Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 | Ellen Kenny: It’s important to recognise the past to consider the future

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 | Ellen Kenny: It’s important to recognise the past to consider the future

Longford's Ellen Kenny

Former Scoil Mhuire student and current Trinity College student, Ellen Kenny has always been very invested in the disparity of access to education globally, which has resulted in her taking advantage of whatever opportunities have come her way so far.

Also read: Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 - Shirley Maloney: It is important female voices are heard and respected

“I was also lucky enough to grow up with parents that let me explore my love of learning and always made sure I knew my gender should have no impact on what I’m capable of achieving,” she said.

“I’m proud to see my dedication manifest into academic success in the past year, especially considering the pressure all students were under due to lockdown restrictions and the cancellation of the Leaving Cert, and I plan to keep that dedication alive as I enter college to study politics, philosophy, sociology and economics so I can work towards a future where I have the chance to make a difference in the world."

How will you mark International Women’s Day on Monday, March 8?

I am currently living in student accommodation for college, so my International Women’s Day will consist of myself and my female roommates forcing our only male roommate to complete all domestic tasks while also waiting on us hand and foot as we most likely watch Bridget Jones’ Diary. If he doesn’t agree with this, we will be labelling him a misogynist, of course. This is what I like to imagine, anyway; thanks to restrictions, I’ll most likely spend International Women’s Day the same I have every other day this year so far- completing online lectures and avoiding deadlines- while also keeping in mind the advocacy and activism from women in history that has allowed me to be where I am today. 

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? Both personally and as a student?

Personally, International Women’s Day is a valuable opportunity to remember how far women’s rights have already come in certain parts of the world and to examine how we reached this point. I think it’s incredibly important to recognise our past in order to consider where our future lies, especially when it comes to countries that have not been as lucky as the Western World where activists are still fighting for rights and opportunities we have for nearly decades at this stage. 

As a student, I still take the approach of considering the history and future of women’s rights - in my own college, women weren’t even admitted until 1904, but now three women are running for the position of Provost. It’s both a fascinating historical journey and useful tool to consider all the steps that had to be taken and boundaries that had to be broken to get to this point. It’s crucial for young female students to look to our past to ensure our future is bright.

#ChooseToChallenge is the theme for International Women’s Day - applying the theme to your own life and career, what might it mean to you and what is your view or interpretation on the theme?

The history of women’s rights has always been a story of challenge- challenging the laws that denied certain political and economic freedoms, challenging the status quo and gender norms that prevented women from becoming their true, authentic selves, and challenging the institutions that have always been male-dominated in an effort to show women they can always achieve their dreams and aspirations. In that way, for me #ChooseToChallenge means honouring the challenges women have persevered through in the past and choosing to carry that legacy today. Young women in Ireland today have ever-increasing opportunities to strive towards our goals, do what we choose to do and be who we want to be- with these rights, I believe we also have a responsibility to fight for equality across the globe and ensure our daughters and granddaughters have even more opportunities than we did.

According to the World Economic Forum, gender parity will not be attained for almost a century. Do you agree? Could it be attained sooner? Have you ever suffered at the hands of or know of a family member or friend that has suffered due gender bias? 

On a global scale, I’m sad to say that I’m not surprised by these projections whatsoever. As an Irish woman, I am proud to say that women’s rights have come on leaps and bounds both here and in many other countries. However, we live in a world of mass communication we live where one can find out what is happening on the other side of the hemisphere at the swipe of a finger. Because of this, and because of the rights and resources afforded to women in developed countries, we cannot let our activism stop at our front door. There is still monumental gender disparity across the world; 132 million girls are uneducated due to obstructions to equality like child-marriage and poverty, inhibiting women’s freedom and preventing them reaching their full potential. Of course, every country still has a long way to go when it comes to equity and culture- Ireland still must work towards equality through gender quotas in the Dáil, and one of my own friends who studies Computer Science actually received higher marks on homework she submitted under a male name than on the very same homework she submitted under her own name- but we have to raise awareness for women everywhere to see real change.

Two ladies that have inspired you in your own life and explain why ? 

I’ve always been interested in access to education- who gets it, who doesn’t, why this happens- so I’m sure it comes as now surprise that one of the most inspiring women in my own life is Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for women’s education. I was eleven years old when she was shot for speaking against the Taliban and advocating for universal education. This was one of the first times I felt like history was happening before me and it was one of the first times I understood the sacrifices people are willing to make for what they believe in, and how these actions can have a huge impact on the world at large. Following her work in the subsequent definitely coloured my own views on the importance of education as a launch pad for development and prosperity. 

Today, a woman I have recently admire is Senator Lynn Ruane. I had the opportunity to hear her story at a college society event, and I was deeply inspired by her commitment to expanding the reach of education and breaking down the elitist barriers of the academic world. Ruane established her initiative Philosophy for the Community as a way to ignite people’s passion for learning in an accessible way. As a former president for Trinity’s Student Union, I also have a lot of respect for how she used her position to fight for pressing matters such as fossil fuel divestment and Repealing the Eighth Amendment. People like Yousafzai and Ruane taught me how political education is and they both taught to seize every opportunity I can if I want to create a more inclusive world. 

You've achieved a lot in the past few years, from your amazing Leaving Cert results to the scholarship award at Trinity. How do you feel about all that and the fact you've achieved so much at such a young age?

As I’ve already said, I’ve always been someone very invested in the disparity of access to education globally, and that made me very conscious to take advantages of the opportunities before me. I was also lucky enough to grow up with parents that let me explore my love of learning and always made sure I knew my gender should have no impact on what I’m capable of achieving. I’m proud to see my dedication manifest into academic success in the past year, especially considering the pressure all students were under due to lockdown restrictions and the cancellation of the Leaving Cert, and I plan to keep that dedication alive as I enter college to study politics, philosophy, sociology and economics so I can work towards a future where I have the chance to make a difference in the world.

Covid-19 pandemic - how has it affected you and how are you and your family coping?

I’m fortunate enough to live in student accommodation this year, so despite my first year in college taking place over video calls and online exams, I have been able to meet some amazing people and have as much as a normal college experience one can have when most of the friends you make simply live within your laptop screen. Of course, this means I can’t see my friends and family in Longford as much as I’d like to, but we make do with Zoom calls and distract ourselves with plans we can make for when this is all over. 

Plans for when lockdown restrictions are lifted? 

I’ve spent a lot of time fantasising about taking the first post-lockdown flight out of Ireland to wherever the pilot will take me to travel the world and live a very cinematic life, but honestly I’m just excited for when the bookshops open again and I can be found roaming every shelf in the country. I’m also never saying no to a night-out ever again!