Impact of Covid-19 on Women for International Women’s Day: Statements

I thank Members for the opportunity to speak today about the impact of Covid-19 on women. It is important that we have these debates to keep the issue of gender equality live but also to better understand the experiences of women in order that we as legislators can continue to make great strides towards achieving gender equality. I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity in the context of International Women's Day.

The theme chosen this year for International Women's Day by UN Women is Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid-19 World. This theme encourages us to celebrate the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic, and all events that surround it, have had a profound impact on women in Ireland and worldwide. We are experiencing a crisis with health, social and economic dimensions that is having different impacts on women and men. There is an urgent need to understand this gender dimension and factor it into policy responses.

The greatest risk is that it has left us in a situation that could reverse advances for gender equality that have been decades in the making. The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many existing inequalities in society including inequality that disadvantages women.

Ahead of International Women's Day, it is important to recognise the courage shown by women during these past 12 months, the bravery of women in speaking out about their experiences of Covid-19, as well as demanding better from society and from the Government. Women have campaigned, and continue to campaign, and valiantly draw attention to the inequalities in our society. They do so with great determination and success. However, it is not women alone who should be striving for gender equality. We are in privileged positions in the Dáil. We must all use our voices to elevate the struggles of others and advance the rights of women and the more marginalised people in our society. As a Government, we cannot merely choose to be feminists when it suits us or when it looks good. Feminism needs to be at the core of everything we do and every decision we make if we are truly serious about achieving gender equality through our actions. Importantly, our feminism must be inclusive and recognise the unique struggles faced by women of colour, trans women, Traveller women and disabled women.

A patriarchal society still exists. Sexism still exists and women still face misogyny in everyday life. There exist some who are trying to make cracks in our feminist movement as we strive further for equality. There are some who are attempting to exploit perceived weaknesses in order to exclude marginalised voices. The fight for inclusive feminism is a battle that still continues. Activists have worked too hard for inclusive spaces for them to be taken away. Not only do we need to be able to identify these exclusionary tactics but we must also choose to challenge them.

The past year has been particularly difficult for women and families who have experienced pregnancy. Many women have had to experience important milestones, like the 12-week or 20-week scans of their pregnancy, alone or even the birth of their child, moments which would have in normal circumstances been shared with a partner or a close friend or family member. The strength shown by pregnant women during this pandemic has been remarkable. It is important to recognise this today.

Many women have spoken out about their experiences of reproductive healthcare during this pandemic. It is imperative that we listen to these voices in order that we can ensure women are empowered to make their own decisions around reproductive healthcare, as well as making sure they are supported in their journey through pregnancy.

As a result of the pandemic, we are also seeing evidence across Europe that women's labour market participation is impacted to a greater degree than that of men. Women are over-represented in the sectors which have been badly affected in the pandemic. Women are more likely to have reduced working hours, suffer job losses or leave the labour market.

The reasons for this include women experiencing greater conflict between working and their family lives, and having lower entitlements to benefits relating to employment. This may be a temporary pattern but recovery of the female labour market after earlier periods of lockdown has been slower than that of men. If this pattern persists, it could have long-term implications for the female employment rate, for women's progression and pay in general, as well as for the gender pay gap.

Women have carried an unequal share of the unpaid work of keeping families going. We know this is the reality, even though it may not be spoken about openly. For example, the burden of home schooling arising from school closures has fallen disproportionately on women.

Both in the care economy and in unpaid work in the home, the pandemic has highlighted how care work is undervalued in our society but is fundamental to how it functions. It has also shown the value of the care infrastructure we have invested in already and the potential for further investment in services.

For women who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, we must ensure that they are supported to retrain and reskill and continue to participate in the workforce.

The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019, which I intend to progress as a priority, will assist with continuing to highlight the pay gap across companies and in the civil and public service. I intend to monitor the implementation of the legislation, once passed, to ensure that we are on track to achieve our aims.

Further work on developing family leave options will also assist with addressing the assumptions that women are always the primary care giver, and will encourage greater sharing of the care load. On Tuesday, I will bring to Government a Bill which will enact the Government's existing commitment to extend parent's leave and benefit from two weeks to five weeks for each parent and to extend the period in which it can be taken from the first year of a child's life to the first two years. This leave is non-transferable and is aimed at supporting working families with additional leave at this difficult time, but also to encourage parents to share the childcare burden and ensure that fathers also get to spend time with their child in the crucial early years.

Included in these proposals are amendments to the adoptive leave legislation which will address the anomaly whereby married male same-sex couples are excluded from the leave. It will do so by removing the presumption of the gender of the person who will take the adoptive leave, and will give the adoptive family the freedom to choose who is best to provide that primary care. The other parent will be entitled to a paternity leave equivalent.

My Department will also continue to work on examining policy on flexible working and on the implementation of the work-life balance directive to ensure that the opportunities that the changing work environment has presented are fully capitalised on and that remote working does not become gendered and become a barrier to career progression.

I am delighted to have this opportunity today to address these crucial issues - the specific impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women, particularly in the context of International Women's Day - and I look forward to hearing the points colleagues make across the House. At this point, I will hand over to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte.

I wish I could say that women have always been treated fairly and equally by this State but it is important to acknowledge that this country has curtailed progress on women's rights at various points. We need only look at last night's "RTÉ Investigates" programme about illegal adoptions for yet another unearthing of discrimination. It is maddening to see how the State, and particularly Governments of the past, failed to protect and advocate for the rights of women. This, of course, follows on from the hurt and pain already detailed by survivors of the mother and baby homes. This showed how the State turned its back on women and children of this country and left them to suffer behind walled institutions.

In 2021, I would hope we do not face the same the level of discrimination and misogyny but I know this would not be the full truth. We are only codding ourselves if we think we have achieved full equality. However, I know we are making progress and while it is taking longer than I would like, I am confident we will get there.

When we look at how Covid has impacted women, there has undoubtedly been added strain on mothers. On top of their full-time job, many have had to take up the role of teacher, carer, cook, cleaner and counsellor.

I also want to recognise the unbelievable contribution of carers, many of whom are women. Carers have been particularly stretched over the past year. For most, the essential work they do as carers is their sole job and it is not an easy one. Sometimes carers do not receive the thanks they should but I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for the Trojan work they do looking after some of our most vulnerable.

I must also acknowledge the intense pressure that disabled women have faced over the past 12 months. In some ways, the impact Covid has had and the way it has halted access to many elements of our society, has highlighted some of the obstacles women with disabilities, and indeed the wider disability population, faced in pre-Covid times. It brings to mind an interview that was done with the parent of a child with a disability last summer. She said that what Covid gave the rest of the society was an understanding of the world they lived in. Having a lockdown did not really impact on them because they themselves had their challenges even when we did not have a lockdown. It was to give wider society an understanding of what is laid out for families with persons with disabilities and challenges.

This Government is committed to full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The draft initial State report has been published. I would encourage everyone to make a submission, whether it relates to women with disabilities or any of the provisions of the Convention. I am keen for the State report to capture all stakeholder voices.

The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman has noted the risk of unemployment for many women during Covid-19. Women also make up the majority of front-line healthcare and retail workers who have kept this country running during the pandemic. Figures from the European Institute for Gender Equality indicate that a majority of workers delivering essential services in Europe in the crisis are women, including 76% of doctors, nurses, midwives and staff in residential care homes, 82% of cashiers, 93% of child care workers and teachers, 95% of domestic cleaners and helpers and 86% of personal care workers.

I pay tribute today to those women – doctors, nurses, care assistants, cleaners, cooks, shop assistants and teachers – who have gone out to work every day for the past year, often at great hardship to their own families, and have allowed us to maintain the restrictions needed to keep everyone in the country safe.

The pandemic has highlighted to us that we need to do more to support women in the workforce and encourage them to take on leadership positions and let their voices be heard. We know that women must be part of decision making on the issues which affect us all, and the response to the pandemic is no different.

This is a timely debate and one that needs to continue as we find our way through this pandemic and into our economic and social recovery. Gender equality is more important than ever as we navigate this crisis and we must be vigilant to ensure that it does not compound existing inequalities in our society. A recovery will not be a recovery if there are those who are not feeling the benefits.

I also would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the roles women play in leadership within politics. In fairness, in 2020, we had our general election and it was fantastic to see new female representatives joining me and Deputy Butler, who had not been here previously. We need to encourage female participation, be it at local level or national level. We need to have that voice there. We make up 51% of the population but, unfortunately, that is not reflected at local level or at national level.

If I would fault one area in the past 12 months where we have had decision making going on, it would be that we have not had that female voice when we needed conversations around how, at the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, health was being discussed. Women need to be at the table. In all fairness, lessons need to be learned from Covid. Anything that was wrong in society before the onset of Covid was exacerbated during Covid and the only way we can learn is to reset the dial on economic and social issues as we come out of it.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me time to talk about the important issue of the impact of Covid-19 on women to mark International Women's Day on Monday, 8 March.

As we stand here today I want to think of all those we have lost in the last 12 months due to Covid-19 and especially the women who will not see International Women's Day next Monday.

I will focus specifically on the mental health impact of the pandemic on women and young girls in Ireland. Mental health difficulties experienced by women are well known, with an increased prevalence of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm among the female population. A proportion of women will also experience perinatal mental health difficulties. While the mental health impact of Covid-19 is yet to be fully understood, the pandemic has had an adverse impact on the mental health of women and girls. CSO data shows that in April 2020, more than one in three female respondents had a low satisfaction score for overall life, up from approximately one in ten in 2018. In addition, the percentage of respondents reporting that they felt “lonely”, “very nervous”, or “downhearted or depressed” was much higher for women than for men.

An increase in eating disorder presentations in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic is being reported both in Ireland and internationally. There were significant increases in referrals to the three existing specialist eating disorder teams in Ireland in 2020 compared to 2019. Four in every five assessments last year were female. Some €3.9 million has been made available to the national clinical programme for eating disorders and as Minister with special responsibility for mental health I am fully committed to ensuring this funding is spent in full in 2021 to complete the three existing specialist eating disorder teams and establish three new teams.

Gender has a significant impact on mental health and the risk factors for poor mental health outcomes among women include a range of socio-economic indicators including precarious employment or the absence of work. There is no doubt that the pandemic has adversely affected many women’s mental health as they are disproportionately represented as frontline health workers, where 80% of all healthcare workers in Ireland are women. Furthermore, retail, domestic and caring job roles are predominately catered for by women. A higher proportion of women are caring for a dependent family member or friend because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mental health of women in abusive relationships who have been in lockdown with their abuser has also been negatively affected. Of course, other vulnerable and marginalised women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. According to reports from the Garda, domestic violence increased by almost 25% since the lockdown period began. Women's Aid has reported a 43% increase in responses to its 24-hour helpline between March and June 2020.

Older women cocooning have faced considerable challenges in terms of isolation and feelings of loneliness.

Of course, a negative mental health outcome for our population from this pandemic is not inevitable if we set about responding to the challenges in a cohesive manner. In line with WHO guidance, the HSE published a psychosocial framework in January 2021. This builds on a range of supports introduced in 2020 in response to Covid-19, including self-help and psychosocial first aid supports for staff. The framework acknowledges the impact of the pandemic on mental health in all areas of society and identifies priority groups, including health care workers and people bereaved due to Covid-19. The framework provides a cohesive, co-ordinated, consistent and collaborative approach to the provision of mental health services and supports across five key levels from mental health promotion to specialist supports.

Our new national mental health policy, Sharing the Vision, includes a specific recommendation to establish a dedicated project to ensure that mental health priorities and services are gender sensitive and that women’s mental health is specifically and sufficiently addressed through implementation of the policy. The national implementation and monitoring committee, tasked with driving implementation of Sharing the Vision, has been established and work, while at an early stage, is progressing. This includes collaboration with the Department’s taskforce on women’s health to advance the specific recommendation on women’s mental health.

To address issues of isolation, there are a number of supports that people can avail of including the Community Call which provides local helplines through local authorities to deliver practical supports and befriending; the Keep Well campaign which provides valuable information on supporting people through the difficult months ahead; and the ALONE national support line which is run in collaboration with the Department of Health and the HSE.

To conclude, a cross sectoral, interdepartmental approach is required to improve the mental health outcomes of women and girls during and beyond the Covid-19 period. I am fully committed to the development of mental health services and supports that are gender sensitive and which effectively address the needs of women across society. I thank the Minister for sharing time with me. Gabhaim buíochas.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Butler. Sinn Féin has three speakers and I call Deputy Funchion.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and given that we are on the subject of women, I start by acknowledging the Leas-Cheann Comhairle herself, as our first ever female holder of that position. It is an important role, is not an easy task and is not one that I envy. I was thinking about this point as we were speaking earlier.

Women, in general, play a crucial role not only in their communities but in every household and most people agree that women are the backbone of many households and communities. This has been shown up even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic. We know that integrating gender-focused Government policy and a focus on women’s self-reliance and empowerment leads to better humanitarian outcomes for all and leads to a better society.

A recent research report by UN Women found that when women are provided with direct financial or resource assistance, they enjoyed greater control over household spending decisions and improved results for all family members. It found the benefits of gender-focused action by industry and Government far outweighs the cost.

Ironically, 2020 was the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration which set out to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity. However, what unfolded due to the pandemic was a deepening of pre-existing inequalities and women’s workloads increased where our frontline workers are mainly women. As has been mentioned by some of the Ministers, the homeschooling and childcare burden, in general, falls to women and this has happened to an even greater extent during the pandemic.

There are endless reports, research papers, books and academic research into inequality among men and women and while many of these examine historical and continual inequality across society, there is a growing consensus that greater gender equality has taken a big step back during the pandemic.

Women, due to their high numbers in caring and nursing roles, are suffering the effects of what is being called "long covid" at a greater rate than men. A recent report suggested that 76% of our healthcare workers are women. It is clear that women are at increased risk of infection and loss of livelihood where existing trends suggest that they have less access to health supports. The rise in domestic violence during this public health crisis, which we have spoken about on a number of times in this Chamber, is very worrying. Women who are struggling and living in unbearable domestic violence situations or in an environment of severe coercive control are doubly affected as all normal social outlets have been closed.

I have also been alarmed by the impact of Covid-19 and of the restrictions on women who are caring for vulnerable children and children with additional needs and I am the glad to hear that was also mentioned in the Minister of State's speech. They have carried an unbearable burden during the lockdown.

An interesting study was carried out recently by BMJ Global Health into how various leaders around the world have responded to the pandemic. In particular, they looked at the different approach taken by men and women leaders. The results found, which would not be a surprise to any woman, that female leaders were really aware and talking about a wider range of impacts on social welfare, mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence issues within the context of the public health emergency.

As the end of Covid-19 is hopefully in sight we must be cognisant that any recovery must lead to a more equal Ireland and one that is more resilient to future crises. Government policy and future emergency measures must address public health gender gaps. It is crucial that all policy responses place women and girls, their inclusion, representation, rights, social and economic outcomes, equality and protection, at the heart of our policy response. Going forward, women’s equal representation in all public health emergency response planning and decision-making must be paramount. A priority for Government must be that we address the inequality of pay in the care economy.

One sector in which women fill the majority of roles is the childcare and early years sector and I have consistently called for equality of pay and better working conditions for these professionals.

I strongly believe that Covid-19 has not only been a challenge for our healthcare system but also a test for us as a wider society.

Our future response will be significantly weakened if we do not factor in the ways in which inequalities have made all of us more vulnerable to the impacts of the public health emergency. We cannot choose simply to repeat past policies and fail to use this moment to rebuild a more equal, inclusive and resilient society for all.

If anything positive is to come from Covid, I hope it is that we learn something. We have greater awareness now of domestic violence and the potential supports that are there but these services need to be supported. In general, we need to look at how unequal our society is and ensure that gender equality is at the heart of policymaking and that we do not pay lip service to it.

The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, mentioned that it is very difficult for women to make it into this forum. It is very difficult even to make it into local politics let alone national politics and then to remain involved. It is important that we have these ongoing discussions and that it is not a box ticking exercise because we are all thinking about International Women's Day. This is the last item on the agenda on a Thursday evening. We have to wonder how important it really is, even though it is extremely important. It is important that it is not a case that we have had the discussion and we all move on but that we learn, not only from our discussions but from all of the negatives of Covid-19 and how it has shown how unequal society really is for women, particularly those in low paid sectors and those on the front line.

I want to use the brief time I have to pay tribute to the many women who are struggling through the pandemic. They are getting by and the women in the Chamber, and some men as well of course, will know what getting by is like. They are getting by but they are struggling and it would be remiss of us to pretend that people are breezing through this, particularly women, because they are simply not. This is a tough time and it is a particularly tough time for women.

We are having this discussion on International Women's Day, and my colleague, Deputy Funchion, is correct that this debate is late on a Thursday evening. I recall other occasions in the previous Dáil, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will recall the same, when we had debates of this nature, and they were always late on a Thursday evening. Perhaps we could have a prime time slot for the next International Women's Day. I will not hold my breath but it would be a very good idea and would send a very positive and clear message to women.

We know we are not over-represented in here. Look around us. We are not over-represented at the decision-making tables in big companies. We are not over-represented in the boardrooms. However, we are over-represented when it comes to low pay. We are over-represented when it comes to precarious work. We are over-represented when it comes to doing the lion's or, indeed, the lioness's share of the caring responsibilities in the home. This needs to change.

We need to re-evaluate and the pandemic gives us this opportunity because all of a sudden we find ourselves in a position whereby our front-line heroes are not just gardaí, nurses or doctors but porters, cleaners and people in supply chains. They are the people who have kept us fed and kept us going through the pandemic. They are the heroes of the pandemic. They are our front line. We know that women comprise a large chunk of these people. What these women ended up doing was not just their job, which we really need them to do, but also two more jobs. They had to take on the job of teaching and the job of child minding. They already had an important job to do and they then get additional jobs to do.

The opportunity exists for us to reframe and reimagine the contribution made by women, which is not always recognised. The contribution they make to the informal economy and to the formal economy can often be ignored. I am reminded of the words said to me when I got my first job in the trade union movement, and my colleague, Teachta Funchion, will be familiar with this. I was told I could work twice as hard as the men for half the credit. This is not right but everybody knows it. Effectively, this is what happens. We collectively say things such as that it is very hard to be a woman in a man's world but actually what we should do as women in positions of political leadership is use our platform to promote women, and not just women for the sake of it but to promote women who will not pull up the ladder, who will not cut supports for lone parents, and who will not ensure women are left to the end of the queue but who will promote women and who will do the job of supporting other women to come along. This is the only way we are going to get women involved in political life and get women involved in positions of leadership. I can tell you, sisters, it will not be given to us. It is up to us to create these conditions so we can take these roles and assume the responsibility that we are well able for.

Let us mark this International Women's Day and look forward to the next International Women's Day by when, I hope, we will have learned some lessons, we will have closed the gender pay gap and we will have some progress towards true equality. This means promoting women who will promote other women and work with other women. We need to do this as women in positions of leadership.

In previous years, we have rightly lauded women whose achievements have been remarkable or the women we might personally aspire to be like. This year, as we celebrate International Women's Day I want to honour and show appreciation to all of those women we have in our lives who make it just that little bit brighter and that little bit better just by being there. They are the people we relied on most, personally and professionally, over the course of the past year. Women have been to the forefront of our medical services, a service of which we have never asked as much as we did over the past year.

We will never forget the contribution of all the women who worked through Covid, be they in medical roles, childcare, carers, Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána, and the women who stood behind the counters in our supermarkets and smiled, something I very much doubt they wanted to do but it made the rest of us feel that little bit safer and that little bit more normal. While doing this in the grips of a global pandemic, with the world off centre, these women stepped up again. They formed childcare bubbles so other women could go to work. They homeschooled and shopped for elderly and vulnerable neighbours. They became teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists for those in their care.

I prepared a speech about striving for equality and the theme of leadership and what it means but what I would rather do is read some excerpts of emails I have received from women in counties Longford and Westmeath over the past year. Their words show resilience fitting of true leaders in our communities. One woman wrote that lockdown hit her home very hard, especially this time around. She said she found that during this lockdown her role as a carer has become all-consuming. Most days she cannot see life outside of the walls. The alarm rings at 5.45 every morning and the gruelling day begins. The last time she checked she had one pair of hands but she is expected to grow another three just to get through the day. She states she has always known women were super but the last time she checked she was not Superwoman. She writes that she cannot keep it up and she is frightened. She states that Covid is awful and that herself and her family are fully aware of the dangers and consequences so they try their best to remain at home unless it is absolutely necessary. She says Covid have changed their lives so much that she is genuinely struggling to hold it together. Back when the world was normal, she worked full time in an office and now she works at home with her kitchen table surrounded by her children. Each morning, she surrounds herself with props to keep her children occupied with anything she can think of to buy five minutes to finish a piece of work. She states her daily view is a laptop, a box of cereal, juice, a plethora of cups and bowls and bread. One day she actually plugged the toaster in beside her. She states that just when she thought she could do no more she started to work full-time teaching her children who are different ages and at different levels, which means that effectively she has to be three teachers rolled into a single human being. She states she feels like a failure and doing nothing right but four things badly. She states there is no longer a clock in and clock out. She says she does not think she can keep it up but with ICUs full, they have to keep going, which is why she said "Yes" when she got the call to go back into work.

At our time of need these women met this need and did so in the most difficult of circumstances.

The research published this morning by Eurochambres is welcome. It is deeply concerning, but it is welcome. It evidences what I have heard throughout the past year, that is, women are carrying an unfair and disproportionate amount of responsibility. That is wrong and it must change.

The gender pay gap is wrong. We simply cannot continue to facilitate such exploitation of women, where they effectively earn over 14% less than men on average, equal to two months' salary. The day of 9 or 10 November marks that symbolic day but that symbolism must now turn into action. Those women escaping violence and abuse need wider supports. Given the 30,000 women waiting for gynaecological appointments and the backlog at CervicalCheck and BreastCheck, the very least women's health needs this year is a clear strategy to address what is a perfect storm brewing. The additional parental leave previously announced must come into practice.

We owe a debt to these women that will never be repaid through applause and nice words. What they need and what they deserve is a society that reflects their true worth, values them as equals and treats them as such. For that to happen, it starts here in this House.

I have a daughter. I worry about her because she is a girl and because she is Irish. She has been born into a country with a record of treating women with disdain. She was born in May 2018, when the country finally put to rest a constitutional article, the eighth amendment, that forced 4,000 women a year to travel to England like criminals and others to order abortion pills over the Internet. That was in 2018, a full 50 years after the UK had determined that reproductive healthcare was a basic right for women. She was born to a grandmother who was forced to leave her public service job as soon as she got married. She was born in the year of the 100th anniversary of the first time some Irish women were permitted to vote but to a country whose Parliament is still only 22% female, and too many of these Deputies are subjected to vile online abuse.

I have a daughter. I worry she is a second-class citizen because Irish education still, too often, wants to separate her from boys. Some 17% of Irish primary school children are educated in single-gender schools. One third of our second level schools are gender-segregated. That is totally outside of the European norm, embedding gender stereotypes and restricting non-traditional subject choices, none of which has any basis in contemporary education research or best practice. In addition, 90% of all of these schools are under the patronage of a church that considers women to be second-class citizens.

I have a daughter. I worry she is a plaything for commercial interests. I worry there are highly-paid executives sitting in boardrooms, plotting and planning how best to sexualise her at an early age so they can make money out of her. I worry that this pressure will pile on top of her before she has the tools to deal with it, through the music industry, through the fashion industry, through the make-up industry. I worry that society will demand of her to have a smartphone, and that opens her up to a world of danger. I worry about the corporate determination to make her focus on her sexual power before she can access and appreciate her societal power, her community power, her civic power, her democratic power and, yes, even her commercial power.

I have a daughter. I worry she cannot see what she can be. What if she was to enter the business world? She lives in a country with a 14.4% gender pay gap, where female executive directors only account for 8.5% of the total and only one in nine CEOs are women. What if she chooses a career in academia? A 2018 Higher Education Authority report showed that while half of all lecturers in universities are female, these numbers fall dramatically at higher grades, such as associate professor, 32%, and professor, 23%.

I have a daughter. What if she was to take an interest in sport? Despite the success of the 20x20 campaign, how can I explain to her that the Irish women's soccer players get paid one fifth of what the Irish men get paid - that Katie McCabe’s blood, sweat and tears are worth only 20% of Seamus Coleman’s? How can I explain to her that national broadcasters still, for the most part, do not believe a woman can give an expert opinion on major sporting fixtures or, at a local level, that men's teams will still always be prioritised.

I have a daughter. Like all parents, I pray she will never be a victim of discrimination or hate, but I know life is tougher for female Travellers, female migrants, female prisoners, women with disabilities and women in recovery from addiction. I know that low-paid, vulnerable work is disproportionately carried out by women.

I have a daughter. She may herself have all the worries I have some day. She may herself one day be pregnant. She may still have to be treated in one of the outrageously dilapidated maternity hospitals in this city. She will have to deal with the fact that basic medication for Irish women in pregnancy can cost twice what it costs in the UK, that she will get no work leave for a miscarriage or medical complication related to reproductive healthcare, that free availability of period products is something that has to be battled for through a barrier of red-faced, male-oriented officialdom and that the provision of childcare is a national scandal, a scandal that persists because it disproportionately affects women, and poorly paid because it is disproportionately staffed by women.

I have a daughter. I want her to realise the power of girls around the world. I want her to know that a village can only change, a town can only change, a country can only change and the world can only change for the better when girls have access to education. The most powerful image in the world is a girl with a book. That image terrifies those who want things to stay the same.

I have a daughter. I want her to be proud to be Irish. I want her to learn of the generations of Irish women who made this country better for girls just like her - Countess Markievicz, Máirín de Burca, Eileen Desmond, Mary Robinson and Ivana Bacik. I want her not to be defined by the failings of others but to stand on the shoulders of these giants, and to take her place as an equal in this country and an equal in this world.

I have a daughter. I want her and girls like her not always to be thought of last. I want her to live in a country that has been designed for women and designed by women. I want her to redesign her own country for her, for us, for girls and boys that come after her, for my daughter and for all daughters to come.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on women and to reflect on where women are in Irish society today as we celebrate women on International Women’s Day on 8 March. In the 100 years since women won the right to vote, there have been millions upon millions of stories of strong women forging the way ahead, fighting for equality. Wives, daughters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers and sisters are still fighting because, in Ireland today, women are not equal. They are called “love”, “darling” and “sweetheart” and often talked over, talked down to and sometimes taken for fools. This inequality is reflected across society.

Celebrating International Women’s Day on Monday should serve as a reminder of how far we have actually not come and the mountains we still have to climb. We look at the Mother and Baby Homes Commission report, we look at the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on illegal adoptions, and we see that women were treated terribly in the recent past. As long as we try to silence them, we continue to treat them horribly. It was vital that the records from the commission were protected so we can build on the opportunity to give access to survivors. As we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March and Mother’s Day on 14 March, we must recognise women are half the population and, without them, we would not be here.

According to, globally, in 2020, less than half of all women participated in the labour force and women represented 38.8% of all participants in the labour force. The National Women’s Council of Ireland states that women continue to be more likely to work on a part-time basis and almost 70% of all part-time workers are women. Covid-19 made all that much more challenging. The majority of healthcare workers are women, and women in Ireland continue to provide the vast majority of care for children, elderly relatives and those living with disabilities.

Men do a lot, but women do the most. According to the Central Statistics Office, women accounted for 94% of those looking after the home or family in 2019. During this pandemic, women took sick leave or annual leave or offered up their job to care for children due to school closures and childcare facilities being closed. These women had the extra responsibility of home schooling while the women who still held onto their jobs and worked from home had to home school while also managing work commitments. Healthcare workers suffered more than most, facing the front line and holding things together at home. They were, and are, broken and they deserve more than a clap for their efforts. Women in every home in Ireland carry the burden of Covid-19 more than anyone else. They get no grants for that. There is no fund for their stability. They continue to be disproportionately affected by the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

From mental health and well-being to economic disparity and domestic violence, women are suffering. Now is the time to provide a women’s refuge in every county in Ireland. I know this is the responsibility of various Ministers, but it is important to raise it. I have been asking for a women's refuge for Carlow for the last few years, but given the current statistics there should be a refuge in every county. Early evidence is showing signs that women, children, migrants and refugees, persons with disabilities and the elderly have been hit hardest by the pandemic. This is compounded by a widespread increase in domestic violence. There were and continue to be issues for those experiencing domestic violence arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. In Carlow and Kilkenny there has been an increase in reported incidents. The increase in domestic violence incidence in the past year is not exclusive to my constituency, as more than 3,000 extra incidents have been reported during the pandemic.

It is important that supports are made available across the board. I am aware an audit is being undertaken to review the overall responsibility and co-ordination for domestic violence services in this country compared with other jurisdictions. This is most welcome. According to the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, "In the absence of targeted measures and investments by governments, we will see major rollbacks in gender equality and profound challenges for women workers in a post– COVID–19 world”. Those measures are needed in this country.

Women are significantly outnumbered by men in both local and national politics in Ireland. If women are not at the table; they cannot voice female concerns and inform female-friendly policies. I applaud the brave Irish women who take a stand to represent people. I encourage more of them to walk these halls, speak loudly and clearly, represent women and men, old and young, fight injustice, root out inequality and be taken seriously. We should not have to create a female-friendly society in which women can run for office. A woman should be able to run for office because she would be good at the job. Cultural barriers must be addressed through the education system, civic education programmes and voter education initiatives.

A review of fathers' rights and paternity leave should also be undertaken to ensure that children will not always be seen as an issue only for mothers. We must look at ways to support family time and a better work-life balance. We must support the most vulnerable to live their best lives.

"The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic". That quote is taken from the UN policy brief published last April. While everybody might be susceptible to the virus, those who suffer poverty and inequality are much more likely to fall ill with the virus, and while there are many at-risk categories in the world, women are the largest category.

Women are at the front line in this pandemic. In the EU, 76% of healthcare workers are women. In addition, the vast majority of workers in other front-line, essential services are women. We know that women play a much greater role in the home, caring for children or older relatives. These roles put them more at-risk of contracting the virus. My party leader, my colleagues and I have been highlighting the issue of carers during the pandemic. Carers are front-line, essential workers. They are looking after the elderly, people who are unwell and some people with disabilities. They are already chronically underpaid and frequently under-protected. Caring roles are predominantly held by women. In the initial part of the pandemic they were not provided with PPE or other necessary protection from the virus to try to keep themselves, the persons for whom they were caring and their families safe.

Many women have had to make the decision to leave the workforce to care for a vulnerable family member full-time because they were afraid of bringing the virus home to that member from their workplace. They received little or no support. Schools and day centres for people with disabilities were closed. Little or no respite care was offered. Now, they are not being considered for prioritisation when vaccines are being rolled out. The concern of most carers is the question of who will provide care to their loved ones if they, their carers, are sick.

The coronavirus crisis is not only a medical crisis but also an economic crisis. As I said, women are on the front line in many ways, but they are more likely to be involved in part-time or temporary employment. People in these positions are at higher risk of being laid off or losing their jobs during an economic downturn. In addition, the majority of workers in the tourism and hospitality sector are women. The majority of workers in retail are women. These are the sectors which have been forced to close for the longest periods and have received the least support. Many people involved in those sectors may end up not returning to employment, which means the gender pay gap will widen.

Women in the home were carrying the burden of the work before the virus hit our shores. On average, they did double the amount of unpaid work in the home that their male counterparts did. Since the start of the crisis and the closure of schools, it is mainly women who are taking on the role of teacher as well. This has been particularly difficult for single parents, the majority of whom are women. Women have been put under huge stress due to working from home, home schooling and doing in-house work.

Prior to Covid-19, domestic violence was highly prevalent, affecting approximately one in every four women in Ireland. Restrictions introduced to protect people from Covid-19 have unintentionally had the effect of increasing the incidence of domestic violence, with women's organisations and service providers recording a sharp increase in reports of domestic violence and requests for assistance. Safe Ireland reported that nearly 2,000 women and more than 400 children received help from a domestic violence service each month in the first six months of the pandemic. According to figures released under freedom of information, there was an 88% increase in the number of domestic violence cases dealt with by the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, last year, with 495 cases sent forward for trial. That is an increase from 249 in 2019.

While the reasons for the increase in domestic violence have yet to be determined, experts on this issue warn that Government-imposed measures deemed necessary to suppress the spread of Covid-19 have had the unintended, negative consequence of compounding risk factors for domestic violence, including unemployment, poverty, social isolation, relationship conflict and alcohol abuse. At the same time, service providers report that victims of domestic violence have diminished access to help and support, be it from family, friends, colleagues, doctors or social workers, as a result of the stay-at-home and social distancing measures. Victims report that these same measures are increasing the level of control their abusers exert over them. Long-term underfunding from successive Governments has meant that the services necessary to respond to women and children experiencing domestic abuse are lacking and not fit for purpose. For example, it has been reported that in the final four months of last year 800 requests from women to be taken into a refuge so they could flee domestic violence at home were turned down due to lack of space.

There is no refuge for women and children in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. I acknowledge that Tearmann Domestic Abuse Service does sterling work there, but there is no refuge for women and children.

International Women’s Day is about celebrating achievement – the achievements of women who are scientists, artists, sportswomen as well as healthcare professionals, caregivers and parents. Every role is important in this year of pandemic. The pandemic has brought much suffering, hurt and fear and a terrifying amount of domestic violence. There was an increase of 26% in reported cases of domestic violence in west Cork and a 35% increase in calls to the west Cork women against domestic violence service. Safe Ireland has called this the "shadow pandemic". We knew this was coming. It continues, but why?

There is currently an advertisement on television showing a ladies football team playing a match on an uphill pitch. It does its job. It makes us imagine what it must feel like for those players to be constantly up against it, to have the odds stacked against them and to keep pushing for equality anyway.

It has been a long time since I togged out for Ilen Rovers but it helps to remember that feeling. It helps us to imagine ourselves in those women’s football boots, playing with the odds stacked against us, playing in the shadows.

I want Members to imagine something else for a second. Imagine walking into a bathroom in a public place and being delighted to see toilet paper. Imagine standing at the sink, washing your hands, and thinking to yourself: "Well now, wasn’t that a lovely thing to do, to provide free toilet paper. What a thoughtful gesture." This sounds ridiculous, yet that is exactly how it feels to come across free sanitary products in a public bathroom. I could count on one hand the times it has happened to me. Why do we see toilet paper as a basic necessity but not tampons?

I got my first period on a school tour in primary school. There was no chance I was going to ask my teacher for sanitary products. It was the stigma and I would not have known how. So, like many girls before me and since, I had to resort to toilet paper. Studies by Plan International and the Anytime of the Month initiative show that many women find it incredibly hard to pay for sanitary products. This means they end up wearing pads or tampons longer than is comfortable or hygienic. It means that those in disadvantage, homelessness or direct provision must resort to stuffing their underwear with toilet paper. How is this acceptable?

Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products free for all. Similar legislation is being introduced here by Senator Rebecca Moynihan and we need to make sure it happens to make period products available in all schools, colleges and in every public service building. They should be provided to NGOs and community groups, too. This may seem revolutionary but it is not. It is a basic requirement. Period products are just as necessary as toilet paper. Let us take period products out of the shadows.

Now I want Members to imagine turning on Irish radio and flicking through the stations. I want Members to imagine that they are five times more likely to hear an Irish female artist than an Irish male artist on Irish radio. This sounds ridiculous and downright unfair. It sounds like someone needs to do something about that. Of course the reality is that it is the exact opposite. We are more than five times more likely to hear an Irish male artist than an Irish female artist on Irish radio. On streaming and downloading services these musicians hold their own but when it comes to radio airplay talented Irish women artists are not given the chance to be heard. When similar research was conducted in the UK, stations changed their practices and confronted their bias. Some Irish radio stations have begun to consciously support Irish women artists and we need the rest to follow. We need the industry and the Government to work together to give these talented artists airplay. Let us bring these brilliant Irish recording artists out of the shadows.

The "Level the Playing Field" ladies football advertisement is so effective because it makes the inequality visible. It helps us to see the situation from the players' point of view and maybe from a different angle than we are used to. None of this is about pitching women against men, but to show that these shadows are real. When we see bias, unfairness and the odds stacked against women we need to act. The shadows will linger for as long as we let them. Let us level that playing field. Let us cast away the shadows. Let us act.

As Deputy Funchion has said, it is also important to note that this year we have our first female Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and that finally the Seanad Standing Orders will recognise the existence of women who sit as the chairperson. I am a new member of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. I looked through the Standing Orders and it transpired that "Chairman" was in the Standing Orders 137 times, "Chairperson" was in the Standing Orders twice, and "Chairwoman" was in the Standing Orders zero times. I thank the Ceann Comhairle who chairs the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. At this week's meeting we saw the newly published Standing Orders that acknowledges women sitting in Chairs, which will be brought to the Dáil soon.

I thank Deputy Cairns very much. I express the private hope that the next permanent occupant of this seat will be a woman, please God.

As International Women’s Day approaches, I welcome that today we are dedicating some time to celebrating the work of women over the past year and also highlighting the struggles that women have faced during this pandemic.

Covid-19 has brought to light so many of the structural, financial and societal inequalities that still exist within our country. The fact is that gender equality has suffered in the face of the pandemic. We know that many women are the primary caregivers in many homes. Women have taken on the majority of the household work, childcare and home schooling, all the while balancing their own professional commitments.

It is not just in our homes. It is on the front line too where 76% of our healthcare workers are women. They have not just been juggling the pressures of Covid-19, they have been out there on our front line saving lives during this pandemic. We have gained a new level of appreciation for our healthcare workers in the past year. I know I speak for everyone when I say how thankful we are for the men and women who have literally kept our country going. They kept our health service going, our shops open, our public transport running and our emergency services going when everything else ground to a halt. The same can be said of our carers who played such a vital role for our most vulnerable at a time they needed it most.

With women taking on a larger proportion of the caring roles, both personally and professionally, gender equality has taken a massive step backwards in the last year. A recent study found that despite women making up 39% of global employment, they have accounted for more than 54% of job losses in the last year. By those calculations, women’s jobs are almost twice as vulnerable to this crisis as men’s jobs. Within Ireland young women are also being financially and professionally affected by the pandemic. The Central Statistics Office tells us that 60% of 15 to 24-year-old women are now unemployed due to the pandemic. I ask Members to think about that for a second. More than half of the young women in our country are unemployed. There is a whole cohort of women leaving school and college who are stepping into the world of work for the very first time, a cohort of young women who are completely unsure of their future and their place in the world. Now more than ever we need to start investing in the future of young women and safeguarding their place in the workforce. We should not need to be reminded of why gender equality in the workplace is so important, but the sad truth is that when push comes to shove, it is still women who bear the brunt of job losses and it is still women who suffer in times of economic uncertainty. In many ways, in 2021, it is still a man’s world.

We are of course making progress in many sectors and women are becoming better represented in lots of industries, but they do not often reach the top level. Ireland is currently ranked 15th in the EU for our representation of women on boards and globally only 17% of business board members are women. We are making progress but it is just not fast enough. I come from the corporate world and I have seen at first hand the value that women bring to management and executive roles. I know the benefits of having gender balance in the workplace. I have had the pleasure of working for four vice-presidents of PayPal, who are four strong, inspiring female leaders. I saw at first hand how diversity of thought around a senior leadership table delivers results. I saw at first hand how having females in senior leadership positions inspires other women to fulfil their career ambitions. I saw at first hand how women making it to the top of their game changes the status quo. Inspiring, enabling and equipping women to develop their career is something I want to play a key role in. That is why I have been a big supporter of the Network of Enterprising Women in South Dublin. That is why I was involved in the roll-out of diversity and inclusion training and women’s networks in my previous career.

That is why I have always worked to mark International Women’s Day in my constituency. This Monday, I will be hosting a virtual event along with Roberts Physio, Laura Jordan and The Holistic Lodge in Lucan to mark the day locally. That is also the reason I will work on ways to encourage and empower women in business.

It is often said that if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. I am privileged to have grown up in a world where because of the women elected to these Houses before me I saw it and I believed it. I am talking about women such as Mary Harney, Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, Nora Owen, Olivia Mitchell and Olwyn Enright. They were just some of the women I saw on television while I was growing up. They were just some of the women who proved to me that women can achieve anything.

Women from all sides of the political divide helped break down gender barriers and smash the glass ceiling. I had the pleasure of getting to work with one of those trailblazers – Frances Fitzgerald. She worked at every level of politics. She sat in the council chamber, the Seanad Chamber and the Dáil Chamber. She sat in the Tánaiste's seat and today she sits in the European Parliament. Women like her set a precedent in politics.

As an MEP, Frances has published a very interesting report on the gender perspective in the Covid-19 crisis and the post-crisis period. She states:

... the COVID-19 recovery represents a significant opportunity to advance women as we seek to rebuild our economies and our societies in a different way. A true COVID-19 recovery can only be a success if we seek a greener, a fairer and a more [equal society].

That is why she has recommended in her report key recovery funds that are gender mainstreamed to ensure that women can fully benefit from them in terms of employment and also entrepreneurship. It is the reason she says we can harness this opportunity to ensure that women are better represented in sectors where they have been traditionally under-represented such as in digital, artificial intelligence, AI, ICT and science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM.

We must continue to set precedents in every single industry. It is not just an equality issue; it makes better business sense. In 2018, a study of 1,000 global companies found that those in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability. The research speaks for itself; balanced boardrooms make for better business.

If the last year has taught us anything it is that we need to safeguard the future of women. Sometimes one needs to get one's foot in the door to get a seat at the table. That is something we all have to be reminded of from time to time.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day next week, I take this opportunity to commend the many brilliant and capable women with whom I work on a daily basis and I am proud to share this floor with. I would like to thank the many men who continue to be champions and supporters of the women in their lives. Their stories are a reminder of some of the trailblazing women who have come before us and laid the path for many of us working in politics but there is still so much work to be done. We need to shout louder and make gender equality in all areas of life a big-ticket issue. Covid-19 has already taken far too much from us. We must not let gender equality become another victim of this pandemic. We must do better. I want to be part of the movement that makes life for women better, that gives women better opportunities and empowers them to grasp them and that gives women the credit they truly deserve.

I thank the Deputy for those inspiring words. Our next contributor is Deputy Martin Browne.

I wholly welcome the fact that the House is dedicating time to the issue of the impact of Covid-19 on women ahead of International Women's Day but it is a source of regret also because it confirms that there is still a lot to be done to address the issues of inequality and recognition.

I was talking to somebody recently ahead of today's debate who summarised the challenges faced by women during the Covid crisis as follows: emergencies deepen inequalities. Inequality does not have to be a conscious decision made with effort. It is something that can be caused and increased through ignorance of hidden situations, taking the work of some for granted or through the failure to make provisions for individual circumstances. I want to speak of the latter to begin with.

It has been widely reported that the pandemic has resulted in an increase in incidents of domestic violence, which is perpetrated predominantly towards women. During the pandemic we have had increased public awareness campaigns on domestic abuse. I welcome that an increase in funding for services has also been provided but there are still shortcomings in overall policies across Departments that could deal with some obstacles faced by those seeking to flee domestic violence.

Our housing crisis, for example, limits options when it comes to fleeing abuse within the home. I came across an incident in which a woman had to leave her local authority house because of domestic abuse. It emerged that she was considered as having given up her local authority home, which has an affect on that person's ability to get back on a very lengthy housing waiting list. Having inquired about this in a parliamentary question, I was told of a guidance document that had been issued to local authorities concerning domestic violence. It states:

The guidance document outlines that victims of domestic violence that had been in a joint local authority tenancy can be eligible for re-entry to the waiting list where a deed of separation is in place. Where such a deed does not exist housing authorities may use discretion to allow applications ...

This fails people on two fronts. First, the act of pleading domestic violence generally does not allow for deeds of separation to be organised and signed off on. Second, relying on the discretion of the local authority, while positive, also involves a workload and a level of uncertainty that the person who is fleeing abuse may not have the time or the ability to deal with.

Another issue I came across in the case was that the council had again to use its discretion to provide the housing assistance payment, HAP. The failure to have a streamlined programme in place to deal with people escaping domestic abuse does not recognise the immediate needs of the person involved. Finally on this matter, even if a person were to get back on the housing list or be approved for a HAP package the lack of housing, both private and social, makes it nearly impossible to find a suitable alternative to the home they are fleeing. Our housing crisis is failing people who are the targets of domestic violence while guidelines for local authorities when it comes to the housing needs of victims of domestic abuse are too vague and need attention.

The prevalence of the pandemic has also brought into sharp focus the value placed on certain sectors of our society and the extent to which we are willing to recognise the contribution of those sectors. Care and informal or unpaid care and parenting are particular issues here. Informal care can also be described as silent care as it seems to go unnoticed and under-resourced. Last year, the National Women's Council stated:

Before COVID-19, care was not equally distributed, with women providing the majority of care for family members and loved ones and for the household. As Ireland entered the first COVID-19 lockdown, the closure of schools, childcare facilities and reductions in home and social care led many women to provide even more care.

As we know, the restrictions have continued since and the demands on women have increased. According to the National Women's Council report on women's experience of care during Covid-19, respondents stated:

During the lockdown they were playing many roles: teacher; cook; cleaner; counsellor; and home nurse. With children home full-time during lockdown, women were minding children and home-schooling. With a heightened awareness of hygiene to combat the virus, cleaning around the house increased. As many older people around the country cocooned, the work of checking in, collecting their medicines and doing their shopping fell predominantly to women.

In the same report, 85% of women said their caring responsibilities had increased since the outbreak of Covid-19 and 52% said their caring had increased an awful lot. Many women living with another adult reported that caring was not shared equally in their household, with the lion's share falling to them.

As legislators, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to address this while men need to consider their role in those findings. Respondents suggested improvements in the provision of childcare, especially for front-line workers; supports for new mothers; State supports for carers of older people; social care supports for disabled people; access to affordable counselling; and increased support from their partner.

We must also be aware that more than 60% of one-parent families are headed by a woman parenting alone. Data from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show that in 2019, 45% of one-parent families were experiencing enforced deprivation. Covid has added to that, which has been highlighted in parts of Tipperary by those in need of food parcel deliveries. I pay tribute to the likes of Ruth in Knockanrawley and other places and to all those engaged in this type of work. Yet in February, the Government rejected Sinn Féin's motion to help people struggling with increased fuel costs and ensuring that those on jobseeker's benefit did not have to wait more than 15 months for fuel assistance.

Before I end, I wish to note that many of the informal carers I am speaking of are also front-line workers who have had to deal with the unthinkable since this time last year. This pandemic has brought into sharp focus the failings women have had to live with. Covid will be here for a while. We must act now to correct these failings, and when the pandemic ends we must not forget what we have learned.

It is worth reminding ourselves that International Women's Day, 8 March, grew out of the labour movement, the workers' movement, when thousands of women in New York in the early part of the 20th century - 1908, in fact - marched through the city demanding a shorter working week, better pay and the right to vote. The tradition continued right up until the Russian Revolution, when in the same period the women of Russia took strike action for bread and peace in the middle of the First World War. That strike forced the abdication of the Tsar. There have been pretty powerful memories attached to International Women's Day then, and one of the songs that goes with it, "Bread and Roses", really strikes me as arguing not just for fair wages and conditions but also for decent and dignified conditions in our lives and the right to be treated in a dignified way as human beings.

What also strikes me, however, is that the Dáil every year finds one day on which we consider it important to discuss gender inequality and for the other 364 days it does not really matter all that much. That has to stop. We have to find consistent, persistent and sustained ways of putting gender inequality at the top of the agenda. It is only when some crisis forces it to be discussed that it is discussed but, unfortunately, such crises, such as that of the mother and baby homes most recently, are more frequent than we care to know. Before the mother and baby homes crisis came CervicalCheck, and quite frequently we debate domestic violence, which often results in tragic death. During the Covid crisis domestic violence has really escalated, leaving women - men too but mostly women - in danger, in isolation and without the supports and the ability to receive shelter. It is outrageous that this country spends more annually on the horse racing industry, which is not exactly dignifying itself at the moment, than on the question of domestic violence.

As other Deputies have repeatedly said throughout the course of the discussion so far, women take on the majority of childcare, home caring, nursing, care work in hospitals, cleaning and shop work. They are the front-line workers in the main and they have done us a heroic deed. We need to stick together with our social solidarity to honour the role they have played in trying to bring this public health crisis into check. On 8 March the Debenhams workers, whom I have to mention for their absolute bravery and consistent fightback, will mark International Women's Day as the 333rd day of their strike. They will be outside their local stores for anybody who wants to show them solidarity.

One cohort of women is being left behind disgracefully. We have recognised that most political leaders are not women. Most of the leaders on NPHET are not women. This is problematic because I think women bring with them a particular sense of compassion and a particular view on the world order and how to treat and get out of our problems inside that world order. Here I will mention the public health doctors, the vast majority of whom are women and who have been totally sidelined in a public health crisis. They had to take a vote for strike action but, because of their compassion, they never used that muscle during the pandemic. Here are fully trained public health doctors who have been sidelined by the system. It is outrageous. The same could be said of our laboratory scientists and technicians. We need women's voices as leaders, we need to be consistent and persistent and we need sustained discussion of the issues of gender inequality that face us every day, every year, not just on 8 March annually.

The Debenhams workers will organise socially distanced pickets and protests across the country next Monday outside their stores to mark and celebrate International Women's Day and to mark day 333 of their dispute. In Cork they will be joined by Arcadia workers. These two groups of women workers will speak with one voice when they ask the Government where the legislation it promised to protect workers' rights in liquidations is. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, might tell them tonight.

Across the world the issue of gender-based violence will feature strongly in International Women's Day protests. It is no surprise when worldwide six women are killed every hour by violent men. Gender-based violence is the shadow pandemic. Here in Ireland nearly 3,500 women contacted domestic violence services for the first time between March and August of last year. The last Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, report was published in 2002, 19 years ago. Will the Minister agree that it is a disgrace that this has been deprioritised for so long? Will he guarantee that a new SAVI report will be started more or less immediately, once public health restrictions permit?

In her very important contribution Deputy Bríd Smith made reference to our recognising the role of women on International Women's Day and then ignoring it for the rest of the year. I feel I should say that if Deputy Smith or any other Member has a view as to how we could more effectively represent the concerns of more than 50% of our electorate and of our population here, I certainly would be very glad to hear from them.

I am very glad that my colleague, Deputy Higgins, mentioned Frances Fitzgerald, MEP. Deputy Higgins worked for Frances Fitzgerald, I worked for Frances Fitzgerald and the Minister, Deputy Harris, worked for Frances Fitzgerald. She was the very essence of opening the door and providing encouragement rather than closing the door or pulling up the ladder. That deserves mention. I am also glad Deputy Higgins mentioned the fantastic report, led by Frances Fitzgerald, of the European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality published in November of last year on how Covid-19 has impacted women specifically. I wish to take this opportunity, if it is in order, to use my contribution to read elements of the report into the record because it summarises better than I could the range of experiences women have had and the distinct effect Covid-19 has had.

According to the report, it is clear that the Covid-19 crisis has had "clear gender perspectives" as it affects women and men differently. The report states that "women and girls will be affected disproportionately in the short, medium and long term" and that the pandemic "has exacerbated existing structural gender inequalities, in particular for girls and women from marginalised groups". The report states that "whereas official mortality figures show that men have a higher death rate from the virus than women", "women are more at risk of contracting the virus due to their disproportionately high representation among frontline workers in essential sectors during the current crises".

As for health, "as a result of the cancellation or postponement of 'non-essential' health services, a delay, and sometimes barriers, arose in accessing critical care for urgent complaints". In particular, for women "access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and services were hampered with serious consequences, and some legal attempts were made to limit the right to safe and legal abortion in certain [EU] Member States". There have also been limits to "IVF services, and provisions for clinical management in the case of rape".

Reports and figures not just from here but from several EU member states "during and following the confinement period revealed a worrying increase in domestic and gender-based violence, including physical violence, psychological violence, coercive control and cyber violence". We have spoken about that in this House several times. The report states that "violence is not a private issue but a societal concern" and "lockdown measures make it more difficult for victims of intimate partner violence to seek help as they are often confined with their abusers, and limited access to support services such as women's shelters and hotlines and insufficient support structures and resources can exacerbate an already existing 'shadow' pandemic".

The report continues:

whereas confinement and isolation measures may have led to a higher risk of female genital mutilation, FGM, with cases going undetected [including in this country] due to the interruption of schooling; whereas economic and social stresses are exacerbating factors which could lead to an increase in domestic and gender-based violence in the long term and make it harder for women to leave abusive partners;

whereas the greater use of the internet during the pandemic increases online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence and the online sexual abuse of children and especially girls; whereas human rights defenders, women in politics, female journalists, women belonging to ethnic minorities, indigenous women, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and women with disabilities are particularly targeted by ICT-facilitated violence.

That is what it is. The report states:

whereas a majority of workers delivering essential services in the current crisis are women, including 76% of healthcare workers..., 82% of cashiers, 93% of child care workers and teachers, 95% of domestic cleaners and helpers, and 86% of personal care workers in the EU; whereas it is thanks to them for whom physical distancing is often not an option and who thus bear the increased burden of possibly spreading the virus to their relatives, that our economic, social and healthcare systems, our public life and our essential activities are maintained;

whereas wages in many essential and significantly female-dominated sectors can be low, with often only the minimum wage being paid; whereas horizontal and vertical labour market segregation in the EU is still significant, with women overrepresented in less profitable sectors; whereas 30% of women work in education, health and social work, compared to 8% of men, and 7% of women work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics compared to 33% of men; whereas the International Labour Organisation warns that certain groups will be disproportionately affected by the economic crisis, including those entering the labour market, thereby increasing inequality...; whereas there is reason for concern about job losses in women-dominated professions due to the crisis; whereas male-dominated sectors are likely to recover earlier than typical female-dominated ones;...

whereas women are more likely to be in temporary, part-time and precarious employment than men (26.5% compared to 15.1% of men), and have therefore been, and will be in the long run, significantly impacted by job losses...

In my own words, I wish to highlight that the motherhood gap has never been properly recognised in this State. This has been shown to be particularly relevant during this pandemic. It is not a matter for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; it is absolutely a matter of labour market optimisation and must be recognised by the financial Departments of this State as such.

The report continues:

whereas research from Eurofound shows that the Covid-19 crisis poses a serious risk of rolling back decades of gains achieved in gender equality in labour market participation, particularly if activity is further hampered in sectors overrepresented by women; whereas research shows that the reduction in the gender employment gap has stagnated over the past few years...

whereas Covid-19 has exposed a long-standing problem in care provision in many EU Member States; whereas care needs to be viewed holistically along a continuum, from childcare to after-school care, to care for those with disabilities and to care for older persons.

I say this for every woman in Ireland tonight:

whereas the closure of schools, care centres and workplaces has increased the unequal distribution of non-paid domestic and care responsibilities within the home for women who, often in addition to balancing working from home, were left without sufficient support for child and elderly care; whereas remote working is not a substitute for childcare; whereas women usually spend 13 hours more each week than men on unpaid care and housework [except in my house, of course. My husband is wonderful]; whereas the Covid-19 crisis has been an opportunity for men to become more involved in care responsibilities, yet has also revealed how uneven the share of care and housework still is, which will most likely affect women and girls more severely; whereas balancing telework and family responsibilities adds additional strain, and women therefore face an increased emotional, mental and social burden; whereas this could result in fewer achievements at work and have an impact on their professional development compared to their male peers;

I know that what I am saying here rings true to women listening tonight. The report goes on:

whereas a disproportionate and extreme burden has been placed on single parents, 85% of whom are women amounting to 6.7 million single-mother households in the EU, almost half of which are at serious risk of social exclusion or poverty;

whereas survey results show that Covid-19 had a heavier impact on women with young children than on men with the same household situation; whereas almost one third (29%) of women with young children found it hard to concentrate on their work, compared to 16% of men with young children; whereas twice as many women with children (29%) were likely to feel too tired after work to do household work, compared to 16% of men; whereas in April 2020 women with children aged 0-11 were more likely to feel tense than men with children in the same age range (23% vs 19%), or to feel lonely (14% vs 6%) and depressed (14% vs 9%);...

whereas women are not as equally involved as men when it comes to decision-making in the recovery phase, due to the existing glass ceiling; whereas women, and their representative civil society organisations [such as this House], must play an active and central role in decision-making processes to ensure that their perspectives and needs are taken into account in the decision-making, design, implementation and monitoring of the recovery phase...

It is clear that these issues persist across the EU, and that this State is not alone in its failure to include and respect women and their abilities in every walk of our State and society. It is crucial that we address the under-representation of women in this House, the representative Chamber of our democracy.

Women and men are different. There is no reason to pretend otherwise or to want it to be otherwise. This week, I looked at the research published by Women for Election, showing the overwhelming proportion of women in politics who needed to be asked to run, rather than putting themselves forward. Is this a reticence or a mark of a lack of confidence, as some have perceived? Or is it actually just an inherently different female trait that needs to be anticipated and accommodated as just as valid an approach as any other? I include myself in this apparent strike against women's advancement, having had to be asked to run. Perhaps this difference in approach reflects that women and men are different, and it is this very difference in approach and their range of approaches that is a strength to society. The pressure for women to behave in any way that is other than what they are naturally, is itself a strike against their natural participation. We need more women in this House. We need more women bringing their brilliant, natural selves and the depth of their personal and professional experience and skill. We need more women being themselves, participating in their own way in their own style, with their own style, without fear of the stupidity of most of the comments to which they can be subjected for doing so, which silences them. We need it everywhere else too.

During the Covid crisis, I hear from shattered women everyday. If they are working, it is likely that they are in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment or on the frontline. If they are caring for children with special needs, they are terrified. They feel imprisoned and are terrified of catching Covid. They worry who will mind their children if they die. If they have a problem with alcohol or food, it is magnified. If they are working from home, they are doing the times tables and spelling with their children between Zoom meetings. If they are living with a violent partner, they feel that there is no escape. In overcrowded housing, they are moving piles of people and piles of stuff - physical, emotional and psychological. Globally, the Covid crisis is hammering everybody, but it is hammering women in particular. Ireland is not immune from this.

Last Saturday there was a violent attack on the Garda at an anti-lockdown demonstration. My father was a Superintendent in An Garda Síochána, so my thoughts were immediately with the families of the gardaí. I remember, as a child, sitting on the pillar in my front garden on the day of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, waiting for him to come home. It was long before the days of mobile phones. Saturday's demonstration was a threat to public health and a right kick in the teeth to all of us, but it was a particular insult to our healthcare workers, cleaners, supermarket workers, teachers and SNAs, women who have been heroes this year.

Beyond the violence, there were ordinary women and girls, mostly not well-off, and many misinformed, misled and manipulated by two sides: first, by some elements of the media who riled them up one week and excoriated them the next; and second, by the far right, who have nothing to offer these women but fear, hate and lies, and the possibility of a fine, or worse, a criminal record. They create trouble for them and trouble for all of us. These women do not matter to the populist politics of the right, where "welfare cheats cheat us all", and migrants are left to drown in the Mediterranean. These women do not matter because they are outside of the tight, patriarchal circle of power, influence, leaks and access.

On International Women's Day, the challenge for us, as democrats and parliamentarians, is to ask how these and other women are being manipulated in this dangerous world of division and disinformation.

Ireland is a tiny island where practically everyone knows everyone else. Excoriating each other as "deplorables", as people did in the US, would destroy our communities. We are too small an island to allow that to happen and, if we did, it would be democracy itself that would pay the price.

Will we make the effort to reach out to women and girls in difficult situations and, instead of mocking them and pointing fingers at them as we did in the past, can we listen to their worries? Women without money and security are terrified in this Covid crisis. Most are not spending lockdown in airy villas looking out on views of the sea or a Victorian square. The women who contact me across north Kildare are barely breathing with fear and loss. They have hardly any money, inadequate supports and are coping with overcrowding. On International Women's Day, and every day, we need to listen to women in this country. In particular, we need to listen to their experiences during this pandemic.

In my first year as a Teachta Dála, I have been involved in all kinds of debates affecting women and dealing with the legacy of this conservative State. It is not enough to have more women in politics; we need more women who reject the politics of the patriarchy, which is the politics of austerity, cuts and poverty. Throughout this island, women are at the heart of every community group and local project. Could the Covid-19 crisis and other issues have been handled differently if we had diverse, progressive women at decision-making tables? I believe the answer is "Yes". It seems to me that we have been facing a reckoning in this State over the recent period and it is now time truly to listen to women. As we plan for life after Covid, the women of Sinn Féin will give our all to changing and challenging the residual elements in the patriarchal State apparatus that are trying to hold back the change that is so badly needed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak as we are about to celebrate International Women's Day on Monday, on the effect of the Covid-19 crisis on women. Often, when we stand to speak on a particular issue in this House, we do so to raise a criticism, grievance or problem. Today, however, I am going to take the opportunity to talk as much as I can about the positive advances in the lives of women that have been made over recent decades.

I begin by pointing to the position of women in politics in an Irish context. Forty years ago, in 1981, we had eight female Deputies, which equated to 5.4% of all Deputies. Today, we have 36 female Deputies, making up 22.5% of the total. In a society where women account for a majority of the population, it is appropriate that female voices be heard in this decision-making Chamber. Many colleagues may not be aware that I am only the second female to be elected to Dáil Éireann for the Wexford constituency. The first was Avril Doyle, who served as a Deputy and Senator for 20 years and as an MEP for ten years. In the space of 100 years, just two female Deputies have been elected in County Wexford. I am not for one second suggesting that a female Deputy is better than a male Deputy, but it must be of benefit that a wider diversity of views are represented in this House. When making decisions on legislation that impacts people's lives, it is of great benefit to be able to make those decisions with input from people with different perspectives.

In an Irish context, the idea of educating boys and girls to the same level is taken for granted. Educational attainment levels for both males and females have increased massively over the past 30 years. In 1991, just 13.6% of all Irish people had a third level education, whereas that figure now stands at 42%. The data suggest that a greater number of women than men achieve a third level qualification. At second level, girls regularly outperform boys in language subjects, while boys regularly outperform girls in the maths-based subjects. Overall, comparisons between the results of males and females suggest that achievement levels are largely similar, with girls, on average, achieving slightly higher leaving certificate results. This suggests that we have an education system that gets the balance right.

Unfortunately, not all countries in the world can claim to support women in education to the same degree as they support men. UNICEF claims that only 66% of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. At second level, the gap widens, with 45% of countries achieving gender parity in lower secondary education and 25% in upper secondary education. Poverty and child marriage are cited as two of the main factors in this disparity between boys and girls. For example, poor families often favour boys when investing in education. In the lowest income brackets worldwide, only 47% of women are literate. Turning back to education in an Irish context, the statistics and figures show that we are moving in the right direction. This is positive news.

When compared with 40 or 50 years ago, the number of women who play sport in this country has gone through the roof, as have the number of sports clubs catering for women. There has never been a better era for women to play sports than the current one. There has never been as much women's sport on television or as much sponsorship for women's sports. All of these things illustrate the fantastic advances that were made over the past 40 to 50 years. Progress will, no doubt, continue to be made in this regard. Thinking of some of our best female sportspeople, I can point to the fantastic camogie team my county has had in recent years. Players such as Kate Kelly, Ursula Jacob, Mags D'Arcy and many more have inspired a whole generation of girls to play the sport, while Rianna Jarrett is currently doing likewise for hundreds of young female soccer fans. On a national level, we have some world-leading sportswomen, including Katie Taylor, Ciara McGeehan, Fionnuala McCormack, Rachael Blackmore and many others, who continue to inspire young girls to take part in sport. In recent months, Lisa Jacob, an Enniscorthy native who has been capped 139 times for Ireland, was made the Irish women's hockey team Olympic team coach. These are all reasons to celebrate.

Up to this point, I have referred to the positives in an Irish context. It would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the many atrocities being carried out worldwide against women. One that immediately springs to mind is the ongoing kidnappings of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Hundreds of girls have been kidnapped and subsequently disappeared in that country over the past five years. Only last week, 317 were abducted in the latest attack. The situation of Princess Latifa, currently being held captive by her father, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is another example of the consequences of an attitude that seeks to suppress women at every opportunity. We also recently saw a member of the Qatari royal family refusing to acknowledge female football officials in that country, which is the venue for the next FIFA World Cup.

We can often dwell too much on cosmetic solutions. It is easy to apply a gender quota to a political party at election time. It takes more guts, however, to deal with the bigger issues. We must not ignore the real and significant anti-female discrimination that is going on in the world. While I have so far focused on the positives in Ireland, we are still far from perfect. I have been vocal in my support for carers in this country, most of whom are women. A pension solution was committed to in the programme for Government, but after a year in office, there appears to be little progress made on this matter by Government. These are the types of policies that help the lives of women in Ireland in practical terms. Sharing hashtags on International Women's Day will not solve the problems they face. Only committed and determined action will do that. Fortunately, Ireland has made great progress over the past 40 to 50 years and, overall, we must be positive. Progress is being made and I hope to continue to be part of that progress for women and for society.

There is much more awareness now of menstrual health and the importance of the provision of adequate supplies to woman who are impoverished and homeless. The UN and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly recognised menstrual hygiene as a human right, as has the Oireachtas women's caucus. We need to ensure that no woman in this country is unable to access menstrual products due to poverty or is reluctant to ask for provisions due to embarrassment. We need to ensure that the shackles of Catholic guilt no longer prevent women or men from talking about so-called private things.

Gender equality should be for everyone. Issues affecting women affect everyone. The values of the women's caucus are equality, solidarity, democracy and diversity, values that we all believe in as men and women, for men and women.

I hope we will never again see women treated as they were treated in the mother and baby homes. We must do what we can to support men and women such as those whose stories of illegal adoption we watched on "RTÉ Investigates" last night.

I do not subscribe to the notion of identity politics. It seems to burrow its way into almost every political debate, with the aim of pitting certain sections of society against each other. We must celebrate the good in every section of society. Should I be fortunate enough to get the opportunity to speak on International Men's Day, I will use it as an opportunity to speak about all that is good about men, but, for today, let us celebrate all that is good about women and remember the great progress that has been made over recent decades.

I thank Deputy Verona Murphy for those words of wisdom.

I am delighted to get a chance to speak on the impact of Covid-19 on women for International Women's Day. I have been lucky to know some great and gifted women in my lifetime. We have seen in the past 12 months how our medical professionals, most of them women, have been to the fore in tackling the Covid-19 crisis. Some are doctors and others are nurses, carers and home helps. They have suffered bravely to save the lives of so many. It saddened me to see how student nurses, many of them women, were treated by our Government. It refused to give them a pay rise.

On International Women's Day, we must remember all the great women who have gone before us. I read recently of Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll from west Cork, sister of the great General Michael Collins. She left west Cork and won a seat in Dublin North and still raised 14 children. It is women like her who shaped this country.

My own childhood heroes were Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Lady Diana of Wales. These were two people who shaped the world differently. While the life of the latter was cut short, she, in her short life, touched the world with kindness and care. Mother Teresa saved tens of thousands of lives with her steely determination to help and care.

I have always looked up to modern-day female heroes. Consider the massive fight that Vera Twomey has taken up not only for her daughter but also for every other person who suffers intolerable pain in this country and who is in need of medicinal cannabis. Vera has moved mountains to overcome intolerable, nonsensical blockages. While she has still to climb over more hurdles, it looks like the State has woken up and is now standing up to its responsibilities. This would never have happened but for Vera Twomey, this truly great woman. I saw today on social media that, four years ago, she had to walk from Cork to Dublin in protest to try to fight for the cause for many of the ordinary people of this country, including her daughter Ava.

When I talk about great women, I should refer to one of west Cork's greatest businesswoman of all time, namely, Colette Twomey, famous for Clonakilty black pudding. She has overseen the growth of Clonakilty Food Company with her family. The food product is well known and second to none, as well I know because I sample it every morning. Although Colette been part of the building of her great company and creating good jobs in Clonakilty, she still devotes her time to the community and voluntary sector. Down through the years, she has done so for the people of Clonakilty and beyond.

I have been lucky to see great sportspeople like Lily de la Cour from Bantry, a kick-boxing champion who has given joy to so many spectators down through the years. The discipline she has shown in her sport is staggering. This leads me on to the greatest sportsperson Ireland has ever produced, namely, Katie Taylor, from Bray. One could not get enough time to speak about this astonishing sportsperson and her focus on her sport. The respect she has for others is staggering. She has to be one of Ireland's greatest female sportspersons of all time. Of course she is loved by the people of her native town, Bray. Her return to the Martello Hotel, Bray, a hotel of excellence, when the pandemic ends is greatly anticipated.

Another woman who deserves greater recognition in this country is Kathy Sinnott. Kathy is a long-term advocate for children with special needs. She has spoken out and focused on these lovely children and their needs.

These women, many of whom are from west Cork, are but a few who have changed the course of Irish history and who have not sought too much limelight for doing so. The approach to Covid-19 and the treatment of women leave a lot to be desired in this country. I hope that, in time, people will respect the women for the way in which they have respected the people of this country.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, up-to-date data and reports from those on the front line have shown that all types of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, have intensified. It is hard to believe that one in three women in Ireland is affected by domestic violence. It is not confined to class, age, sexuality, religion or disability. It has been named as the shadow pandemic. Some 243 million women and girls worldwide have experienced violence by a partner in the past year. Some of the contributing factors are health and money worries, cramped living conditions, being isolated with abusers, movement restrictions and deserted public spaces.

With International Women's Day in mind, I appeal to everyone to look out for the signs that we often miss and to be alert to domestic violence. In an earlier debate, I said all employers have been asked to recognise the three Rs: recognise, respond and refer. On a separate point, in the words of Vicky Phelan, we should keep asking questions and for clarification regarding women's health.

It is on record that the State has a long history of not treating women as equals. This has to stop. We are responsible for this. So many major issues have arisen in which women were not considered by the State, including the issue of cervical cancer screening, the issue of mother and baby homes, and lower the rate of promotion of women in the Dáil. I am happy that history was made when Deputy Connolly was made Leas-Chathaoirleach. I was one of the people who voted for her. There have been major concerns over the waiting time for cancer screening. I urge Departments and the Government to accelerate the process. What is the healthcare plan for women? Do we really want a repeat of the cervical screening affair?

I would not be here today only for my mother. I would not be here today only for my wife and family giving me support. Some 75% of my office staff are women. I always have treated women as equals, and that is the way it should go. I am from a farming background. All women were treated as equals in our household. That is the way I was brought up. I am happy today to support women in whatever way I can as they have supported me throughout my life.

I thank Deputy O'Donoghue. Last but by no means least is Deputy Catherine Connolly.

I am tempted to start with a joke. The content of the debate reminds me of a joke that is doing the rounds. A woman goes forward for a full-time job that she really wants but in the course of the interview, the interviewers, who obviously have a man in mind for the position, tell her the job is really very onerous and that it involves the work of two men. She asks: "Oh God, is it part time, so?"

The Deputy did not do too badly herself at the last interview.

I thank the Minister and the two Ministers of State for remaining here and I thank them for their thoughtful contributions. I was struck by all three contributions. I doubt that any Minister other than the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, has acknowledged that a patriarchal society still exists, sexism still exists and women still face misogyny in everyday life. He stated women are over-represented in the sectors that have been badly affected by the pandemic. The Ministers of State, Deputies Rabbitte and Butler, also made very interesting contributions, which I welcome. I, too, have all the statistics here. We have heard them and I am not going to repeat them. I am going to use my five minutes to ask the Minister and Ministers of State, considering that they are now in leadership positions, what they are going to do about the issues that arise.

Let us consider domestic violence. Covid has put the spotlight on inequality in Ireland. As somebody who has the privilege of coming from a large family, equally balanced with seven boys and seven girls, I am all for equality. We are putting the spotlight on women and women's rights today simply because women have suffered and continue to suffer at a rate that is completely unacceptable.

Let us look at domestic violence. We know what the figures are and we know we do not have enough refuges. It is a simple, practical matter to make them available. It is not that hard. We have been talking in terms of Monopoly money, amounting to billions of euro. I do not mean to be dismissive but in the midst of providing all that money, we did not say we needed more refuges and that we would build them and make them multipurpose in the hope that they would not always be necessary and could then be used for something else.

The pandemic put the spotlight on childcare. What is the answer? It is that we look on childcare as an essential service and that the State should provide it on a non-profit basis. There is always room for the private sector in every sphere of life but the State must be seen to provide childcare because it is an essential service. The State must also be seen to provide housing, not as a commodity, something to be traded on the international market or something for vulture funds, but as a home where we can provide security so children and parents can take part in society. These are basic things and we can do something about them.

The theme for this year is women in leadership. It is a worthy theme but it is not something that jumps out at me. What jumps out at me over the last year are the women and men on the ground who have struggled gallantly so that the health service could continue and children with disabilities could be minded at home. I might come back to what the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, said about that in a minute. I know people in my area who are minding loved ones with Alzheimer's disease 24 hours a day. The Tánaiste's comments, made when he was Taoiseach, distinguishing people getting up early in the morning still grate on me because some people do not get to bed at all. They are up all night minding others and saving the State a fortune.

The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, made a comment, with which I agree, about parents of children with disabilities and how they have always been sort of locked down. The difference this time was that we could have made a decision as a society to designate services for children with special needs as essential. We can still do that so that never again will we repeat the mistake of leaving children at disabilities at home regressing. That is a practical step that could be taken.

Public health has been utterly ignored. The Crowe Horwath report was published in December 2018, well before the pandemic. It was a moderate report, not a very radical one, which highlighted what was needed. Public health is a profession that is dominated by women which was utterly ignored, leaving us ill-prepared for the pandemic and the other pandemics that will come our way.

We also ignored student nurses in the pandemic. We could have done something practical very quickly. We did not do that either. Then we set up NPHET and left off women's voices. I see the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, nodding and I know her heart is in the right place but she is in power and can make decisions that change things. I am not giving out about NPHET but it was never fit for purpose. I know its members worked into the night and were up early every morning but NPHET was not representative. Its did not have eyes to see the consequences of its decisions. That was and remains fatal. That, too, can be changed. There was a structure in place for emergency preparation but it was not used. It was simply ignored.

On top of that, as it happens, because politics are dominated by men, we have the three wise men, as I call them, at the top and we sometimes see a great lack of wisdom. The challenge is for women to take power, stand up, take courage in our hands and show the way. I do that as best I can in opposition because that is the role I have. We all perform our role as best we can. It is time to recognise the work on the ground that is underpaid, unpaid and undervalued and which keeps our economy going.

There is something we can do, as the Ceann Comhairle asked. Instead of having statements once a year, we could gender-proof and poverty-proof all our budgets and policies to ensure we have an equal society because that would be better for all of us in the end and would lead to a thriving and sustainable economy.

It is superb that the House has responded positively to the request from the Oireachtas women's caucus to have this debate to mark International Women's Day and to acknowledge the fact that we have our second Oireachtas women's caucus, it having been initially established with the driving force of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. I commend those who have participated in the debate. It has been interesting, challenging and, at times, profound. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said and as Deputy Bríd Smith challenged, notwithstanding that, I hope to be in a position, on behalf of Members of the Thirty-third Dáil, to announce an initiative in the next week or two that would demonstrate practical moves this Dáil can take to ensure that in the future we have far more women present in the Dáil and Seanad and a more family-friendly and inclusive - and I mean "inclusive" in all its manifestations - Parliament. That is something I am determined we should do.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has been paid tribute to in the course of this debate and rightly so. As someone in my last term in this office, I look forward to being able to vote for a female candidate to occupy this Chair on a full-time basis come the next election. I just hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle does not want me to go beforehand.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh. Leis sin tá gnó na seachtaine tagtha chun deiridh. Tá an Dáil ar athló go dtí an 10 Márta seo chugainn ag 10 a.m.

I am afraid not.

Okay. I was misinformed. I had a speech and everything. Apologies.

The Minister will have to get his team to brief him better. We would love to listen to him but I am afraid we cannot.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.27 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 10 March 2021.