THE National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 was launched by former Minister Frances Fitzgerald in 2017. It is a whole-of-Government framework containing actions to advance the rights of women and girls, to address the remaining obstacles to their equality and thus enable their full participation in Irish society.
Recently in the Seanad I sought an update on the Strategy and was informed that it is being extended out to the end of 2021 due to certain implementation delays caused by the pandemic.
The Programme for Government commits to developing and implementing a new Strategy for Women and Girls and I believe the work required for this initiative must begin in the very near future.
The current Strategy is a living document; it must stay up to date with societal developments in order to implement relevant, effective solutions. Beginning work on the new Strategy now is important to ensure consistency in the policy approach as well as continued momentum on the achievements to date. Of course it is very important to ensure completion of the existing objectives, but a long-term focus is also needed here in terms of the setting of new goals and targets.
Women are more likely to be burdened with unpaid care and domestic work and are therefore more likely to have drop out of the labour force. Fine Gael has a strong record in addressing this problem during our time in Government.
For example, Fine Gael introduced a number of supports – such as paid paternity benefit, extended parental leave, additional maternity leave for mothers of premature babies, and the extension of the free pre-school year. We want to provide families with more options so women are not forced into child-raring roles, but can rather make choices about what is best for them and their families in the short and long term.
But there is much more to be done; as soon as one objective is introduced or achieved it helps provide clarity on additional progress that must be made.
I want to see the next Strategy document build on what has already been achieved.
For example, gender balance within the Irish civil service is improving but there are still significant disparities in the positions occupied by men and women – men are twice as likely to occupy senior positions even compared to women with the same level of qualifications and length of service. Similar differences are found across both public and private sector employment.
Not only are women in our society losing out on income and employment advancement opportunities, but Ireland as a whole is suffering from the economic inefficiency of not utilising all our work force to their full potential.
The Gender Pay Gap is still far too wide and Government is committed to early enactment of the Gender Pay legislation which will identify specific gender-pay imbalances within organisations thus providing opportunity for inequality to be addressed.
I was pleased to hear that Minister Roderic O’Gorman also plans to launch a new consultation on flexible working and on domestic violence leave. The objective is to get a better understanding of the needs of employees and employers with regard to such leave and the results of this consultation will be very important to the direction of the next Strategy on Women and Girls. I hope this consultation process also focuses on how we can eradicate domestic violence. Remedial support (in the form of domestic violence leave) is necessary for victims, however it is better to prevent something happening in the first place than to repair the damage after it has occurred.
It is widely recognised that a more equitable world will bring significant benefits to society. Enabling women to exercise equal rights and opportunities has the potential to generate wider prosperity for everyone.
The next Strategy on Women and Girls must focus in particular on increasing female participation in decision-making across Irish society so that decisions can be more representative and reflective of both women’s and men’s priorities. If women are to change their circumstances fundamentally, they need to have greater access to the levers of power across Irish society.”
ABOUT THE STRATEGY
The Government’s Strategy on Women and Girls sets out six high-level objectives which aim to advance socio-economic equality for women and girls; to promote their physical and mental well-being; to increase their visibility in society and equal and active citizenship; to promote women’s participation in leadership; to combat gender based violence; and to embed gender equality in decision-making.
These objectives are advanced through 139 actions, undertaken by Government Departments and State agencies in cooperation with social partners and civil society as appropriate.