The delivery of a public, not-for-profit childcare model is the best way to increase women’s equal participation in society, according to the National Women’s Council.
Speaking at the publication of the council’s pre-budget submission, its care officer Eilish Balfe said: “Government must commit to delivering a public model of childcare, alongside a further 25 per cent reduction in costs to parents in Budget 2024.”
The Government also needs to increase social protection and pension rates to tackle gender inequality and to ensure a minimum essential standard of living, according to the submission. These accounted for two of the council’s “top 10 asks”, the others being funding the Government’s zero tolerance strategy on violence against women; the provision of free contraception and IVF; investing in gender-sensitive mental health services; supporting women who seek justice after violence; housing for women; establishing a statutory child maintenance agency; investing in feminist climate justice and funding women’s participation and leadership.
Council’s director Orla O’Connor spoke about what it saw as “a really pivotal budget in terms of what’s been happening over recent years”.
“Budget 2024 presents an extraordinary opportunity to support women, advance gender equality, and invest in services which improve outcomes for all women and girls living in Ireland,” Ms O’Connor said. “Government must prioritise the delivery of universal public services – which support the most marginalised – and avoid income tax cuts for higher earners. We have the resources. Now is the time to invest in the future – in an equal, sustainable, feminist Ireland.”
She also spoke of the climate and biodiversity crisis, saying that “all of these different things have really impacted on all of society”, but that they have affected women in a disproportionately negative way.
“We need to invest in public services, we need to tackle poverty and violence against women, we need to improve health and employment and housing outcomes for all women and girls and really the objective is to move forward towards a more fair and sustainable future for all women.”
Ms Balfe said a lack of affordable childcare was the biggest barrier to women’s equal participation in society, including in the labour market.
“While the investment in last year’s budget was a very welcome start, childcare costs are still unaffordable for many. International evidence shows that a public, not-for-profit, childcare model is the best way to ensure access to affordable, quality childcare for families and decent pay and conditions for workers.”
Donal Swan, the council’s economic equality coordinator, highlighted the importance of long-term investment.
“Reliance on one-off support measures will not protect women from poverty or tackle income and wealth inequality in the long-term. Secure, predictable, benchmarked increases in social protection that ensure a minimum standard of living for all are needed. This is essential in supporting the most marginalised groups of women in our society. We’re calling for at least a €25 increase in all pension and social protection rates in Budget 2024.
“To protect women and other groups from the impact of low-paid, part-time jobs and precarious contracts, we are also calling for a universal State pension decoupled from employment history.”
The launch featured contributions from panellists consisting of Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, who spoke about violence against women, and Patricia Acom, a women’s support officer at AkiDwA, who spoke about women’s health.
The panel also featured Louise Bayliss, campaigns co-ordinator at Focus Ireland, who discussed social protection, and Eilish Balfe.
Fiona O’Loughlin, chair of the parliamentary caucus, then spoke about the issue of gender profiling and the impact of budgetary measures on women.
The launch finished with a cross-party panel with Ministers Emer Higgins of Fine Gael, Marc Ó Cathasaigh from the Green Party, Sorca Clarke from Sinn Féin and Senator Marie Sherlock of Labour.