To the women of 1916

Constance Markievicz
Rosie Hackett
Elizabeth O’Farrell
Margaret Skinnider
Kathleen Lynn

100 years on from your inspirational days of 1916, where you declared a republic, demanded equality and cherished all the children of the nation equally I thought you might like an update.

Well Rosie, we now have the first women leader of the congress of trades unions and you have a bridge named after you.

Margaret, we have women at practically every level of our defence forces.

Elizabeth, we have more women studying medicine now than ever before in the State.

Kathleen, child inoculation is carried out free of charge to every child in the state and we have eliminated many childhood diseases.

Constance, we have universal suffrage from the age of 18. That all looks good when you write it down but I can’t help wondering with all the improvements and breakthroughs, will it take another 100 years to actually achieve equality in our society.

We passed our first legislation on equal pay as far back as 1974. While this ensures that men and women are paid the same amount for the exact same job it doesn’t legislate for how we value jobs. After over 40 years of this legislation, jobs carried out predominately by women are valued less than those by men. For example, the childcare industry has lower rates of pay than the warehousing industry. Over 60% of women participate in today’s workforce. As well as their paid employment these same women still maintain the caring responsibility for the family, do the vast majority of housework and support the caring of aging parents.

You fought so hard for the vote and even included it in the Proclamation of Independence. You will be disappointed to know that we had an election recently and only 65% of the electorate voted. Young people in particular seem disengaged from politics. They don’t see it as relevant to their lives.

You embraced the new technology of your time by sending out messages through Morse code during the Rising. You must have been excited at the developments like cinema, you might have seen the films shown in Mary Street. Technology has moved on. There’s a thing called the internet. Images, sound and text can be transmitted, instantly worldwide. We live in an instant society.

But what does this mean? Because you can have multiple conversations with multiple groups of people simultaneously, it’s difficult to organise people around issues, everyone posts their opinions and rants on Facebook and online. People feel that they have had their say. But it has gone nowhere. People opinions are invisible and left in cyber space. It is really difficult to organise protests so that the decisions makers can see how people are feeling. Most worrying of all is how much the internet has taken over every part of our lives, most especially for young women.

There’s a new phenomenon called celebrity, people who are famous for doing nothing in particular. We are bombarded with images of these people telling us how we should look, what we should eat and even what we should think. The body image portrayed by the media is unattainable and unhealthy. There is a whole industry built around pursuing this image. We have diets, supplements and we have many young women with eating disorders. What goes on in the life of the celebrity is far more important than really important issues to a lot of young people today.

We don’t finish school till we are 18/19 and while it’s excellent that we have the time for free education it really shocks me that in 1916 there were 14 and 15 year old activists who really knew a lot about the politics of the time.

We have moved on a great deal but I can’t help envying you and the camaraderie you must have experienced. Working together, supporting each other and fighting for a common cause must have been fulfilling. I hope that my generation can move the cause of equality further on its journey and leave inspirational role models for the next generation.

Yours in solidarity,
Deirdre Dunne
Dublin 11

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