Seanad debates

Monday, 1 February 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

National Strategy for Women and Girls

11:00 am

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Troy. Has the consultation process begun for the new national women and girls strategy? Has a committee been put in place and what are the proposed timelines for putting the new strategy in place? As the Minister of State is aware, the national women and girls strategy 2017-2020 was launched by the then Minister, Frances Fitzgerald.It was considered at the time a crucial framework of actions to address issues regarding women in the workplace and women in society. Last year, the chairperson of the Citizens' Assembly, Dr. Catherine Day, was quoted in The Irish Times, in a very pronounced statement, as saying there is a feeling among the citizens involved in the assembly that gender equality was going backwards, not forwards, even though more than 50 years of legislation is in place regarding equal pay. That statement was probably the most frightening of all in that the chairperson of the Citizens' Assembly felt that the citizens involved in that forum felt we were going backwards after 50 years of legislation.

When we take into consideration that a strategy was put in place in 2017, the issues seem to be within society itself in terms of how we deal with this. The overall gender balance issue in the Civil Service has been addressed to some degree but there are still huge issues. Unfortunately, men are twice as likely as women to be involved in senior roles, even where women have the same level of qualifications and length of service. A similar position is found across both the public and private sectors when it comes to employment. Women are losing out on both income and the ability to achieve in their employment, which is a huge issue, and our society is losing in not picking up on that ability of women in society. Women have such potential, and if this is utilised, we will have a greater society.

Much work needs to be done. Among the 139 actions that were put in place in this four-year strategy - more were to be added afterwards which were not then added - there were supposed to be two reviews. I note that the 2018 review is on the website and the Minister of State might confirm whether the 2019 review actually happened and was posted on the website. If it has been, I apologise, but I cannot find it. The final review of the strategy was to be published by the end of 2020 and it is a very important review for this living document. We need to take from that review what we have achieved in the past four years and build on that going forward. That will probably be the biggest body of work we need to look at.

We have been talking about this issue for 50 years and we have made major inroads, but unfortunately there is much to do. This is a living document, as the former Minister and spokesperson, Frances Fitzgerald, said. How can we progress this living document? What are the timescales? What reviews are going to happen? When will a new strategy be put in place?

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I am here on behalf of the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, who sends his apologies.

The National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 is the main framework through which the Government pursues actions to advance the rights of women and girls and to enable their full participation in society. The national strategy was adopted by the previous Government and launched in May 2017 to provide a whole-of-government framework through which women's empowerment can continue to be advanced. It reflects a key theme running through the programme for Government and the Government's commitments under the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 1995 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The strategy is led by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

The overall goal for the strategy in the period to 2021 is to change attitudes and practices preventing women's and girls' full participation in education, employment and public life at all levels, and to improve services for women and girls, with priority given to the needs of those experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, the poorest outcomes. Six high-level objectives are set out with which to advance socioeconomic 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 inequality in decision-making. These objectives are advanced through 139 actions undertaken by Departments and State agencies in co-operation with social partners and civil society, as appropriate.The first progress report under the national strategy for women and girls was submitted to the Government and published in May 2019. As of December 2020, work had begun on 133 of the initial 139 actions, of which 42 have been completed.

Covid-19 has significantly affected the strategy's implementation. With this in mind, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has decided that the term of the current strategy should be extended to the end of 2021. This will enable the strategy's actions to continue to be implemented and facilitate the preparation of a new strategy policy approach in this area. The strategy committee will continue meeting during 2021, allowing the work of the current strategy to continue while also giving space to the committee to examine how to develop further strategic policies in a new working environment. Covid-19 has caused major upheaval to the way we work and the work we do. A multi-annual strategy will always end in a different environment than it began, but we could not have imagined the effect of this pandemic. The decision to extend the strategy for a further year is a reflection of the changes that have occurred over the past year, but does not prevent the committee from beginning work on future polices on gender equality.

The Minister's Department will continue with existing plans to have an independent evaluation of the strategy in 2021. This will form part of the planning for the future. It is the Department's hope to go to tender in quarter 2 of 2021. The strategy committee is due to meet this spring, with a focus over its coming meetings on the conclusion and evaluation of the current strategy and looking forward to the next strategy.

The programme for Government has a commitment to develop and implement a new strategy for women and girls. Work needs to be undertaken to examine how best to develop a successor strategy that can be aligned effectively with the other equality strategies that are in place and the successor to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

The Government has taken a series of measures to promote equality for women and girls. Under proposals approved by the Government in December, each parent will be given an additional three weeks of paid parental leave and the period in which it can be taken will be extended to the first two years after the birth or adoptive placement of a child. It is anticipated that the legislation will be introduced early this year. The Minister will shortly table amendments to the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill. He is committed to the early enactment of this legislation, which will require companies to report on gender pay differentials. He will shortly launch new consultations on flexible working and domestic violence leave. The objective is to get a better understanding of the needs of employees and employers in terms of such leave.

The Government remains committed to promoting equality between women and men and advancing the important goals set out in the national strategy for women and girls.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. He stated that the 2017-20 strategy would be extended by 12 months and work would be done this year on putting a new strategy in place from 2021 onwards. I welcome that, as we were unsure of what was happening with the current strategy. I do not have the Minister of State's script, but did he say that more than 130 actions had been examined? Will he provide written details on those actions and how far they have been progressed? I do not expect him to have the information with him now, but we need clarity on how much work has been done.

I note that the first review was published on the website, but it was proposed in the original strategy that two reviews should be published. Will the Minister of State clarify when the second will be published?

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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To confirm, 133 of the initial 139 actions have begun, with 42 completed. I do not know where the remaining actions stand, but I will ask the Minister's office to revert to the Senator and clarify.

The strategy committee is due to meet this spring. Its focus over the coming meetings will be on the conclusion and evaluation of the current strategy and looking forward to the next strategy.It is very important to have a continuation of the good work that has been done already. We must identify what remains outstanding and put a clear pathway in place for a future strategy. I will certainly bring back the points raised to my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, and ask his office to provide a detailed reply to the Senator.