“"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights" - Gloria Steinem
International Women’s Day celebrates the capacity of women to freely express themselves professionally, academically, personally, and artistically. As the above quote intimates, their independent status was earned for women, by women, and this annual day of female appreciation is a recognition of that feat. Those pioneering revolutionaries have paved the way for the generations that followed and the Galway Advertisr spoke to a selection of local women who have excelled in their specialist area.
Sarah O’Toole - Actress/Playwright
Galway native Sarah O’Toole has been associated with the performing arts from the age of 15, and through her love of literature and theatre she has forged a strong connection with her colleagues. She will be commemorating International Women’s Day by conducting a reading about the Magdalene institutions for COPE and she would love to work with women more frequently in the future. “There is definitely more room for promoting International Women’s Day. There’s such a grim view of feminism out there, but it’s enjoying an upsurge at the moment thanks to some great writing and active involvement. I’m not against the male species or anything. I would just like to see equality between both and see everyone help each other out.”
Recently, Ms O’Toole performed in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure in a role which allowed her to explore the area of feminism. “Playing the novice nun was amazing and I received a lot of positive feedback on how I interpreted the character. Generally I’ve found that in plays, there are fewer parts for women than men but I’m self employed and I work very hard. It’s really satsifying that I can do this and doing the reading on the Magdalene women has encouraged me to work more with women.”
Wendy Hickey - Rugby Development Officer for Connacht Rugby
Sport is just one of many aspects of life which has a history of gender discrimination but such an obstacle did not hinder the career of Wendy Hickey and she insists that the tide is changing in the public treatment of female sports.
“There is a great growth in women’s rugby particularly with the success of the Irish team. Yeah there might be a bit of slaggin now and again but you take it on the chin and people who say that women shouldn’t play rugby because it’s too dangerous normally change their mind after watching a game.”
Ms Hickey has occupied an executive role in rugby development since 2004 when she began working with tag rugby teams. Within the space of a few years she advanced in rank and was appointed the rugby development officer for Connacht Rugby and she believes that festival days like International Women’s Day deserve greater emphasis in order to inspire younger girls who may not be aware of the struggles that women faced in the past.
“It’s important to learn from the past if you want to move forward. Young girls should be made aware of how women fought to earn the status that we enjoy today and maybe that will encourage them to go out and make their mark on the world.”
Terry O’Flaherty - Mayor of Galway
Cllr Terry O’Flaherty boasts a decorated political career dating back to 1999 when she was first elected to the city council. Politics in Ireland is male dominated in terms of representation but Cllr O’Flaherty has been elected on a number of occasions, and currently holds the senior rank. She believes that gender distinctions do not influence the election process.
“I haven’t encountered any sexism in my career, although I do believe that generally women politicians must work harder as they are judged more harshly than men but ultimately, when you face re-election you are judged on your performance and work rate.”
Ms O’Flaherty is an avid supporter of International Women’s Day and she hopes that the focus of the day should be on helping women in impoverished parts of the world.
“I think it is a very important opportunity to raise women’s issues and highlight issues of concern to women, in particular the plight of women in developing and third world countries who still face dangers and inequality on a daily basis.”
When it comes to stereoptypical tags associated with women, Cllr O’Flaherty thinks the generalisations work both ways. “I take them in good sport, you can be too sensitive about things like this, after all similar generalisations are often made about men, eg, they can’t multi-task, they won’t ask for directions etc.”
Deirdre Brennan - Galway footballer and NUIG student
When Deirdre Brennan played under 10 football with the Claregalway football team,she was the only girl on the panel. This did not deter her from playing a sport she loves and today she is a valued member of the Galway senior ladies football squad. “When you are young you don't seem to notice the difference between boys and girls, you just play. I remember being the only girl on the under 10 football community games team and I didn't realise how unique this was until a few years later.”
At just 19 years of age, she has already savoured success in this sport from underage intercounty titles to earning an individual sports award in NUIG in 2012. International Women’s Day promotes gender equality and Deirdre Brennan would like to see this philosophy incorporated into GAA. “At the moment, we have 40 people on our panel with Galway but we struggle to even have that many supporters at our matches. Ladies football is definitely looked down upon, this is even visible in NUIG where not one new ladies Gaelic football scholarship was given out this year and there are up to 100 girls playing the sport in the college. I must say however, that TG4 do a lot for the sport, giving live coverage of several matches throughout the year.”
Aine Killilea - Public Relations Officer at Evolve
International Women’s Day coincides with Aine Killilea’s birthday so she is astutely aware of the annual women’s day. To celebrate both occasions she has a lunch date with her friends. “It’s such an important day for women everywhere and I love going out to lunch with my friends for it. It’s lovely to have that time together with them.”
Ms Killelea is the director of public relations at Evolve and she founded the company three years ago. She would like to see more women involved in the distribution of power in all areas of work.
“There are definitely not enough women in politics as there should be. I was lucky enough not to have been faced with gender discrimination, but it does exist, and those differences need to be corrected. Feminism is such an important movement for empowering women in all parts of the world. When it comes to the playful slagging, I think it’s all a bit of fun once there’s no intentional offence implied.”