'Women supporting women is key to smashing the inequalities that unfortunately still exist'

Women with Cork links tell ELAINE DUGGAN why they are supporting the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day 2021 (March 8) — ‘Choose To Challenge’
'Women supporting women is key to smashing the inequalities that unfortunately still exist'

Cork City Council, CE Ann Doherty said women supporting women is key in smashing inequalities.

Cork City Council, Chief Executive, Ann Doherty

It’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day to highlight the contribution women make in society that’s often unfairly overlooked.

As Chief Executive of Cork City Council, I’m gratified to work with many talented, strong, and inspiring women both on the staff here at City Hall and amongst our elected members and stakeholders.

WoW! in The Echo today, March 3 is dedicated to International Women's Day.
WoW! in The Echo today, March 3 is dedicated to International Women's Day.

Fostering equality and inclusivity is at the very heart of Cork City Council’s goals and informs all our strategies to make Cork a world class city.

Women supporting women is key to smashing the inequalities that unfortunately still exist, even now in the 21st century.

I’m delighted to say that I CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE sexism, inequality, stereotyping and bias in society.

Cork TD, Holly Cairns.
Cork TD, Holly Cairns.

Holly Cairns, Cork South West TD, Social Democrats

This International Women’s Day, I #ChooseToChallenge the gender imbalance in Irish politics with my #MoreMná campaign.

There are 18 TDs representing Cork city and county in Dáil Éireann. Seventeen of them are men. I am the only woman.

40% of Government committees do not include any female representation. There are no women on the Cabinet Covid-19 Committee, the Cabinet Health Committee, the Committee on Europe or Government Coordination.

We see how the lack of representation fails women time and time again, from the Cervical Check scandal to the Mother and Baby Homes Report, to the gender pay gap.

We can, and must, do better. Balanced representation is not just a gender issue. We need a diversity of voices to highlight the issues that matter to our younger population, to older people, to people with disabilities and to migrants. Let’s #ChooseToChallenge the status quo and make #MoreMná a reality.

County Mayor, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley.
County Mayor, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley.

County Mayor, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley

Although we have seen considerable improvement in female representation in politics, I am only the third woman in 100 years to hold the office of Mayor of the County of Cork.

I would like to urge those with an interest to to consider taking a step towards local politics to support and facilitate greater representation and to better reflect our society.

Each of us has the power to influence change. We need to hear the voices of those that are under-represented to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion. The best time to do this was 20 years ago, the next best time is now!

So, on this International Women’s Day 2021 let us ‘Choose to Challenge’ — stand up for justice and give everyone an equal voice. We must strive to remove prejudice in society, put an end to stereotypes, and help create an inclusive world for all.

Nicole Ryan.
Nicole Ryan.

Nicole Ryan, Founder of Alex’s Adventure

As women, we are bombarded with many unrealistic expectations. “Don’t describe yourself as intelligent, curious sounds less threatening”, “that’s not very ladylike” and “women are so emotional” — we are told how to act, how to speak and how we should look. I worked in a male dominant career where I was told that my place was “to mind children at home” and not amongst the other men in my profession. We as women have unimaginable strength, we birth children, we nurture and care and WE ARE POWERHOUSES with a reservoir of incredible resilience. I challenge every woman to find that power within and challenge the misogyny that still exists today. We are intelligent, we are whatever we want to be, and we are STRONG.

Cork Chamber President Paula Cogan.
Cork Chamber President Paula Cogan.

Paula Cogan, Cork Chamber President

Difficult conversations must be had. Mary Robinson was voted President of Ireland in December, 1990, and I believe for my generation this moment had a significant impact on gender equality. She continues her fight to eradicate, gender bias, inequality, and social injustice. Her words — “In a society where the rights and potential of women are constrained, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom.”

It is up to everyone to call out gender bias, be it in sport, business, education, or any element of society. Calling out bias is not easy, but it is the small steps that make a difference.

Covid-19 will have a much larger economic impact on women in the workplace, but it has also forced us to look at flexible ways of working from home, shared responsibility for childcare, and co-parenting as a normal fact of life.

The simple truth is that diversity and equality is good for business. In a recent Harvard study of 516 U.S firms who were impacted by the financial crisis, those who had female representation on the board reduced the negative impact on the company considerably as more measured strategies for recovery were adopted. If you do not see it, you cannot be it.

Principal of Cork College of Commerce, Helen Ryan.
Principal of Cork College of Commerce, Helen Ryan.

Helen Ryan, Principal, Cork College of Commerce

When I was growing up, I was a little wounded by the fact that my father never noticed when I had a new hair-cut or when I wore some mad new outfit. Over the years I realised that he never noticed packaging. He noticed the essence of me, not the frills. I aspire to be like him. I challenge me to do the same. To realise that the essence of every individual is what matters. To celebrate the potential and the realisation of the potential of every individual life.

In doing that, everyone is equal and everything is positive. If we concentrate on the essence rather than the packaging then gender, race and every other packaging becomes immaterial except for the richness which they bring to the essence.

I choose to challenge in my home life and in my work life. In education, we want to bring the best forward by doing our best for all. In challenging ourselves, we improve, we become better.

Fatou Barry, Career Coach & Job Search Strategist
Fatou Barry, Career Coach & Job Search Strategist

Fatou Barry Career Coach & Job Search Strategist

 "I choose to challenge my fellow ambitious and career-driven women, whether they are running their own business or climbing the corporate ladder, to never pigeonhole themselves. Always remember that you are way more than a 'female' entrepreneur, a #girlboss or a #bossbabe, you're an entrepreneur, you're a boss, you're a freaking CEO! That's okay too if the hashtags work for you and you feel empowered by them. I just want to remind you that you don't have to wait for permission. You can take your seat at any table you like. 

"I don't encourage my daughter to be a female anything, just to be what she wants to be, full stop!" I saw this comment on social media te other day and it really hit me. I don't have a daughter yet (or any kid at all - for that matter) but that's exactly what I would wish for her. To do and be whatever she wants to be - regardless of her gender. I also choose to challenge society for the unfair expectations they place on women over 30 who are single and with no kids. I know how hard it can be to live in a world that makes you feel like there's something wrong with you once you've reached a certain age and your current reality does not match with what society expects from you. If you're a woman who happens to be in her thirties, are single and childless, whether by choice or not, just remember that there's absolutely nothing wrong with you."

Physiotherapist, Rena Buckley
Physiotherapist, Rena Buckley

Rena Buckley, Cork sporting legend, Chartered Physiotherapist

Choose to challenge. Be a leader. Why? Do it for everyone, not just women. Because a more equal society leads to a better society for all — men and women alike. Let’s move on from gender bias and inequality. Together, let’s choose to challenge and create a better Ireland and a better society.’

Brigid Carmody, Co-ordinator, Cork Traveller Women's Network
Brigid Carmody, Co-ordinator, Cork Traveller Women's Network

Brigid Carmody, Co-ordinator, Cork Traveller Women’s Network

I coordinate Cork Traveller Women’s Network, a community development project working for Traveller rights in Cork city, run by Traveller women. As a Traveller in Ireland, I have experienced discrimination and racism first hand. I got involved in Cork Traveller Women’s Network to have a stronger voice, as a Traveller woman and to work for change.

Our work is about Traveller women supporting each other as leaders, working with one focus, working strategically for equality, for our community’s health, for our accommodation, our living conditions, our education and to be free from discrimination. To have equal rights as a community and be accepted as a people with our own ethnicity and culture.

I want my children to grow up to be proud of who they are, of our culture, our history, our stories and heritage, and to never have to feel shame for being a Traveller.

 Linda O’Connell, National Head of Communications with the Society of St Vincent de Paul
 Linda O’Connell, National Head of Communications with the Society of St Vincent de Paul

Linda O’Connell, Head of Communications at the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Founder of Digi Nomad

How many times have you sat in a meeting and wondered “Why can they not hear me when I speak?” Or been in a conversation where you contribute your opinion and/or knowledge, only for you to receive a silent look and the discussion continue on as if you never spoke? As a person, a female, a human, you deserve to be heard and contribute, and more so as a professional woman in a professional setting.

But it can take time internally to have the confidence and self-belief that what you have to say matters and is of value, and once that starts happening, you can change the world around you, not just for yourself but for all the other people who struggle to find their voices or have them heard. #challengetochange

Professor Margaret Linehan, MTU
Professor Margaret Linehan, MTU

Professor Margaret Linehan, MTU

I Choose to Challenge race and gender bias. We all have unconscious biases, even the best-intentioned people, which can be demonstrated in organisations in a variety of ways.

Women of colour, however, continue to encounter some of an organisation’s most deep-rooted barriers. Working women of colour face a unique set of challenges that intersect across race/ethnicity, gender and culture. They also encounter exclusion, condescension, isolation, prejudice, different treatment from peers, derogatory comments and gestures, which negatively affect an individual’s ability to perform successfully. Women of colour also face a wider range of micro-aggressions, by having their judgment continually questioned or hearing demeaning remarks about themselves or people like them.

One of the reasons we have a paucity of women of colour in leadership positions in organisations is because they spend so much of their time trying to navigate through workplaces shaped by subtle negative biases.

I choose to challenge race and gender bias in organisations and society because of various obstacles that are deep-rooted in both racism and sexism. I believe none of us should shy away from talking about uncomfortable or difficult topics like these, regardless of our race or gender. We all have a role to play to end this damaging behaviour.

Sophie Healy Thow.
Sophie Healy Thow.

Sophie Healy Thow, Trustee of ActionAid UK an international charity working with women and girls living in poverty

Every day, anybody who identifies as a woman needs to challenge and call out gender-based inequalities. We need to recognise that society gives certain advantages to certain people based on gender, class, education, race and sexual orientation among others.

Any woman or supporter of women needs to be aware of their own privileges and how these privileges can disempower others, we need to change our behaviours to include, respect and share power with others.

We need to have zero tolerance for any type of discrimination and abuse of power and we need to have the courage to constantly challenge and see change for gender equality.

Maggie Cusack, President Munster Technological University
Maggie Cusack, President Munster Technological University

Maggie Cusack, President, Munster Technological University

It’s essential that we #ChooseToChallenge ourselves and each other if we are to increase diversity and inclusion.

Disability Activist, Julie Helen
Disability Activist, Julie Helen

Julie Helen, Disability Activist and WoW! columnist

I first chose to challenge inequality at 17 years old. Being a disability activist is part of who I am. I didn’t make a choice about gender equality. I have been in many situations as an adult when I saw disability as the cause for why I was discriminated against, it could have been because I was a woman! I always think of disability first, rather than gender!

I grew up in a house with three brothers and no sister. I have strong female role models. My mother is such a formidable force that we as children and young adults always saw her as equal to my father.

Venturing into the big, bad world, I realised equality needs to stretch further than home, gender inequality absolutely exists. We must speak up and challenge all inequality. I will play my part as a mother with a disability.

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