NCAD support gender equality with popular feminist society

By Tessa Fleming

Kerry Guinan, founder of the feminist society in NCAD. Photo by Tessa Fleming

Feminist groups are actively working in the heart of the capital, Tessa Fleming reports.

Kerry Guinan, a 20 year old from Donabate, founded the feminist society in NCAD. As one of the biggest and most popular societies in the college, one wonders how a group of angry, hairy, men-hating women attract such large support.

As it turns out, Kerry is none of the above. Nor is she a bra-burning revolutionary martyr. In fact, she seems pretty normal.  So, this prompts the question, what on earth is a feminist?

As Guinan says, “That perception of feminism is one completely perpetuated by the media. It does not reflect what feminism is. Feminism is the acknowledgement that women are not treated equally to men, and they struggle to be on equilibrium with them.”

According to Guinan, “People aren’t using their imaginations and envisaging a society where I’m respected despite my gender. People don’t realise we can be better than this, that society can be better. They think we have reached this utopia where everyone is equal. It’s not.”

TD Catherine Byrne was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 2005 and, recognising the importance of childcare services, was involved in the provision of a local playgroup in St. Michael’s Parish, Inchicore during the early eighties. This allowed women the opportunity to pursue a career outside the home.

“I see it as my duty to ensure that all of its citizens receive equal opportunities. If we can achieve better quality, greater choice and more affordable childcare, we will have made progress.”

In the Liberties, childcare takes many forms, from area playgroups to private crèches, breakfast clubs to after-school programmes as well as grandparents and extended family members. However, due to budget cuts, these are the very services which have been targeted and are under threat from staffing and financial problems. This is forcing people, particularly women, out of the workplace and back to the home.

Guinan says “Women and children are attacked first in recessions. I think there should be paternity leave. It’s about the parent’s choice, who wants to stay at home. This is an issue for both genders.”

Women through Irish history have never been given the same prestige as men. Constance Markievicz, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, Maud Gonne and the Liberties own Anne Devlin have been almost written out of the pages of history. Even Nell McCafferty and Mary Robinson’s monumental crusade in the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, bringing a train-load of illegal contraception down from Belfast goes largely un-noticed by history.

Eileen Smith, 59 from Drimnagh, doesn’t agree with feminist groups and believes there is no place for them in society.  “All these demonstrations and women shouting ‘burn your bra’; where has it got us. This used to be a lovely country.” Eileen also condemns the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement as a negative movement for Ireland.

Walking through the Liberties, it seems women don’t give gender equality much thought, with most women saying it doesn’t affect them. Yet according to Dublin City Council’s “women accessing power”, “In 2005, men aged between 15 and 84 years had an average annual income of €31,138. For women in the same age category the average income stood at €20,660 or 66.3 per cent of men’s average earnings.” But scratch below the surface of the issue and it’s easy to see gender inequality in Ireland affects all women.

While one can look around schools and colleges, it may be difficult to see the daily equality struggle women are faced with but one cannot deny the simple fact that it is an ever present problem. “To start with, at the top, our government is 85%. That does not represent our population.”

In 2008, Dublin City Council published a report on Women’s International day stating, “In decision-making processes, women bring a different view. For any decision you need a wide variety of opinions and skills and part of that is a female perspective. In 2006, Ireland had the most gender-balanced population in the EU, with 100 women for every 100 men in the population. A central tenet of democracy is that there is even representation of the population at the level where local and national decisions, policy and strategy are formulated.”

Taking Eileen’s point of view into account, it’s hard not to admire the men and women, throughout the years, who have fought and succeeded in attaining women’s rights. Before the 70s, married women were banned from working in the civil service; children’s allowances were only paid to father’s;  men got paid more than women for doing the same job; wives could not , under law, refuse sex with their husbands and barring orders did not exist to protect women from violent spouses.

It’s clear that young women like Kerry Guinan are the Nell McCaffertys and the Mary Robinsons of this generation. “People think this is as far as we can go, that this is the society we’ve been working towards.” Though some may question the need for feminists in Ireland today, one thing is for certain: “there is nothing permanent except change.”

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