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Sarah McInerney: ‘Lockdown has led to a stark realisation that the fight for equality is not over’

07th Jun 2020
We asked influential Irish women what they have learned since the pandemic began. Here, Sarah McInerney, RTE journalist, reflects on one particular lesson that has been hard learned. 

It’s so tempting to think that the bulk of the fight is over: that women are equal to men, and recognised as such, in the eyes of society and in the eyes of the law.
I’ve learnt lots of lessons from the lockdown, such as how lightly I treated the luxury of being able to hug my mum and dad, and how hard it is to keep people who love each other apart. Most depressing of all, though, has been the stark realisation that the fight for equality is not over. Not by a long shot.
There have been a number of examples of this, during the crisis, but perhaps the most egregious was the abandonment of women on maternity leave. New mothers with small babies, due to return to work, but unable to do so because of the pandemic, discovered they were not eligible for the Covid 19 wage subsidy. Many were left without any state supports.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, Fianna Fail’s Anne Rabbitte, and others began a strong campaign for the anomaly to be addressed, but the government resisted. It wasn’t possible, they said. Nothing could be done.
It all demonstrated a mindless return to a society I really thought was in the past; where women are not so much deliberately punished, as they are forgotten. A society where the expectation is that women will simply accept inequity and hardship, because it has always been thus.
After much public pressure, including by men such as employment lawyer Richard Grogan, the government found that – quelle surprise – actually it was possible to fix the anomaly. The payments will be backdated, so the women affected will suffer no financial loss.
Why though, did there need to be such a battle to be treated equally? It’s not the first, and unfortunately, as this crisis has shown us, it won’t be the last. The fight is not over, not by a long shot.

Read more: Mary Robinson: ‘Covid-19 will exacerbate the problems of inequality and conflict’

Read more: Amy Huberman: ‘I’ve learned that we are resilient, despite the wobbles we feel’

Read more: Mary Lou McDonald: ‘When some sense of normality resumes I’ll treasure small moments all the more’