Human Rights Commission launches Submission on discrimination against women on eve of International Women’s Day

The Irish Human Rights Commission’s submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was launched today by The Hon. Justice Catherine McGuinness. In launching the submission, Justice McGuinness said, "In the light of current events, I particularly welcome the stress put on the difficulties experienced by older women – both older women in long stay care and older women living in their own homes, many of them alone. Historically many older women were prevented from participating in gainful employment through circumstances such as the marriage bar in the public and other major employment sectors. Others were inhibited from becoming economically independent by tradition and their surrounding family circumstances. This has resulted in many older women being dependant solely on the non-contributory old age pension. This is a very vulnerable group. It is good to see the Irish Human Rights Commission asking pertinent questions and making positive recommendations in this area."

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women will examine Ireland’s Combined 4th and 5th Reports under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in July 2005. The State submitted its report to the UN Committee last September. Part of the procedure under the Convention is that each State Party submits a 5-yearly report on the measures it has taken to implement its Convention obligations. Subsequently representatives of the State Party attend before the UN Committee and are examined on the State’s report.

The Human Rights Commission made its own submission to the CEDAW Committee in January 2005 commenting on a number of issues covered in Ireland’s Combined 4th and 5th Reports.

"The aim of the IHRC in compiling this submission is to provide the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women with an alternative and supplementary source of comprehensive and critical information. The persistence of gender inequality is demonstrated in women’s gross under-representation in political life and on public boards; in the high prevalence of poverty amongst women; in the fact that domestic and other violence against women is an everyday reality; and in the fact that women continue to earn far less than men. Our submission contains a list of suggested questions for the Committee, as well as a set of recommendations for future reform in these areas" stated the President of the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Maurice Manning.

Key recommendations contained in the IHRC’s submission relate to the Constitution and to Ireland’s methods of monitoring progress on the implementation of its obligations under CEDAW

On the Constitution, the IHRC asks that immediate consideration be given to holding a referendum to amend the Constitution since:

• Article 41.2 of the Constitution is based on an out-dated view of the social roles of women as homemakers and mothers, thus ascribing to women a limited and dependent role which, in the view of the IHRC, is in violation of Articles 2 and 5 of CEDAW;

• The Constitution does not explicitly embody the principle of equality of men and women, Article 40.1 of the Constitution should be amended to prohibit direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of gender, race, colour, age, disability, sexual orientation, religious belief, membership of the Travelling community, language, political opinion, property, birth or other status.

• The sexist language and terminology of the Constitution should be replaced by gender-inclusive language.

On monitoring progress on the implementation of Ireland’s international obligations, the IHRC highlights the following:

• The continuing delay in the production of a National Strategy for Women which Ireland committed to adopt at the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. The submission recommends the National Women’s Strategy should be produced as a matter of priority.

• An essential component of Ireland’s obligations to prevent discrimination against women is the requirement to effectively monitor the situation through the compilation of comprehensive, up-to-date gender-disaggregated data.

Certain groups of women are identified by the IHRC as being particularly vulnerable to discrimination in Ireland. They are:

– Women living in poverty.

Women in Ireland are at a higher risk than men of living in poverty. 23% of women are in danger of suffering from poverty. Specific groups are at a particularly high risk including older women, women in home duties, female lone parents, disabled women, Traveller women and rural women. Female poverty is largely a result of women’s dependent economic status and women’s unequal access to economic resources.

– Women with disabilities.

There is a significant data deficit on women with disabilities which greatly limits the extent to which the situation of women with disabilities can be measured and addressed. Data available demonstrates that women with disabilities have generally low levels of educational attainment and participation in the labour force. Women with disabilities are also particularly vulnerable to violence.

– Groups experiencing multiple discrimination.

Multiple discrimination is experienced by diverse groups of women in Ireland.

Traveller women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of their health status and access to education and employment.

Women migrant workers are vulnerable to unfair treatment and exploitation, partly due to the employer-focussed work permit system in Ireland, and the fact that women migrant workers often work in isolated sectors, such as private households.

The IHRC highlights the adverse impact of the direct provision system on women asylum seekers, and points to the absence of specific guidelines within the refugee determination process that set standards for dealing with refugee claims based on gender-related persecution.

In relation to trafficking in women and girl-children, the lack of specific legislation prohibiting the trafficking of women for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and the lack of measures to protect the victims of trafficking are highlighted.

– Older Women

Older women are at a very high risk of living in relative income poverty (50.2%) and consistent poverty (4.4%). Older women are largely dependent on non-contributory pensions as a result of historical factors. Studies demonstrate that the material disadvantage and deprivation women experience in old age undermines their quality of life and contributes to their ill-health

Speaking at the launch, Commissioner Katherine Zappone, stated "Women in Ireland remain disadvantaged and unequal on the basis of their gender notwithstanding that many of the formal legal barriers to women’s equality have been removed. Under CEDAW, Ireland is required not only to take all appropriate measures to prevent discrimination against women, but also to take all appropriate measures in the political, social, economic and cultural fields to promote the full development and advancement of women. Therefore, Ireland is under a positive, active obligation to progressively realise substantive equality for women".

The examination of Ireland’s report under CEDAW will take place at the United Nations in New York in July 2005. The IHRC will send a delegation to attend the examination and to raise the concerns highlighted in their submission.

Please contact: Mary Ruddy, Senior Human Rights Awareness Officer
Tel. 01-8589601
E-mail: info@ihrc.ie

Please click below for a copy of the Submission.

Click here to download the CEDAW_Submission (591 KB)

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