SPONSORED: KATHLEEN FUNCHION: Now is the time to rebuild a more equal, inclusive and resilient society for all
From medical staff on the frontline to the mothers of vulnerable children struggling to care for them at home, every aspect of women’s lives has been impacted by the lockdown.
But writing in KilkennyNow.ie, Carlow-Kilkenny TD Kathleen Funchion says much more needs to be done to address inequality in our society as we emerge from the pandemic.
Women have proven time and again that they can be on the frontlines of disaster response. Whether in the home, our hospitals, in our communities, as carers or at the highest levels of business and industry – if only they are given the chance.
This year’s International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to women and the crucial role they have played in their communities, their workplaces and in their homes throughout this unprecedented public health emergency.
The burden of caring and homeschooling has predominately, and unfairly, fallen on the shoulders of women. There is much work to be done in terms of public policy to address this continuing inequality. The Government needs a far clearer focus on integrating gender-focused policy. Focusing on women’s self-reliance and empowerment results in better humanitarian outcomes for all. It leads to a better and more equal society.
A recent research report by UN Women found that when women are provided with direct financial or resource assistance, they enjoy greater control over household spending decisions and improved results for all family members. It also found the benefits of gender-focused action by industry and Government far outweigh the cost.
The cost of ineffective public and government policy in relation to the prevention of domestic violence are significant, and this has been borne out in reports by many organisations working in the sector.
Last year marked 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 has unfolded during the pandemic is a deepening of pre-existing inequalities. Women’s workloads with schools, creches and workplaces closed increased exponentially. Every aspect of women’s lives has been impacted by the pandemic. Women’s physical and mental health and economic and social security have all been exaggerated by virtue of their sex.
There is growing consensus that gender equality has taken a big step back during the pandemic. The past 12 months have been a particularly difficult time for women from marginalised groups and disadvantaged backgrounds, as they are further isolated from vital help and supports.
It is clear women are at increased risk of infection and loss of livelihood. Existing trends suggest women have less access to health supports and the rise in domestic violence throughout public health crisis is deeply concerning. Women who are 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. In some cases, these vital pathways to help have all been but shut for 12 months.
Women have been at the heart of care and response efforts. Women have stepped up and filled the unpaid and paid care roles by the thousands, all the time juggling with work while home schooling their children and, in many cases, caring for elderly and vulnerable family members.
I am alarmed by the impact Covid-19 and the restrictions is having on women who are caring for vulnerable and disabled children. They have carried an unbearable burden during the lockdown and I am in awe of the dedication and strength they have shown during these extremely difficult times.
With the end of the pandemic in sight, we must be cognisant that any recovery must lead to a more equal Ireland and an Ireland 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.
In future, women’s equal representation in all public health emergency response planning and decision making must be paramount. And a priority for Government must be that we address the inequality of pay in the care economy.
Women fill the majority of roles in 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 as a great test for our 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 to simply repeat past policies and fail to use this moment to rebuild a more equal, inclusive and resilient society for all.
Kathleen Funchion is a TD for Carlow-Kilkenny and Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for Children and Youth Affairs