14 July 2005

Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes up Ireland’s Report; Praises Impressive National Bodies for Gender Equality

Urges Further Steps to Empower Vulnerable Groups, Increase Women’s Participation in Public Life

NEW YORK, 13 July (UN Headquarters) -- While Ireland had set up impressive national bodies for gender equality, the country should take further steps to empower its vulnerable groups, including migrants, travellers and disabled women, and to increase women’s participation in public life, expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women told that country’s delegation today.

Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”. The Committee was considering Ireland’s combined fourth and fifth periodic reports.

Addressing migrant women, experts questioned whether Ireland’s new national strategy for women would include measures to protect the country’s rising numbers of migrant women, prevent their stereotyping in the media and other public forums, and combat the multiple forms of discrimination they faced.  Given that some migrants were often the victims of traffickers, they also asked about the country’s efforts to punish or prevent trafficking in women, and to protect or support the victims.

Responding to those concerns, an Irish representative said migrant workers’ rights were protected under existing national legislation, and that a State body assisted refugees and asylum-seekers, including those escaping violence. Although the country had previously lacked vision in eliminating discrimination, the new national strategy should correct that failing.

As for trafficking, another representative replied that facilitation of illegal entry into the country was already a crime; that legislation was being prepared to criminalize trafficking for sexual or labour exploitation; and that discussions were currently under way to assess whether existing legislation was sufficient to assist victims and prosecute traffickers. Moreover, the Government had pronounced that victims must be dealt with sympathetically and pragmatically, noting that cooperation was in the interest of both victims and authorities.

Focusing on other vulnerable groups, several experts voiced concern about traveller (nomadic), as well as disabled and elderly, women, who often suffered disproportionately from poverty, questioning whether the country had looked at root causes for their plight or tried to increase their chances for employment.

Addressing those comments, Frank Fahey, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who introduced the country’s report, said the country did not recognize travellers as a specific ethnic group, and were unconvinced that travellers themselves wished for such a distinction. Another Irish representative added that travellers’ rights were protected under law, and any member of the traveller community claiming discrimination had recourse, whether part of a separate race or not.

Several experts commented on women’s under-representation in Irish Parliament, local government and diplomatic posts, questioning whether the Parliamentary Equality Committee had sought to reverse that trend, or whether temporary special measures were envisaged for vulnerable groups to ensure their participation in the decision-making of local communities.

An Irish representative agreed that the country had so far failed to achieve its objectives for women’s political representation, but noted that several initiatives to increase women’s representation on party tickets had been carried out. He added, however, that Irish women could have been more politically aggressive than they had been, and that they had been let down the most by other women.

Mr. Fahey added that his Department had funded several organizations to increase the political participation of women and minority groups, and that local representation for women, travellers and immigrants had recently increased. As for women in diplomatic posts, another representative noted that women’s representation had increased in recent years, and now stood at 34.6 per cent for First Secretaries and Assistance Principle Officers, and 21 per cent for Counsellor.

In concluding remarks, Committee Chairperson Rosario Manalo, expert from the Philippines, noted that the country had taken significant steps to address the consistently poor, but said that stronger measures were needed to assist such vulnerable groups as travellers and elderly women. She also urged the Government to lift its remaining reservations to the Convention, and encouraged Ireland’s political parties to create an infrastructure that would encourage women to enter public life.

Also speaking for the Irish delegation were John O’Callaghan, Doncha O’Sullivan, and Noel Dowling, Advisors, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Helen Faughnan, Advisor, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Christine O’Rourke, Advisor, Attorney General’s Office; Deidre O’Higgins, Advisor, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and Allan Gibbons, of the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 14 July, to consider the combined fourth and fifth reports of Burkina Faso.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Ireland (document CEDAW/C/IRL/4-5), which highlight significant progress achieved since the country’s combined second and third reports were submitted in 1997.  Ireland acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on 22 December 1985 and submitted its first report in 1987. The country ratified Convention’s Optional Protocol in September 2000.

Among its achievements, Ireland reports an increase in the female labour force from 601,700 in 1997 to 771,300 in 2002, and the increase in the female participation rate from 41.4 per cent in 1996 to 48.9 per cent in 2002.  Ireland had instituted administrative and legal reforms to further gender equality. Of particular importance are the 1998 Employment Equality Act and the 2000 Equal Status Act, which provided for the establishment of a new equality infrastructure.

The Employment Equality Act outlaws discrimination in relation to employment on such grounds as gender, marital or family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability and race. The scope of the Act is comprehensive and covers discrimination in relation to access to employment, conditions of employment, equal pay for work of equal value, promotion, training and work experience. These kinds of discrimination are outlawed whether by an employer, an employment agency, a trade union, a professional body, a vocational training body or a newspaper advertising jobs in its careers and appointments pages.  Investigation and remedies are provided for under the Act, allowing redress to be sought through the Equality Authority and the Director of Equality Investigations -- the Equality Tribunal.

The Equal Status Act gives protection against discrimination in non-workplace areas and, thus, complements the Employment Equality Act. The Act prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the same nine grounds as the Employment Equality Act. The country’s gender equality legislation will be further enhanced following the transposition into Irish law of relevant European Union directives. Based on wide-ranging consultations, the Government has made a commitment in the latest social partnership agreement, “Sustaining Progress”, to develop a five-year National Women’s Strategy.

Regarding the country’s reservations to the Convention, the Government states that, in March 2000, Ireland withdrew its reservation to article 15.3 of the Convention, which states that any contract and private instrument with a legal effect that is directed at restricting the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void.  According to the report, following a review of the remaining reservations, Ireland will shortly be in a position to withdraw the reservation to article 13 (b) and (c). [Article 13 stipulates that States Parties are to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all areas of economic and social life, including family benefits, the right to bank loans, mortgages and credit, and the right to participate in recreational activities, sports and cultural life.]

In connection with article 13, the report states that the country reserves, for the time being, the right to maintain provisions of Irish legislation in the area of social security, which are more favourable to women than men. The primary reason for the reservation is the fact that entitlement of Child Benefit is normally vested in the mother. Regarding article 13 (b) and (c), it explains that the question of supplementing the guarantee of equality contained in the Irish Constitution with special legislation governing access to financial credit and other services and recreational activities, where these are provided by private persons, organizations or enterprises, is under consideration. For the time being, Ireland reserves the right to regard its existing law and measures in this area as appropriate for the attainment of the objectives of the Convention.

Ireland also has reservations to articles 16, 1(d) and (f), which relate to the rights and responsibilities of parents and guardians.  In connection with this article, Ireland is of the view that the attainment of the objectives of the Convention does not necessitate the extension to men of rights identical to those accorded by law to women in respect of the guardianship, adoption and custody of children born out of wedlock and reserves the right to implement the Convention subject to that understanding.

And finally, in connection with article 11(1), which prohibits discrimination in relation to employment on the basis of gender, Ireland reserves the right to regard the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, and the Employment Equality Act, 1977, and other measures taken in implementation of the European Economic Community standards concerning employment opportunities and pay as sufficient implementation of articles 11, 1(b), (c) and (d).

Introduction of Report

FRANK FAHEY, Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform of Ireland, presented the country’s combined fourth and fifth reports (document CEDAW/C/IRL/4-5). Beginning with employment, he said the employment rate for females aged 15 to 64 had increased from 40 per cent in 1994 to 56 per cent in 2004, while the female unemployment rate was 3.6 per cent. The positive economic situation in Ireland had led to higher demand for labour generally, but women’s employment had also improved due to changes in legislation regarding maternity and adoptive leave, parental leave and equality, the development of a childcare infrastructure and women’s achievements in education. Despite that progress, challenges remained, including the availability of quality, affordable childcare for many working parents.

On education, he noted that women today made up 52.5 per cent of all entrants to third level courses and constituted the majority of graduates from many fields of study, including law (65 per cent), health (82 per cent), veterinary science (67 per cent) and business and administration (60 per cent).  Girls outperformed boys at the national baccalaureate, and 75 per cent of females aged 18 were in full-time education, compared to 60 per cent of boys. Among areas where further progress was needed, he mentioned the number of girls pursuing qualification in engineering and technology, and the under-representation of women in senior management positions in schools and third level institutions.

Turning to decision-making, he said women were increasingly visible.  Three of eight Supreme Court judges were women, and women held the posts of President of the District Court, President of the Law Reform Commission, and Refugee Applications Commissioner. The Government had recently decided that nominating bodies must nominate both women and men to vacancies and the Government would choose from among nominees to ensure that a 40 per cent target for women was met.  However, women’s representation was still low in many areas of public and private sector decision-making.  In the most recent local elections in 2004, 19 per cent of those elected were women, up from 15 per cent in 1999, while just 13 per cent of deputies in the national Parliament were women.

As for social inclusion, he said the Government was acutely aware that there were groups of people who continued to experience poverty and social exclusion, with women featuring prominently among them.  In 2002, the Government had launched a revision of the 1997 National Anti-Poverty Strategy, entitled “Building an Inclusive Society”, which was further developed in the second National Action Plan to combat poverty and social exclusion in 2004. Adding that the Government also recognized that women in both urban and rural areas could experience particular problems arising from poverty and marginalization, he reviewed programmes to assist specific groups of vulnerable women, including single parents and women with disabilities.

On violence against women, he said such acts had remained a significant issue on the country’s agenda, and the Government had taken several measures to combat it. Among them, the country had enacted strong legislation to deal with domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, which clearly defined acts of violence against women as criminal acts. Noting that, to be effective, such legislation must be enforced and complemented with support for victims of violence, he said many organizations provided support to women victims. The number of calls to the Women’s Aid Helpline had increased by 64 per cent between 2004 and 2005, which clearly showed that women still needed support.

As for Ireland’s reservations to the Convention, he said there were three, none of which was incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. The country was maintaining its reservations to article 11.1 [on discrimination in relation to employment on the basis of gender], because of limited exclusion in the 1998 Employment Equality Act; and to articles 13 (a) [on discrimination against women in economic and social life] and 16.1 (d) and (f) [on the rights and responsibilities of parents and guardians] because of more favourable treatment for women in national legislation.

Experts’ Questions

The experts posed questions covering the first six articles of the Convention, which deal with such issues as the obligation to pursue measures to eliminate discrimination and ensure the full development and advancement of women on a basis of equality with men, including the adoption of temporary measures to accelerate that equality. The articles also address the obligation to modify social and cultural stereotyping of women, and traffic and prostitution of women.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVÍC, an expert from Croatia, said that it was important to incorporate the Convention into national legal systems, since all rights should be protected at the national level.  In order for the Optional Protocol to be functional, it had to be implementable at the local level. Stating that equality before the law was not the same as equal rights between women and men, she asked if there was an intention, in any revision of the Constitution, to include an explicit articulation of the principle of equality between women and men.

She expressed the hope that Ireland’s national women’s strategy, which was currently under preparation, would take into account the Committee’s concluding comments and recommendations.

CORNELIUS FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, said the Committee as a matter of policy called on all State parties to withdraw reservations to the Convention.  He had studied Ireland’s explanations, but still had difficulty understanding the necessity for retaining those reservations. After analysing the rationale for the reservations and comparing the country’s position on other comparable human rights treaties, he asked the delegation of Ireland to reflect on the points raised.

VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, said the report provided rich information on what had been done in Ireland with respect to achieving equality for women. However, Ireland’s overall vision for implementing the Convention had not come across clearly in the report. Stating that national machinery was instrumental for a holistic approach to implementation of the Convention, she asked the representative of Ireland if the precise elements of Ireland’s machinery could be identified.  Many units had been mentioned in the report.

The institutional equality bodies that had been established were important initiatives, but what happened when women suffered discrimination on many grounds?  Could the tribunal deal with that?

SILVIA PIMENTEL, an expert from Brazil, commended Ireland for the measures adopted to combat violence against women. Yet a holistic approach to the problem of violence against women seemed to be lacking.  Could Ireland clarify? She also requested further information on various research studies that Ireland had undertaken on the problem. What progress had been made in implementing recommendations from those reports? Also, how was Ireland’s five-year strategic plan to combat violence being monitored and implemented?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, in referring to the nine grounds of discrimination against women that had been discussed in the report, expressed concern that such an approach might lead to a distorted picture in some cases, as certain women, such as the disabled and travellers, faced discrimination on many grounds.

She asked for more information on legal provisions to punish or prevent trafficking in women.  It was a global phenomenon that affected all countries, including those in Europe. What specific support or protection measures were foreseen?

SALMA KHAN, an expert from Bangladesh, said that certain Irish women were still at great risk of poverty.  Had Ireland made any attempts to identify the root cause of poverty for those women and address the issues? Did Ireland have plans to consider temporary measures to increase the labour participation of disabled and traveller women?

NAELA MOHAMED GABR, an expert from Egypt, noted that migration to Ireland was a growing phenomenon owing to its economic boom. Did the national strategy contain special protective measures for that vulnerable group of women?  Were efforts being made to prevent stereotyping migrant women in the media and other public forums? Was support being given to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helping migrant women?  How was the current national strategy helping migrant women?  Also, did Ireland envisage ratifying the United Nations Convention on the rights of migrant workers?

Country Response

Mr. FAHEY said much progress had been made on gender equality, but certain areas of Irish society still failed to ensure that the principle was applied. Parts of the Convention did not gel with the Constitution, and the country must be more proactive in terms of substantive equality.

Continuing, he said more action and resources were needed to combat violence against women, as well as to shorten court waiting times, improve women’s access to shelters, and provide more statistics on trafficking. As for illegal migrants, the country actually treated women immigrants better than men, but progress was still needed in that area.

Regarding poverty and racism in the country, he noted that the gap had grown between “haves” and “have nots”, and sectors of the community still suffered more than they should. The country was taking initiatives to decrease poverty levels, especially among the traveller community. As for racism, immigration to the country was a recent phenomenon, but it had adapted quickly to numbers arriving, and had succeeded in avoiding major difficulties with racism, due largely to work by NGOs. The degree of racism against travellers in Ireland was unacceptable, and efforts must be made to change that situation.

Another representative said the National Women’s Strategy covered a broad range of women’s issues, including those dealing with migrants and other groups of disadvantaged women. The interdepartmental committee, the people who had drafted the Strategy, as well as NGOs, would insist that the Committee’s recommendations be considered. As for the three reservations to the Convention, the country’s legal advisers had suggested that they be retained for the time being, but they were kept under constant review.

Responding to questions on the Constitution, another representative noted the existence of provisions in the Constitution and the country’s legislation which gave effect to the Convention. The Constitution was brief, providing broad principles of guidance to the legislature, and could not easily absorb the Convention as an annex. Moreover, the Constitution could only be changed by consulting the people, whereas women’s rights were more fluid, and annexing it to the Constitution could actually impede progress in gender equality.

Ireland was committed to a range of international obligations and implemented them by different statutory measures. Since it was a common-law country, it had a precise way of reading statutes and language that was difficult for people from civil law traditions to understand. The country considered that its current statutes gave statutory expression to the Convention.

Addressing violence against women, another representative said the country’s key forum was the National Steering Committee on Violence against Women. The Steering Committee was an extremely powerful body, with representatives from all State agencies, NGOs, and other players in the field.  Much had been achieved, although it was necessary to take the issue to a new level, which was more focused and operational, with clearer milestones and timelines.

Regarding funding, he said the Steering Committee was putting together a report on resource needs, based on input from relevant departments and NGOs, and was confident of success in the upcoming round of funding negotiations.

On the criminal justice system, he said the country must address services for victims, and bring perpetrators to account. However, he also pointed out that the relationship between the victim and perpetrator could inhibit reporting and successful prosecution. Solutions also lay outside the criminal justice system, in legislation and the police, who had a domestic violence policy that considered input from NGOs.

Regarding trafficking, he said facilitation of illegal entry into the country was illegal, which could be used to prosecute trafficking, and legislation was being prepared to criminalize trafficking for sexual or labour exploitation. Several ministers had pronounced that victims be dealt with sympathetically and pragmatically, noting that it was in the interest of both victims and authorities to cooperate. Broad consultation was currently under way to consider whether existing legislation was sufficient to assist victims and prosecute traffickers.

As for poverty, a representative said data from the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute had shown that the poverty rate for women had decreased from 9.2 per cent in 1997 to 4.9 per cent in 2001.  The latest survey for persistent poverty was a European Union survey, which indicated that consistent poverty was 9.6 per cent, but there was no reason to believe that poverty had worsened in recent years.  However, the groups most at risk -- single parents, the unemployed, disabled people, or people living alone -- were not evident in the survey. The Government had set up a committee to eliminate poverty, especially for those who could not work or benefit from employment opportunities arising from the country’s economic growth.

NOEL DOWLING said that the rights of migrant workers were protected under existing national legislation, the Constitution and other international treaties. The United Nations Convention on the rights of migrant workers had only 29 States parties.  Significant and broad sectoral changes in Ireland’s legislation would have to be made in other to ratify that Convention. The other European countries had not signed either, for that reason. So no, there were no plans at present to ratify the Convention.

There was a State body responsible for some migrants, but their remit at the moment was limited to refugees and those seeking asylum. As far as the development of a common agenda with non-governmental organizations on behalf of immigrants, he said that no State yet had got it right. Nevertheless, there was a proposal to establish an Irish naturalization and immigration department, which would have integrated within it a social services unit. He added that, in terms of violence against women and migrant women, Ireland had extensive mechanisms in place to deal with women seeking asylum on that basis.

Mr. FAHEY concluded by saying that, if in the past there had been a lack of vision in Ireland’s strategy for eliminating discrimination, it was hoped that the new national strategy would give the clear vision and focus of where Ireland was going. He assured the Committee that its comments would be taken into account even if it were not possible to fully embrace all the recommendations at this time.

Experts’ Questions

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, an expert from Germany, questioned whether a close review of the Convention with its many specificities had been made by the Government. Had a close comparison with legislation in Ireland been done?

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, addressed the issue of travellers and asked if not on the basis of skin colour, which was the common form of racism, on what basis were they discriminated against?  She also highlighted the intersection of gender and race for women and how both racism and sexism affected them.  How was Ireland integrating immigrants? Also, she had heard of instances where some banks in Ireland were requiring HIV tests from women of colour who applied for bank loans.

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked whether the report had been submitted to the Irish Parliament. Also, was there a special commission in Parliament responsible for gender equality?  What follow-up would be given to the report?

Country Response

Mr. FAHEY clarified that travellers were not recognized as a specific ethnic group. Although there had been calls by some to do so, the Government was not yet convinced that there was a need to change nor was it even clear that such a distinction was the wish of travellers themselves.

Another representative added that the rights of travellers were still protected under law and any member of the traveller community that considered himself or herself discriminated against had recourse whether they consider themselves a separate race or not.

He had not heard any reports or complaints of banks requiring migrant women to have HIV tests.  He confirmed that the report had been presented in Parliament and said there was a Minister for Justice and Human Rights.

Ms. ŠIMONOVÍC, expert from Croatia, asked whether the country had plans for increasing women’s representation in Parliament.  Also, why were women not represented at all levels of diplomacy?

Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, noted women’s under-representation in Irish Parliament, as well as local government. Had the Parliamentary Equality Committee assessed the situation to determine a means of redressing it?  Were temporary special measures envisaged for vulnerable groups to ensure their participation in the decision-making of local communities?  She also asked for clarification about how the 40 per cent gender balance target in Government was achieved.

Country Response

A representative acknowledged that the country had not achieved its objectives in terms of women being elected to Parliament and other levels.  Several initiatives had been carried out to increase women’s representation on party tickets. However, women in Ireland had not put themselves forward in politics as aggressively as they might have, and people who had let them down the most were other women.  In other words, support was lacking for women candidates. Adding that women’s representation was higher at the local level, he said immigrants and travellers had also enjoyed some local success.

Mr. FAHEY added that his Department had funded a number of organizations to increase the political participation of minority groups, including travellers, migrants, and disabled people. The recent increase in local participation for women had been reflected by a rise in female mayors in the country.

On women in diplomacy, a representative noted that women’s combined representation as First Secretaries and Assistance Principle Officers now stood at 34.6 per cent, and for Counsellor 21 per cent.  Women’s participation in foreign affairs had increased substantially over the past few years.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked if there was insight into the underlying reasons why women did not put themselves forward for public office. She also said that the Irish Constitution was male oriented and insensitive on the issue of gender.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that it did not appear that social progress had kept pace with economic progress in Ireland. Given its development, why did women in Ireland not yet enjoy full equality at all levels of decision-making?

She inquired about the possibility of drafting a law that would require greater participation and provide more opportunity for women in political life, such as slates that listed one man candidate and one women candidate. She added that, if Ireland were successful in devising measures to broaden the inclusion of women, third world countries would look to it as an example.

Country Response

Mr. FAHEY said that the Irish political system was one of the most difficult in Europe for women.  Its political party structure and electoral system did not lend itself well to quotas like the list system suggested.

He believed that the greatest obstacle to women’s participation was the cultural attitude that made it difficult for women to succeed in elections, particularly at the national level needed to enter the Parliament.  Although it was difficult, he believed change was possible. He also agreed that the Irish Constitution, which had been written in the early 1930s, had a male orientation and needed to be changed.

Experts’ Questions

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, in acknowledging the outstanding work that had been done for women and education and the good legislation that had been adopted, asked if there had been an assessment of various other initiatives over past seven years to overcome the obstacles that remained. For example, was there consultation with NGOs and the Human Rights Commission? Did the Ministry of Education and Science coordinate work with other ministries?

While there were equal opportunities for childcare programmes and an increase in budgets for childcare, those measures were not linked to part-time workers, yet there was a high concentration of women in that sector. What efforts were there to ensure the long-term participation of women in the labour force on an equal basis with men?

Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said it was important to respond to the need of women to balance work and family life. The Government had to be the one to take initiatives on that issue. The protection of part-time workers act was good, but measures to ensure long-term participation by women also needed to be implemented. She stated that childcare costs were higher in Ireland than in other European countries.  Noting that only 50 per cent of farm women had independent income, while the rest remained invisible, she asked under what laws would entitlement benefits be granted and land ownership issues be considered for those women.

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said she wished to discuss the difficult subject of reproductive rights, saying those rights were integral to human rights. It was a positive step that contraception was available to the poor without charge, but women’s health remained jeopardized as a result of lack of access to safe abortion in many cases. Even in life-saving situations or matters of rape and incest, women did not have recourse to safe abortions. Would the Government consider offering a referendum that would permit abortion in certain situations harmful for women either physically or psychologically?  Also, what measures were being taken to eliminate discrimination in the performance of certain health-care services?  She acknowledged that confronting such a social challenge was difficult, but it must be done.

Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, addressing the sexual harassment of women, requested more information on the anti-harassment policy that had been adopted. Also, migrant workers were more vulnerable to violence because of their legal and economic status, as well as cultural reasons. The current arrangements relied on migrant women coming forward.  Such a system placed too much responsibility on those women, she said.

Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, speaking on stereotypes and education, asked if the Government was addressing, in a systematic way, the revision of curricula and manuals. Were there efforts to encourage girls to embark on careers that might traditionally have been considered solely for male? What was the current stage of the five-year strategy for issues dealing with women travellers? How did the Equality Tribunal work?  Was it possible to address cases of discrimination due to gender, as well as on the basis of belonging to the group of travellers?

Country Response

Mr. FAHEY said childcare was not an issue in the country 10 years ago, but had appeared as a result of the country’s recent economic growth.  Acknowledging that such services were now lacking, he said initiatives were currently under way to expand them and reduce their costs.  The number of women in full-time work had increased from 400,000 a few years ago to over 700,000 today, a much higher increase than for men.  Women had been the backbone of the “Celtic Tiger” economy that had emerged in Ireland, filling in gaps in the workplace, and significantly contributing to the country’s rate of growth.

As for the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, he said it had only been established a few years ago, and much more needed to be done to address the issue of abortion.  On sexual harassment in the workplace, comprehensive programmes were in place to address that, and migrant workers were fully protected by Irish law.

Regarding the Equality Tribunal, a representative noted the absence of a rigid wage, adding that trade union membership was less than 40 per cent, and that free bargaining was a significant part of any wage discussion.  Research into gender pay had highlighted factors such as time spent out of the workplace, and part-time work, noting that the salary gap between men and women was a complex issue, which did not lend itself to simple solutions.  The situation had improved, however, with women closing the gap.

On health care, another representative said the country had excellent services for pregnancy and reproductive health.  Considerable health reform had been taking place, and the Health Service Executive was looking at a national strategy for maternity care, so that all women would have access to the same services.

Regarding employment, another representative noted that part-time work was often a choice for women, and could help women return to work after pregnancy leave and reach full-time employment.  In fact, there was often not enough part-time employment to fill the demand for it.  With the country’s state of economic growth, much work was in science and technology, so it was important to train young girls and women in the field, and encourage them to remain in the workplace.

Another representative, speaking about school curricula, said it had been revised in several areas.  For example, the “equal measures resource” had been revived to raise awareness of gender issues for schools.  Also, the history curriculum had recently been revised to include more on the role of women in Irish society.  Regarding travellers, she said 46 pre-schools had been funded by the Department, 540 resource teachers were on hand for travellers, and that the school completion programme had included over 2,000 traveller children during the school year.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, expressed dissatisfaction with the response on a referendum on abortion.  She disagreed with the view that it was not necessary to reopen a national dialogue on abortion.  While she conceded all the difficulties in dealing with the subject, she implored the delegation to be more open, given the importance of the topic.  She also inquired about the time frame for universal screening for breast cancer, given the high prevalence of breast cancer in Ireland.

Stating that part-time work was not necessarily a choice for women, she asked if there were any examinations into the root causes for part-time work -- for example, the lack of participation of men in childcare.  Also, within the discussion of reform of the Constitution, were there any proposals to give a proactive duty within the Government to achieve equality for women?

KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said no woman actually wants to have an abortion.  The notion of free choice, like also choosing part-time work often, was an illusion.  Did government campaigns involve men in family planning and were there efforts to raise awareness of the important responsibility men had for contraception and family planning?  What efforts were there to change stereotyping?

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said women had to deal with balancing paid work and the family.  She, therefore, agreed that it was necessary to create more part-time work.  She believed women wanted to work part-time because they had to.  Were family and childcare concerns considered men’s responsibilities, as well?  Was there parental leave offered exclusively for men, as in Finland?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked what the Government was doing to extend and expedite access to water services and public transportation in some rural areas.

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked if domestic workers were excluded from the scope of the Equal Status Act.  While she commended the increase in government investment in childcare, she said an institution alone could not solve the problem.  Men had an awareness of their responsibilities needed to be incorporated into the solution.

Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked whether the forthcoming bill to protect migrant worker’s rights would cover employment.  She said there were cases where passports of domestic workers were held by employers.

Country Response

Mr. FAHEY, addressing the issue of abortion, said both pro-life and pro-choice sides had opposed the referendum.  Up till now, fathers had not been required to accept their responsibilities as they should, and that should change.

He thought there was a degree of misunderstanding with respect to the part-time work issue.  Another representative said that there were people who engaged in atypical work arrangements and not just because of family arrangements.  Nevertheless, there was still an issue with men assuming their full family responsibilities.

There was now a comprehensive plan in place to upgrade access to water and public transport, issues which placed a disproportionate burden on women, he added.

Domestic workers were not covered by the labour laws because of the complexities in legislating matters involving the home.  Nevertheless, he agreed that the treatment of migrant workers in domestic situations raised special issues.  Another representative added that the Government was looking into the matter and consulting with social partners.

Another representative said that the national screening programme for breast cancer was anticipated to be rolled out by 2007 and would be free of charge for women in the target group of 50 to 65 years of age.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, questioned the extent that constitutional reform was a priority of the Irish Government.  She also asked for recent developments regarding the family law, and clarification on the Family Support Agency.  In addition, what were the legal obligations of natural fathers for their children, especially regarding child support?

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked whether spouses had equal rights regarding their family home.  She also noted that the Government had made positive efforts to ensure gender equality, but was there a strategic vision to build equality into every area of Irish life?

Country Response

Mr. FAHEY agreed that women in Ireland had been and were important to the current success of Irish life.  They had also been behind many of the reforms in Ireland, which had been a very conservative country.  There was legal protection for women concerning the family home, covering joint ownership and the inability of one spouse to sell a house without the permission of the non-owning spouse.  Significant legal obligations for family and child support had been placed on men.  A new family law bill was still being worked on.

In response to further questions by several experts seeking more information, a representative said that research had been done on the choice of part-time work.  A time-use survey with sex disaggregated data had just been completed.  He added that a gender mainstreaming factor had been incorporated into Ireland’s development aid.  Finally, he assured the Committee that its conclusions would be widely disseminated.

Concluding Remarks

ROSARIO MANALO, Committee Chairperson, welcomed Ireland’s efforts to eradicate discrimination and ensure gender equality, and applauded the country’s positive relationship with non-governmental organizations.  She also commended the country on measures it had taken to combat violence against women, and said she looked forward to the immediate implementation of its five-year action plan in that area.

As for poverty, the country had taken significant steps to address the consistently poor, but stronger measures were needed to address the problems of such groups as travellers and elderly women.  In addition, she urged the Government to continue addressing barriers to its full compliance with the Convention, and to lift its remaining reservations.

She regretted that many Irish women had not put themselves forward for candidature in political life, and urged Ireland’s political parties to create an infrastructure that would support women.

Finally, she had noted Ireland’s remarks that the Convention did not gel with certain aspects of the country’s Constitution, but recommended that the Government should find a way to put a definition of equality, as well as equality provisions, in the Convention and into its statutes and laws.

Mr. FAHEY thanked the Committee on its treatment of Ireland’s efforts to reach gender equality, noting that the experts’ questions had given the delegation much “food for thought”.  Consideration would be given to all of the points that had been made about his country’s efforts to make further progress in women’s issues.

* *** *