10 March 2015
Statement by Joe Costello TD
Speaking on International Women’s Day and EU Year for Development in European Parliament,
Thank you for your invitation to speak this afternoon on International Women’s Day and the EU Year
for Development. I would like to congratulate Salome and her African sisters for showing how African
women who are part of the African Diaspora can empower women everywhere. They have played a
prominent role in the campaign against FGM with Amnesty International and worked with Akidwa
against gender-based violence. In Wezesha, this valuable work for African women is being carried
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women, their achievements and their central
role in the very existence of humanity. It is also the opportunity to look at the negative cultural,
religious, economic and social pressures that limit women’s full potential as women and citizens and
also the darker side—the GBV and FGM, the rape, domestic violence and prostitution.
The treatment of women in Ireland has often been poor. The Magdalen Laundries, the Mother and
Child Homes, the stigma of women who gave birth out of wedlock, the denial of contraception and the
denial of the termination of pregnancy under any circumstances had made Ireland a cold place to
grow up for many women. Only in recent years has our society come to face up to our treatment of
It is in that context that young African women have arrived in Ireland in numbers in the last two
decades in the middle of a changing country, with changing values and the old traditions of Church
and State crumbling. They are anxious to engage in Irish society and face up to the cultural and
traditional values in their own societies that impact negatively on their lives and to campaign to
change them. Akidwa and Wezesha are organisations that fight against discrimination and for equality
in African society.
I am particularly pleased to see Wezesha go that step further. They do not just campaign within the
African Diaspora here in Ireland but seek to utilise and mobilise the African Diaspora as a vehicle
· to support women and children in their countries of origin
· to fight conflict, violence and poverty on the African continent
· to provide skills, expertise and resources for development
· to provide capacity building for women and
· to mobilise women to address the many issues they face in their countries of origin
As Minister for Trade and Development, it was always my contention that the African Diaspora in
Ireland was the natural ally of Irish Aid, that the best people to help in the development of African
countries were the citizens of those countries and that the Diaspora should be in the front line of that
development and change.
Let us look at one of the key areas of African life and livelihood—agriculture. For many years, Ireland
was a backward agricultural society, with endemic poverty and an economy dominated by the U.K. market. Africa is that society today—rural and a land worked by women and without a functioning
market. Liberation of women from the land would transform women’s lives in Africa. The creation of a
structured market economy would revolutionise agricultural work. It would change the lives of
hundreds of millions from subsistence to sustainability. It would put the mainly female workforce in
charge of their own lives and livelihoods. It would change the face of Africa.
Worldwide discussions are currently well-advanced on preparing the post-2015 programme for the
international development of poorer countries. I believe that the release of women from subsistence
labour is the way to liberate women from drudgery and to transform African society.
That is what Wezesha is doing, is pioneering. Wezesha’s focus on Kenya and the Democratic
Republic of Congo is important. DRC is a country recovering from conflict. The greatest threat in any
African country to women’s bodily integrity is in the DRC. GBV is rampant. Poverty is rampant. And
the challenge that Wezesha is taking on is colossal.
We must not forget the very specific threat against women and girls from Boko Haram in Nigeria and
surrounding countries, where women are kidnapped and enslaved and girls are taken from their
schools’ and deprived of education.
I commend Wezesha on its initiative and its plan, through the African Diaspora, to empower women
and children to sustainable health, education and development.
To mark International Women’s Day, I would like to finish by quoting the 1960s human rights activist
Malcolm X, who said “To educate a man is to educate an individual, but to educate a woman is to
educate a whole nation.