Progress on gender equality wanted ‘urgently’

New Oireachtas committee hears recommendations to ‘force’ change quickly

The 99 people who participated in last year's Citizen's Assembly on gender equality wanted progress on equality between the sexes "urgently" and made its recommendations to "force" change quickly, its chair Dr Catherine Day has said.

Addressing the new Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality, Dr Day said the citizens wanted the "structures to change" and "the way that the State reacts" to issues that caused and exacerbated gender inequality "to be different".

The Citizens’ Assembly, which delivered its 45 recommendations last April, delivered a radical programme for reform, the centrepiece of which would be a referendum to delete and replace Article 41.2 of the Constitution. It states: “In particular the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

Dr Day told the committee on Thursday that recognition of the value of care-work was regarded by the citizens as an essential issue in achieving gender equality. This had been strengthened by the fact that most of its work had been conducted during the pandemic.

“Realising how much we depend on the people who care for us and then learning on the whole that they are not well paid, don’t have the kind of conditions of employment that a lot of other people take for granted [led to] a strong desire to put care more centrally in our society.

“The citizens recommend improving low rates of pay and dealing with the lack of a proper pay and benefits structure for carers – the vast majority of whom are women. So they recommend providing carers with the pay and benefits structure . . . similar to those of teachers and nurses.”

Quotas for candidates

Paul McAuliffe TD (Fianna Fáil) questioned whether the recommendation that gender quotas for candidates be extended to all elections, including local and Seanad, might be better replaced with a recommendation for affirmative action measures. Dr Day his had been discussed by the citizens and affirmative action was judged to “take too long”.

“The citizens want to see change now, they want to force it,” she said.

She agreed with Bríd Smith TD (People Before Profit) that there was “a very, strongly gendered dimension to housing” in the context of domestic, gender and sexual violence where women could not leave an abusive partner due to the housing crisis.

“The issues of shelter and accommodation came up . . . the issue of housing more generally came up a few times,” and there was a “strong recommendation” that there must be adequate provision of refuge space. She said it was “not a huge expenditure . . . it’s a question of wanting to do it”.

The Oireachtas committee on gender equality, chaired by Ivana Bacik TD (Labour) will examine the assembly's 45 recommendations over the coming months and report to the Oireachtas on how they should be implemented.