I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving us this opportunity to mark International Women's Day in the Chamber, and thank the Leader and the leaders of the different groups in the House for agreeing with that. I also thank the Cathaoirleach for inviting me, as chair of the Oireachtas Women's Caucus, to chair this session.
As we gather in this Chamber to mark International Women's Day, we must thank all those who have gone before us and upon whose shoulders we stand. We remember Countess Constance Markievicz, the first woman ever elected and of course the very first female Minister. To think that over 100 years later we have had just over 100 women elected is quite simply incredible. I am sure it is not what she anticipated at that time. We must think also of the number of firsts we have had with women in Leinster House and outside it, including: the first woman Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who went on to become the first female European Commissioner; Mary Harney, who was the first female Tánaiste; and Mary Robinson, formerly a Member of this House and the first female President.
I had a very engaging session earlier with the Association of Irish Local Government. Councillor Mary Hoade is the first female president of the association.
When we look back to the start of International Women's Day, we see that 15,000 women marched through New York city in 1908 demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. One year later, on 28 February 1909, the first national women's day was observed in the US. In 1910, a German woman, Clara Zetkin, called for an international women's day to be observed. A conference of over 100 women from 17 countries agreed and International Women's Day was created. In 1913, it was decided to transfer International Women's Day to 8 March and it has been celebrated on that day ever since.
The original aim of that day was to achieve full gender equality. More than 100 years later, this has not been realised in any field. This year's theme, therefore, of choose to challenge is very appropriate and more important than ever. In 2019, women essentially worked for free for 51 days of the year because of the gender pay gap. The World Economic Forum has stated that this pay gap would not be closed until 2186, a truly frightening prospect. I suspect that this is far worse because of the year we have just endured. According to research published two years ago, over one-third of women in the Irish workforce considered leaving or have left professional positions due to opportunity inequalities in their own company. The Duff and Phelps study revealed that 39% of female employees felt that there was a lack of equal opportunities in comparison with their male colleagues. Almost half of those who took part in the study thought the Government should improve shared parental leave options, 77% believed we should work on incentivising flexitime and remote working and 54% said we should force organisations to disclose their gender pay gaps. Two years later, we have learned so much more about remote working and how we can support that. I know the Minister will provide some information about legislation concerning the disclosure of gender pay gaps later.
It is very clear that Ireland needs equal opportunities for both genders to ensure we have a diverse and effective workforce. Today is also a day to reflect on progress we have made, celebrate and encourage the determination of ordinary women doing extraordinary things in our communities and press for change. It is also a time to think of our sisters in other countries with fewer rights than those enjoyed by us and to stand in solidarity with their struggle for equality.
I often think there is a huge responsibility on us as elected females to improve female participation in politics and improve the lives of women in this country. We need women at all levels to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation and make sure women's voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored. We know that women's voices make a difference. We know that 62% of local councils in India that were female-led had more water than those in male-led councils, while in Norway, there was a direct relationship between women on municipal councils and childcare provisions. Following the motion on period poverty from the women's caucus during the previous mandate, the programme for Government ensured that this was included.
As to the business of the day, there is no doubt that Covid has severely impacted women in many different ways, from the 78% of our front-line healthcare workers who are female to the women working in essential retail.
All the time these women are trying to balance childcare and home schooling. Of course, it has equally impacted on women who do not have employment opportunities because other retail and hospitality have been closed as well. That further widens the gender pay gap and one can see that at present, 4% more women than men are unemployed.
At this stage I will ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, to make a contribution of ten minutes. He is very welcome.