Today, a young Waterford woman will make history as she takes over the Taoiseach’s office to mark International Day of the Girl 2021.
European studies student Mairéad Butler (19) is a member of Plan International Ireland’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP).
On Monday, she will take over the office of Taoiseach Micheál Martin — an office which has never been held by a woman.
Plan International’s Girls Takeover events are taking place across the world today in honour of International Day of the Girl. The events give girls and young women the opportunity to step into the shoes of leaders in politics, business, and other sectors; especially in positions traditionally dominated by men.
Mairéad will draw Mr Martin’s attention to the many challenges still facing girls and young women in Ireland and around the world. She will also inform the Taoiseach about the results of the Youth Advisory Panel’s recent research into the extent of sexual and reproductive health misinformation young people are encountering in Ireland, and the specific impacts of this on girls and young women.
Launching on Monday, the KnoWhere To Go report found that 85 per cent of over 500 young people surveyed had encountered sexual health misinformation.
Sources include schools, the internet, and family and friends. The research also highlights how young people perceive a gap in sexual health education in school.
Although those surveyed were aware of the prevalence of misinformation that exists online, they were still more likely to seek the information they wanted on the internet. Less than 1 per cent said they would look for it in school.
Mairéad will also express Plan International’s appreciation for Ireland’s commitment to gender equality and inclusive education for girls in its overseas development and humanitarian work.
In advance of Budget Day tomorrow, she will also ask the Taoiseach about Ireland’s progress towards reaching its target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on overseas aid by 2030. As a development and humanitarian organisation focused on children’s rights and equality for girls, Plan International knows how this commitment from Ireland could change the lives of millions more girls in some of the poorest regions of the world.
Speaking ahead of the Girls Takeover event, Mairéad said:
“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to ‘take over’ Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s office today. To be frank, it’s not good enough in 2021 to say that no woman has ever held the office of Taoiseach — I hope girls across the country will see this and be able to envision themselves in this office one day!”
She added: “The Youth Advisory Panel carried out research over the summer, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to present the findings to the Taoiseach today. Most concerning were the responses we received about consent, contraception and LGBTI+ identities.
“The reality is that when young people are not armed with the right info on sexual and reproductive health, girls and young women are at particular risk of being subjected to sexual and gender-based violence and early pregnancy. We are adding our voice to those who have been calling for reform of the RSE curriculum for years now and are also asking for peer-led education and a centralised resource to be made available.”
Destiny Ayo Vaughan, who is also on the Youth Advisory Panel, said: “Each day, millions of girls around the world are subjected to horrific violations of their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Harmful practices such as FGM, child marriage and sexual and gender-based violence persist. Leaders must take action to ensure girls can access their fundamental human rights — ensuring all young people receive comprehensive, accurate relationship and sexuality education is crucial.”
Climate change, conflict, Covid — all of these have a disproportionate impact on girls from the most marginalised groups.
Speaking before the Takeover, chief executive of Plan International Ireland Paul O’Brien reaffirmed Plan International Ireland’s mission striving for children’s rights and gender equality around the world: “At Plan International we work with, and not just for, young people. Girls’ voices and experiences must be central when decisions are being made that impact their lives. All too often, girls are excluded and marginalised. The pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerabilities they face and driven global progress towards gender equality back by several years.”
He continued: “Tomorrow the government will announce Budget 2022. Ireland has demonstrated a genuine commitment to advancing gender equality and ensuring girls have access to inclusive, quality education in its overseas development policy. A sustained, and ultimately increased, commitment to this is needed now more than ever.”
Mairéad added: “The fight for gender justice and girls’ equality can sometimes feel overwhelming. Climate change, conflict, Covid — all of these have a disproportionate impact on girls from the most marginalised groups. Moments like International Day of the Girl give us the opportunity to celebrate the important gains made over the years, while we nevertheless persist in our fight for girls’ rights everywhere.”