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I started writing a comment on the highly thought-provoking guest post by Anna-Lena Dubé Fuller, ‘Women in the Media – Not’ and Motherhood v Careers, but it began to balloon, veer, swoop, and all sorts of other alarming things, so I decided to make it a post all of its own.

The discussion in the comments on Anna-Lena’s post is riveting and wide-ranging, as debates about parenthood and paid work tend to be. To tell the truth, I have a habit of shying away from such debates, because the emotions they evoke in me are fairly raw.

The Job of Being a Parent But what the hell, she said defiantly!

Here’s my experience:

I have a permanent, public-sector job, from which I’m currently on my second career break. I’ve done the work/parenting balance various ways since my two children arrived. At first, I went back to work full-time, then cut to four days, then took a one-year break. When I went back after that, it was half time, and when my second baby was born I took the career break I’m on now.

(Where is the father? I confess we fit a modern stereotype: he’s a committed feminist, an engaged parent, who earns considerably more than I do, in a career that doesn’t accommodate the kind of chopping and changing that I’ve undertaken – and even if it did, he wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about the idea. And at the same time, he is uncomfortable at being the sole earner in our household. Hooray.)

So, yes, obviously I’m enormously “lucky” to be in a position to do all this – the “family friendly” options available to me are a privilege denied thousands of other parents.

(The quotation marks around “lucky” and “family friendly”? We’ll come back to those.)

When I was working full-time in 2005, with my baby in a crèche, the economics of it angered me: the only reason why the crèche was “affordable” to us was that the women (yes, of course they were all women) who cared for our child were paid far less than my partner and I were. Their work, which was so utterly crucial to our family’s wellbeing, was apparently of considerably less “value” to society than ours.

To me, this is outrageously messed up. Yet in our current system, in the absence of free childcare from relatives, it’s usually the only way in which parents can sustainably work for pay – and as we know, a second or third set of childcare fees puts it out of reach for many.

(At my job, incidentally, I edit scholarly journals and monographs. I believe passionately in the effective dissemination of peer-reviewed research. But I don’t believe it’s intrinsically more valuable than providing a loving foundation for the development of a whole new person.)

Many children are happy in group care – and more are happy enough that it’s a good solution for the family.

Ours wasn’t.

I took my first career break largely for personal reasons: I had ignored my physical and mental needs to the extent that I was close to a breakdown, and in fact it was the HR manager at work who first suggested that I apply for time off. But within weeks, it became clear what a beneficial change it was for my child, too. I’ll never forget the transformation, in fact – from timid anxiety to … well, a much less heartbreaking native caution.

Lesson One: insofar as possible, parent the child you’ve got. One size does not fit all, and the size that seems a good fit for the parents may be overwhelming to the child.

Lesson Two: if the current setup isn’t functioning, it’s OK to try something else. (I wish I’d learned this one about six months earlier than I did.)

On career break, my anger became more raw. Suddenly, I was seen as “not working” – despite, from my perspective, working harder than I ever had in my life. The same caring tasks that the women in the crèche had done for low pay, I was doing for no pay and (it seemed) largely invisibly. The drop in status was as much of a shock to the system as the disappearance of my income.

We may note that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool-privileged-middle-class daughter of two (full-time) academics: nothing in my life had prepared me for the notion that my chosen contribution to society might be seen as anything less than completely worthy and valuable. Call me naive! It was an awakening.

Even my parents didn’t seem to get that I was doing “real” work by caring for my child. And actually, even I didn’t get it at first. My mother has worked full-time all my life, as did hers, and as I settled into the so-called “stay-at-home” routine I was shocked and ashamed to find myself revising my unarticulated opinion of my aunts, who had left their jobs when they had children. Oh my actual god, said I to myself, all these years, they were working, and I never knew!

Ah, but is it really work, Ted?

Some people – including feminist friends whose opinions I hold in high regard – disagree with me that caring for one’s own children is “work”. In my experience, though, that’s exactly what it is. I’m talking about things like changing nappies, preparing and serving food, managing hygiene, mediating conflicts, administering first aid, handling emotional squalls, providing a safe (and age-appropriate) environment to explore, introducing and enforcing behavioural conventions, maintaining a social circle, and so on. As far as I’m concerned, these activities are work. They might often be enjoyable, or feel vocational, but plenty of paid work fits those criteria.

I mean, if they’re not work, what are they?

LEISURE?

I don’t think so.

The fact remains, of course, that caring work, especially if done for no pay by parents or close relatives, is largely invisible. The reasons for this are complex, but chief among them is a widespread preoccupation in our culture with tangible, preferably measurable outputs. At the end of a day with my children – and I imagine the same is true of caring for a sick or elderly relative – all I really have to show for my work is their own inscrutable selves, one day older.

And yet Studies Show (no, seriously, they do) that the quality of care, particularly for younger children, matters enormously. Not to be sentimental about it, children thrive on love, and on the practical manifestations of love that a committed carer provides. Children who aren’t given a loving foundation are at risk of developing affects and behaviours that are harmful to themselves or others.

(NOTE, incidentally, that I am BY NO MEANS suggesting that this care need come exclusively from a parent – never mind a mother. Any loving adults with whom the child feels safe and happy can potentially provide it. Furthermore, children do best when their caring adults feel good about their choices. So you can put that straw man away, please.)

That’s all very cerebral. Where’s the anger?

Partly, it’s in the disconnect between society’s description of me as a “non-working mother”, on the one hand, and on the other hand, my experience of working enormously hard all day (and all of the night, too – neither of my children was “a sleeper” … though the elder one figured it out eventually, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the younger one does).

Paid carers generally get to do things like, oh, arriving at work and, concomitantly, going home again, after all. Many of them even get unaccompanied loo breaks – which in my recent life have been for considerable periods a halcyon dream.

So, to summarise, if you do a job that allows breaks every day, weekends, sick pay, holiday pay – and, in fact, pay in the first place – you’re “working”. BUT if you perform exactly the same tasks, without any of the breaks or the pay and with a 24/7 on-call clause, you’re “not working”. Run that one by me again?

Partly, it’s in the resonant unease I feel at the phrase “stay-at-home mother” – as though I’ve completely withdrawn from some notionally bounded space called “the world” into a mysterious sphere called “the home”, from which I rarely emerge. See also: feminist discourse of the last two centuries.

Partly, it’s in the fact that my paid work is totally incompatible with my unpaid work: I have to make an either/or choice, and even though my employer is “flexible”, relatively speaking, that choice feels very constrained. (Here, by the way, is why calling myself “lucky” to have such a “family-friendly” employer isn’t exactly straightforward for me.)

This is about the traditional workplace, which conceives of a “worker” as being free to devote uninterrupted chunks of daily time to the employer. You can’t do that while actively caring for a young child. The problem is often articulated as the assumption that a “worker” has a “wife” – in other words, is supported by somebody doing care and maintenance work in “the home”.

Partly, it’s in the idea that by choosing to care for my own children, rather than pay someone else a meagre sum to do so while I go and sell my labour to a third-party, I am in some sense no longer “contributing”. My work isn’t reflected in the gross national product at the moment, ergo it’s “less valuable” than when I was earning a salary. Bizarrely, this would be true no matter what I might have been doing to earn that salary.

Partly, it’s in the way our current structure for rewarding work completely precludes the possibility of anyone ever paying me for the (difficult, valuable) work I’m doing at the moment. The “product” of my caring work, if you like, will be my adult children. (This is of course a collaborative project between me, their father, and several other adults in their lives, but currently, I’m putting in the greatest number of hours.) If we do a “good” job, the children are more likely – though not guaranteed – to grow up to be happy, functional, thoughtful members of society. What’s that worth? Classically, nothing, because nobody is prepared to pay for it.

Hello, rage.

I think we need to do two things

First, we reframe the concept of “work”, so that it encompasses more than just labour sold for money.

Some of my starting points:

  • Anything I could reasonably pay someone else to do is work. (Yes, this unsettles some categories, such as “hobbies”; I’m OK with that.)
  • Work can be joyful or arduous, or anything in between, and this bears no relation to pay.
  • Everybody deserves opportunities to perform joyful work, and to be fairly compensated for some or all of the work that they do.
  • The cultural bias against unpaid work is strong: we need to pay attention to where we unintentionally fail to see such work and thereby denigrate those who do it.

Second, we restructure the traditional workplace to get rid of the notion that a worker needs a wife.

To do this, we might adapt my favourite approach to the “problem” of maternity leave – change the default so that every worker is treated as though they were pregnant – and treat every worker as though they had caring responsibilities.

(Actually, when I put it like that, wouldn’t it be fabulous to live in a society where that were true? Where the burden of caring for those who needed it was in fact shared by everybody who could contribute? Let’s do that, shall we.)

What this might look like, I’m not sure. On-site care facilities in all companies? Across-the-board reduction and flexibility in working hours? A move away from the traditional obsession with working at a specific time and place? Massively increased carers’ allowances? Mandatory burden-sharing agreements between the employers of co-parents? Bring Your Child to Work Day, every day? Certified Work-Life-Balance Counsellors helping to design an individual solution for each family?

I don’t know. It’s a huge question. Perhaps, in our lifetime, we won’t get there from here. But I’d like to think that we could try.

Meanwhile, while waiting for the revolution, ahahaha, and in parallel with my caring work, I’m pursuing various creative and entrepreneurial projects (fiction writing, textile art, blogging), which may or may not bear fruit before I return to my job next spring. I have all kinds of complex feelings about work, pay, value, and so forth, and I don’t imagine they’ll get much simpler as time goes on.

Note on language: You may have noticed that I didn’t state either my children’s assigned genders or my marital status in this piece. This was deliberate. They’re not relevant to what I’m saying here.

Right then. Off we go.

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It's a budget Jim, but not as we know it

On Monday the Greeks once again rioted in protest at the IMF/EU austerity measures imposed on their country. Today, a solitary man in a crane fires tennis balls over the gates of Leinster House in protest at the chainsaw budget about to be visited upon us (in an hour or so). Both the Greeks and the Portuguese have called one day general strikes whilst our trade union leadership baulks at the idea of a one day national stoppage. Looking on, the IMF and the Europeans must wonder while the Irish hate the cost-cutting programme they are forced to endure for the next four years, they are going to lie down and take it on the retrospective rebel chin. We can roar and rant and yelp all we like about the 1916 heroes, but when Fianna Fáil hand out the gimp suits almost a hundred years later, we fling them on and happily await instructions for the metal rings, belts, buckles and laces, to fasten securely.

There’s a horrible fatalism in the air, a sense of resignation that we are going to have to go through all this pain. There's nothing quite like being IrishIt’s like the British political masochism of the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher promised harsh medicine to cure the sick man of Europe, i.e. the UK. This appealed to something deep inside the British psyche which has been shaped by comely matrons, smacked bottoms, nurse-knows-best, this-will-hurt-me-more-than-you mentality. Perhaps it’s why so many in the UK embraced or put up with Thatcherism. Are we Irish, despite our pro-European leanings, more like the British than we like to imagine?

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict.” Major General Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation Commander in DRC.

Margot Wallström, Mary Robinson & Colm O'Gorman at the Royal Irish Academy Yesterday

Yesterday, during a briefing organised by the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence, a characteristically calm and measured Mary Robinson spoke movingly of a recent visit to Eastern Chad. She had travelled there with a group of woman leaders specifically to meet with women who had fled the conflict in neighbouring Darfur and to hear from an NGO undertaking trauma counselling with them. All of the women had horrific stories to tell. Mrs. Robinson described the experiences of one in particular whose village was “attacked by men on horseback and planes from the sky”. Without hesitating this woman grabbed her twin babies and ran as far and as fast as she could. Leaving her babies under a tree, she returned to find that her husband had been murdered and her daughter raped. She herself was brutally gang raped on her return. Showing incredible fortitude this woman crawled back to rescue her babies and took them to safety over the border.

Enraged by this, one delegate challenged the NGO to collate this evidence to build a criminal case against the perpetrators and hold them accountable. This would prevent further horrors. The NGOs response was that their funding had been cut to such an extent that this was simply not possible. Mary Robinson and many others are convinced that holding perpetrators accountable for such actions is far more affective in addressing and eradicating gender based violence in conflict than simply fire-fighting and living with the consequences of shattered societies.

According to the Irish Joint Consortium on Gender based Violence, up to 90% of causalities in contemporary conflict are civilians, most of them women and children. Violence against them is often sexualised.  Peace brings scant relief. Crime rates and violence against women and girls soars after war as returning combatants inflict their trauma and frustration on them.  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, it is estimated by the UN that over 200,000 women have been raped since the beginning of the war.

Dr. Thelma Awori

Dr. Thelma Awori is a consultant on gender and development and a board member of a number of prominent African civil society organizations. She says, “Women continue to pay a heavy price in both conflicts and post-conflict situations around the world. Too many women have become shocking statistics of one horror or another, be it rape in Eastern Congo; acid thrown in the faces of girls walking to school in Afghanistan; impunity for crimes against women in conflict-affected countries. When women stand up and make their voices heard in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation they often face security risks, they are denied seats at the table, and are excluded from planning and resources that determine their futures.”

Women, so often the victims of conflict, have little input into its resolution. One in forty peace negotiations have a woman present and, according to www.unifem.org, just 2.5% of signatories to peace agreements have been women. Although many post-conflict countries now have much improved female representation in government, unequal participation in parliament, civil society and business means that women’s voices are largely absent.

After listening to the experiences and perspectives of women from conflict zones, the UN unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000. This resolution addresses the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognizes that the contribution women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building is significantly undervalued. The UN has called for equal and full participation from women as active agents in achieving peace and security and has officially endorsed the active participation of civil society groups, in particular woman’s organizations, in peace processes and peace talks. A key element is the call for an end to impunity in relation to conflict-related violence against women.

All nation states, including Ireland, whether they are affected by conflict or attempting to resolve it, must now implement the resolution and are legally obliged to take responsibility in four key areas in relation to women, peace and security.

  1. The protection of women and girls during conflict
  2. The participation of women in decision making in relation to prevention, management and resolution of conflict.
  3. The inclusion of gender perspectives in conflict analysis and training of military and civilian personnel in peacekeeping. (Women account for just 5.7% of the Irish permanent defence forces and just 2.5% of peacekeepers serving in conflict regions worldwide are women according to the UN. Yet, these women perform a vital role in winning the trust of local civilian women who are more likely to report gender based violence to them)
  4. Gender mainstreaming in the UN implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889

A high level task force of UN heads of agencies is progressing the implementation of resolution 1325 along with the Civil Society Advisory Group, co-chaired by Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and Bineta Drop, Executive Director, Femmes Africa Solidarité.

Mary Robinson was in Dublin in her role as special advisor to the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence. The consortium is comprised of 16 bodies, including human rights, humanitarian and development organisations, together with Irish Aid and the Defence Forces and is charged with formulating Ireland’s implementation plan (due by March 2011). In the midst of our deepening crisis it may seem that Ireland has little to offer the rest of the world in any respect. Yet there are areas in which we are still well regarded and one of these is conflict resolution. Ireland has a role to play in a wider EU context as one of a handful of countries developing an implementation plan.

As a northern European nation with a recent history of conflict, a close connection with NGOs operating in the worst conflict zones and a respected peace-keeping role we are uniquely placed to help rebuild some of the most damaged societies on the planet. The focus in achieving this has now been place firmly on the experience and role of women in the process. Joint Consortium Chairperson and Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’ Gorman, is certain that “Ireland can play a key role in working to eliminate gender-based violence”. Our plan will be the result of a long, complex and “unique globally” process requiring “civil society and the state to work together.” The final stage involves consultations with women living in Ireland who have been affected by conflict and whose experiences and opinions will feed into our final plan.

The Irish plan is not being developed in isolation. We have a unique opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and avoid the pitfall of implementation deficit disorder. Mary Robinson believes that, “Ireland is well positioned to prepare an exemplary plan”. We are in a position to draw on our recent experience of conflict on the island of Ireland.  But, in addition, there is now a strong working relationship between a number of government departments and NGOs on the issue of gender-based violence.  This can be leveraged to produce a strong and effective plan that protects women in conflict and gives them a meaningful role in conflict resolution”, she adds. A strong plan alone is not sufficient. Colm O’Gorman stresses the importance of incorporating an effective mechanism for monitoring and evaluation into the process.

Sitting alongside Mary Robinson yesterday was Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She spoke of the role of Resolution 1325 in “establishing a context to put women into the picture for peace and security issues” and views the initiative as an integral part of a wider plan to tackle sexual violence. The adoption of the resolution amounts to a clear admission that not enough was being done to eradicate what is still “a tactic in most areas of conflict”. Margot Wallström stresses that, “this is not a women’s issue rather a security and human rights issue and one relevant to wider society”. She believes that, “It is vitally important that Ireland gets its plan right.  Having a plan would greatly bolster Ireland’s human rights record and, by involving the widest range of stakeholders and putting in place strong monitoring, the plan would be very significant in advancing the protection of women in conflict.”

The five point agenda adopted by the UN in this respect and reflected in any plan focuses on: fighting impunity; empowering and supporting women to move from being victims to becoming agents for change; mobilising leaders; deepening our knowledge of the incidence and effects of sexual violence in conflict; and co-ordinating and harmonising UN efforts to tackle and prevent such actions. Mary Robinson wants to see the Security Council “use all of the tools available to it – naming & shaming, freezing assets, sanctions, visa bans – to implement policy”.

This is a two-way process and Ireland can benefit hugely from participation. As Colm O’Gorman eloquently puts it, “Ireland is very progressive when we are out in the wider world. What is it that stops us translating those values back into our own society?” Mary Robinson emphasises the importance of treating our involvement as a “cross-learning process”. Ireland has already participated in a ground-breaking cross learning initiative on women, peace and security with representatives from Liberia and TimorLeste, chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, first Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - President of Liberia

Ireland should look to Liberia and other African nations such as Rwanda when it comes to gender representation in government too. Mary Robinson passionately describes a meeting in the Angie Brooks centre in Liberia where she witnessed “the expectant enthusiastic faces of young women who wanted desperately to be involved in the political process”. Their participation makes a difference. Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pledged to tackle the scourge of rape using new legislation that came into force the day after her inauguration in 2006. “I know of the struggle because I have been a part of it,” she said. “I recall the inhumanity of confinement, the terror of attempted rape.”

Little value is placed on women in many conflict and post-conflict zones. Rape and sexual violence are often treated as the lowest crime on a scale of war horrors that puts death and torture at the top. There is no link made between the perpetration of these acts and the way in which they impede the building of a working, healthy society. Any economic consequences are disregarded. When soldiers in DRC were asked what they felt the cost of raping a woman was they answered perhaps the loss of a goat or a few days in prison. For this reason Margot Wallström is keen to measure the economic impact of intergenerational rape and sexual violence. Women, often the backbone of an economy, become totally depressed and are impeded from assuming their traditional coping role. Peacekeepers are now advised to assume rape and be watchful for the early warning signals. Although prepared to report the rape of children, many women are still too ashamed or disillusioned to report their own experiences. Resources can also be thin on the ground. Liberia has asked for help in developing an anti-rape campaign. Finally, attitudes have to change. In the past “enticement” was too often considered a legitimate defence.

This shift in focus has already produced results and Margot Wallström attributes the arrests of a number of players on charges of perpetrating and facilitating such crimes to the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions. Change is essential. Dr Thelma Awori is adamant that “communities rebuilding after conflict cannot afford to omit more than 50% of their population in these efforts. To do so would mean institutionalizing inequality and that is a recipe for further conflict and instability.” There is still a long road to travel but by developing and implementing a strong, workable and measurable plan Ireland has an opportunity to help create a better and fairer world.

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Jane Suiter is a former economics journalist at the Irish Times and the Sunday Times and is now lecturing in politics at UCC.

We need an election not a phoney budget consensus among parties. Ever since Irish Green party leader John Gormley called for the opposition parties to be given a full briefing on the truly appalling state of the state’s finances many otherwise sensible commentators have been backing the call.,seeming to believe that the leaders of the various political parties sitting down together to agree on the framework of a four year budgetary plan is a sign of political maturity and the least that is needed to get us out of our economic mess. The public for its part, sick of the sound of politicians bickering, was in broad agreement.

House of Pain

Yet, this is nonsense and anti-democratic nonsense at that. What we need  is an election and a government that has a mandate to deliver a budget and a four year plan that will bring the economy back from the abyss. The figures are as Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said with some under statement “daunting”. In order for the Irish government to meet EU rules it needs to cut more than €3billion in the budget this year and as much as €12 billion over four years. That means a lot of unhappy citizens but it also means a lot of difficult choices for any incumbent government.

Demanding a consensus is simply a fig leaf for the current government and a barrier to the people holding the politicians to account. It is rubbish and potentially dangerous for a number of reasons, not least that it effectively disenfranchises the people. Second, it negates the reason for an election, if all parties agree why ask the people? The current crisis may be the most serious in the history of this state but it is not akin to the second world war where the British had a clearly defined enemy. It is also nonsensical from the point of view of expecting the opposition parties to come up with detailed plans following a 90 minute briefing from the Department of Finance which cannot realistically be expected to give full information.

Enda Kenny’s demand that the figures be given to a third party may be a stalling tactic but that does not lessen the underlying logic that the Department of Finance has a poor forecasting record at the best of times. Giving the figures to independent academic economists at TCD, UCD or the ESRI surely makes eminent sense in terms of devising a budgetary strategy. The current government’s strategy of relying solely on the mostly “gifted amateurs” in the Department has been shown to be seriously deficient already and is a policy that could be wisely rethought.

When the NTMA left the bond markets last month it created a window of opportunity for us to attempt to put our affairs in order. We need to take advantage of this and have an election within the next or six weeks, emerging at the end of the year with a government which has a mandate to implement a four year plan. Whatever the details of that plan it will be politically unpalatable for the majority of the population as all parties will need to look at cutting wages and social services as well as raising and introducing new taxes. If the people turn out to vote for parties which have such proposals in their manifestos it would go a long way to assuaging the fears of Europe as well as the markets and the rating agencies that we have the means and the determination to get out of this. Simply put, if all the parties set out their economic plans and the public vote on them then the resulting mandate is far more powerful than any photo op with four party leaders on the plinth of Leinster House.

We need to remember that the other side of that coin once  you make the decision to leave the bond markets is that it can be extraordinarily difficult to re-enter. On its own the current government simply may not have enough credibility with the markets to allow the NTMA back in the New Year. A consensus would increase our chances of being able to borrow again and EU Commissioner Oli Rehn cannot of course demand an election. But the truth is that a new government with a fresh mandate from the people can only make the job of selling Irish debt easier.

Our funds run out next spring and thus if we cannot re-enter the markets before that it will mean that we will have to go to the European Stabilisation Fund and the IMF. Of course all parties desperately want to avoid the legacy of being the people who ask the EU and IMF to come in. This is a real dilemma for the Opposition parties.  An election before Christmas means that the danger period when we try to go back in the markets next year likely occurs on their watch.  A spring election on the other hand means the first auctions and the real danger period occurs on the current government’s watch.

Some argue that the intervention of the EU and IMF would be the preferable policy, allowing the hard decisions to be outsourced but the problem is of course that if you lose your sovereignty you cannot make decisions on even the basics such as the balance between tax rises and spending cuts or even the retention of specifics such as the low corporate tax rate which looks to be in the EU’s sights. In addition, there is even doubt that if we were to request funds how much would be available. the Fund is not pre-funded and all involved would be praying that the request would not spark wider bond market contagion.

For now, the detail of the plans to reduce the deficit does not matter to either the Commission or the markets; all they care about is simply that there is a credible plan and a likelihood of success. This is just as well as the prescriptions from Fine Gael and Labour may be radically different. Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore said this week that he would not touch tax for lower and middle income earners or make changes to social welfare or child benefit. Fine Gael, on the other hand, is talking about hard medicine. This is part of the party’s culture which is so intrinsically bound up with saving the institutions of the state and being seen to do the “right thing”, the bottom line though does not differentiate it much from Fianna Fail economically. In addition,  Fine Gael has indicated that it is looking to a balance of 80% spending cuts and 20% tax rises, Labour has not set out its  plans but they are likely to be the reverse of this. Unless Labour takes the decision to stay out of Government, compromise will be inevitable perhaps with an even balance between tax and spending. But for that to have credibility the parties cannot be fully bound in now. Thus the Opposition parties have to argue that they do not get full disclosure on Monday morning allowing them to declare once they reach office that things are in fact much worse than they thought giving leeway to make compromises. They also need to stress the radical change in political and business culture needed where both are singing off a similar hymn sheet. New politics, open government, reform of party financing, an end to crony capitalism which has transferred seamlessly from Taca to the Galway Tent, are all areas where both parties have a lot in common.


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Ronseal Pope: doing exactly what it says on the tin

Have a goo at this wonderful snippet (below) from Stephen Fry where he argues that the Catholic church is not – to put it at its mildest – a force of good in the world. It ain’t new but the topics he covers are timeless. He believes in the Enlightenment, in the eternal adventure of trying to discover moral truth at your own pace. By contrast he sees the church as a benighted outdated institution that’s causing a lot of pain. He also labels it as utterly sex obsessed:

“They say that we, with our permissive society and our rude jokes, are sex obsessed. But no! We have a healthy attitude. We like it. It’s fun, it’s jolly…because it’s a primary impulse, it can be dangerous and dark and difficult. It’s a bit like food in that respect only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics or the morbidly obese. That, in erotic terms, is the Catholic church in a nutshell.”

Aside from discussing damnation, original sin, the ‘moral evil’ of homosexuality, the horrors of child rape, how The Ratzinger spread the absurd word that condoms actually help spread AIDS, he also makes reference to how religion has always been implacably opposed to women’s choice in their own bodies and destinies. Let me know what you think. It’s Sunday in the financially corrupt holy nub of Ireland after all…

Some questions I’ve asked myself & now ask you:

What is God? If we’re made in his image, how come we all look different?

Do you believe in talking snakes and women made from snapped-off ribs?

Have you ever had a genuine ‘religious’ experience that confounded you?

What would women priests bring to the Catholic religion if Rats & Co. gave the eminent go-ahead?

Is religion extinct as a dodo or salvageable/relevant?

Did the Holy Spirit turn up at your Confirmation?

What age were you before you found out Jesus had siblings?

Was the Billings Method ever explained to you in sex education?

Do you agree/disagree with Aristotle who said: The gods too are fond of a joke? 

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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Lucinda Creighton.

Discuss.

No not her politics (for the moment) but the reaction to her from the media, from Fine Gael head office, from her party leader?

On Tuesday afternoon when she made her speech at the MacGill Summer School (not a lot of women speakers and very few in the audience) I read  snippets reported through twitter and found myself fairly shocked to agree with her. On the matter of donations to political parties she questioned if those indebted to the state and supported by NAMA should be tapped up for donations from political parties.

Specifically she was referring to the Fine Gael party fundraiser at the K Club last week and the subsequent coverage. She mentioned Fine Gael being perceived as FF lite.  And she made a number of other points on political reform and standards which is the theme of the summer school.  I believe that links between political parties and builders over the past twenty years has a huge part to play in the state we are in so I heard those bits and thought it was good to hear someone say it!.

Of course the media (who have been feeding well from the middleclass and fairly male MacGill trough all week) were only delighted to stir up the post heave trauma for another run out and reported with glee the challenges made to Fine Gael (and therefore Enda Kenny) in Lucinda’s remarks.

I’m no fan of Deputy Creighton’s politics as a quick trawl elsewhere will show but I find myself wondering if some of the media’s reaction to her would be different if she was male.  It’s not just male journalists that seem to have a problem with her either. There’s lots of use of terms like ‘feisty’, ‘blonde ambition’, ‘stilettos flying’, ‘ambitious young lady‘ in reports and columns on Lucinda’s speeches.  If you read the speech you’ll see there is discussion of the whip system and her views on it’s effects on democracy – there’s little comment anywhere else on this.  She also reflects on press officer control, trust in politicians and the issue of political dissent.

When John McGuinness was sacked as a junior minister and has subsequently spoken out regarding the troubles in Fianna Fail there has been much about his business background and experience, large local vote, political dynasty etc.  Not a lot about his dress, hair colour or gender.

The last straw for me was whilst watching Tonight with Vincent Browne’s review of newspapers on Tuesday night. There was a cackle fest amongst presenter and panel on Lucinda’s speech but no analysis of what she actually said, loads of personal commentary and most of it disparaging.  Nothing on the farce of developers being bailed out and supporting political parties and a golf club on dodgy financial knees being the the place for the support.

Lucinda is not the only woman to have faced challenging treatment from the media recently. Tanaiste Mary Coughlan has also received a lot of  attention in the past eighteen months. I’m not so sure she’s getting the rough time entirely due to her gender though. Competence surely has much to do with the matter?

On her blog yesterday Lucinda was not surprised at the coverage and has had enough of the blonde ambition and stilettos too.  I doubt this means that she will be coming out all radical feminist on us anytime soon. Is her media treatment related to her gender or possibly a symptom of the poor quality of discourse and political thinking in her party that whenever  she says something she’s going to be noticed ?

I hope to return to the issues of gender and dissent in future posts as it’s not restricted to party politics or blueshirts but would be interested in hearing and engaging with the views of others.

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If we were in any doubt that the prospect of a female leader fills some people with fear and loathing, the coverage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s political careers should be enough to confirm our worst fears (although I’ve got to say that another one of my worst fears is a fundie, anti-environmentalist gun-nut secessionist becoming the second most powerful person in the western world). But according to a new Harvard study, although people have negative ideas about female leaders, once they actually experience what it’s like to have ladies in charge, their attitudes to women in power become more positive.

Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher? A good thing for women? Well, possibly...

Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher? A good thing for women? Well, possibly...

When an Indian government ammendment decreed that at least 1/3 of government jobs should be held by women, the residents of some regions were not impressed by the idea of ladies in charge. And once the first batch of women started working in government, the voters gave them poorer evaluations than their male counterparts, even when the female politicians had outperformed the men. So far, so depressing. But when the same voters encountered female politicians for the second time, they began to evaluate them more positively, indicating that exposure to powerful women reduces prejudice against them by 50 to 100%.

Good news, right? Well, it would be if there were a few more women in power to begin with – people’s prejudices can’t be challenged by female leaders if there are no female leaders. And we could be waiting a while for this to change, according to last year’s report from our Central Statistics Office:

The report shows that women are under-represented in decision-making structures at both national and regional levels. Only 13% of TDs in Dáil Eireann are women, while they account for 34% of members of State Boards, 20% of members of local authorities and just 16% of members of regional authorities.

And here’s a surprise – except no, it totally isn’t:

The education and health sectors employed the highest proportion of women, with around an 80% share of the total at work in these sectors. However, women were not well represented at senior level positions. In the health service, women represented just over 30% of medical and dental consultants. Similarly, women accounted for 84.7% of primary school teachers but only 51% of primary school managers.

Women: doing socially important but low status, badly paid work since, um, the dawn of time!

And if anyone wants to know why I’m a feminist, well, here’s one of many reasons:

Women’s income in 2005 was around two-thirds of men’s income. After adjusting for differences in hours worked, women’s hourly earnings were around 86% of men’s. The proportion of men at risk of poverty in 2006, after pensions and social transfers, was 17.5% compared to 19.5% of women.

Sigh. But I want to try and look on the bright side. I do not think Sarah Palin becoming America’s VP is a good thing for women (this is a woman who, as Mayor, made rape victims pay for the cost of the rape kits) or indeed the world. But there is this: high-profile women in power do change people’s expectations. For most of my generation, Margaret Thatcher is the first UK Prime Minister we remember – she was in power from when I was 4 to when I was 15 (one of my teachers came into the classroom grinning from ear to ear and told us she was out). Thatcher wasn’t a female-friendly politican either, but the fact that she was the British PM for pretty much my entire childhood and early adolescence meant that I, and others my age, always took it for granted that women could run countries (badly, in that case, but still). I just wish more women would get elected whose politics I agree with, but alas I fear that, as in the cases of both Thatcher and Palin and even Mary Harney, a conservative women is always going to be less threatening to the masses than a liberal one. What do you think?

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