Removing barriers to opportunity for women
We know that diversity and broad representation leads to better decision-making and a more productive environment and workforce. Fine Gael is committed to equality between men and women. We have made progress, but there is much more to do. Fine Gael is committed to ensuring that the barriers that still limit opportunities for too many Irish women are removed.
Votáil 100 provides a platform for significant progress in gender equality, in particular by our measures to tackle the underrepresentation of women in politics, on corporate boards, the gender pay gap and the promotion of strong female role models across all sectors.
We are driving the implementation of the ‘Women and Girls Strategy 2017-2020’. We want young people to be inspired to enter fields that best reflect their talents, not their gender. Building on this strategy and other governmental initiatives, we will bring forward measures to promote female participation in areas where women are underrepresented. For example, we will use apprenticeships to encourage more women to work in this field of STEM, and as set out in the ‘National Sports Policy’ we will eliminate the gender sports participation gap. The recently published ‘Gender Equality Action Plan for Higher Education Institutions 2018-2020’ sets out how we plan to accelerate gender equality in higher education.
Promoting female entrepreneurship
Fine Gael in government is making real progress helping female entrepreneurs. In 2017, more than one in three start-ups supported by Enterprise Ireland were led by women. In 2012, that figure was just one in ten. While this increase is significant, we are determined to do more. Our ambition is that at least 40% of start-ups are female-led by 2021.
Budget 2019 increased funding for LEOs and Enterprise Ireland, both of whom play a key in supporting the global ambition of innovative Irish women. Initiatives include tailored activity such as competitive start funding, mentoring and training options.
Ensuring that women achieve equal opportunity at the top
While women are making strides in educational attainment, it is not translating into earning power or senior decision-making roles.
In 2014, the government introduced further actions to strengthen female representation on state boards and reach the target of 40%. The gender breakdown of board members is now 40.7%, the highest proportion of female board members ever. However, the number of women serving as chairs, and indeed applying for board appointments, continues to require our focused attention.
Unfortunately, female representation on corporate boards is lagging far behind the public sector and our EU colleagues. Women make up on 18% of the boards of Irish registered ISEQ 20 companies as compared to an average of 26% for similar companies across the EU28.
This low representation in decision-making positions in Ireland represents a vast pool of untapped potential and under-utilisation of talent. Recognising this, Fine Gael in government launched Better Balance for Better Boards this summer with the intention of promoting a business-led approach to developing practical solutions and models to tackling this matter. We will ensure the measures that emanate from the working group of corporate leaders that has been established to drive this agenda, will be implemented.
Tackling the gender pay gap
We will shortly enact legislation to require publication of the gender pay gap in large companies, and work to “name and fame” those companies that make the best efforts to breakdown gender gaps.
More female political leaders
Fine Gael in government brought forward gender quotas for candidates in general elections and this has been a major driver of increased female representation in the Dáil. From 2023, 40% of candidates for election to the Dáil must be women for political parties to secure public funding. We are now introducing new measures to incentivise parties to run greater numbers of female candidates in the local elections.
More affordable childcare and flexible workplaces
Affordable, quality and accessible childcare is a key enabler for parents who want or need to go out to work. Fine Gael in government has introduced childcare subsidies to families of children between 6-36 months in centre based care and to parents of children on low incomes, are in education, or hold a medical card or GP visit card. These families can receive assistance of up to €145 towards the childcare costs of their children up to the age of 15. The Affordable Childcare Scheme is one of the most effective ways in which the state can support families with childcare costs and reduce socio-economic disadvantage. We are committed to the speedy roll-out of the Affordable Childcare Scheme.
There is scope to increase the female participation rates in the 25-64 age-group. Workplaces need to introduce greater family friendly working arrangements if they are to attract and retain talent into the future. Remote working, flexible working hours, return to work supports, upskilling are tools forward-thinking companies must use to support, attract and retain staff. Fine Gael will ensure this is part of the forthcoming ‘Future Jobs Programme’.
Implementing a Women’s Health Action Plan
We are committed to publishing a comprehensive ‘Action Plan for Women’s Health’ in 2019 with a clear timetable for implementation. We will begin with the introduction of free contraception in 2019 and we will bring forward the necessary legislation to expand access further, including to long-acting reversible contraceptives. We will pass the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill and provide for public funding of IVF treatment.
The Action Plan will deal with the full range of health issues for women, drawing together actions from a range of programmes impacting the health of women and girls including the ‘Early Childhood Programme’ and the ‘Tobacco Programme’, the ‘Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme’, the ‘Perinatal and Mental Health Programme’ and the ‘Maternity and Infant Health Programme’ as well as significant work under the primary care and social inclusion areas.
Proposing constitutional change
We will bring forward a referendum to remove the sexist language of Article 41.2 of the Constitution which seeks to define the place of women as solely in the home engaged in domestic duties. The Constitution should be an inclusive document and this clause in particular does not have any justification today.
Outside the political sphere, we will build on the progress achieved to date through the ‘National Strategy for Women and Girls’ by asking the Citizens’ Assembly to review the effectiveness of existing measures to tackle gender inequality and to propose new ones. The Citizens’ Assembly will be given a mandate to broaden its engagement beyond NGOs to include interaction with women of all ages, from different backgrounds. The Assembly will submit a report to government within six-months setting out a roadmap to achieving greater gender equality in Ireland. Implementation of this roadmap will be monitored by the Office of the Taoiseach.
Using International Development Aid to promote greater opportunities for women internationally
The promotion of gender equality and women’s education is one of the priorities that will underpin our international development approach in the years ahead. This will involve funding to international bodies that are working on gender equality issues, as well as assistance to such programmes in Irish Aid partner countries. We will also increase funding to educational programmes. Education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty, particularly in relation to poverty experienced by women and girls.