Abortion, gender identity may be excluded from curriculum by some schools, report warns

Report raises concerns about inadequate refuge spaces, precarious funding for services and lack of expertise on domestic violence

The lack of State control over school curriculums is perpetuating gender stereotypes and gender inequality – contributory factors in domestic and gender-based violence, a submission to the Council of Europe (CoE) has warned.

The report to Grevio – the council’s monitoring body that oversees implementation of the Istanbul Convention against violence against women – raises serious concerns about inadequate refuge spaces, precarious and insufficient funding for frontline services and a lack of expertise on domestic violence in family law courts.

Published on Friday by the Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women and Girls – a coalition of more than 20 organisations including Women’s Aid, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and the National Women’s Council – it comes as Grevio prepares to visit Ireland next spring as part of its first examination of compliance with the Istanbul Convention.

Ireland ratified the Istanbul Convention on March 8th, 2019 and commenced it the following July. The convention has 81 binding articles which signatory states commit to, structured around four pillars of protection, prevention, prosecution and co-ordinated policies.


The Observatory report focuses on compliance with 20 articles which it says cover those issues most urgently raised by NGOs, including resources, professional training, shelters and custody disputes. It says budget cuts to services, enacted during the recession have “not been meaningfully remedied”.

“Specialist services, which are almost fully outsourced to NGOs [and] Irish civil society, have reported a concerning precarity of funds allocated to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DSGBV), since before the economic crisis.” Funding remained “inadequate” and “community-led organisations are, reportedly, the most affected by underfunding”, it says. Data on the prevalence and magnitude of domestic and gender-based violence is “outdated, scarce and not disaggregated”, it continues.

The report says that with 90 per cent of national schools still controlled by the Catholic Church, the State lacks “full control” on the implementation of the national curriculum, which means “some schools may be excluding topics such as abortion, same sex relationships and gender identity”.

This is happening because of the “ethos” clause in the rules for national schools, it says.

“Such an ethos clause therefore violates Article 14 of the Istanbul Convention and must be removed to ensure that all students in Ireland have access to education on equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity,” the report says.

Particular concern is raised about the family law courts, which it says, are not keeping women and children safe from ongoing violence post-separation. The report highlights that family law courts are also facilitating the use of the “much-discredited concept of parental alienation” which “may be used by the abusive partner to dismiss the children and/or mothers’ claim of violence perpetrated against the children and/or the mother”.

Even when an abusive partner has been convicted of physical or sexual assaults against the mother and/ or children, “such criminal behaviour is not always taken into account by family law courts in deciding access” where a “‘pro-contact culture prioritises the right of access of the abuser over the safety and welfare of the child and mother”.

The report makes 35 recommendations, including that the State: “remove the ethos clause from the Rules for National Schools and have full control over the curriculum”; that refuges with 500 spaces be established throughout the State – up from the current 319, and, that research critically discussing the concept of parental alienation and “documenting its harmful impact on women and children’s safety” be funded.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times