07 Oct 2022

Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 - Grace Kearney: People should challenge everyday inequalities

Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 - Grace Kearney: People should challenge everyday inequalities

Grace Kearney

Every year for the past 15 years, Grace Kearney of Bridgeways Family Resource Centre has celebrated International Women’s Day, either by hosting an event or by attending one.

This year will be very different, due to Covid-19, but she still intends to mark the day by atten online events, which will be held by the National Women’s Council.

“I feel International Women’s Day is an integral day in the calendar year and we must make a special effort to celebrate it,” she explained.

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

Every year for the past years 15 years I have celebrated International Women’s Day, either by hosting an event or by attending an event. 

This year I hope to celebrate the day by attending some virtual events hosted by the National Women’s Council. 

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? Both personally and in your role at Bridgeways Family Resource Centre?

I feel International Women's Day is an integral day in the calendar year and we must make a special effort to celebrate it.

Over the past number of years Bridgeways FRC has hosted massive events to mark the day. Some of the events focused on inviting organisations and women from all throughout the county to celebrate in solidarity with us. 

In 2019, Bridgeways focused on change and invited local and potential councillors to address the community and listen to the many changes we hope to see in our community. 

International Women’s Day is a day for us to reflect on how far we’ve come and to create a space to think about continued developments moving forward. 

#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?

#choosetochallenge resonates deeply with me both in my personal and professional life. Anyone who knows me; knows that I challenge any form of injustice, inequality or poor governance greatly. This element of my personality is not just in my professional life but also in my personal life. I do not turn into a different person outside of my job, this is who I am. The element of challenging injustice has made me unpopular on plenty of occasions, however I feel that to ‘to exist is to resist.’ I can not sit back in the face of adversity.  

I feel if more people challenged the every day inequalities that we face the landscape in which we live would change. 

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?

I sadly do agree with the World Economic Forum that gender parity will not be attained for almost a century. However I do feel if we changed our analysis and use of language on gender parity it can be achieved much quicker. 

Many women that I know in both my personal and professional life feel that gender parity exists and that we live in an equal society. With my analysis this could not be further from the truth, however in some instances gender parity is painted on the surface and people accept this at face value.

Gender parity can be achieved sooner if there is a massive change in policy and thinking at government level.  All policies should be both gender and poverty proofed before being published. Every change should be examined through a gender parity lens. 

I have been subjected to gender bias in my life on plenty of occasions, however one of the biggest examples was in 2019 when I put my name forward for local elections in the Granard Municipal District. I do feel if I was a male I would have performed much better that I did. I received numerous comments about my gender and subsequently my age. I also received much criticism about my credentials and ability to carry out the role of Councillor, however I feel if I was elected I could have brought serious change to the council, I feel I would have been a great asset to the Municipal District.

I was not running for financial benefit, for power or for popularity. I ran in the election as I believe in the power of politics to bring about lasting change for communities. 

The whole experience effectively me very badly and being honest I am still getting over it, however I will not let it stop me bringing change to the communities that I work with.  

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

There are plenty of women that inspire me daily from my mother, to my sisters, to my work colleagues and to the numerous women and young women that I work with, I am so grateful for all of these amazing people in my life & they have thought me so many life lessons. 

However I am truly inspired by two political figures, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and Senator Lynn Ruane. Both of these women are powerhouses and they make every decision based from their values. They are truly amazing leaders and are in political life to make lasting and fundamental change for their communities.  Their values of equality, respect and kindness are to the forefront in everything they do. 

Three highlights / achievements / initiatives time at Bridgeways Family Resource Centre? And why are they significant?

I am so unbelievably grateful and blessed to be manager of Bridgeways FRC in such an amazing community. I honestly could not name three highlights as every day, month and year I am there;  the changes and progression of the centre, staff and community is utterly breathtaking. 

Myself and the amazing staff team are privileged to work alongside such an open, accepting and loving community. 

The community have embraced the centre with both arms and are so supportive of our work. 

The best days for Bridgeways FRC are certainly ahead of us as we plan to expand and extend our work with the ever changing needs of our community. It is envisioned that the staff team will grow 100% in the next 3 years. In addition there are serious plans to extend the services and buildings that Bridgeways will operate from. 

All of our achievements would not be possible without the staff team, board of management, volunteers, partner statutory and non statutory organisations, clubs, committees, county councillors & community members. 

In Ballymahon there is a sense of community cohesion which has been one of the fundamental aspects to our successes. 

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

The pandemic has had a huge impact on how I work with the community however Bridgeways have not closed our doors and myself and the staff have continued to provide a frontline service throughout all of the pandemic. 

Many people are facing huge struggles and adversity at the hands of the pandemic and every day a new issue will arise however we are doing our best to address these concerns. 

Personally for myself and my family the pandemic has been manageable as thankfully we are lucky to all still be in employment and have our health. 

This has been an incredibly difficult time for so many people and families, I believe the effects of this pandemic will last for years.   

Plans for when lockdown restrictions are lifted? 

To be honest I don’t have any plans for when restrictions are lifted. I will certainly treasure family events and occasions more in the future as we all have missed out on so much together. 

It will be nice to get out in our local communities and support local businesses as they reopen their doors. 

Childcare - should it be government run entirely and pay scale reflecting the qualifications and experience of the employees and the importance of the role they play in early years education? 

Childcare in my opinion is one of the root causes of gender inequality in our society. We as a country need to realise the fundamental importance that childcare has on the early years development of our children.  

We need to take child care seriously and to fund it accordingly. You can not build a house without foundations, thus Children can not excel in education without the support and scaffolding provided by our childcare providers. 

The work our early years educators perform daily is nothing short of heroic. They are the unsung heroes in society and we must change child care policies to reflect this.  

Furthermore, I would love to see a shift in thinking around maternity leave and move towards shared maternity leave between parents, in addition 4 day weeks need to be considered and the impact this could have on family life and child development. 

Politics - gender balance and gender quotas. Are political parties doing enough to encourage and facilitate women who may wish to pursue careers in politics?

In my opinion the issue about gender parity in politics is multi faceted and it will take a myriad of approaches and solutions to solve. 

Political parties are definitely not doing enough to involve women however political life in many instances is nearly alien to women. 

The political environment, in which I personally experienced can be toxic. This needs to change, our thinking about politics need to change. 

Politics is at the core of every adversity and challenge that we face in society however the route into political life can be so difficult. 

Organisations like ‘SHE’ and ‘Women for Election’ are doing fantastic work however we need to normalise women entering politics and this work in my opinion needs to start with our young women. 

We also need to see more women in positions of leadership in our own local communities. 

Change is slow, however a gender balance in politics is achievable if the issue is addressed in a multi faceted approach.  

Anything you want to add?

I am very proud to be from County Longford, I plan to live and work in the county for the rest of my life.  

I look forward to Longford’s future and being involved with bringing serious change at every level in the county. I hope to witness true gender parity and balance within both our county and country. 

Furthermore I hope to see the day whereby progessive policies are introduced that will aid equality, banish poverty and provide opportunities for our communities. 

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