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19 May 2005 Edition

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Women demand welfare rights - 11,000 letters of protest to Department of Finance

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

Hundreds of women from all over Ireland took part in a colourful protest march to the Department of Finance on Tuesday, where they delivered 11,000 letters calling for reform of the social welfare system.

The 'Brown Envelope Campaign' was organised by the National Women's Council of Ireland, which has been demanding reforms in areas such as women's access to pensions; recognising care work as a job; enabling a greater work life balance and a sharing of care-work in families; and making it easier for women to work in all forms of paid employment, as well as allowing those working in family businesses to make social insurance contributions.

Speaking at the march, Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald, said that women continue to suffer discrimination and inequality within Irish society.

"Women suffer disproportionately in the workplace through unequal pay with their male counterparts, are more likely to fall into the poverty trap, suffer as a result of physical, sexual and psychological abuse and many rural women continue to be disadvantaged resulting from a lack of services and a sense of isolation," she said.

"Today's protest by the NWCI sought to highlight the inherently unequal social welfare system in this state, and in particular the need for women to have an independent entitlement to income."

The letters given to the Department also called for the extension of maternity leave from 18 to 26 weeks (the 26 Counties falls near the bottom of the European table on maternity leave), the introduction of paid parental leave, and the introduction of a new, part-time unemployment benefit for the parents of children under 12.

Last month, Sinn Féin launched a Women's Document designed to address many of these core issues. The key policies in it can be found on www.sinnfein.ie

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