The celebration of International Women's Day today gives occasion to note progress made on a range of measures to promote greater gender equality in Ireland, and it is only right to note that there have been some notable achievements in recent years.
Yet as the recent general election, and subsequent nominations to Seanad Eireann, have shown there remain many obstacles which continue to present great difficulties for a proper proportional representation of women in our national parliament and generally in civil society.
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is: "I am Generation Equality: Realising Women's Rights". In many ways, it is truly extraordinary that in the year 2020 we are still discussing the need for equality as though there could be any doubt. And more extraordinary still that as part of the list of its achievements, the outgoing government points to the belated ratification of the Istanbul Convention last year, which aims to prevent domestic violence, as progress; or indeed the hope - hope - that legislation to provide for gender pay reporting will be reintroduced to the new Dail.
This is not to decry the limited, but welcome progress made in recent years. Indeed, the outgoing government has done more than many others before it in this general area. But that the eventual ratification of a convention which aims to prevent domestic violence should be lauded as progress is depressing indeed in Ireland 2020.
The Government also points to new statistics from Balance for Better Business which shows that female representation on ISEQ 20 boards exceeds target, but admits with remarkable understatement that there is still "room for improvement". Furthermore, the National Strategy for Women and Girls has recorded achievements in key areas such as health, family leave and farming; the enactment of Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 provides two weeks paid parents leave for each parent of a child under one; the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality convened its first meeting on January 25 last, and Ireland is to be represented at the 64th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to take place tomorrow. To which we can say great, but still…
The aim of the National Strategy for Women and Girls is that, once it concludes at the end of this year, there will be greater equality for women and girls. This is an important step towards an Ireland where all women enjoy equality with men and can achieve their full potential while enjoying a safe and fulfilling life.
These and other laudable measures are small and in their own way significant steps. But then we look at the recent general election, which saw a minuscule 1pc increase in the number of women representing the people in the current Dail. The best that can be said is that at least this number seems to consolidate a 10pc increase in the number of female TDs elected since the 2016 election, which came after the adoption of candidate gender quotas, but that the initial progress seems to have dramatically stalled.
Many fine female TDs lost their seats in the election and have been unsuccessful in securing a nomination to the Seanad or have walked away from national politics entirely.
This is truly a shame. Quotas are only part of the solution when it comes to having more women elected to national politics and keeping them there. The work of the new Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality and the implementation of its recommendations cannot come quickly enough.