The UN’s Gender Inequality Index ranks Ireland 13th among EU states, a stat on which we can surely improve. The National Women’s Council of Ireland’s General Election Manifesto highlights 10 issues politicians can work toward so as to tackle gender inequality (available here). My view on the is below.
The root of our inequalities is the Constitution. Article 41.2 continues to place a woman in the home and says that the State should aim to ensure she can fulfil those duties and not be forced to work. A recommendation to remove this was made in 1993. Nothing happened. A recommendation to make it gender-neutral was made in 1996. Nothing happened. And in 2013 the Constitutional Convention proposed that it be changed, but nothing has happened since. We need to push for a referendum on this Article.
Outside of the Constitution, real and tangible barriers continue to exist for women, both inside the home and at the workplace door. In the home, 14% of women have experienced physical violence by a partner, and 31% have experienced psychological violence by a partner. This is shocking. We can start to address this if we ratify the Council of Europe convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women (Istanbul Convention); we can bring in tougher sentences for those found guilty of gender-based violence; and we can educate boys and men better than we do. This won’t stop gender-based violence fully, but it should reduce it, and should make homes safer.
But at the intersection of home and work lies the barrier of pregnancy. The much-highlighted inequality between a man’s reproductive rights and a woman’s reproductive rights does not need repeating (see here), neither do the issues facing lone parents (see here), and nor do we need to look at childcare again (see here). All of these matters pose hurdles for a woman who wants to exercise choice about the home and the workplace, and make it more difficult for her to be able to balance the two. We need to change our abortion laws, childcare costs, and our policy bias against lone parents to empower women who want to work.
Nonetheless, as it stands within the workplace, it’s clear that women are still not equal, as a woman’s pay is, on average, 14.4% lower than a man’s (2013). This brings both clear short-term earning inequality and more hidden long-term pension inequality. If a woman wants to become a company’s board member, she will manage this with a likelihood of 1 in 11. If she wants to be heard on talk radio, she will be heard with a probability of 22%. Hence barriers to workplace equality exist at numerous turns.
The reason for all of this is that gender inequality can be found in our patriarchal Constitution, which underpins our society. Thus, it manifests itself through domestic violence, it is perpetuated if a woman becomes pregnant (whether she wants to be pregnant or not), and it exists in the paycheck, the boardroom, as well as into retirement. There is no let up.
All of this is important for two reasons. First, there’s the obvious equality argument, which is paramount. Second, addressing gender inequality can help the economy: a 2009 study found that closing the gender gap in employment could increase our GDP by 35%. Human rights have positive economic effects, as well as moral value. Societies that embrace this idea will prosper. We can make our society more equal and our economy more dynamic if we work to tackle gender inequality.
To that end, I am supporting the Women’s Council’s Manifesto, which is both essential and timely. If elected, my priorities will be pushing for a referendum on Article 41.2, speaking against gender-based violence, and highlighting the gender gap in the workplace.