International Women’s Day 2023: Gemma Begley
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, Ulster GAA speaks to former Tyrone Ladies footballer and the GPA’s first Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Gemma Begley.
What sort of work do you carry out week-to-week in your role as GAA/GPA Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer?
Previously I worked with the Women’s Gaelic Players Association (WGPA), which looked after the female players only prior to 2020 before the two players bodies merged, and so a lot of that work carried on, focusing on aspects like government grants, administrator government grants and supporting player welfare initiatives.
Every week is different, there’s just such variety, which is part of the reason why I love it so much. In the last couple of years probably equality was just the focus, but now it’s expanded more into diversity and inclusion, and so we’re getting our teeth into that and aiming to expand the community footprint of the players. The main example of that last year was the first Pride breakfast that we had on the morning of the public Pride parades
It’s really about trying to extend the work of players as community role models and just underlining the fact that Gaelic games as an open, diverse and welcoming place.
What have been the recent highlights?
I’ve been since 2015 with the WGPA, so initially when the government funding was introduced in 2017 it was a big deal to even get that recognition from the state that these were high performance athletes playing the female inter-county game.
The merger was a huge achievement, and it was something that was enjoyable to be involved with. Myself and Maria Kinsella were the two main people involved from the female side, with Paul Flynn and Kieran Barr from the male side, but it is a credit to everyone else involved as well. That’s had a huge impact in terms of the support available for female players and it was such a big statement from the male players, the unanimous support for that, because it was the right thing to do, and that has led to a lot of the progress in terms of the equalising of government funding and scholarships in 2021.
They are the three or four major things, but hopefully there’s a lot more to come as we’re only getting started.
What do you think then have been the big strides made in female sport in recent times from your perspective?
Female sport has really been on a steady growth arc upwards. The recognition is a big thing, the growth in coverage.
Sport Ireland is driving a lot of positive change as well, which is showing great leadership at national level around things like the gender balance on the boards of the National Governing Bodies that are running the sports. A lot of that drives the decision making within the organisation, so there’s certain element of starting at the top and whilst at the at the flip side of that a lot of it has been driven from community level up in terms of participation and keeping girls in sport, giving them pathways, showing them role models. That all seeds into growing the game, which is a circular economy for sponsors and TV broadcasters in terms of coverage.
So there’s been good leadership at national level, and some of the sponsors are doing incredible work as well. I cannot speak highly enough of PwC for what they’ve done for Gaelic games, just from my own experience. We have Joint Player of the Month awards now across the male and female inter-county players and PwC now sponsor the Camogie All Stars, as well as the GAA All Stars. Initiatives like are that are helping to drive positive change.
What does what does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It is a celebration, and it’s probably just an ongoing reminder and a chance to kind of check in and reflect as to what’s changed from the previous year.
I suppose you’d like to see some of the activation and promotion being consistent throughout the year, that’s the only thing, but as I say, it’s a good chance to kind of stop and reflect where you’re at, and it’s obviously another great opportunity to celebrate what has been done really well for women in sports.
It’s also a call to action that we’re looking forward. The theme this year is around embracing equity and progress, so again it’s a chance just to reflect where we’re at, but also to see where we’re going.