LW celebrates 40 years of Labour Women

Posted on November 13, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Labour Women Conference - Celebrating 40 Years of Labour Women

lw conference 2011 panel LW Conference panel Minister Joan Burton TD, Senator Susan O'Keeffe, Senator Ivana Bacik, Cllr Emer Costello, Cllr Niamh Breathnach, Cllr Mary Freehill who looked back on the 40years of Labour Women - all have played their part in Labour Women

The Lord Mayor Cllr Andrew Montague opened the event with his welcoming words. 'We have made progress in the 40 years that Labour Women have been working for women's advancement in politics, but we continue to have a lack of women in political decision-making. It is particularly at local level where we must attract women to put themselves forward in election.' The Lord Mayor has been a long-standing supporter of more balanced politics and issues that affect women.

lw conference 2011 LW Conference 2011

Katherine Dunne, the outgoing Chair of Labour Women presented Chair's Report outlining Labour Women activities during her term as the Chair. 'The focus of the Executive has been on the following main areas: Implementation of the Bacik Report on Women's political participation, Women Candidates, Policy, and Campaigns and Communications. As the General Election fell within the term of the Executive we were concerned with ensuring that increased numbers of women candidates were selected and that those running were given appropriate supports. This included a big increase in fundraising activities for the New Women Candidates' Fund. We also held Labour Women General Meetings and Public Meetings as well as Training and Networking Days and Workshops.'

The Party Leader Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore TD gave the key note address, the traditional highlight of the Conference. He reiterated the party's and Government's commitment to legislate for the political parties to put forward a certain percentage of women candidates.

'The forthcoming Electoral (Political Funding) (Amendment) Bill, to be published this Dáil session, will provide that political parties will have their funding cut in half after the next general election, unless at least 30 per cent of their candidates are women, and 30 per cent are men. This will rise to 40 per cent after seven years. This was a core policy commitment of Labour in opposition, and is being implemented by Labour in Government. The aim of this legislation is not to penalise political parties, but to incentivise them to actively encourage women to stand for election. But even without this incentive, the 2014 local elections will be a critical milestone. Let no one be in any doubt: we will not increase women's representation in the Dáil unless we increase their representation at local level.'

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore TD Speech link

To celebrate the 40 years of Labour Women our panel looked back on the achievements, challenges, tears and joys of it all. Senator Susan O'Keeffe chaired the afternoon session.
Joan Burton TD, Minister for Social Protection, opened the session. She looked back at the groundbreaking time of the campaign for Mary Robinson. Labour's women's group preceded that campaign, and had already worked many years for women's political voice to be heard. 'In the Labour Party we have been quite good about women's participation in issues, but it has been more challenging to advance the electoral success of women. If we continuously arrive at a situation where no more than 15% of the Dail is women we must conclude that something is wrong. If enough women do participate women are seen more as representatives on their ideas rather than just being women. Labour Women can play a valuable role in this.' Joan is a very popular TD amongst Labour Women, and one of the leading lights for women in politics.

Cllr Mary Freehill looked back on the 70's when Labour Women was first set up. 'The Women's Advisory Council was set up on the insistence of Labour's women. Alice O'Sullivan, who is attending the Conference today, was one of them.'
The issues affecting women then were unequal pay, marriage bar, no right to ownership of one's home, no right to sit in juries, girl schools had a limited range of subjects, contraception was not freely available, divorce was illegal and there were no refuges for women fleeing domestic violence. To top it all, women were not served pints in pubs!
'The first breakthrough was when Niamh Bhreathnach became the Chair of the Party. In 1974 the Women's Council, as it was known at the time, set up a number of sub-groups to prepare policy papers. The EEC was an ally in that Europe forced Ireland to act on issues such as equal pay. This was the first time when the women had to take a stand against the party because it was seen at the time that equal pay for women would not be good for the economy.'

Cllr Niamh Bhreathnach recalled that it was in fact Mary Freehill who recruited Niamh to the Labour Party. This shows that women who are involved can get more women to get involved. 'The 80's was a time when women went 'from high heels to flat shoes'. We did have many fights with the party, at the time for example we had to have a fight to hold our meetings in the head office. There was a maleness to the party, Michael D was the feminist voice and we looked to Dick Spring for support. '
'I remember how even one woman's voice could make a difference, as was the case with Eileen Desmond. But it was hard to grow, there were no women TDs in the party. Then in 1985 the UN announced the decade of women, and Labour Women listened. The International aspect was important in making us see what was possible, and we could see that elsewhere they were spending money on getting women involved. We wanted that, too.
'In the late 80's Labour Women were finally allowed to have meetings in the head office, a woman spoke at the party conference, we invited international speakers like Kate Millett who raffled some feathers to speak, we had workshops, produced literature and also had fun!'

Cllr Emer Costello was, and one can see the pattern here, encouraged by Niamh to join the Labour Party.
'In the 90's people thought that equality had been achieved, but of course that was not the case. Labour Women started to work on developing the women' section in a very organised way. We asked the party to appoint local women's officers, organised training, drafted policy and took up issues.'
'There were some key events in the 90's such as the x case, the divorce referendum and the 1992 Spring Tide when women Labour TDs were elected. Labour Women had many discussions with the party on the divorce referendum, and tribute must be paid to Brendan Howlin in relation to that. The equality agenda was advanced with Mervyn Taylor as the Minister.'
Emer was the 340th Lord Mayor of Dublin - and only the 7th women Lord Mayor. 'I cut my political teeth in Labour Women', she said. We hope many women will.

Senator Ivana Bacik acknowledged that we have come a long way since Labour Women was set up.
'The sticky floor still exists, however. The 00's were of course the time of the boom and the bust which resulted in an uneven progress for women and men. We now have crèches but most are private and there is no cohesion, 2001 pro-choice motion was accepted yet the issue of abortion is unresolved, prostitution is under the spotlight yet continues to flourish, women's political participation is acted upon but not perhaps enthusiastically embraced.'
'In 2005 35% of Labour's TD were women, yet in 2011 only 22% are women because more Labour TDs were elected and although the number of women TDs went up the proportion of women TDs went down. The forthcoming gender legislation, first introduced by Ciaran Lynch TD, will help when it will be brought to the Cabinet in two weeks' time.'
'Looking forward we still have to work on issues such as women in politics, abortion rights, constitutional change, childcare and paternity issues, and separation of the church and education.'

This year Labour Women members debated motions dealing with distressed homeowners, tax credits for childcare, protection of self-employed women, care during pregnancy and birth, Magdalene laundries, 'fake' marriages and human trafficking. A lively debate was a testament to the vibrancy of the women in the Labour Party, who with their passion and belief in a better society make Labour Women proud. Labour Women would like to thank everyone who attended the Conference!


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