Day 11 - Sylvia Meehan

Sylvia Meehan.jpg

On Day 11 of our #12FeministsofChristmas, We have been listening to lots of Christmas FM and love the work of their charity partner ALONE to enable older people to continue living safely in the community. This got us thinking about feminists working for older people's rights. Our Day 11 Feminist is Sylvia Meehan, whose worked for equal pay and opportunities for women as well as the rights of older people since the 1970s. 


Sylvia recognised that strict dedication is required in order to progress women’s position in society. By her own admission, the unavailability of contraception in Ireland impacted on her participation in the workforce in her early adult life. She was prompted to get involved in equality activism when working in education she realised that men were being paid more than women. Sylvia was a strong advocate for equality legislation mandated by Ireland’s membership of the European Economic Community. Sylvia was the first chair of the Employment Equality Agency from 1977 to 1993.  


Speaking to RTE in 1994, Sylvia criticised the Constitutional provision restricting women's lives to the home and the associated lack of recognition of women’s labour in caring roles as contributing to society. Nearly 30 years ago, Sylvia had identified an issue with gender and parenting roles which is only now beginning to be more openly discussed. She stated that men’s role as fathers must evolve beyond that of financial contributor and that caring for children should be recognised as developing the next generation of society.


Her activism continued during her retirement as she advocated for older people’s rights. Sylvia was a founding member of the Senior Citizens Parliament and sat on the board of Age and Opportunity. There are few areas of Irish life which Sylvia Meehan’s work has not had an impact from education, employment, political engagement, bodily autonomy and family life. In the days after her death in September 2018, her accomplishments and contributions were recognised by many in the trade union, education, arts, civil service, government and activist sectors.


Sources: Hindsight, ‘A feminist by occupation and inclination’, 8th August 1994, RTE,


The Irish News, Sylvia Meehan: Fighter for women's rights, pensioners and equality, 8th September 2018,

Irish Times, Mary Carolan, Sylvia Meehan ‘helped shape’ an emerging Ireland, service told’,