'If women are not written in, they are counted out !'
20 May 2004
The 'What Women Want!' seminar in Dundalk yesterday heard from many women in the Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Cavan areas, about their difficulties in gaining access to welfare supports. The seminar was organised by the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), with support from a large focus group of organisations in the Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan areas.
Mamo McDonald, speaker and co-founder of the Older Women's Network, noted the importance of speaking out about this: "If women are not written in, they're counted out". Mamo talked about the invisibility of the work of older women in Ireland and how this creates significant problems in accessing pensions and other benefits. Mamo described the reaction of an EU official to older women's need for pensions. He stated; "older women are increasingly a problem because they have never worked". However, as Mamo explained; "older women have always worked, it's just that they were expected to do their work for love, not for money."
The NWCI is campaigning for reform and modernisation of the welfare system. With their report; 'A Woman's Model for Social Welfare Reform' they are calling for changes that will support women's financial self-sufficiency and promote gender equality. In particular the NWCI is calling for recognition of the many years women spend caring for others, through a system of welfare credits for care work. This would enable older women to gain pensions even if they haven't spent many years in the formal labour market.
Many great ideas were put forward by the attendees, for how change could be promoted within the Social Welfare system. These included the establishment of a Carer's Forum to include both paid and unpaid carers, the promotion of plain English and literacy awareness amongst the welfare departments, the election of more women representatives, the use of the media to highlight the challenges women face, and the development of an information card stating benefit eligibility to be sent to women at key stages of their life cycle.