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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 8

International Women's Day 2022: Statements

I welcome the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman. He is a very good participant in debates in this House. I also welcome his colleagues.

These statements are important. International Women's Day has happily and thankfully become a major part of our annual calendar. It gives important and overdue recognition of women and, in some respects, compensates for years of the position being otherwise. It is a recognition of the importance of gender equality in all facets of life, including the political sphere. It is a reminder of the need for equality and mutual respect. It is very timely and, sadly, overdue but it is good that at least we are attempting to compensate for the wrongs of the past. There is no point in not describing them as wrongs because that is what they were. I call on the Minister to make his introductory remarks.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach has stolen my opening line because International Women's Day is an important part of my calendar, given that I am the Minister with responsibility for gender equality. In reality, it is a day of significance for all of us, both men and women. Gender equality remains a profound challenge, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach alluded to, despite significant changes and improvements, and the progress that has been made in recent years. As a Government, we are committed to taking real and practical measures to highlight and tackle existing gender inequality across all aspects of our society.

The gender pay gap is one of the major challenges to full gender equality both internationally and here in Ireland. The impact of the gender pay gap is a lifelong one, with lower incomes contributing to lower pension entitlements in later life for women. The Gender Pay Gap Information Act we debated in this House and which was passed last year introduced a legislative basis for gender pay gap reporting in Ireland and reporting by organisations with over 250 employees will begin this year. According to the Central Statistics Office's Business Demography 2019 report, there are 732 private sector employers and 80 public service employers with more than 250 employees. Regulations to give effect to this legislation are in preparation and will be published in the coming weeks, along with guidance for employers, who will have to choose a snapshot date in June of this year and report on the employees they have on that date. The date for reporting will be the equivalent date six months later in December this year. Those reporting this year will be required to publish that information on their own websites or other public forums. An online reporting portal is planned for use in 2023, which will be publicly searchable.

Reporting requirements will also be rolled out over the next few years, initially to organisations with over 150 employees and then to organisations with over 50 employees. This will eventually encompass more than two thirds of employees in the State. Gender pay gap reporting will help employers to identify the drivers behind the individual pay gaps within their firms and they will be required to include in their annual reporting the reasons they believe there is a gender pay gap in their companies. That is important. Crucially, they must also outline the steps they are taking to address and solve the gender pay gap that the reporting mechanism has revealed.

The reporting requirements will also provide for transparency for employees as to what companies are doing and which companies are doing the most to address their gender pay gaps. That information in its totality will help to inform public policy initiatives the Government will undertake to address the issue, perhaps on a sectoral basis. By getting this information, we can then shape policy tools to intervene in areas where that intervention is needed most.

I am also committed to supporting women to remain in the workforce, as well as allowing parents to have a work-life balance. Significant advances in the provision of family leave have been made in recent years, including the introduction of paid parent's leave, which provides an entitlement to each parent to encourage a sharing of the care of a child in its earliest years. There has also been an extension of unpaid parental leave. Parent's leave is due another extension in July of 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. This has gone up from two weeks when the Government came to power. That leave entitlement will have increased to seven weeks over the past two years.

I will also shortly bring to Government legislative proposals to transpose the remaining elements of the EU's 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. This legislation will also fulfil a long-standing Government commitment to extend the entitlement to breastfeeding breaks under the Maternity Protection Act to a full two years. The importance of extending breastfeeding for the child is well-established and breastfeeding breaks facilitate this and will make it easier for a mother to return to the workplace after maternity leave and continue breastfeeding. Such breaks are only provided for 26 weeks now and any mother who takes up her full paid maternity leave benefit will have passed the period within which she can use breastfeeding breaks. We will be extending it from 26 weeks to 104 weeks, which is a significant extension, to recognise the long-standing policy to support women returning to work and to support a greater uptake of breastfeeding in those first two years.

I am very conscious of the role childcare plays in supporting everyone’s participation in the workforce but in particular supporting women’s participation and return to the workforce. I know the issue of childcare is one we have discussed many times in this House. We have reflected on the fact that Ireland has a long history of underinvestment and neglect in the area of childcare. However, we have made progress in recent years with the introduction of the national childcare scheme and, about ten years ago, the introduction of the ECCE two-year free preschool services. The Government has now embarked on a wide-ranging reform of this sector. This includes support for childcare professionals in a sector where the workforce is overwhelmingly female and this reform seeks to improve career structures and rates of pay. Earlier this week, I announced details of a new €221 million funding stream for services to help meet these goals while also improving affordability for parents through the introduction of a freeze on fee increases.

As I noted, Ireland is not alone in facing gender inequalities and it is important we use our voice to speak up and emphasise the need for gender equality internationally. I will be travelling later this week to the United States, where I will lead Ireland's delegation to the 66th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which opens on 14 March. The priority theme for the commission this year is to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, and environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes. Gender inequalities mean women are often more directly and severely impacted by climate change and the potential contribution of women to addressing the climate crisis is often overlooked and undervalued. We need to unlock the unique capabilities and strengths that women have to address this challenge of a generation. Women's voices need to be heard at all levels.

Violence against women crosses borders and boundaries. It is an issue of serious concern to the Government. We all recognise that the shocking and tragic death of Ashling Murphy has strengthened our resolve to bring in meaningful supports for women experiencing violence of any form. The response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is a cross-departmental and multi-agency issue. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which is under my responsibility, has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. With input from the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I worked intensively on the audit of the segmentation of the Government's responses to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which is something that has been called for by NGOs in this sector for many years, and on how the results of that audit fit with the new third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The result of that audit has been an agreement that the Department of Justice will become the lead Department with responsibility for responding to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and responsibility for policy, accommodation and services will now transfer to the Department of Justice.

Domestic violence can result not only in women having to leave their homes but also in losing their employment and becoming at higher risk of experiencing poverty. In order to mitigate that risk, officials in my Department have been examining the issue of domestic violence leave. A report on this work has been compiled and I will bring it to Government shortly. It reflects consultations that I carried out with stakeholders and an analysis of international examples. It includes recommendations on what form the leave should take and also other supports for employers to develop domestic violence workplace policies. This report will contribute to legislative proposals which I intend to advance this year as part of the work-life balance and miscellaneous provisions Bill.

I thank the Senators for this opportunity to speak to them on this very important issue as we mark the hugely important day of International Women's Day. As I have outlined, the Government is working to address gender inequality across a range of areas. In the coming months, we will see parent’s leave expanded, the extension of breastfeeding breaks, the introduction of domestic violence leave and significant additional resources placed into childcare. I thank the Senators for the invitation to be here. I look forward to their contributions and to being able to respond to them later.

I thank the Minister for his contribution and for initiating this important Bill. I want to briefly interrupt the debate to welcome to our Visitors Gallery Deputy James Lawless and, very appropriately, two women friends for International Women's Day. They are very welcome, as is Deputy Lawless.

I do not know if it is comical but it says something that we are celebrating International Women's Day on 9 March, a day after International Women's Day. I cannot for the life of me understand why we did not have space for this yesterday, which was actually International Women's Day. I cannot wait to hear why that happened, why it was not a priority and why we got bumped up by a day. It says a lot about the situation for women in Ireland. I am laughing but it is quite serious in some ways. It goes beyond a joke, given there are so many issues facing women in Ireland.

It was a momentous day for me when I was elected to the council in 2019 as the first woman ever elected in my local area. Even though I was proud, I was also deeply embarrassed. When I go to secondary schools, I meet young women and I am always embarrassed to say that we never had a woman represent us in north Clare until 2019. If it was 1919, maybe I would be proud, but in 2019 it was amazing to see. It was a hard battle, it was quite a shock and it was not easy. It is shocking that we had never had a woman elected before.

That is partly because women do not always put themselves forward because, in the mainly male-dominated profession of politics, it can be quite intimidating. As I said to a group of young girls yesterday at the Irish Second-Level Students Union, they should never doubt that they are as capable as any of the men in politics because it is not as intimidating as people expect it to be. I was telling the young girls that all of them would be just as capable as anybody else who has ever been in the Seanad or the Dáil, and to please think about putting themselves forward and engaging. We cannot expect things to change for women unless women are willing to put themselves forward and we need to do a lot more about encouraging women to do so.

If the decisions on women's issues are made mainly by men, we are never going to solve the problem. I remember going through the public maternity services when I was pregnant. There were 80 women in a room with 40 chairs. We had all been told to be there at 2 p.m. to meet our consultant, who we never saw, and to have our uterine and blood samples checked in a pre-maternity check-up. I remember looking around and asking how this was happening. We are the givers of life and there would be no children without us, but there were 80 women with 40 chairs and we were all waiting for about three hours. It was insane. I swore to my unborn child that day that when he was sorted, I would run for election because I realised that until more women step up, why would men prioritise maternity services? That is no offence to men but they are not pregnant so they do not know what it is like.

What was also sad in some ways was that a lot of the women in the room were quite accepting that this was good enough, and it is not good enough. It is not good enough for women to be treated in that way. When one is demoralised during pregnancy, of course one is demoralised during the birth. Our breastfeeding rates are the lowest in Europe and that is partly why. We need to empower women to feel that they own their pregnancy, that they own their births, that they own their right to breastfeed and that the supports have to come into place. With the best will in the world of all the men in Ireland, until we have more women representing us at the decision tables, none of those issues are going to change. That is why we have had childcare issues and many other issues. Historically, it is mainly women who have been the primary carers. There are some great men doing great work around childcare but the majority are women, so until the women are at the decision-making table, none of that is going to change. That is a very important point.

Do not be intimidated. Every woman is just as capable as every man at being at a decision-making table, whether it is in politics, on health boards, as principals of schools or anywhere else. We have to really believe that we are every bit as good as men and put ourselves forward, even if it is intimidating. It is okay to feel the fear and do it anyway because one will not regret it. We are just as capable and that is a clear message that we have to remind ourselves of. I still have to remind myself that I can do this, that we have got this. When one is reared in a patriarchy, one is not always told that, so one has to constantly remind oneself that we are equal, we are as capable and we need to put our hands up and say “Yes”.

There is a mad statistic that, in general, men will apply for jobs they do not feel qualified for, but they will apply anyway, and women will only apply for jobs they are definitely at least qualified for, if not overqualified for.

That says much about how we see ourselves and how we are seen in society. I completely digressed on what I was going to say. I will focus briefly on rural women. A figure of 36.6% of the Irish female population live in rural areas. The National Women´s Council of Ireland 2021 study entitled, Paper on Women in Rural Communities: We Want to Live and Work Where We Are, was a real eye-opener. It identified an undervaluing of the contribution of women to rural communities. As far as I can see, the women do nearly everything where I come from. They organise everything and yet they are not the ones in charge and are not recognised. They do much of the work but they are so busy working, they do not put their hands up and take photographs to get recognised for the work.

Rural women are more likely to be poor, to parent alone, to be the main provider of unpaid care work, to work in precarious employment, to earn low wages and to be at risk of domestic or sexual abuse. That is just a fact. Rural women’s experiences and their role and contribution to families, communities and businesses, including on farms, often goes unacknowledged and unrecognised in the social protection system and rural development strategies. The most marginalised are disabled women, Traveller and Roma women, lone parents and migrant women.

According to the 2016 census, 18% of rural Ireland does not have a broadband connection although the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, has definitely moved things along to improve that slightly. Some 139 Garda stations and 500 post offices have closed and rural banking is all but gone. These are all services in which mainly women are running the show. It looks like a man is in charge but I discovered that women are actually the main organisers. That kind of sounds quite sexist but that is based on facts on statistics.

Coming from somebody who is herself a lone parent, I want to highlight a couple of things around lone parents. Those in receipt of the one-parent family payment have the highest rate of consistent poverty among all social welfare recipients. The Poverty and Social Inclusion: The Case for Rural Ireland report states:

The reasons behind poverty are complex but one of the main reasons behind lone parent poverty is that welfare to work supports were designed for unemployed people and simply extended to lone parents without any adaptation to take account of the specific needs of one parent families.

Almost 60% of lone parents could not afford to access childcare services, which is three times the rate of two-parent families.

I also acknowledge that since we have come into government, many great things have happened in the last year and a half. I said at the beginning that if anybody can challenge these issues, it will be the Ministers, Deputies McEntee and O'Gorman. They have done great work in developing the third national strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, outlined some great work that has been done on childcare improvements.

My colleagues in the Seanad, Senators Fitzpatrick, McGreehan and Chambers, have done great work on new legislation on the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Stalking) Bill 2021. Basically, it will be illegal to stalk people. I have personally been stalked and there was nowhere I could go. This is, therefore, a hugely important issue.

The first day I walked into the Seanad, we had 40% women, which is great. It just feels different. I did not realise how different it would feel because I came from a county council where it was nearly all men. It is really important that we believe in ourselves on International Women's Day. We need to engage with men on these issues. There is no point in going into silos and having women preaching to the converted. We need to spread the word and engage with all the good men of Ireland. With their help, we can progress to a society in which we will be proud to tell our young women to go forth and they will be treated as equals.

The Minister is very welcome to the House. It is now international women's week. We are celebrating it for an entire week these days. It is another week of repetition and asking for the same things again - demanding and hoping for equal rights, better healthcare, safer streets and homes, improved childcare and asking to be listened to in this male-dominated world. It often feels overbearing. There are so many issues to work on and there have been many setbacks. I can say with confidence, however, that we are moving in the right direction.

The Minister outlined an awful lot in his speech. We saw yesterday a huge investment in women's health. The Minister announced the regulation for gender pay gap reporting. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, announced funding into gender-based violence against people with disabilities. The Minister had the biggest childcare budget in budget 2022. I know he is working on the next phase of his plan for next year towards public childcare because that is where we need to go.

As Senator Garvey said, the third national strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is movement in the right direction. Many things have happened in the 12 months since the previous International Women's Day. As I said, many were positive but some desperately negative things and horrific crimes have occurred. I think of all those people who have been murdered, raped, assaulted and beaten to a pulp at the hands of someone else over the past 12 months.

Then, we look to our eastern European friends and the dark cloud that hangs over all of us due to Russian aggression and the greed and lies from Russia towards its neighbour. I cannot stop thinking about those families inside and outside Ukraine and the mothers who are holding them together. They are holding their babies, children, husbands and partners together.

Everyone suffers and feels the pain of war and violence. It is mostly women who make homes out of the most desperate of situations, however. When peace reigns again, it is usually women who put families back together, build people up again and are the backbone of those communities who bring things back to some sort of normal.

As we stand here, absolutely everything to me these days seems so small. We see an entire country being destroyed by a man who has simply no regard for any life or any rule of law but his own. He has no regard for decency or for the utter destruction and pain he is inflicting on people.

Look at the beautiful wee faces on all the little children, and the mothers and fathers struggling to bear the weight of the horror of war and the pain of trying to simply stay alive. I cannot even comprehend how they are not breaking under this but still they stand with courage and conviction. They are protecting their children for the love of their family and country. I cannot even imagine what it is like to send a child off to war or to go to war oneself; to leave one's husband or wife and either fight for one's country or life or find sanctuary. All our privilege in this beautiful room seems almost obnoxious. We seem so detached and I feel so useless. In so many countries, we could not prevent this happening to one. We could not protect one. It is all-consuming, all-devastating and heartbreaking. I am only watching it. I am trying to explain it to my children and to myself. Peace will be won by men and women. We must make sure that no woman will be left behind.

This year, the theme is breaking the bias, which I will speak about very briefly. We must break the bias within us first. We must be confident in our uniqueness, difference and individuality of who we are as women. Women all around the world are held back by the bias that is ingrained in us by centuries of patriarchy. I meet that bias every single day. I also have to break it within me.

I leave my children at 7 a.m., for example, and I do not see them until the next morning for a little while before I leave again. It can be so hard and soul-shattering. Ironically, when a man is working those long hours and days away from home and not getting to see his children, he is often seen as a good provider, worker, father and decent man who works all those hours to provide. When women do it, however, they are sometimes perceived as a bad parent who is not providing what a mother should provide. I can tell the Minister it is hard enough to leave my four boys at home without that unconscious bias within me and which comes from society as well.

Perhaps we will stand here next year and it will be a great day on which we actually look towards real gender equality. It is necessary to bring both men and women with us. I do not want my male colleagues to give us platitudes that they recognise the difficulties and barriers we face. I want them to come into both Houses, speak on the radio and tell us what they are planning to do to change the norms and make it better for all of us. We are humans on this land and we need to support each other.

What can men do to challenge the norm and break the bias that men need to be strong and brave and not weak, or to be the breadwinners and not stay at home with their children? Things are changing but we need to support one another and challenge those gender-based norms. We all need to be permitted to show our strengths, weakness and vulnerabilities because every single one of us has them. We need men to take the lead on gender-based and domestic violence. We have been speaking about it for years. We need men to start. Instead of standing behind twitching curtains and saying that a man has a reputation for beating the wife, when we all know it and no-one says anything, we need to call out gender-based violence. We need to make this the safest and best country for women so we do not need all those refuges.

Let us provide a safe space for us all to call out our vulnerabilities, to be proud of them and to allow both men and women to live in safety. Ours is often as difficult a world for a man to navigate as it is for a woman. I fear for my young boys, who are growing up with the norms of nowadays. I want that to change for them.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for his tremendous work, not least that which is ongoing in committee. I greatly appreciate it.

I want to reflect a little on how the bias can be broken from the perspective of both policy and practice. We need to make a shift in respect of how we plan policy and practice and to ensure we see that through the lens of women's experience. In the first chapter of her book Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez writes about the snow-clearing practice and policy in a town called Karlskoga in Sweden. She describes how the clearing of snow involved the main roads and arteries first, then the pedestrian routes and the cycle routes. According to the data on injuries during one snow period, women had been more greatly affected, constituting more than 70% of injuries in hospitals, and they had been, in the main, pedestrians. The author points out how the original snow-clearing schedule had not been designed to benefit men. Nobody had sat down and deliberately excluded women or not prioritised them. Rather, the men around the table had made the policy based on their own experiences. They were the ones who drove to work, so they cleared the roads first because they saw the problem through their own lens. There were more than 200 km of cycling and pedestrian routes. The very next year after they introduced the changes to the prioritisation, the number of injuries fell by 50%. That is extraordinary and it goes to show that if we just look at things through a different lens, policy and practice will change. I do not think any of our colleagues sit down with any mala fides to be fair. I think they just do not think about it. Having women around the table, therefore, is fantastic to ensure their experiences will be included. It is a bit like the disabilities motto "Nothing About Us Without Us". We need to apply that also to women.

I welcome the changes in regard to the gender pay gap, which are important. I ask that we tack that in more widely such that, if a Department is tendering for a public contract, a weighting will be applied with regard to gender equality in that workplace.

I will spend the rest of my time paying tribute to ordinary women. Sometimes we come to the Chamber and talk about high-profile heroes, but in our everyday lives, there are ordinary women who are incredible heroes too. I refer to women such as family carers, that is, the mothers, sisters and daughters who live sacrificial lives, including as the carers of children with disabilities. I spend much of my days listening to them and advocating on their behalf. They are extraordinary advocates, but they are unable to advocate for their children as much as they might like. They feel the inadequacy of that when they should not. It is not their fault and they are not to blame. For both family carers and families who live with someone with disabilities, whatever we are doing, and I accept we are doing a lot, we need to do more. I am thinking of people, one of whom contacted me in the past 24 hours, who live with the effects of thalidomide. They have lived their 60-odd years with extraordinary disabilities that were not of anybody's choosing. I think of their mothers and how that experience, of taking medication they should never have been given, was for them.

I am thinking also of mothers who live in homes where there is domestic violence, who may not yet have made the phone call, perhaps because they are calculating the cost and suffering the abuse until they have everything lined up. They think about their children and the needs of their children, and about the social prejudice they may suffer when they tell their story and go to a refuge, if such a place is available to them. They think about how, if they make all those decisions, people around them who will say, "I told you so. I knew. Why did you not do something earlier?" They think about the people who will condemn and shame them rather than envelope them with gratitude for their courage.

I am also thinking about the mothers in Ukraine, some of whom have been making journeys. Over recent weeks, I have heard about the extraordinary things they have had to do, the decisions they have to make and the sadness of trying to maintain normality in their children's lives amid the horrific butchery and murder that is going on in Ukraine. In that regard, I pay tribute to H.E. Ms Larysa Gerasko. I am sure that when she was appointed as ambassador and presented her credentials, she did not envisage this. We all think of ambassadors’ jobs as like something from a Ferrero Rocher advertisement, and we imagine how exciting the job must be and how grand and lovely it must be, yet here is a woman who has been an extraordinary leader in this moment. I have had a number of meetings with her. She is kind and compassionate but steely strong, and she represents her people with extraordinary nobility. I am proud to have met and encountered her. Nevertheless, she is a sister, a daughter and an aunt. She is greatly affected by what is going on in her country and feels the heartbreak of knowing and hearing from her friends and of receiving videos showing what is going on. She has been extraordinary. The ordinariness of her pain as a daughter, sister and aunt contrasts with her extraordinariness as a leader at this time leading our responses as people. She is marvellous and is to be commended. Today I think of all the ordinary women who are heroes, extraordinary in their everyday lives.

I express my solidarity with the women of Ukraine who have been forced to vacate their homes, communities and country. Ireland stands with them as a voice for peace, demilitarisation, freedom and democracy.

I am proud to serve on the Joint Committee on Gender Equality, which is united in purpose and clear on the message that there can be no delay in the implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. It is clear also about the work on constitutional change that we will deal with, and about the work of Departments and the Attorney General. The work of preparing the referendums must happen in parallel with the work of the gender equality committee. I reiterate the three recommendations on constitutional change, for the record of the House:

Article 40.1 of the Constitution should be amended to refer explicitly to gender equality and non-discrimination.Article 41 of the Constitution should be amended so that it would protect private and family life, with the protection afforded to the family not limited to the marital family.Article 41.2 of the Constitution should be deleted and replaced with language that is not gender specific and obliges the State to take reasonable measures to support care within the home and wider community.

Members of the citizens' assembly were definitive in their recommendations and their urgency needs to be matched by urgency within the Government. Too often the State fails to tackle areas of public policy that disproportionately affect women. Childcare and social protection are just two examples, as is the provision of refuge places. Women pay the price for the unaffordable cost of childcare and they do so at the expense of their aspirations. Those working in early years education and childcare need to be given decent wages and conditions. When social protection measures are weakened, it is women and lone parents who shoulder the greatest burden.

When the next strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is published, it must be fully resourced and urgently implemented. The crisis in refuge places has to be brought to an end. The State does not provide that service and that is incredible. Entire counties do not have a refuge for women fleeing domestic violence. Such women do not need just a bed; they also need wraparound services such as counselling and childcare.

In these dark times, I want our country to be a beacon of hope for people throughout the world, including the women of Ukraine, Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.

I want Ireland to be a beacon of hope to transgender folks as well, as we once were. We need to double our efforts. We need transgender healthcare in this country, as it is a system that is failing transgender people. This was most recently articulated by the former CEO of the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland, Éirénne Carroll, who having come to the Ireland from the United States to take up the role as head of an NGO here in Ireland, faced harassment, physical assault on the streets of this city and verbal assault and was infantilised by our health system that denies basic care and surgery to transgender folks in this country. I hope she is healing back home. I hope that we can double our efforts in terms of transgender healthcare in this country because it is a scandal, considering we once were a beacon in terms of a self-determination model for transgender folks to recognise their true gender in law.

Those are some of the things I am thinking about during this International Women’s Week. I thank the Acting Chairperson for the time afforded me to contribute to the debate.

International Women's Day, Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan, is when we always hear the phrase, "Lots done, lots more to do." I hate that phrase. I see it in my old social media posts where I would say things like, “Yay! Look how far we have come! We have done so much work and we have got lots more to do.” I was very optimistic about things. I do no know if I am just having a bad year, a bad day, a bad International Women’s Day week or because it is the day after International Women’s Day, but when I think about the “lots more to do” things, I think of safe access zones. We have been around this House a number of times talking about safe access zones and there are promises of this, that and the other. The gender pay gap is another example. I note the Minister’s opening statement listed very important things that he and his Department are doing. I want to thank him and his Department for that. I am very glad that he is the Minister in there because I do not doubt his sincerity and commitment to equality. Bear with me on my bad humour during international women’s week.

Today affordable childcare was mentioned. My colleague, Senator Warfield, talked about transgender healthcare and how we used to be a beacon for transgender rights. Part of the problem with having been a beacon is that we are getting much transphobia nonsense coming in from the UK. It seems somewhat ridiculous when we have our transgender siblings fighting so hard for basic healthcare needs.

On diverse representation in politics, we look around our Houses and it is nowhere near where it needs to be. These are issues that we are raising again and again. The Minister has heard them, I have said them and women are sick of raising them. I am sick of raising them. I would not like to be the Minister for Children, Equality, Diversity, Integration and Youth because it must be an enormous pressure, with all of these things that just keep going around and around.

It feels a little bit hollow standing up and talking about International Women’s Day when I think of Ms Vicky Phelan, who announced that she is not well enough to travel to do the fundraising she was planning to do with Mr. Charlie Bird. She is not well at the hands of the State. Some 80% of Traveller women are rearing children without running water or toilet facilities. There was a women dead for four days, potentially, in a direct provision centre in Cork. The new national maternity hospital will built on Catholic-owned land. Women in Ukraine are fleeing from war imposed by a cracked dictator. Mothers in Yemen are looking at their starving children. There is violence in Palestine and there was a picture yesterday of a young boy beside the body of his mother after his whole family had been killed. It feels very hollow to be standing up and talking about seeing some of the #GirlBoss stuff that some of the corporations have been doing. It just feels so sanitised and hollow when there are these very real issues affecting women.

It also feels a little bit hollow to stand up here today on International Women’s Day 2022 when we could have had transformative change. We have had two years of an incomprehensible global pandemic. Out of that, we could have had real opportunities for working from home, flexible work, the right to switch off, a four-day week and affordable childcare. Some of these things were not about reimagining how we could have been as a society. Many of those things that people connected with and felt during the lockdowns were actually a reconnecting with their community and tribe and a reconnecting with themselves and ourselves. It seems to be a little be like we are going back to the same old thing. I was driving by Pearse Station this morning and there was a line of people trudging getting off the train and everyone trudging back to their workplaces. I wondered how we are back at this again. We could have a transformative society about balancing work, family, life, joy and happiness. It just felt very glum watching everyone trudge up Pearse Street coming off the train this morning.

We have also had a stark reminder this year, as the Minister referenced, that simply taking up space is dangerous for women. Ms Ashling Murphy just existed and she was murdered for that. There are thousands of women everyday who just exist and they are murdered just for existing. We are constantly telling young women to be unobtrusive and to take up less space.

International Women’s Day was part of a campaign of women’s trade union and garment workers to tackle poor working conditions, low wages and sexual harassment. It seems we are still talking about those very things.

As I said, I feel like International Women’s Day 2022 does not resonate with me. I feel a little bit afloat or adrift from it. I have had enough of this kind of asinine corporate #GirlBoss, lean in, "you can do it" feminism kind of stuff, which is everywhere. It is very draining.

I am in here because I talk about wanting a seat at the table. I put myself forward for election because I wanted a seat at the table and I want to be able to effect change. However, the more I am in this, the more that I come to realise that the table was built by the patriarchy to uphold the patriarchy, and I am not entirely sure the benefit of getting me at that table. I want to just smash up the table, toss it out the window and repurpose the wood for a community building project. I find myself really conflicted and frustrated at the moment about how we can effect change as women. It seems like we all come in here and we talk about issues and share issues every single year and it just feels like we are just not moving, even though we are obviously moving, because it would be silly of me to say that we are not.

The feminist fight is not over. I will get over my frustration and I will put on my “Smash the Patriarchy” t-shirt tomorrow and I will brush myself off and get back to it. Those of us who see the fight for equality every single day will keep it going. I have no doubt that the Minister is one of those people. I will submit a report to the repeal review. I will keep fighting for student nurses and midwives and on and on. The grind will keep going. However, I feel like next year we will be back and ruefully saying, once again, “So much done, so much left to do” as if the powers that be were impotent and could do nothing to effect real feminist change in the intervening year. I wish the Minister the very best with the work his Department is doing. I hope that other Departments can take inspiration from that. Happy International Women’s Day yesterday #GirlBoss.

Just to follow a brilliant speech from Senator Hoey, I always say it is not about getting to the table, it is about shaping the agenda and changing what is being discussed at the table. However, I think Senator Hoey’s smash-up-the-table-altogether-and-repurpose-it is taking it perhaps the necessary step forward. I think the Minister is hearing that it is about power when we talk about it. It was from women who did not have power but who formed a union and insisted on taking power that International Women’s Day came. It is about challenging it. There was a great moment at one of the big UN events where different countries were speaking about the things they were doing for women with the various organisations. I think it was the Costa Rican representative who stood up and instead of beginning with the three or four things Costa Rica did for women, they said what they did to address the patriarchy problem and the problem of a huge systemic imbalance in power. That is what it is. It is not about dealing solely with the symptoms; it is about dealing with the core problem of power inequality. That is where we are at. It is a transformation.

We are seeing that the world can totally change in response to Covid. We are seeing the world change in terms of Covid. Women are tired of seeing small, incremental slight improvements while keeping business as usual, effectively trucking along. That is why I am also on Committee on Gender Equality that Senator Warfield spoke about. That has a very strong mandate from citizens. I say this directly to the Minister in his Department to be clear, as it is very important. There need to be referendums next year.

Our committee is not just minding the issue and keeping it off the table for the next nine months. We expect the Government to produce a referendum next year to deliver crucial changes. I will speak to two of them, the first of which is the gender-neutral recognition of care, not only by removing the clause about women being in the home, which is important, but also through a recognition of the State's responsibility to support care. Care cannot just be the invisible structure that keeps everything going. During Covid, we have seen how much everything relies on it. The Minister is starting from a low base and knows that more needs to be done in the context of working conditions for childcare providers. We probably need a public childcare system. That is what the Citizens' Assembly looked for.

Other care work is systematically undervalued and carers are not cared for. In this respect, there is a significant issue with student nurses. According to today's edition of The Irish Times, applications to the Central Applications Office, CAO, for nursing courses are down 27%. This is because nursing is undervalued and under-respected. The Minister will be aware that, globally, 2.6 million nurses wrote to the UN to point out the human rights violation against them as front-line health workers because the EU blocked the sharing of Covid-19 vaccine information. Those 2.6 million nurses have sent us a message, which is one to remember as I look at the painting in this Chamber of Elizabeth O'Farrell, who was a nurse who contributed. Irish student nurses are voting with their feet. The message is that we need to focus on care.

All families must be recognised. It is not a coincidence that 53% of homeless families in Ireland are headed by a lone parent, usually a woman. The highest levels of deprivation in the State are seen among lone-parent families, which are usually headed by women. Let us make it a goal for the Government and all of us this year to ensure that, by next year, we will have addressed the fact that women who have children are still effectively being penalised by the State. As the Minister will be aware, they were systematically penalised in the past in terms of mother and baby homes, and they still are.

The Government also needs to listen to women on issues like the National Maternity Hospital. It is not enough to say we will try to treat you a bit better or ask those in a voluntary trust linked to a religious group to treat you a little better. The people are saying that we want to own our maternity hospital. We want public healthcare. The women who are citizens of the State - they represent the majority of citizens - want a national maternity hospital that is theirs, not simply because they have been treated badly and want to be treated better, but because they want the power relocated to them, that is, to women. That is where it needs to be. This emerged in the opinion of the Citizens' Assembly's because those involved understood it was not just a wish list. It said that the right to collective bargaining was a gender equality issue in order that women could use their collective strength in unions. It pointed to gender budgeting. We need to remember that women's voices need to be heard when we decide how money is allocated.

Lastly, I come to the question of conflict. We have spoken about Ukraine, but we also need to remember the women starving in Yemen and Afghanistan and the women who fought for a civil government in Sudan and did not get the support they needed. At a time like this, women's voices and power are crucial. Under UN Resolution 1325, women must be at the table in any negotiation on the end of conflicts and the building of peace. Their voices must also be heard when rebuilding peace. It is not okay that their voices are pushed to the margins, including voices of peace. Those voices are crucial. Female human rights defenders, including environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres who lost their lives on that other front line, namely, the battle against climate change, must not be pushed to one side and told that, yet again, we need to wait because we are focusing our energies on business as usual and following the same playbooks we have used before in terms of militarism.

I welcome the Minister on this important day. He takes a particular interest in the matter.

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is breaking the bias. During the past two years under Covid, breaking the bias would have referred to our unfinished business of advancing gender equality, combating gender-based violence and addressing the gender pay gap. All of these are important issues that we need to consider and keep fighting for. This year, however, it is the Ukrainian women who are uppermost in our minds and who preoccupy our thoughts during international women's week. We have all seen photographs and coverage on television and streaming on our phones of women sheltering their children from harm, giving birth in bomb shelters, taking up arms to defend their country and fleeing with their children to our shores and other countries. The Ukrainian women who are already living in Ireland are doing their best to ensure that their families reach here and to organise the sending of provisions to their country. We stand in solidarity with the women of Ukraine.

While it nearly seems strange to speak about other challenges and issues, it is important that we do exactly that while reminding ourselves that we have the privilege of being able to do so and of gathering here in this safe space of the Seanad to listen and debate, a privilege that is now denied the women of Ukraine and many of the women of Russia.

I have been reading Michelle Obama's memoir recently. In her epilogue, she reflected on the journey that she took from the tough south side of Chicago to the elite Harvard Law School and then to the White House. She concluded that what she learned about most was inviting women in to work together. If we do that, we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions and to let go of the biases and stereotypes that sometimes divide us unnecessarily, which might allow us to embrace our similarities better. It is not about being perfect or where we get to by the end. There is power in allowing ourselves to be known and heard, owning our unique stories and using our unique voices. There is grace in being willing to know and hear others. That is how we become - as in the title of Michelle Obama's biography - and how we break bias.

The situation of the women of Ukraine has particular poignancy for us because it comes during the commemoration of the centenary of our own War of Independence and the establishment of one of the longest continuous democracies in the world. We can never forget the central role that women played in our successful revolution. It is almost impossible to imagine how it could have succeeded without that role. It should be a source of immense pride for us as Irish people that the Proclamation of 1916 may well have been the first revolutionary declaration of independence to demand full rights for women. The extension of the still unequal franchise to women in 1918 was an essential part of the radicalism of that election and the sweeping victory won by separatist republicanism, and so it continued through the War of Independence. However, there is certainly much more that remains to be done 100 years on in terms of equality for women.

We must pay tribute to the women in our communities and in local government.

Local government is an important part of the administrative structure of the Republic. I am pleased to know so many strong and impressive Fianna Fáil councillors and, indeed, councillors from other parties. With the advance of social media and all the other challenges, it is a difficult road for women to take. We need to do what we can to ensure that maternity leave is in place for local authority members and Oireachtas Members. I know the Minister is working on that and I appreciate the meetings we have had about it.

I commend the Minister for Health and the Ministers of State, Deputies Butler and Rabbitte, for the very comprehensive women's health strategy they launched yesterday. It is the first such strategy we have ever had. It addresses many different matters, including fertility, menopause, period poverty, contraception and perinatal health. It is extremely important.

In 2019, Safe Ireland published a report called Gender Matters. It surveyed every type of community and society in Ireland and some of the findings and conclusions were interesting to say the least. For example, 17% of people felt that household chores should be a female responsibility rather than male. Interestingly, there was a stronger bias among people living in rural areas, where that figure went up to 28%. The report states:

Traditional views of gender equality, roles and responsibilities haven’t gone away. In fact they may be more traditionalist than expected, particularly in younger ages.


Lad culture is alive and well.


There are conflicting views on what constitutes progression.

It is a study that would merit another debate in the House. I thank the Acting Chair for giving me the opportunity to speak on this matter and I thank the Minister for listening.

I am delighted that the Minister is here for this all-important conversation. I am also delighted that I can contribute to the debate on and recognise International Women's Day, which took place yesterday. It is a day for acknowledging not only our struggles but also our successes. While there is a lot that divides us, there is more that unites us. While we have differences, we should not allow them to divide us when striving for greater equality. The Minister is committed to this area. We should utilise our differences in a positive way.

International Women's Day is a day to remind us about the wider conversation on gender and how we can pursue equality. We must open a wider conversation about marginalised groups in society. This morning, I raised a Commencement matter with the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne. I acknowledge both him and the Minister for Justice and their commitment to dealing with sexual violence against women. I raised the barriers facing non-fluent English speakers when reporting gender-based and sexual violence. This is an area of huge concern. Women are a marginalised group in their own right but we have to pay special attention to the groups of women who face further discrimination, such as trans women or Traveller women. We are very lucky to have our colleague Senator Flynn here. She represents that area and portrays a very positive image and is very good at bringing forward points and ideas. I also refer to women of colour and women with disabilities. Women in these groups feel disenfranchised at times but we should utilise these differences to unite ourselves.

Ironically, International Women's Day started with women in Russia on 23 February 1913. Their slogan was "Bread and Butter". In 1914, the day was recognised globally and the date for it was set as 8 March. It it important to recognise the women in Ukraine at the moment. The Acting Chair is very involved in the issues around surrogacy. Many mothers have been birthing in train stations and women who have given birth to surrogate babies in the last few days are now fleeing their country. It is frightening. We can all agree that the strength and courage of all Ukraine at the moment is admirable. Women there are experiencing very difficult circumstances and their strength is unimaginable.

I recognise the work the Minister is doing around breastfeeding. Limerick City and County Council was the first local authority to announce a breastfeeding-friendly city. I compliment it on its foresight in that regard. Limerick has had 826 mayors. Of those, five have been female. I am honoured to have been the fourth female mayor to serve in 826 years. Colleagues spoke about the strength of women on local authorities and what women have to offer there. We need to encourage more female participation. I am glad that the Minister mentioned childcare and the investment of €221 million in that regard. We have to support a greater work-life balance and we have to encourage women to come forward for election. This is something I feel very passionate about.

Ireland has a very long history of strong women going back to before the establishment of the Republic, including the work of the Daly sisters and Countess Markievicz. In recent years, we have had two female Presidents. Ireland has many issues around women's equality but there is no question that we have a history of women who have continuously and actively strived for a better and more equal world. G.D Anderson has said:

Feminism isn't about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength.

We have women with strength and passion in our history books. In this Chamber alone there are so many female Senators who are actively breaking the bias on a daily basis. The theme of this year's event, #BreaktheBias, is to be commended. I pay tribute to a former Fine Gael Deputy, Ms Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins, who celebrates her 90th birthday this week. I wish her all the best. She retired from politics following the 1977 general election having served for 20 years as a Deputy. On breaking the bias, she fondly remembered being called to the Ceann Comhairle's office on more than one occasion for going into the Dáil bar, for not wearing a hat in the Chamber and for using the men's toilets as there were no female toilets in this building at that stage. The ladies had to go across the road to Buswell's Hotel. We have come a long way since then.

I came across another quote yesterday that stated "Well-behaved women seldom make history". "Behaved" may not be the best word to use in this sense but women and men who stick to the norms and do not break the bias will rarely be remembered. We owe it to society to continue to break the bias every day. By doing so, we can make a change for everyone in the Ireland of the future and hopefully across the world.

I thank the Senator for bringing that to our attention. It is scandalous that there was not a ladies' toilet in this wonderful complex.

Níl mé ach chun cúpla focal gairid a rá. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire chuig an díospóireacht ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I do not want to speak today because I can match, particularly experientially, any of the comments of my colleagues on this issue, with the possible exception of Senator Warfield. Throughout the horrible issues we have faced in recent months in this House, one of the things I have always said is that men must not step back from these issues. Men must centrally involve themselves. The danger is that only the female Members of the House will come down to speak in a discussion on International Women's Day. I wanted to contribute to the debate at that level. While many of these issues have come to the fore in the last number of months, we now know, if we did not before, that they have been there all the time.

There has been this level of stress and intimidation of more than half of our society. It has largely been ignored. An acknowledgement of that is important with regard to breaking the bias.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Women in Business Alliance lunch, which was organised by the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber, in the Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan. Again, there are very few men at that. I could understand this because it was primarily female business leaders who attended, with more than 100 attendees. The strength of spirit and solidarity there was quite extraordinary. We had a number of talks from local business women who had so much experience and so much to say about various issues that are, in reality, not discussed enough. I thank Gabby Mallon for the invitation to be there. Even the people sitting either side of me at the table had so much experience and insight into how much further we have to go in fostering female business leadership in particular. I say this in the context of my own mother who is an entrepreneur. We did not realise when growing up that our mother was very much in a minority. She set up her own business in Dalkey in the 1980s and she continues to run her own business, albeit a different one now. There is a much used expression: "You cannot be it if you cannot see it.. My two younger sisters could definitely see it with my mother and there was never any question that she had any less of a right to go out to work and earn a crust crossed than my father did. I suspect that my mother contributed as much to the household as my father did.

As members of society perhaps we sometimes have that inherent bias because we see men in these roles and other roles, and there is a presumption therefore that this is the way it should be. Of course, that is not correct. In looking around the Chamber there are certainly colleagues who disprove that. My mother has disproven that. I had wanted to contribute to this debate in that respect.

The theme of International Women's Day this year was BreakTheBias. One of the things that we can contribute in this House is to constantly acknowledge the need for that equality. I had this conversation many years ago with Monica Barnes who was a Fine Gael Deputy for Dún Laoghaire. Monica Barnes was a very ardent supporter of women in politics, and I also counted her as a friend and a supporter. She was such a strong voice and was one of the co-founders of the Council for the Status of Women. She really articulated that voice back in the 1980s and the 1990s, when it was not a popular or an easy thing to say. Monica was a real pioneer and unfortunately is no longer with us. We remember her on days like this. In my contribution to the debate I just wanted to say how important it is for those of us who are not women to also contribute to the debate, to stand up, to agree, and - while paying homage is perhaps too dramatic a term - to put down the marker of respect for people who have been pioneers in this area. I congratulate them.

I have just lost 50% of the time I had, but that is okay. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is welcome. We are in the same constituency but the Minister knows how much I value his work and the work he is doing. I know we are not supposed to say this because we are constituency rivals, but it is true.

I still believe that we are at a turning point of all of the reasons I got into politics, and we have an opportunity to address them here right now. I was working in an advertising and marketing agency. I was a business director and I was there for 15 years. I was pregnant with my second child and I wanted flexible work but I could not get it. I made the hard decision to leave a job into which I had invested so much. I became a stay-at-home mum for a few years, and I realised how difficult that is too. Even the tax system is against us. Days like International Women's Day are so important, and it is important that we highlight those. The Minister is aware how I feel about flexible working and the EU work directive. It should be universal. We should have a system such as the one in New Zealand, or be more like Finland. With the legislation that will soon be going through the Houses on the right to request remote work, I believe that the reasons to refuse should be reasonable. As it states in the heads of the Bill, the reasons for refusal should be reasonable and demonstrable. We need to see a culture change that has to be supported with employers. They need assistance through this. If we can invest in the digital transformation with SMEs because we recognise their productivity, then we need to be investing in digital transformation for remote work in the Digital First strategy, so that nobody gets left behind. I welcome that we are beginning to move on the the gender pay gap also.

Yesterday I and others attended an event with the Muslim Sisters of Éire. This is an incredible organisation. Obviously, there is a lot of attention on Ukraine at the moment, but at the same time we must support all refugees. We must ensure that the supports are there for all women and children who are affected by conflict. These are the most incredible women, many of whom have suffered themselves. They also suffer from the bias. There is a need the work that they do with soup kitchens and period poverty packs. It was fantastic to be with them on the day, not that it is not fantastic to be here too. We have so much work to do and I really hope we can pull together and do it.

I thank all Senators for their very detailed, knowledge-based and passionate contributions to our debate today. I have a pre-prepared speech listing out all of the great things the Government has done over the past year, and the plans for the next year. I believe a couple of reflections might be a little bit more useful.

I was struck by Senator McGreehan saying that here we are asking for the same thing again. I was also struck by Senator Hoey's contribution about it feeling a bit hollow to stand up and talk about International Women's Day again. I reflect also that this is my second opportunity to address this House on International Women's Day. Hopefully, I will have that opportunity again in future years. We must ask, however, if there has been change. If there was one thing that has not changed in this area in the way I would like, and Senator O'Loughlin touched on this, it is around maternity leave and ensuring that we have maternity leave for Members of the Oireachtas also. There was a focus on this matter last year in the context of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and administrative arrangements were put in place. Another Member of the Oireachtas has since been pregnant and given birth. Similarly, and perhaps with even more impact, we must look to maternity leave for local authority members. This falls within the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Maternity leave for Oireachtas Members falls within my Department, and we are working on that. I am sorry that we have not advanced it further but it is important that we look at what has actually been done.

This brings us to the wider debate, on which Senator Higgins spoke, about incrementalism versus absolute systems change and the idea of smashing the table. I will not give any conclusion on that but I do believe that we can work towards both. In my life, and coming from a very small political party, for 25 years I have been used to the tap, tap, tapping away and making little changes. Sometimes one gets the opportunity to make the bigger change. I am thinking, for example in the area of climate and in our understanding of climate. That is where we are now and we have the chance to make a systems change in that regard. Similarly, there were other political campaigns such as those on LGBT+ rights and the marriage equality campaign. I remember as a member of the Green Party when we were in a previous Government introducing civil partnership legislation, which is something I felt very passionately about. It was not marriage equality, and I recognised that. My predecessor in this role, former Deputy Katherine Zappone, and her late wife Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan, were very critical of civil partnership yet I felt that it was an important incremental step that helped to deliver marriage equality. Then we took that sudden dramatic leap, which was a vote by the Irish public, in marriage equality. We can see this type of change also with the repeal of the eighth amendment campaign where many people worked on the issue of repeal for a very long time. We had some small incremental changes and then, suddenly, the big leap happened. There is a place for incrementalism and for systems change. I do not believe it has to be one or the other. I am not saying that anybody was suggesting that but this is about keeping our hopes up and realising that we are making things better.

Senator Currie spoke about the need for a turning point. I hope we are reaching a turning point in how we treat women and how we engage with women in our society. Even in the very short time that I have been in the Oireachtas this conversation has changed. Covid drove a change.

Some incredibly tragic murders have driven a change in that but I suppose time will tell if we have reached that particular turning point.

The issue that many have touched on is the issue of women at the table. That is why I would come back to the whole local authority area, election to which is such an essential step to take in providing a platform for any future Member of the Oireachtas, but particularly any future female Member of the Oireachtas. Looking around, maybe one Member of this House here today is not a former councillor. Everyone else has come in through that local authority route. It is so important we support that, whether in the context of maternity leave or whatever.

Caucus groups are setting up in many local authorities. I met members of the Fingal women's caucus on Monday outside the House. They passed on a petition about increasing the amount of refuge space in the Fingal area which is something that many Senators have touched on.

We must do whatever we can to support female councillors, once they are elected but also in getting elected. As Senator Garvey said, every woman is as capable as every man. The Senator said she has to remind herself of that sometimes. Making provision for that and supporting the membership and participation of women in local authorities is so important and will make the change here.

Certainly, the gender quotas that we have introduced for general elections are something I would strongly favour bringing in for local elections as well. It causes a complication within parties, particularly bigger parties, but it is worth it in terms of getting that greater degree of representation.

Nearly all the Senators touched on the issue of Ukraine. It is something that the Government and, more importantly, the entirely country are united on in terms of our open and generous response. Almost 10,000 pledges of support have come in through the Red Cross portal in the past number of days. Irish women and Irish men are saying what they will do, for instance, giving a spare room or providing meals. That is an enormous support. I hope that the Ukrainian ambassador can draw some comfort from that degree of solidarity.

I have had the opportunity to meet one or two families who came to my Department seeking to register here and heard at first-hand some of those stories. There was one child just lying on the couch in our reception he was so exhausted. In fleeing the crisis, the family had driven from Ukraine to Ireland. The child was not playing. He was literally lying there. I could sense the exhaustion. I could sense the exhaustion in his parents. They were slumped on the seats. It is so important that we as a country meet all our EU requirements - they are generous requirements - but also our humanitarian requirements in terms of providing for Ukrainian refugees.

Assuming this conflict goes on as we must, that will cause pressures in all our communities. It will be up to the Government to work to alleviate those pressures but it will be up to all of us to provide leadership. Sometimes the outpouring of support can be strong at the start but when things get more difficult we will have to be there to provide leadership and say that this is the right thing to do, this is a necessary thing to do as part of our own humanity and this is something that we must do.

Senator Curry referred to the event that was hosted by the Muslim Sisters of Éire yesterday. Our focus day, yesterday and this week is on women but we also have to recognise the issues of intersectionality. There are women, as in every part of society, who because of other factors are more at risk or who have faced greater degrees of discrimination, for instance, women who have, either themselves or have a child with a disability, women who are the sole carers of their children, women who are members of the Traveller community, women who are black, women who are immigrants and transpeople. The intersectionality of this day is important. Many of those issues fall within my Department. My colleagues in the National Traveller Women's Forum, in particular, Maria, would murder me if I did not talk about the intersectionality on a day such as International Women's Day.

Reflecting on when we come together this time next year to speak on these issues, if there are a few things in that idea of us making progress it is the work led by the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, but with me and other Departments feeding in as well in terms of the creation of a new domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, DSGBV, agency to focus all our response to DSGBV, to begin the process - it will only be beginning - of providing additional refuge space around the country, and the work I will be doing on delivering DSGBV leave.

There will be significant further steps in terms of the affordability of childcare. This is a long-term project. We put a huge amount of extra money into it in this year's budget. That is not enough and the Government does not believe that is enough. There is real agreement across budget that more needs to be done in that context, that it is essential that breastfeeding breaks would be available for long periods of time and that we will be undertaking the work of giving a meaningful response to the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. Being a multiplicity of recommendations, everyone accepts they will take time. If we can be measured on those, that is worthwhile.

Senator Ward spoke about the importance of men not stepping back from these issues. I hope this time next year it will be judged that I and my Department have not stepped back and we have continued to advance these issues, that we can continue to see steady change in terms of Government policy and Ireland's approach to these issues, but always realising that the change that we need to make in terms of society's treatment of women is a systems change and that can be delivered.

I acknowledge that on International Women's Day last year I asked the Minister for progress on surrogacy and provisions for women who are not acknowledged as the mothers of their children in Irish law. I note that yesterday the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on International Surrogacy were announced. I hope that next year I will be thanking the Minister when all of us are trotting off to the courts, getting our parental orders and being recognised in law. I thank the Minister and Senators for a good debate.