Check against delivery 

 

 George’s Hall, Dublin Castle 

3 May 2017 

 

Thank you very much, everybody.  

The Programme for a Partnership Government contained a commitment to update the previous National Women’s Strategy at the end of its 10-year timeframe. 

Today I am delighted to see the culmination and delivery of that commitment. 

The document before you provides the policy framework on which the Government’s agenda and priorities for the advancement of equality for women over the next four years are set out. Our overall goal is to change those attitudes and practices that prevent the full participation of women and girls in education, employment and at all levels in public life. It represents the Government’s intention to improve services with priority given to the needs of those experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, the poorest outcomes. 

As chair of the Strategy Committee which advised on its preparation, having reviewed the submissions received under the public consultation, I wish to join the Tánaiste in paying tribute to all the hard work and effort made by many of you here today. Over 95 submissions were received from groups, organisations and individuals, all of which bore evidence of significant thought.  

The overall goal we have set ourselves for the coming four years 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”. 

We concluded that it was also important for this policy framework to focus on real tangible outcomes – that women and girls in Ireland should enjoy economic security and equal socio economic opportunity with men and boys. That women and girls experience improved physical and mental health. That women and girls could exercise equal and active citizenship, participating equally in leadership in all areas of Irish life. That women and girls experience a reduction in gender-based violence and that a gender perspective is taken into account by the machinery of government. 

These outcomes are in line with the global agenda to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls set out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and in Goal 5 of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The resulting policy framework is underpinned by the societal values of equality, non-discrimination, inclusiveness, generosity, diversity and respect for human rights. It recognises that achieving its vision will involve shared responsibility between Government, business, civil society and individuals of all genders at national and local level. It will require accountability from public and private sector organisations in the delivery of the actions outlined in the Strategy. 

I invite you to reflect on why this is so. We know that achieving full equality for women and girls will benefit our society and our economy. I cannot stress enough that this is a Strategy for the whole of Irish society. It is not just an issue for women. This is a point already well made by the Tánaiste, and it bears repeating. We need community leaders and business leaders, as well as Government and civil society, to get on board to realise the benefits of a more gender-equal society, in all of our interests. 

In developing actions to respond to the Strategy’s objectives, we began by incorporating commitments made in our Programme for a Partnership Government. Actions are included to provide for the extension of Breastcheck, to aim to reduce the poverty gap between male-headed households and female-headed households, to promote greater female participation in the Defence Forces, and to promote locally delivered courses for women to assist a return to the labour market and promote entrepreneurship. 

In responding to the totality of views and priorities express in the consultation, we have gone significantly beyond the commitments in the Programme for Government. 

We have aimed to recognise and respond to the diversity of women and girls in Irish society. Broad-based actions are included which aim to take account, where possible, of the diversity of women’s and girls’ experiences and needs. In addition, specific actions address issues affecting specific groups of women and girls. 

I would like to highlight some of the actions to be pursued over the next four years. 

A fundamental driver of the Strategy is our ambition to change societal attitudes and promote more positive gender norms. The Strategy therefore includes actions focused on gender norms. We will establish a programme of research, awareness-raising and cultural activities. We will also develop an initiative on consulting children and young people on addressing gender-stereotyped norms. We will continue to encourage men and boys to be champions of gender equality, drawing on initiatives such as Men Advocating Real Change, HeForShe, MAN Up and the WhiteRibbon campaign. 

Through these actions, we will also aim to inspire and support young women and girls to look beyond traditional career paths and avail of the full range of opportunities life offers. 

Education and employment have long been recognised as key enablers of empowerment. The employment rate of women in Ireland, at 64% in 2016, lags 16 percentage points behind that of women in Sweden. It is incumbent on us, through this Strategy, to enable the very many women who wish to do so to take up employment. We have included actions to open up further routes to employment for women who may be experiencing difficulties, and make sure the opportunities are brought to everyone’s attention. Springboard courses are now opened up to homemakers. We will be looking at developing an action specifically directed at increasing women’s participation in employment, tackling the particular difficulties experienced by lone parents, among others. 

To support working women who breastfeed, we will extend the statutory entitlement to breastfeeding breaks beyond the 6 months currently provided for in employment legislation. 

To encourage greater private sector action on equality and diversity, we will look into the feasibility and benefits of an “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion mark” for business. 

To increase women’s visibility in rural life, further action is being taken to encourage women into decision-making and leadership roles in all parts of the agri-food sector. Mentoring and highlighting positive case studies will be key elements in this action. Entrepreneurship will be encouraged through programmes such as the ACORNS programme for rural female entrepreneurs, targeted start-up funding, and women-specific entrepreneurship awards and events. 

We will also work with local authorities, the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) and political parties to promote and assist women candidates, including investigating potential supports to promote the participation of women in the 2019 local government elections. 

We are introducing a gender perspective in the funding support for youth leadership programmes. 

A further step will be taken in mainstreaming gender in health service provision. An action plan for women’s health will be developed to advance the integration of women’s and girls’ physical and mental health needs into existing and emerging health strategies, policies and programmes, 

To contribute to greater participation by deaf women and girls in public life, we plan to extend the hours of availability of Irish Sign Language remote interpretation service to evenings and weekends. We will also propose legislation to ensure that all public bodies provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when accessing or availing of their statutory services. 

We will seek to improve access to civil legal aid for women experiencing domestic violence, and examine proposals to reduce the Civil Legal Aid contribution in domestic violence cases. We will ensure addressing gender-based violence continues to be highlighted in our international relations and aid programmes. 

These actions that I have mentioned, along with those already referred to by the Tánaiste, give an indication of the breadth of this Strategy – which sets out 139 actions in all. 

The four-year timeframe was selected in order to allow a clear focus on early achievements of concrete outcomes, which will contribute to incremental advances and ongoing research and data gathering across several fields and programs. However, the Strategy will also be a ‘living document’, influenced by its context and evolving as circumstances change over the period to 2020. 

After today’s publication of the Strategy, our focus now turns to its implementation and to monitoring the progress being made. As we have set out in Chapter 4 of the Strategy, it is intended to report annually on progress. A mid-term evaluation will be carried out in 2019, with an independent evaluation to follow on the conclusion of the Strategy in 2021. 

I must stress that the Strategy’s success will depend on the shared engagement of all members of society, in building a fairer society which allows women and men alike to flourish. I look forward to taking an active part, with you, in taking this work forward. 

ENDS