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Gender equality in Irish theatre industry takes ‘momentous step’

The Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Ros Kavanagh The Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
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New guidelines on gender equality by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre have been described as “a momentous step forward” in achieving equal employment opportunities for women in Ireland’s theatre industry.

Eight “guiding principles” to establish gender equality have been announced in response to a public campaign led by protest group Waking the Feminists, sparked by the lack of female representation in the Abbey’s year-long Waking the Nation season.

When plans for the first part of the theatre’s programme marking the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916 were unveiled in November last year, there was widespread outrage that just one of the season’s 10 scheduled plays had been written by a woman, with only three female directors participating.

The Abbey has now committed itself to making gender equality a key priority, with the issue becoming “a permanent board agenda item with immediate effect”.

It has also said that it will achieve gender balance in “all areas of the artistic programme over the next five years by presenting more work led by female practitioners”.

An annual programme for second-level students will also be instigated with the aim of raising awareness of career opportunities for women in theatre.

A statement by Waking the Feminists said it acknowledged a “momentous step forward in achieving gender equality in the Irish cultural sector”.

It added: “We welcome the leadership taken by the Abbey Theatre. We hope that this initiative sets a standard for all other theatre organisations. We look forward to the recommendations being fully implemented throughout the Abbey organisation.”

The Abbey’s directors designate, Graham McLaren and Neil Murray, said: “It is exciting to be arriving into an organisation that is committed to gender equality. It is a long-held value of ours. We believe that artists and audiences regardless of gender, sexual orientation, geography, ethnicity and wealth should have access to their national theatre.”

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