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Much has changed since Markievicz became first woman MP – Begley

17 May, 2018 - by Órfhlaith Begley

Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley said tonight although much has changed since Countess Constance Markievicz became the first woman MP a century ago that women continue to be written out of history and more needs to be done to achieve gender equality.

The West Tyrone MP was speaking in London tonight at a TUC event on the ‘Life and Politics of Countess Markievicz’. Órfhlaith Begley said: 

“Constance Markievicz was a feminist, a socialist, an internationalist, an Irish republican and the most unmanageable of revolutionaries. She commanded a contingent of the Irish Citizens Army during the 1916 Easter Rising.

“In the December 1918 Election, Markievicz was one of 73 abstentionist Sinn Féin MPs elected across Ireland. Her significance should not be overlooked just because she did not take her seat on the Green Benches.

“It often is overlooked by the British establishment - how often do we hear that Nancy Astor was the first woman MP? How often is Markievicz omitted as one of the leading figures in the campaign for women’s suffrage.

“Constance Markievicz was elected in her own right. It happened less than a year after any women had been granted the vote – and only weeks after women were permitted to stand as candidates. No other woman was elected as early as December 1918.

“She was a member of the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin and in 1919, she became Secretary for Labour, the first female Cabinet Minister in Western Europe. 

“For this and all her other achievements she deserves a proper share of recognition for her place in not just Irish history but arguably world history. And while we remember Markievicz today and honour her memory we must also be mindful of the tens of thousands of women who have been written out of history.”

The West Tyrone MP said that women have made enormous strides in public life but more needs to be done.

“The political establishment north and south remains dominated by men. Political decisions made by men, will reflect the needs of men.  We need greater gender balance, gender proofing and gender equality in decision making processes.  

“As a party we have worked to ensure that women are properly represented at each level of the party structure.  Sinn Féin was the first party in Ireland to have a woman leader,  Margaret Buckley who led the party from 1937 to 1950. 

“Today our Party President and Vice President are women. However, women occupying positions of power is not enough. The decision-making process goes beyond the field of politics to all levels of society where decisions are made. 

“Women's work is too often undervalued and underpaid. Equal opportunity laws and sex discrimination legislation have not achieved their goals. Mechanisms for advancing gender equality should include legislation, positive action and gender mainstreaming.

“So while, there has been enormous progress across Ireland since 1918, we still have some distance to go.”

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