Contraception should be free to teenage girls in Ireland, UN told

National Women’s Council submission says women hit harder by recession and austerity

The NWCI “urges the Government to remove “all existing legal, policy and cost barriers to adolescents’ and young women’s use of modern forms of contraception”. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The NWCI “urges the Government to remove “all existing legal, policy and cost barriers to adolescents’ and young women’s use of modern forms of contraception”. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

Contraception should be made freely available to teenage girls and young women without parents’ consent, the National Women’s Council of Ireland has said.

In a submission to the United Nations, in advance of Ireland’s appearance before the UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women next month, the council says “persistent structural inequalities for women” remain.

Ireland was last examined on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) in 2005.

“Recession and austerity have had a disproportionate impact on women,” says the council, with the gender pay gap widening from 12.6 per cent to 14.4 per cent since 2008 and the gender pension gap widening from 35 per to 37 per cent.

“A majority of low-paid part time workers are women . . . 59 per cent of lone-parent households, mostly women, experienced enforced deprivation.

“Many women communicated the devastating impact of cutbacks and austerity on our health services . . . Overprescription of medications particularly impacted poor and marginalised women to whom alternative treatments such as counselling were not made available.”

Women also found “attitudinal barriers” and “health professionals’ lack of understanding of women’s health issues” sometimes led to symptoms being incorrectly ascribed to “women’s issues” such as menopause.

Right to health

One of world’s the “most restrictive [abortion] regimes” means women here cannot access abortion except where the woman’s life is at risk, putting women’s mental and physical health at risk – a “clear derogation of the right to health”, as set out in article 12 of Cedaw, the council says.

It urges the Government to remove “all existing legal, policy and cost barriers to adolescents’ and young women’s use of modern forms of contraception and ensure their access to contraceptive information and services without mandatory parental authorisation or notification”.

The Government should also hold a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment which guarantees the “equal” right to life of the mother and the unborn.

It should also make nicotine replacement therapy free to anyone on a “stop smoking” programme.

Steps have been taken to tackle domestic violence, including Ireland signing the Istanbul Convention on the issue. However, it has yet to be ratified here. The council says this should happen “with minimum of delay”.

“Domestic violence should be made a distinct criminal offence. Any offence should include physical, emotional or psychological abuse and coercive control.”

The council also makes recommendations on improving women’s representation in public and business life, improving women’s working conditions, childcare, combating trafficking and tackling sexism in education.

Ireland appears before the Geneva-based UN Cedaw committee from February 13th-15th.