Statement of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Check Against Delivery
Chair and members of the Committee,
I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to make this representation on behalf of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution.
Twelve years have passed since Ireland’s last examination by CEDAW. In that time there has been significant changes in the political, economic and social landscape. In 2015, during Ireland’s examination by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the Committee emphasised the use of maximum available resources to protect rights – even in times of economic and fiscal crisis.
During this time, the State has made welcome advances in the area of gender equality, notably the introduction of marriage equality and the enactment of gender recognition legislation. The General Election of 2016 saw an increase from 15% to 22% of women in our national parliament. However, more needs to be done to facilitate greater participation of women in political life – for example through the extension of gender quotas to local government.
Following our last engagement with the Committee in October 2015, the Commission conducted a nationwide consultation on women’s rights and gender equality and this invaluable direct engagement has informed our report to the Committee. We are happy to see a strong civil society delegation here in Geneva engaging with the CEDAW process as well as those following proceedings at home.
Today, I want to highlight three key areas in advance of Ireland’s examination on Wednesday:
- Economic inequality
- Gender, poverty and social exclusion
- Ireland’s implementation of UN recommendations on women’s rights
The last twelve years have marked a time of great economic change in the country. Whether in times of prosperity or austerity, gender inequalities have continued to persist. The concentration of women in Ireland in low paid, part-time work, and on zero hour contracts and in unpaid care work. This – coupled with the absence of adequate state-provided care structures – has resulted in a gendered pay and pension gap.
In 2005 the Committee expressed concerns about the concentration of women in low paid and precarious work – today the gender pay gap in Ireland is 14%. In 2005 the Committee also raised concerns about occupational gender segregation. A 2016 study by the Low Pay Commission reveals that proportionately more women are working in the sectors that carry a high risk of being on the national minimum wage and almost a quarter of women working part-time indicated that the reason for this was to enable them to balance caring responsibilities. In the Commission’s view, the State must take steps to end occupational gender segregation – as a first step the State must honour its commitment to hold a referendum on Article 41.2 of the Constitution of Ireland, which perpetuates gender stereotypes.
The gender pay gap has also resulted in a gender pension gap which currently stands at 38%. There is another dimension to the pension gap – in 2005 the Committee raised concerns about the legacy of the marriage bar, which is yet to be addressed by the State.
Regrettably the gender pay and pension gaps widened in the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession. During this period, we also witnessed an increase in pregnancy related discrimination. During our consultation, we heard from indigenous Traveller women, women with disabilities, Trans women and migrant women about the ways in which workplace inequalities are compounded by the multiple discrimination faced by marginalised groups of women. We also met with migrant women working in domestic settings and reiterate the Committee’s 2005 recommendation that the Employment Equality Acts be amended to protect domestic workers from discrimination.
Gender, poverty and social exclusion
In 2005 the Committee called upon the State to implement effective measures to ensure that all women, particularly marginalised groups at risk of poverty and social exclusion, enjoy the benefits of the State’s prosperity. As mentioned, Ireland experienced both prosperity and austerity during the reporting period. The Commission has previously highlighted research that indicates that austerity measures implemented in the wake of Ireland’s recession had a strong gender dimension. For example, a number of changes were made to the One Parent Family Payment and in the same period lone parents – the majority of whom are women – held the highest income and deprivation rates.
Following the economic recession there has been an increase in homelessness in Ireland. When we examined the pathways into homelessness – there is a gender dimension to homelessness in Ireland, particularly when one notes the correlation between homelessness and gender-based violence.
The Committee has highlighted the need to pay particular attention to the rights of marginalised women in order to safeguard against social exclusion. During the reporting period a number of UN treaty bodies have called upon the State to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons of Disabilities – regrettably Ireland is now the only country in the European Union not to have ratified the UNCRPD. Once ratified, the UNCRPD will play an important role in ensuring that women with disabilities are supported to live independently and afforded greater protection for their family and private lives.
Treaty bodies have also called upon the State to recognise Traveller ethnicity – Traveller women continue to face discrimination in all areas of life and continue to live in overcrowded and unsafe conditions with their families.
In preparation for our report, we spoke with women living in direct provision in Direct provision centres – the State’s accommodation for asylum-seekers. This system has been criticised by UN treaty bodies – particularly with respect to the long periods of time previously spent in the system. New issues are now emerging in relation to women in Direct Provision and we encourage the State to honour its commitment to reform the system. Residents informed us of the negative impact on their mental health as well as the disempowering experience of living in Direct Provision where you are denied the right to work. We also received concerning reports of women’s experience outside the centres where they reported episodes of sexual harassment and propositioning on the street.
We also met with women in the State’s two women’s prisons and were struck by the overcrowding; inadequate post release supports and a lack of step down facilities provided for women in detention. Given the impact of prison on women and family life, we believe that Irish penal policy must be reformed to ensure alternatives to custody for women in line with the requirements of the Bangkok rules.
Ireland’s implementation of UN recommendations on women’s rights
Before concluding, I would like to reflect on some women’s rights issues that have been highlighted in the concluding observations of UN treaty bodies and in the Universal Periodic Review cycles during the past twelve years.
The denial of access to justice to women who suffered abuse while in the care of the State has been robustly criticised by UN treaty bodies. This includes women who were subjected to abuse in Magdalene Laundries and in Mother and Baby Homes as well as women who were subjected to the practice of symphysiotomy. The State’s approach to these women has consistently failed to meet international human rights standards in relation to access to justice, investigation and redress.
The Commission remains concerned that the current legal position in relation to abortion puts in place barriers which impede a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and have a disproportionate negative impact on women from lower socio-economic backgrounds and women who are seeking asylum or migrant women where their immigration status prevents them from travelling. The Commission endorses recommendations by various UN Treaty Monitoring Committees that the State take all necessary measures to revise its legal framework on abortion to ensure that it is in line with international human rights law.
In 2005, the Committee also recommended that the State take all necessary measures to tackle gender-based violence. While there has been a number of legal and policy developments in this area, the State has not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention. During our consultation we were informed of the barriers faced by rural women in accessing shelters and we heard reports of women spending long periods in refuges because of the inaccessibility of social housing due to the State’s narrow interpretation of homelessness. The Commission also notes that marginalised groups of women – for example Trans women – face multiple discrimination in their experiences of gender-motivated violence. These experiences highlight the inadequacy of Irish law on hate crime to provide redress.
In conclusion, the past twelve years have seen progress. New developments in Ireland’s national machinery present opportunities for embedding gender equality into our laws, policies and practices.
Finally, the Commission shares the concerns expressed by a number of committees in relation to the lack of data and is encouraged by the commitment in the State report that the Central Statistics Office annual publication on Women and Men in Ireland will be resumed this year. Improvements to the State’s data collection systems – including relevant disaggregated data – are a critical resource in tackling gender inequalities.