be the first Irish woman to do so. Dr. Weekes worked for a period in County Wexford many years ago with Shielbaggan Outdoor Education Centre and, no doubt, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, it was the Wexford people who made her so resilient.

Sophie Baker from my own town of New Ross represented Ireland with distinction at the Tokyo Olympics when she was part of the team to qualify for the final of the 400 metre mixed relay final. I must also mention the women of Wexford who are involved in camogie, football, soccer, athletics, rowing, swimming, cycling, weightlifting and horse riding. All and any sport that I have omitted, I congratulate everyone on their performances in 2021 for providing outstanding entertainment for us all with their commitment and dedication in all weathers.

Unfortunately, it has not all been positive. In January, the horrendous murder of Ashling Murphy was a source of dreadful sadness for the entire country. Upon hearing the news and the random nature in which it happened, shockwaves were sent throughout the wider Irish community. Many people suddenly realised that if something like this could happen to Ashling, it could happen then to them or to a loved one. That is certainly not a nice feeling to have when one is walking home at night or going for a run. Our response should be to put a serious focus on issues such as the visibility of our gardaí on our streets on a regular basis.

There should be a greater focus on how we deal with perpetrators of horrible crimes. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of the justice system simply not giving criminals proper sentences for serious crimes. Some of the sentences currently being handed down for serious offences such as assaults on women, rape and other violence, are recognisably soft. Soft sentencing means that dangerous criminals are free, as we speak, when they should be behind bars. We can have all of the hashtags and social media campaigns we like but we need to toughen up when dealing with serious criminals.

Another area that requires serious attention is the provision of refuges for women. There must be practical, helpful and positive steps to ensure that every county has refuge provision available for those women and children who need it.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the two wonderful women who work with me in my Wexford and New Ross offices, Mary and Sharon, or Sharon and Mary, who help me to help my constituents every day. Happy International Women’s Day to all. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Seeing as the Deputy did not use all of her time, I will use it to inform her that there was a very significant Galway element with Dr. Weekes who is from Kinvara in County Galway.

She is a wonderful woman with an extraordinary achievement.

The Deputy can put Galway in there.

I will put Galway there and that is where she is from but we definitely gave her that resilience in Wexford. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle very much. As we celebrate International Women's Day, I am thinking of the women and children fleeing war in Ukraine. We are all thinking and praying for Racheal Diyaolu who will hopefully be out of the country as soon as possible.

We must also think of those who have fled war in the Middle East and in Africa.

I am thinking of women who flee violence in their own home and I am grateful for the hard work that is under way to put a refuge for County Carlow on the priority list. I know that this comes from working locally with all of the stakeholders, the victims, and the local authority. We must do all we can to keep women safe and if today shows us anything, it shows us that women's refuges are so important. We need to put timescales on their provision and I have been contacting the Minister on the timescale for Carlow. It is important that every one of the nine counties that does not have a refuge is provided with one.

When we open our doors, as we absolutely should to refugees, we must ensure that we have the correct information and the proper support and facilities. We need to do that and it must be a priority for us. I sat on a committee today to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 and we debated just last week the Institutional Burials Bill in the House. I reflect on the courage and conviction of survivors of mother and baby homes in their continuing search for truth, justice and answers. I thank them for all of their work to date in pushing for accountability at every level.

Legislation such as this provides space for amendments to be made. I have called for redress for all who were in mother and baby homes, I have called for fast-track medical cards and I have joined others in voicing survivors' needs, not just on International Women's Day but every day.

On a day such as this, it is great that we can have this conversation about how we can be more inclusive and more equal, and how to try to make the world a better place for women and children. That is important. Fianna Fáil has a long history of supporting gender equality. Today, it was announced that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage along with Women for Election will create a data hub with historical and real-time information to show the participation of women in political life since the foundation of the State. That is very welcome. All of us will agree that we need to make sure we are there and that women are remembered and talked about. In the 2020 general election, 31% of the candidates were female. I encourage all women to get involved with politics, whether it is in their community on parents' associations or community committees or running for election.

Although the EU has been moving towards gender equality at a snail's pace, Ireland ranked seventh in the EU on the gender equality index. Gender inequalities are most pronounced in the domain of power in which Ireland ranks tenth. Despite improving since 2010, Ireland is furthest away from gender equality in political decision-making. If women are not at the table, they cannot shape policy. I am a firm believer that women at the table can make a major difference. We work hard and we multitask, but that divide is definitely there. We need to ensure that we conquer it. The 32nd Government of Ireland includes just four women as Ministers in the Cabinet. Eleven Ministers are men. There are five female Ministers of State, but there are 16 male Ministers of State. We need to look at women as Ministers, and to look at women across all boards. We can do more, because we have so much to offer. It is great that we can highlight this today because it is so important. Almost half of Finland's parliamentarians are women, yet in Ireland only 22.5% of Deputies are women. We have a great deal of work to do, and all of us together have a part to play.

I hope all women had a lovely day today. We just need to do more. All of us have a duty of care to women. We must make sure we put no obstacles in their way, encourage women to be inclusive in what they want to do and make sure they know they can make the change. We can do that.

I am glad to have an opportunity to say a few words on these important statements on International Women's Day. I wish all women, men, children and those who are suffering in Ukraine at present well. I do not think "Happy women's day" is the proper expression, but I wish them well in difficult circumstances.

We have come a long way. I have listened carefully to the debate so far. Despite what people say, we have come a long way from where we were. We needed to as well, because we were a long way down the list. We can think of the suffragette movement across Europe, the United States and in this country and the long road the women had to travel. It was a long way, and it seemed as if it was going nowhere. We can think as well about how our society developed.

I wish to comment on one issue. There is a feeling that men are anti-women and violent towards women. That is not the issue. The issue is that we have become a more violent society. I have dealt with situations, as I am sure have the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and other Members, where people who are smaller in stature and weaker are set upon by people who are stronger and more robust and are callously attacked in an unacceptable way. Perhaps our society needs to learn, to pull itself up short and recognise that this is not the way to go. It most certainly is not the way to go. I am sorry that Deputy Barry is not here now because he was complimenting communism on the great work done in Russia and various other places over the past 70 or 80 years or so. I visited behind what was called the Iron Curtain. The women were working in the fields with spades, shovels and so forth. Communism did not do a whole lot for them either.

We need to recognise that this is an issue that affects everybody. The rights of women and the recognition of women affect everybody and must be addressed. It cannot continue as it is because it leaves half the population at all times feeling that they do not matter. In fact, women are slightly more than half the population. On days such as this we must remember people such as the late Monica Barnes and Nuala Fennell as well as Mary Flaherty, who is thankfully still with us, and the work they did. There is also Nora Owen, Avril Doyle, Madeleine Taylor-Quinn and numerous others who I have not time to mention. I keep thinking of other names. They did a great job. They came into the public arena and had something to say about it. They talked about the rights of women at a time when it was not popular to do so. They faced a little bit more.

I hope we have learned a little in the time since then and that we recognise the need to bring forward that half of the population who have been left behind to some extent. I compliment the women who are extroverts and who come into public life, like you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle - you did not think you were going to get away with that - and have something to offer. It is important that we listen to you, who has come from that particular starting point to where you are now. That is important. Harold Robbins wrote famously about an era that is somewhat similar to now. He wrote The Carpetbaggers, A Stone for Danny Fisher and many other books, which we used to read when we were not supposed to read them. We did, and the fact is that we learned a great deal from them. We learned how society was going and how people were treated in society. We learned how people who did not have influence were treated in society. We absorbed all of that to the best of our ability, to the extent that in some of the things that are happening today we recognise what was happening then, all those years ago. While we did not resolve them all, we tried to resolve some of them.

Finally, it behoves us all to respect women. I will conclude with that. Respect for women is hugely important at present. It is to give an example and show that we do not support bullying, sexism or racism, all of which there is a lot of nowadays. We do not support ageism or all the other "isms" that we have had around us for a long time. We seem to take them as normal and to be accepted. None of those is acceptable. Everybody has rights. Everybody has the right to stand up and say their piece at any time and anywhere. I hope we have learned sufficient down through the years not to allow them but to ensure they can do that. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this issue.

Ar an chéad dul síos I compliment you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. You have been a wonderful role model since you were first elected to this Parliament. I love to listen to you when you speak. I am blessed to have five wonderful daughters and six granddaughters. Indeed, they are my support team. I also wish to thank my staff and helpers in the office, without whom I could not manage, including Geraldine, Vivienne, May, Cathy, Triona, Mairéad, Councillor Máirín and Caroline, who all do tremendous work for me daily. When I am not there, they deal with the public. They get many compliments. Obviously, they do not always get success, but they are a brilliant support team for me.

I compliment Rachael Blackmore, who could not miss on Minella Lad, and the Nallen family, Elizabeth and John. I also compliment the Daughters of Dún Iascaigh, a wonderful group of people who came together to acknowledge the history of the suffragettes and everything else over the centuries. They had a wonderful afternoon tea and open-air event in The Square in Cahir last Sunday, which was attended by hundreds.

It was to raise money for the wonderful Cuan Saor refuge in Clonmel. It does tremendous work. It should be funded by the Government. We are privileged to have it. Many counties do not have a women's refuge. I am delighted it does such work. There are people such as Josephine Casey, Patsy McGuirk, Fidelma and many others. It was a lovely and joyous occasion. I was not at the function because it was female only. They had a wonderful evening. They came out in their finery and displayed wonderful courage, wonderful enjoyment and wonderful fun and contributed hugely to charity. I thank all the women I come across and say sorry to any of them if I have ever offended them. We must praise them as we go along.

I thank the women of the past and of the present. In particular, I thank the mothers whom I often speak about. They are in charge of mom's purse. I have often spoken about mom's purse. What I mean by this is that if all is well with mom's purse everything is good but if it is not everything is not good. Ministers for Finance should always keep a very close eye on mom's purse. At the moment, mom's purse is under attack because of the massive increased costs in fuel, energy and the basic things we need to live. Mothers and people managing the finances in houses are finding it extremely difficult at present. I thank people in the housing department in Kerry County Council who deal with young mothers looking for housing. I also thank those in the homeless section who deal with people who are vulnerable and in need of assistance. I thank the people who operate the women's refuge and women's shelters. To be honest, there should not have to be a women's refuge. They should not have to seek refuge from anybody or anything. There should not have to be a rape crisis centre in County Kerry or any other part of the country. Services such as this should not be required. This is how I look at it. I compliment the people who work in the services. I respect the great contribution of mothers in particular and the contribution that all women make in their jobs.

Today we celebrate International Women's Day. No disrespect to the Minister of State but throughout the debate there has been a gentleman on the Government side instead of a lady. It would have been more appropriate that a female Minister was here, no disrespect to the Minister of State.

International Women's Day gives us all a chance to recognise the extraordinary contribution of women in Ireland and throughout the world. We should all be proud of the extraordinary achievements of women. Many women who are by our side have made great sacrifices while also achieving so much. We all know inspirational women who impact on all our lives. Unfortunately, despite this we all know there is a long way to go before women achieve equality in our society, whether in the workplace or in the community. It is important to recognise we would still not know about the tragic circumstances that have faced many families in this country if it were not for the bravery of women. Many of doctors, nurses, clinicians and HSE staff are women who have been willing to put their jobs on the line so we can learn the truth about mismanagement of the entire public health care system in the country. This is what I call pure leadership. Our broken politics are failing all women and individual families. Our broken health system is also failing women and families.

We need to remember our female sporting heroes. One of my favourite heroes is Katie Taylor. She is a true champion boxer. There is no one better in the world at her level. She is a woman who can keep her head, her religion and her beliefs and be the greatest in the world at her sport. I wish all women the best on this day.

I wish all women a happy International Women's Day, especially my wife, Kay, and my mother-in-law, Kathleen Toomey. I would not be here today to represent Limerick without them. I wish a happy International Women's Day to all the front-line women who looked after us during the pandemic. Today I will mention some women who rarely, if ever, get mentioned. These are the women of the haulage companies, bus companies and agricultural contractors. I watch a programme on TG4 at 9.30 p.m. every Thursday. I am very proud to say my two nieces, who are involved in the agricultural business, have been on it. Many more have also been on it. It is worth people having a look at it to see women who are not recognised for what they do. They are mothers and partners. They have families. They help to bring in the harvest and drive our trucks and buses but they are rarely recognised. To all the women who do jobs who are never recognised I say happy International Women's Day. Whatever they do I recognise them. There are four women in my office who make sure I do what I have to do. I thank everyone. Happy International Women's Day to everyone.

Fáiltím roimh an deis a bheith páirteach sa díospóireacht seo. Tá athair agam sna flaithis agus is dóigh liom go bhfuil straois ar a aghaidh go bhfuiltear ag caint fúmsa mar eiseamláir. Is rud greannmhar é sin. I welcome the opportunity to say a few words. The fact I have been referred to as a role model certainly has put a smile on my father's face, who is somewhere up in heaven. I can say that openly. Deputy Durkan said that we are making progress. We are making progress. Let me put the progress in context. In 1918, Countess Markievicz was elected as the first woman Member of the Dáil. In the Second Dáil, we had five women and then it went up and down. In 1981, we passed the barrier of having ten women in the Dáil. Finally, here we are in this Dáil and we have 37 women Deputies.

If we look then at equality it is not just about women; it is about a thriving economy. I always try to use the language of men when I am speaking about domestic violence and gender-based violence. We cannot possibly have a thriving economy nor an equal society so long as we have appalling violence. I am afraid we have appalling violence. It makes it impossible for mothers and children growing up in it to take part actively in society in a confident way. What progress have we made on tackling domestic violence? A conservative estimate of the cost is €2.2 billion. I am always uncomfortable using this measurement because there are so many other aspects of gender-based and sexual violence that I would like to talk about but I try to use the language of patriarchy. The cost of it alone might catch attention so people will say even on that level we should begin to look at it. This is a conservative estimate.

In 1997, the year my second son was born, we had a task force on violence. There was a report of 337 pages. We are still speaking about something as basic as a safe place and a safe refuge. I do not know how long we waited for the report. There was constant pressure and we finally got it to be told what we all know, which is that there is no safe place for women or men when they are subjected to violence. This is the most basic thing we need. I would have thought that at this stage we would have places that were multifunctional. We have statements on the Irish language and statements on International Women's Day. We should have the aim that at some point these statements will be redundant. At some point refuges should be redundant and then we can say we have done our job. There was the appalling murder of Ashling Murphy. I want to use her name again. I have used it before. "Aisling" means dream. The challenge for us is to make the dream of zero tolerance of violence against women a reality in her memory. She is one of many women who have suffered.

With regard to International Women's Day and the national maternity hospital, as I said earlier it is an absolute insult that three wise men at the top, who have been duly elected in a democracy, think it is okay to have secret talks or to collude with secret talks about something as important as a national maternity hospital. Earlier, the Taoiseach told us to use our Private Member's time. It has been used three times. Three different groups have used Private Members' time to say it should be a public hospital on a public site that is run publicly. If we have learned anything, this is the most basic thing we need.

Only today, the Taoiseach was infantilising women all over again, as the institutions did. The Government and the three wise men know best and this hospital will be built regardless of what this Dáil has clearly said on three occasions, with the Government not once voting against the motion. That is significant. We called for a public hospital on public land to be run publicly but it never happened.

With regard to women in politics, women just have to have courage and stand. I do not know what other supports we can provide. Of course, supports are necessary but women have to stand up and say they look on the world differently. We do not need more women for the sake of having more women. Neither do we need more men. We need people who see that climate change is an existential threat. We need Deputies who do not see war as inevitable. Women can bring a different perspective, the perspective that war simply does not work. I welcome the men who come along with that. In the end, we have to sit down, engage in diplomacy, look at what causes war in the first place and deal with that proactively. We must use our neutrality in that manner, rather than seeing it as something that is negative or not active. We should use it in a very active policy and bring a different perspective, the perspective of a woman and of all of the men who want to share it. That perspective says there is a different way of doing things. Ultimately, we have to go home, look our children in the eye and say there is a different way. The planet is burning, whether from climate change or from war, and there is a great nuclear threat hanging over us. We flippantly talk about war when there is no way out of it. I welcome more women in politics. I also welcome more men who see life in a different way and who have the courage to stand up and demand that this not be done in our name.

There are many other things I could say but the pension issue is a direct result of the inequality. I will mention one specific aspect of that, which was recently pointed out in the committee. As a direct result of the marriage bar, which is only one of many discriminatory bars that were in place, 57,000 women do not qualify for the State pension.