Check against delivery

 

Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for the kind introduction and I would like to express my thanks to Congress for this opportunity to address todays Joint Women’s Committee Seminar.

Gender inequality is receiving much attention and discussion in the public domain in recent times. This is something to be welcomed, as a higher profile broadens the discussion on how we should go about reducing it.

May I open by commending the Congress on this year’s theme: ‘Inclusive Growth – a route for achieving gender equality’. It encapsulates some of the key aspects that the Government considers essential in advancing gender equality in Ireland - social inclusiveness and economic growth.

These aspects go hand in hand. Each relies on the other. As a society, we cannot afford to neglect either.

Real gross domestic product grew by 5.1% in 2016 and is forecast by the Department of Finance to grow by 4.3% this year and 3.7% in 2018.  Economic growth facilitates measures to promote equality but it doesn’t mean that such measures will automatically follow.  It needs a strategy and political will for that to happen.

In recent times, there has been a lot of talk about the Republic of Opportunity. Such a Republic would see an Ireland where:

  1. Everyone has an equal opportunity to be the best person they can be, where everyone gets a fair go and every child the chance to be the best person they can be;
  2. Every part of the country has the opportunity to share in our recovery and prosperity; and
  3. There are second chances for those who need them.

 

As far as gender equality is concerned, the publication last May of the new National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020, was an important and timely milestone.

It fulfilled one of our key commitments for gender equality in the Programme for a Partnership Government - namely, the development of a strategic approach to identify and highlight those remaining barriers that prevent women from achieving their full potential and from enjoying opportunities on a par with men.

As such, the new Strategy is a whole-of-Government statement of its priorities in relation to the advancement of women and girls in all areas of Irish society. It sets out 139 actions grouped under 6 high-level objectives, one of which is the ‘advancement of socio-economic equality for women and girls’.

Our overall goal between now and 2020 is to change those attitudes and practices preventing women’s and girls’ full participation in education, employment and public life at all levels, to improve services for women and girls, with priority given to the needs of those experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, the poorest outcomes.

The Strategy was drawn up following a wide and inclusive public consultation by my Department, which received 95 individual submissions from organisations and interested parties across a wide spectrum of Irish society – including unions such ICTU and Ibec. I was particularly pleased to hear of a strong response from young people, from the Irish Second-level Students Union, Waterford IT Students Union and the Union of Students in Ireland.

The strategy document which resulted was informed by both this consultation and by the advice of a Committee composed of representatives of Government Departments and agencies, employer and trade union representatives and NGOs, and chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for Equality, David Stanton.

I would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution made by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions throughout this process. Congress contributed a detailed written submission to the public consultation process, was represented on the initial National Strategy Committee during its development phase, and indeed, continues to be part of the Strategy Committee, as the Strategy moves into its implementation phase.

Because the Strategy itself is formulated as a ‘living document’, the Strategy Committee also has the task of monitoring progress and assessing whether further action is required on specific issues, or indeed, if anything should be added, in response to changing needs. It is their role to make recommendations to my Department in that regard.

As you can see, the entire Strategy process relies on, and attempts to be, as inclusive as possible in terms of its design, reach and outputs.

We could not have hoped for such an ambitious document, on such a wide-ranging scale without consulting as widely, and as inclusively, as possible.

Nor do we intend its development and implementation to ‘just happen’ in a vacuum. We want to bring everyone along with us, Government Departments, agencies, NGOs and unions, and employers.

I am particularly pleased to see that some of the main concerns raised by ICTU - affordable childcare, women’s pensions, the gender pay gap, women and low pay - have been reflected in the Strategy actions, with many of these actions now in progress or due to start in the near future.

For instance, the Strategy proposes to extend the family leave entitlements available to parents of young children, in addition to implementing a new national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of childcare.

Disproportionate disadvantages faced by working women will be tackled through the introduction of legislation to regulate precarious work, increasing the Minimum Wage, and also through the introduction of a new Working Family Payment.

We want to ensure that pension policy takes account of women’s differing work patterns throughout their lives, and so future pension policy reforms will be gender proofed, specifically in order to assess their impact on all employees affected, women as well as men.

This is important, not only in terms of advancing gender equality; it also makes economic sense in the long term. Statistically, women are living longer than men. They will have greater needs and requirements in retirement.   

One issue which is receiving increasing attention in Ireland and internationally is the gender pay gap and the reasons why women, on average, earn less than men hourly and over their lifetime.  I welcome this focus because I believe we must take action to address the causes of this inequality. 

Recent analysis by the European Commission shows that some of the main factors leading the gender pay gap include:

 

Linked to the gender pay gap, women receive lower pensions and face a greater risk of poverty in old age. According to the most recent figures, for 2012, Ireland’s gender pension gap was 37%, the 6th highest in the EU.

Closing the gender pay gap is a prime example of ‘Inclusive Growth’.

It will help to reduce levels of poverty and increase women’s earnings during their lifetimes. It will reduce the risk of women falling into poverty during both their working lives, and in retirement.

It will enable employers to benefit from a much more effective use of women's talents and skills, in itself, benefiting overall business performance; while also creating a fairer and more inclusive society.

This is why addressing the gender pay gap is a priority for the Government, and remains so, under the National Strategy for Women and Girls.

The Strategy commits the Departments of Justice and Equality and of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to undertake a range of actions in this area - not only with a view to tackling the gender pay gap, but also to developing and promoting practical resources to increase understanding of its various aspects and causes.

The Tánaiste and her Department are leading the Government’s work in regard to Action 1.23 of the National Strategy for Women and Girls – namely, the promotion of wage transparency by requiring companies of 50 or more employees to complete wage surveys.

Work on Action 1.22 – the proposal to initiate consultation and dialogue between union and employer stakeholders, to address the gender pay gap, has already begun.

A few weeks ago, Minister of State Stanton and I announced a Public Consultation on tackling the gender pay gap. Interested parties have been invited to submit views on the factors creating the gender pay gap, what actions that need to be taken, and whether they can contribute to implementing those actions. The closing date for submissions is the 4th of October 2017. We look forward to hearing the views of as many people and organisations as possible on this, and I trust that Irish Congress of Trade Unions will be making a valuable submission.

 

If the role of the National Strategy for Women and Girls is to signpost better routes to gender equality, then Gender Budgeting, or Equality Budgeting, is a road that offers much to consider. I understand that, later today, there will be a workshop on Gender Budgeting policies and practices.  

The application of gender mainstreaming practice to the budgetary process is often termed ‘gender budgeting’. It involves the integration of a gender perspective into policies, regulatory measures and spending programmes.

It enables the consideration of budgetary processes through the lens of social inclusion. It means that the very act of budgeting is transformed - from a somewhat sterile act of financial resource allocation – to a process which considers the differing requirements on gender, when deciding how resources should best be deployed.

The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment of developing a process of budget and policy proofing as a means of advancing equality, reducing poverty and strengthening economic and social rights.

It also contains a commitment to ensure the institutional arrangements to support equality and gender proofing are in place within key Government Departments.

In fact, a number of established procedures in support this commitment are already in place. For example, an ex-post assessment of the main tax and social welfare measures introduced in the Budget is carried out each year by the Departments of Finance and Social Protection, using an ESRI model known as ‘SWITCH’.

Another key tool in this area is the newly designed Social Impact Assessment Framework, which will help focus attention on policy areas that cannot be easily incorporated into the existing SWITCH model – and specifically, the impact of public expenditure on recipient households.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has also held two workshops, one of which was co-hosted with my Department, aimed at familiarising relevant senior officials with the concept of equality budgeting, as well as the tools and other resources available to Departments implementing it.

Work is also underway on a policy paper on equality budgeting and its application in Ireland. This paper will set out details of a pilot approach to be taken to equality budgeting in the context of the Estimates 2018 process.

When it comes to gender equality, we are of course, not there yet.

However, we have momentum.

We are going in the right direction.

And we need to make sure that we do not slow down.

May I take this opportunity to thank ICTU for their help, advice and ongoing engagement on this, and many other issues, and for the kind invitation to be here today.

I wish you all success with your deliberations today.

Thank you.