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How Expensive is it to be a Woman? - Unraveling the Cost Beyond Just Numbers

How Expensive is it to be a Woman? - Unraveling the Cost Beyond Just Numbers

Global Human Rights Defence 

Mira Nerpel

Women’s Rights Team 

October 20th, 2023

On October 14th, 2023 an event called “The Cost of Being a Woman” was organised by the Young Greens Ireland and Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Grace O´Sullivan. The aim of this session was to openly discuss the burdens that women face in today’s society. The main points were divided into sections discussing the financial, security, and emotional costs borne by women. Throughout the event, policymakers shared their perspectives on the arguments and presented legislative solutions to counteract these inequalities. 

The day started with a short round of introductions and welcoming words. Afterwards, Rebecca Doocey, a trainee in Grace O´Sullivan´s team, presented the financial costs of being a woman, incorporating an interactive position discussion. The speaker mentioned the pink tax, a phenomenon whereby female products are priced higher compared to their male counterparts. Another important issue was period poverty, with the discussion exploring the financial burden women face being obliged to use sanitary products, such as pads or tampons. Throughout the presentation and the discussion it became clear that the gender pay gap is arguably one of the more trivial financial burdens, as the financial cost of being a woman goes far beyond this, for instance, participants described missed promotions for the sake of domestic care work. Thus, the problem revolves around more than numbers, as societal expectations weigh heavily upon women.  At the forefront, the intersection of becoming a mother and simultaneously having a career is an enormous struggle for women, which is driven by the inherent duality of deeper societal norms and economic hurdles. Firstly, a principal societal norm that working mothers face, is the stigma of failing at parenting. Women who are missing out on the childhood of their children are more criticised than their working male partners. These expectations often prevent young mothers from reentering the labour market. Secondly, mothers who do want to prolong their careers are faced with the financial aspect of providing for their families. This, however, might become a difficulty in a world where women on average only earn about 70 percent of what men do. Furthermore, in countries such as Ireland, the state-mandated paternity leave is two weeks. Many of the female participants felt that this period was too short, leaving them overwhelmed by this challenging period as a new mother.  

Grace O`Sullivan spoke out about the political and legislative issues which remain a barrier to lowering the financial costs of being a woman. In her opinion, it is not only young women and mothers that legislators should focus on, but also women in their later years. She brought forward the example of menopause and the medical costs it entails. She acknowledged that the financial cost of being a woman is something that has been discussed too much from a top-down level, forgetting the most vital voice to be included – that of women themselves. Legislators on the national and EU levels should return to their constituencies and remember the daily struggles women face. For her, the only way to propel change is by bringing these topics into politics and by amplifying the voices and experiences of women on the ground. To tackle the problem of added financial cost, policies should support women in the domestic working sector, and further ease the continuation of their careers after giving birth. 

After this first presentation and discussion, Megan Flynn, a Green Party Candidate for Gort Kinvara 2024 and a spokesperson for women’s rights, continued with a speech on the security cost of women. In her speech, she addressed the lack of public safety for women, a crucial aspect preventing women from attaining freedom and equality. Oftentimes, victims of rape become stigmatised, resulting in feelings of shame. Flynn calls for a change in this dynamic and a shift in the responsibility of safety away from potential victims toward perpetrators. Women do not have to adjust the length of their skirts, or the route they walk home at night. Rather, women need to be relieved of the burden of constantly guaranteeing their safety. To ensure that this change occurs, both women and men need to be cognisant of this shift, as public security is a societal dynamic that cannot be changed or upheld by one gender. The most difficult part here is to bring men into the conversation. Only  two male participants were present during Flynn’s presentation, which reinforced the issue of male inclusion and support and raises the question of how this can be done. In an interview with Robert O´Donnell, one of the organisers of this event, he shared that the word “woman” in the event title might instantly dissuade men from participating. 

Lastly, Fahmeda Naheed spoke out about the emotional cost of being a woman. This part of the event was deeply personal as she shared her individual story as a migrant woman from Pakistan living in Ireland. She shared her thoughts on the loss of women’s rights to expression. In an interview, she explained how women lose this right growing up:

She is labelled as a woman with crocodile tears, a drama queen, a weaker entity and hormonal. Her pain story is seen as a normal emotion, she does not express herself which results in her unnoted presence. She keeps it all inside her and no one hears her pains. Women should be entitled to the right of expression and be given the opportunity to contribute through expressing her pain journey (Fahmeda Naheed).

In sum, The Cost of Being a Woman” event, organised by the Young Greens Ireland and MEP Grace O’Sullivan, highlighted the profound challenges faced by women today. Financial burdens, including the pink tax and the struggle of balancing motherhood with a career, were discussed. Megan Flynn emphasised the need to shift the responsibility of safety from victims to perpetrators, urging collective awareness and action. Fahmeda Naheed’s emotional account underscored the importance of granting women the right to express their pain openly. The event emphasised the urgent need for societal change, urging the creation of policies that support women and break free from ingrained societal norms.

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