National Women’s Strategy 2017-2020 Submission

As a woman engaged in policy for almost 10 years at local, national and EU level I have a lot of insight into the policy and decision making process in Ireland. I have sat on a county development board and strategic policy committees at local authority level and represented the Environmental Pillar of social partnership at national level including at NESC National Economic and Social Council and NED National Economic Dialogue. I have been involved with establishing the Public Participation Network in Clare. I have ample experience and suggestions based on the challenges I have faced in order to participate.

My submission will focus on the last three high level objectives in the consultation document based on my personal experience and accumulated wisdom. Addressing them will undoubtedly have positive impacts on the first two objectives also.

The five objectives proposed in the consultation document are as follows:

  1. Advance socio-economic equality for women and girls;
  2. Improve women’s and girls’ physical and mental health;
  3. Promote women’s and girls’ equal and active citizenship; 
  4. Advance women in leadership; and
  5. Embed gender equality in decision-making. 

My submission will also address the following SDGs sustainable development goals:

5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.

I will answer your specific questions in relation to the above with additional suggestions.

a) what do you think are the issues for women and girls in Ireland that are most important to address over the next four years?

We need to ensure more women and girls can participate as active citizens and in representative roles. If there was adequate representation of women then many other issues preventing women would be alleviated as there would be more women making decisions who would in turn be mindful of womens issues. The very fact that we must have a national womens strategy indicates how bad the system has become.

So why aren’t women and girls in representative roles?

RESEARCH CLASSIFIES THE REASONS FOR WOMEN’S UNDER-REPRESENTATION IN POLITICS AS THE ‘5 CS’:

  1. Confidence: women are less likely to go forward for selection
  2. Cash: women have less access to financial resources than men
  3. Candidate selection: how political parties select candidates is often hard to navigate for outsiders
  4. Culture: political culture tends to be dominated by men including within political parties
  5. Childcare: women are more likely to have this primary responsibility

Assuming the woman has the confidence and doesn’t need to be selected by her party lets look at 3 of the 5 ‘C’s.

  • Cash: women have less access to financial resources than men. It can be very hard for a woman to chose to use her available funds on something other than her family. It is impossible as an unemployed single parent to even consider it therefore the cash must be available at the entry point to participation. It must be available at every opportunity we want women to participate.
  • Culture: political culture tends to be dominated by men including within political parties. Political parties generally govern the local authority arena. They have decided outcomes before they are even on the table. They have appointed someone before they are even asked. I look around at local councils and they are still pale, male and stale and I can see no sign of that changing unless there is outside intervention.
  • Childcare: women are more likely to have this primary responsibility therefore there must always be provision for childcare expenses. When it comes to actual elective representation the need for childcare during canvassing is a deterrent.

Climate change and environmental destruction are extremely serious issues for women now and into the future. There are now international commitments to climate action and it is vital that women participate in the policies, plans and projects being devised over the coming years. It has been widely reported that women are integral to a healthy environment.

b) do you agree with the high level objectives proposed?

I wonder how they were arrived at and welcome insight into this if available. I am disappointed with the reference to the defence forces as I feel it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of equality. Women in the army does not level the playing field.

c) what outcomes should we aim to achieve?

We should aim to have every woman facilitated to engage in decision making and policy if she so wishes. Practically this means alleviating her Cash, Culture and Childcare issues. It also means outreach and education on policy and decision making. Not knowing how to engage can be the greatest obstacle. It is the difference between suppressing an issue and acting to change it for the betterment of society.

We should aim to create a culture that recognises the importance of and seeks the inclusion of the female perspective. We deserve a culture that welcomes and accommodates womens input. This must be facilitated from a top down model at this critical stage. Women play a massive role in our voluntary care sector be that in Tidy Towns, meals on wheels and homeless help etc. We need their wisdom, hands on learning and experience reshaping the failing policies that have been devoid of female wisdom for years.

We should aim to ensure female participation at local government. There are less than one in five councillors female. I expect that statistics is worse in rural areas. From personal experience I think local government needs a complete overhaul as men thrive in it’s archaic neoliberal patriarchal system. Especially in rural areas where pale, male and stale is the norm.

We should aim to ensure that climate action is inclusive of women from preplanning to implementation. The greatest challenge to humanity is climate change. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states “Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.” Available here http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm

We should aim to stop or at very least limit categorisation in our welfare and revenue systems. This is achievable by introducing a standard payment/credit such as a basic income. Having the majority of women labelled as “dependents” does nothing for their confidence or social footing. It also implies they are lesser beings to their partner or person they are “dependent” upon.

d) what actions could be taken to advance those objectives?

Provide ample funding and training within PPNs Pubic Participation Networks to support the inclusion of women at local authority policy and decision making level. In order for many of the objectives and goals of this policy and others is the ability of women and girls to participate. Promoting active citizenship, advancing women in leadersip and gender equality in decision making all require womens participation in the political arena. By this I refer to the decision making bodies that currently exist. The Public Participation Networks are the way by which community groups become involved in local decision making.Women should be encouraged to represent these groups. To be members of groups engaging with the PPN and policy in general. Much can be done to remove the mystery of policy making and governance. Communicating what goes on is the first step. Showing women that it’s not rocket science opens the door to their considering engagement. Empowering them to get involved and covering their costs will enable them to participate.

Funding for childcare and other expenses that will facilitate womens participation in all events, boards and conferences funded by state departments. There are many government initiated or supported events, conferences, meetings where women are notably absent or in very short supply. In my personal experience all Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland SEAI, EPA Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment DCCAE and all the major energy and climate events must be restructured to facilitate the inclusion of more non industry or government women. No money from the tax payer should be spent on an event that does not take adequate, publicised steps to ensure more women participate.

Ensure that there is a dedicated budget towards womens inclusion in consultations. Every single national and local authority consultation must accommodate and facilitate the input from women. That includes workshops to discuss the contents, the language, context and implications of the consultation. It is not enough to post a consultation online and expect people to engage. This could be administered via the PPNs.

Allocate a national dedicated budget for womens participation expenses in local government. Be they councillors or non councillor representatives on local authority committees and boards. Costs to participate in rural areas are higher than in urban areas due to the lack of transport and lengthier time to participate. Existing structures where local authority and government money is spent must have a budget for childcare and inclusion expenses. This includes all Local authority policy and decision making structures. A central administration will ensure that the budget is allocated appropriately.

Equality for all can begin with a basic income or some other standardisation of welfare and state tax levies. This offers some security to women whether they are carers, starting a business, volunteering or going back to work. It also forms a basis for a cohesive, inclusive society free of demeaning labels.

Acting upon the Sustainable Development Goals by consulting women on how they may be implemented. 

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 5 Targets and Means of implementation

  • 5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • 5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
  • 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • 5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.
  • 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
  • 5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.
  • to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
  • 5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.
  • 5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
  • 5.a Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access
  • For more information, please refer to https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

Women and the Environment

It is widely recognised that women play an important role in earth stewardship and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states “Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.” Available here http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm

Ireland ratified the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, commonly referred to as the Aarhus Convention, on 20th June 2012. It lays down a set of basic rules to promote the involvement of citizens in environmental matters and improve enforcement of environmental law. The Convention is legally binding on States that have become Parties to it. Ireland signed the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters on 25 June 1998. It is now Irish Law. More information available here http://www.housing.gov.ie/environment/aarhus-convention/aarhus-convention

Climate Change is now recognised as the crisis of our time. Ireland has signed  up to international agreements on climate action. Women must be involved in the planning and implementation of our climate action. There are plans being drafted to facilitate conversation for a national vision to transition to a low carbon society.

The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice identifies the following 5 recommendations when it comes to climate change policy:

  • 1.Increase the participation of women in climate actions at all levels
  • 2.Understand the context in relation to women’s ability to participate
  • 3.Shift the emphasis from women’s representation to meaningful participation in climate actions
  • 4.Invest in training and capacity building to enable meaningful participation
  • 5.Document the good work that is going on to enable women’s participation.

These are taken from their publication “Womens Participation. An enabler of Climate Justice” which is available here http://www.mrfcj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/MRFCJ-_Womens-Participation-An-Enabler-of-Climate-Justice_2015.pdf and I would like it’s recommendations considered as part of this submission.

This is taken from the website of the DCCAE Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment:

“The Energy White Paper, published in December 2015, is a framework that will guide policy in the energy sector from now up to 2030. It sets out the plan for Ireland’s transition to a low carbon energy future. A key action in the White Paper is the establishment of a National Energy Forum (NEF).

Building on from this proposed action, the Programme for Partnership Government includes a commitment to establish a National Dialogue on Climate Change (NDCC). The NDCC will include a wider consideration of issues relevant to how we transition to a low carbon, climate resilient economy.

Minister Naughten confirmed his plan for the NDCC to encompass the NEF in his speech at the Energy Ireland Conference on 16 June 2016. The Minister outlined how the NDCC will be a key tool to providing public input into policy formation on climate action.” Available here http://www.dccae.gov.ie/energy/en-ie/Energy-Initiatives/Pages/NDCC.aspx

It is vital that this Climate Dialogue facilitates womens participation at every level. Now is the time to ensure that provision is made while the framework for the dialogue is being decided. It must have adequate funding and be considerate of womens needs to allow them participate. It is highly recommended that the public be involved in designing the consultation process they are requireded to participate in so DCCAE should ensure there are female members of the public helping design the Climate Dialogue. This is the latest guide to implementation of the Aarhus convention. https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/Publications/Aarhus_Implementation_Guide_interactive_eng.pdf

Observations on the consultation document

Men and Women should have equal rights however the fact that men and women are different must be factored into these rights.The state cannot prescribe target areas for womens “equality” – they must create an environment that enables women achieve their potential in whatever area their strengths lie while giving consideration to their invaluable work as mothers and carers – still predominantly the female role. In contrast this consultation document places an emphasises on supporting women to enter or retain employment while also specifying a role in the army. Women play a much broader role in society. While they may be employed, employers or entrepreneurs they are integral to society as parents and care givers effectively shaping our communities. Ignoring these roles marginalises women. A stay at home single parent raising the next generation is as important as the working parent and labelling is a disservice to and divides society.

The consultation document states that “When this phase of the public consultation closes, the submissions that have been received will be evaluated by the Strategy Committee established to assist the Department of Justice and Equality with preparing the Strategy. The new Strategy will be published early next year.” If the strategy committee is not representative of women from a wide variety of backgrounds then it may lack insight and understanding necessary to ensure it’s credibility.

Theresa O’Donohoe

January 31st 2017


2 thoughts on “National Women’s Strategy 2017-2020 Submission

  1. Excellent! One small beef – this phrase: “Showing women that it’s not rocket science ..” suggests you are still falling into the same trap you are campaigning against. Rocket science is not, nor should it be, so beyond the grasp of women that it scares them off!

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