There Are as Many Women in Ireland as Men. and We're Better Educated. So Why Are We Still Trampled on in the Workplace?

Daily Mail (London), February 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

There Are as Many Women in Ireland as Men. and We're Better Educated. So Why Are We Still Trampled on in the Workplace?


Byline: by Susan O'Keeffe

IT'S heartening to know that Ireland is perfect. When it comes to gender balance that is. Apparently, 2008 figures reveal that we are unique among EU states in having 100 women per 100 men. Nature has persisted despite everything in offering us the chance of true equality.

And what have we done with it? Well, while those amazing figures may offer dating agencies a whole new business opportunity, it hardly comes as any surprise to discover that the numbers are about the only place where equality occurs. Irish society continues to be run largely by men.

Look around you. Watch the interviews on television and listen on radio. More men's voices and faces every day reinforce the version of our world which is that men run it and are entitled to do so.

Forget the fact that the European Union introduced equality legislation into the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Yes, Europe has made a difference but the average hourly figures in this CSO report, Women And Men In Ireland, show women still earn 13 per cent less than men. Without the smoothing offered by statisticians, that gap will be much wider in some cases.

Stop and try to explain why that is and find yourself scratching your head until hell freezes over because it defies rational explanation.

Yes, it was the case 50 or 60 years ago but we have managed to adapt wonderfully in the meantime in all sorts of areas -- to satellite television, the mobile phone and a million other markers for progress.

Not, however, to equal pay for women. That remains firmly in the last century, along with more women than men still doing secretarial work and employed in the health and education sectors.

Then look again at this report and read that Irish women actually have better educational qualifications than men.

Specifically, just over half of young women aged between 25 and 34 were university educated, compared to under 40 per cent of men. That is a significant difference which is not borne out in the market place where men still dominate. Perhaps it's not surprising that a higher number of women are hospitalised for depression.

UNFORTUNATELY what this report cannot do is assess levels of confidence in men and women. I remember working alongside a man who really did not have the basic skills required and he left our office quite quickly when his shortcomings were repeatedly made clear.

We checked his CV and realised that he had talked the talk very well indeed. In other words, he lied. But that didn't stop him and he rose to become a boss in another department -- he simply made more of his meagre experience than any woman would have dared and the men employing him liked his confident demeanour.

Of course, confidence is not the only reason why men are in more influential positions in Ireland -- in finance, business, the judicial system, the civil service and politics. Ours is still a patriarchal world, wrestling with the remnants of influence from an extremely patriarchal Catholic Church which manifestly found little way of welcoming women as equal.

I remember arguing with the parish priest about being allowed to speak from the altar about my mother at her funeral. Yes, I won the argument but the argument had to be had -- a mere ten years ago. The Church's weight and influence here should not be underestimated. Its treatment of women as second-class citizens allowed, and surely encouraged, its justification everywhere else as well and while this influence is waning, great ships of state turn slowly and with great difficulty. …

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