Commission tells UN Committee that State must end inequalities in women’s health

Commission publishes independent assessment to assist UN Committee in reviewing the State’s performance on gender equality

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“the Commission”) has today raised concerns about discrimination against women in the Irish healthcare system.

In its report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (‘the Committee), published today, the Commission has highlighted a number of areas of concern, including equal representation of women in political and public life, health inequalities, gender based violence, poverty and the impact of climate change on women.

The Commission asked the State to provide information on the proportion of the overall health budget spent on women’s health – including disaggregated data on public spending on sexual health, maternal health, fertility, menopause, gender-based violence, and women’s mental health – because of the disproportionate impact of the cost-of-living crisis on women.

In the report, the Commission makes clear that there have been positive developments in recent years – such as, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021; ratification of the UNCRPD in 2018; the third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2022-2026 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018.

However, while the State publishes these numerous strategies and action plans, in practice they do not adequately improve rights protections for communities due to insufficient monitoring and implementation. For instance, while we welcome the recent publication of the Independent Review of the Operation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, we are concerned about a lack of political will to make changes on foot of the report’s recommendations.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

This report will independently inform the UN questioning of Ireland. It highlights the broad spectrum of current equality challenges facing women across workplaces, politics, health, representation and broader society and it makes clear recommendations for progressive action.

Today’s report shows that while there have been some positive developments in recent years, the exceptionally slow pace of change in ending discrimination against women in all areas of Irish life is extremely frustrating.  There are significant gaps – in areas like healthcare, political participation, poverty and the impact of climate change – which need to be seriously addressed.”

Some of the issues raised in our detailed report include:

On Health:

  • While we note important improvements since the Committee’s last review cycle, healthcare services in Ireland continue to suffer from patriarchal institutional legacies which compromise enjoyment of the right to health by women.
  • Rather than adopting a rights-based approach, the State has demonstrated a preference for adversarial strategies, including by positioning itself against individuals seeking to assert their rights. Women from structurally vulnerable groups face particular challenges meeting health needs

On Politics:

  • In the six years since the Committee’s last review of Ireland, there has been negligible change in the area of women’s political participation, with representation in Ireland’s lower house of Parliament, Dáil Éireann, increasing only marginally between 2016 and 2023. Only one in four members of local authorities are women, lower than the EU average.
  • We are particularly concerned with the high prevalence of violence and harassment of women in politics, a phenomenon exacerbated by the growth of social media platforms and poor regulation

On Equality Legislation:

  • While we welcome the Government’s commitment to review equality legislation in Ireland, including its functioning and effectiveness in practice and the grounds for discrimination, we have called for a new ground relating to socio-economic discrimination to be included within the Equality Acts.
  • We have also recommended that the gender ground should be amended to include explicit reference to and define gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.

On Poverty:

  • Structural inequalities in Ireland – with regard to gender gaps in income, wealth, pensions, unpaid work, and access to decent work – combine to compound the impact of the cost of living crisis on women.
  • We ask that the State update on its core spending to address the disproportionate impact of the cost of living crisis on women, including in response to the inequalities identified in the Cost of Disability report.

On Climate Change:

  • The gender-differentiated impacts of climate change are well established, with a body of evidence demonstrating its disproportionate impact on women and girls.
  • However, The CAP 2023 does not include gender-responsiveness measures, or any specific actions to address the impact of climate change on women and girls. The related progress reports also fail to adopt a gender-sensitive approach or gender-proof the impact of transition measures.

Read Ireland and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 

For further information, please contact:

Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,

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Notes to the Editor:

The submission will inform and assist the Committee’s Pre-Session Working Group (PSWG) in adopting the List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR), comprising around 20 questions for the State on its compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW’). States are then invited to provide their responses to the LOIPR.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.