Tuesday 20 August 2019

Laura Larkin: 'Gender policies should not be rolled out just once a year'

'The fact is that Ireland is an unequal place and correcting that balance is not about headline measures or media-managed offensives.' Stock Image: PA
'The fact is that Ireland is an unequal place and correcting that balance is not about headline measures or media-managed offensives.' Stock Image: PA
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The Government will meet today to sign off on some key measures to promote gender equality. It is a nod to International Women's Day - complete, naturally, with lots of announcements.

Gender pay gap reporting legislation - essentially a law mandating larger companies to publish details on pay along gender lines - is expected to be published.

Ireland will also today finally ratify the Istanbul Convention, which sets out minimum standards for governments in the fight against gender-based violence.

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Measures, long agreed and first expected to be finalised much earlier than today, to link funding for political parties to the diversity of their candidates will also be agreed by ministers. They are designed to encourage parties to run more women at local council level, but stop short of the gender quotas in place for general elections.

There will also be a new strategy to promote gender balance at work and to promote a work-life balance.

None of the measures is unwelcome and none, to be honest, is before time.

The fact is that Ireland is an unequal place and correcting that balance is not about headline measures or media-managed offensives. It will take steely political will and hard slog - and could cost votes.

There are steps to be taken that will meet resistance from industry, including expanding the number of companies who need to report on their pay rates and expanding unpaid parental leave entitlements.

Genuinely affordable State-funded childcare models are expensive and would affect other areas - perhaps such as pension increases.

Ireland's maternity services need significant investment to address deficiencies and even regional imbalances.

The complex intersection between domestic violence and homelessness also needs critical attention and is often missing from the debate.

In politics, the issue of gender-balanced cabinets is a controversial one. The Taoiseach has argued there needs to be more women elected first, but it is safe to say there are probably more than five women legislators in Dáil Eireann capable of sitting around the Cabinet table.

The repeal of the Eighth Amendment, plans to increase parental leave and improvements in childcare have all been positive steps to date. But without follow-through and a sustained focus on issues that affect women in this country their impact will be minimal.

Having a Cabinet meeting to mark International Women's Day feels patronising but the outcome of it, on balance, will see progress in some areas.

However, the test will be at all the Cabinet meetings to follow because policies affecting women should be on the agenda every time ministers meet - not simply when it makes for a good news story.

If there was a genuine drive to pursue these matters, they'd have been achieved already and not bunched together for fanfare effect today.

Irish Independent

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