Women in local politics were celebrated and the women's issues of today were highlighted at a recent gathering in Letterkenny. Caitlin Laird reports on the eye-opening event:
Many women gathered at the Donegal County Museum on Thursday the 13th of June to celebrate the role of women in over 120 years of local government.
The event, hosted by the Women’s Council of Ireland, coincided with the museum currently hosting a pop-up exhibition on ‘100 Years of Women in Politics and Public Life’.
This was an amazing exhibition and it was like walking back in time as you could see pictures, videos, stories and descriptions to educate visitors.
After getting a good look around at the exhibition everyone gathered in a room to hear a talk about women in politics that was very interesting and also very eye-opening.
The talks started off with Orla O’Connor who is the Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI).
Orla made many important points about women and how we need to pay tribute to the “pioneering women who put themselves forward and to the 17 women who ran in the local election in Donegal and the four that were elected.”
The figures in Donegal for women representation is very low. As of now, women make up 10.8% of County Councillors in Donegal, which rose from 8.1% in 2014.
Orla said that “we can not afford to wait any longer for representation” as an increase of two per cent is not good enough.
She finished off with saying that “we want feminist values to be at the heart of that representation.”
'We need stronger commitments rooted in law and with sanctions to increase women's representation at local level. We need quotas. The numbers speak for themselves and without quotas the pace of change is too slow' – Orla O'Connor, NWCI. #LocalGov
— Womenscouncilireland (@NWCI) June 13, 2019
The next speaker was Marian Harkin MEP. She made a point that people say today “why do we need to promote gender equality in politics?”, but it is more “why do we STILL need to promote gender equality in politics?”
This resulted in the room erupting with clapping and cheers and she went on to talk of other women in politics and how “empathy is the trait most needed in political leaders.”
Sinead McCoole who is the Curator of the Pop Up Women’s Museum, Commemorations Unit, Departure of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, highlighted women in history and how important it is to celebrate what we have achieved throughout the years.
Angela Byrne who is a Historian at Ulster University, based her speech on Kate McCarry who lived in Letterkenny and who made local political history.
McCarry was elected to the Urban District Council in 1925 and was the only woman on a council of eight. Angela made the point of this amazing moment in local history that nobody knows about. A woman would not be elected after this for another 40 years.
The floor was then open to a panel discussion. Among the panel were women who are working in different ways and outlets to help local women including Danielle Bonner from the Donegal Women’s Network, Finola Brennan from 50:50 Northwest, Siobhan McLaughlin from the Donegal Travellers Project and also local councillor Noreen McGarvey and advocate Thoiba Ahmed.
Strong points were made, including politics to be an optional subject in all-girls schools like it is in some of all boys schools, to bring about social change and acceptance for migrant people in Donegal and that we need to have dedicated seats for women in black minority ethnic communities as they don’t have a voice.
This was followed by a question and answer session. Many issues were addressed, and while the event left women frustrated at the system it also left them hopeful for the future of women in local politics.
The ‘100 Years of Women in Politics and Public Life 1918-2018′ pop-up exhibit will remain on display at Donegal County Museum until the end of June.