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Interview: H.E. Ambassador Aingeal O’Donoghue of the Embassy of Ireland to Korea
‘The Law and Its Powerful Enforcement Realize Gender Equality.’
  • Entrance to the EU Boosted Gender Equality Policies.
  • 27% of the Members in the Cabinet are Represented by Women.
  • The National Women’s Council Coordinates Overall Women’s Issues.

 

Ireland is one of the representative countries that have the comparatively settled culture of gender equality. According to the ‘Gender Gap Index’ announced by WEF in 2015, Ireland ranks the 5th among the OECD countries, being the first country that legalized a homosexual marriage through referendum. Having its strong national characteristics, it is a country of literature since two winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, William Butler Yeats and Samuel Beckett of “Waiting for Godot’ have been produced. Ireland has the childbirth rate of 2.1 (1.23, Korea), and 4.1% of GDP as the expenditure for children’s welfare (0.8%, Korea) that is No. 1 among OECD countries. It has proudly had two female former presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.

▲ Ambassador Aingeal O'Donoghue ⓒJeong-Sil LEE, Women’s News Photo Journalist

Despite the long history of colonization by England, Ireland has been called ‘Celtic Tiger’ since it had gone through the bail-out program of IMF in 2010 and achieved its surprisingly high economic growth rate. In this context, Ireland can be compared with Korea.

Ambassador O’Donoghue, having stayed for almost three years in Korea, explains the background of Ireland’s economic growth by pointing out women’s advancement into the society and high rate of economic activities. Very impressed by Korean women full of self-confidence, she told The Women’s News Ireland’s efforts for gender equality.


Q. What was the main driving force for Ireland to raise its childbirth rate and the rate of women’s participation in economic activities at the same time?

A. The first factor is the very generous parental leave system. Paid parental leave for four and a half months and additional unpaid parental leave for four months are guaranteed. Furthermore, the original positions of those who had parental leave are secured by the law. Its legalization was actually achieved after a long time of struggling. Additionally, systems such as flexible working and special leaves have been in place, consequently having removed inevitability of the choice between child-raising and career.

The other factor is Ireland’s childcare system. I know that the Korean Government also tries to improve the system with the strong perception of its significance. Childcare of good quality is the key to sustainable careers of the working parents. The current state has been made possible by the settled perception that women’s work is valuable in terms of social justice as well as economic values they create. The whole society has the responsibility for raising children because people believe without social support, women have to be excluded from social activities, and it is unfair.

Recently, women’s advancement into senior management levels and issues related to gender gap such as wage gap are newly rising issues. Having a job should be also attractive for women by providing them with reasonable rewards and promotion. Ireland has maintained its high birth rate traditionally with contributions of free education up to education in colleges.

Q. What is the social system to have supported gender equality in Ireland?

A. The most effective step was made by Ireland’s joining the EU. Since it entrance, Ireland has accepted guidelines for gender equality provided by the EU. Afterwards, Ireland has gone through the process of comprehensive and powerfully driven legislation related to gender equality, family, women’s social positions, etc., meaning efforts to establish comprehensive strategies for women at national level for a long period of time. These strategies are categorized into three subjects: the first is ‘Women’s Equal Social Opportunities’ which is represented by equal pay, or gender equality in the labor market. The second is ‘Women’s Welfare’. For example, it includes ‘gender-mainstreaming in the healthcare system’, meaning the application of gender perspective in women’s health issues such as childbirth and birth control to make policies. In addition, issues such as poor women, domestic violence and sexual violence are also actively discussed by organizations and groups in the very area to reflect their perspectives in policies. Thirdly, it is ‘Women as Equal and Active Citizens’, focusing on women’s participation in decision-making processes in all the social areas. Ireland experienced the rigorous feminists’ movement back in 1970s, and since then, women persistently tried to speak out their opinions. Meanwhile, National Women’s Council is the umbrella organization to coordinate all the related organizations in discussing issues and policies from gender perspective.

Q. What efforts do companies make for work- family balance?

A. The same principle also applies here in terms of legislation. Strong enforcement of parental leave, measures against discrimination because of child-raising, and other related provisions are applied to this private sector as well as the public sector. For the past 2 years, the department of gender equality under the Ministry of Justice has promoted exchanges with companies to raise the perception of gender equality and explained gender equality issues to The Confederation of Irish Industry.

While recent studies have evidenced that women’s social activities will improve national productivity, it is expected that the business sector will change their perception of female human resources finally.

Q. Ireland does not have many women in its National Assembly even if the 30% quota system is implemented.

A. Yes, Ireland also has a disappointing proportion of women participating in the politics. Only 15% of the National Assembly members are represented by women. However, we observed such an achievement from the last election held on February 26, which is 22% of the National Assembly seats have been occupied by women as a result of the first implementation of the 30 quota system for female candidates of each political party. In the case of the cabinet, a total of 4 female ministries represent 27%. The fact that Ireland has had two female presidents has contributed to perceptional change in women in the country. The recent trend that women are appointed in senior levels in organizations not directly concerned with women’s issues shows the improved level of women’s social activities.

Q. As a mentor to women, do you have any advices for successful management of career and their happy lives?

A. ‘Will’ is a very important part. Since I started to work, I have always had confidence in having to have career in terms of social contribution and self-accomplishment. Balancing between family and work is a very critical issue to all the people. Making decisions between work and family is not simple. Different families have different situations so that they have to make their own decisions. The most appropriate child-raising system, or the best formula for life should be figured out in coordinating career and family affairs.

Roles of fathers are also very important. In Scandinavian counties, the societies believe it is not just the mother but the parents that have responsibility for children. This should be the starting point. Each of the parents should discuss which is going to be the main child-raiser with full consideration of each career development path so as to make their careers and the family sustainable.

I always have breakfast with my daughter. She is now 16, but I still do so. Working mothers have to accept their situation where they cannot spend enough time with their children as much as full time house makers. You do not have to feel guilty about that. Here, I want to emphasize again, the importance of high quality childcare systems to make children happy.

Ireland has the area of 70,282m2, one third of the area of the Korean Peninsula with the population of around 4.8million and the GDP per capita of 53,000 dollars. The form of government is the parliamentary government. Its capital is Dublin, and the national religion is Catholicism. End.

▲ ⓒEmbassy of Ireland in Korea

CHO Hye-Young, Editor in Chief of The Women’s News (hyrmit@womennews.co.kr) / Trans by CHOI Eun-Young
1379호 [Culture] (2016-03-21)
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