Ireland, we need to talk. There are members of our forward-thinking nation who still stigmatise and enforce discrimination against single mothers.
And to move forward from the sins of this country’s past, changes certainly must be made to improve women’s and children’s lives today.
I am a single mother. My daughter is raised but I know when people out there read that phrase, I will inevitably becriticised. And, I also know, some will judge me for my words and for asking for better.
After the Mother and Baby Homes Commission’s report was released last week, I couldn’t sleep for two days.
And in truth, I am still not OK. I’m angry as are many, many women.
The State hasn’t fully recognised its failings because this report chiefly blamed not Church and State but Irish families and fathers for abandoning women and children. If our Government departments, mostly occupied by men, will not recognise the total responsibility for the past, along with the Church, I ask what chance have we for equality today.
I cannot imagine the horrors the women and children, forced to live in mother and baby homes, suffered. But I do know reading about this terrible and recent history has kept me awake at night.
However, I don’t want these women and their children to have suffered for nothing. I wish for all the women and children burdened by this cruelty to now be embraced by their country to be offered every single support they need and to be paid generous compensation.
But women and children still today need equality. Yet, single-parent families are not recognised as families within our Constitution. We absolutely must recognise that if the State does not protect and respect single-parent families within the Constitution then society does not have to respect or offer equality to those same women and children.
For the State to turn a blind eye to around 200,000 families, failing to recognise they’re every bit as important as any other family, then that is by default legitimising inequality and discrimination.
That leads to failures to recognise the rights of the single-parent families within a myriad of State documents. It also leads to a failure to provide better State mechanisms and approaches.
Parental leaveis expected next year to be increased by three weeks for each new parent from two to five weeks.
However, it does not take into account that a single mother or father (bearing in mind single mothers are the majority of lone parents) has the role of two parents and should thus be entitled to the longer benefit. While parental leave at present entitles each parent to two weeks leave during the first year of their child’s life, again, that does not take account that a single parent should receive four weeks leave, for her role as mother and father.
A total of 86.4pc of single-parent families are homes run by women. And around 60pc of families experiencing homelessness are one-parent families. That means most homeless families are those headed by single mothers. Anecdotally, single parents’ groups have stated it is almost impossible for single-parent households to buy a home. Yet the State hasn’t rolled out a substantial programme of social housing or easily accessible affordable homes to house these families.
Housing the single-parent families would offer the single parents and their children a better future socially and economically, yet the State chooses not to do so.
While for the small number who manage to get on the property ladder, they will not fail to be reminded of what the Constitution considers them to be – invisible. Section 2 of the Family Home Protection Act 1976 states that “a family home” is recognised by the State as a “dwelling in which a married couple ordinarily reside”.
Again, a single mother and her children are not recognised and her family home is not recognised as a family home by this State.
Also, any attempts by a single mother to even provide an Irish passport for her child are thwarted. The Passports Act 2008 requires consent is sought from both parents or guardians. If this cannot be gained then a mother has to take a legal route to gain a passport for her child. This Act doesn’t consider that a mother may have escaped domestic violence.
Almost 70pc of part-time workers in Ireland are women, a greater number of women take on caring roles and men tend to occupy higher-paying roles in many organisations. The gender pay gap is currently 14.4 pc in Ireland. For some reason this State feels it’s acceptable that women are paid much less than men.
The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill was published in April 2019. However the Bill lapsed a year ago.
In 2019 a total of 22pc of Irish companies said they had no women in senior management and 30pc stated they were taking no action to improve gender balance.
In 2018 research by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and the ESRI found that, in particular, lone parents are disadvantaged when it comes to housing. That report also found single parents live in poorer quality housing in poorer neighbourhoods.
Micheál Martin last week stood up and apologised for the failings of the past in the Dáil. It was right and fitting that the Taoiseach did so. Reparation must be a priority. But the men in power must also now recognise much needs to change to ensure single mothers are not discriminated against today and in future. This State still places single mothers and their children in institutions and these are called family homeless hubs.
In a modern-thinking, progressive country, no family should be homeless.
With diversity in politics and business comes a way for Ireland to change.
If our wider society makes these changes then maybe our daughters won’t have to suffer and just maybe this country will finally be responsible for its past.