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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 8 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 3

International Women's Day: Statements (Resumed)

I am very pleased to have been in the Chamber today to listen to and reflect on the concerns regarding gender inequality that have been expressed. While we have made significant advances in recent years, as the Taoiseach noted, we still have much work to do. The Taoiseach has outlined a number of initiatives the Government is undertaking to promote gender equality, particularly in the workplace. However, gender inequality can arise in many aspects of society and it is important we can identify where those inequalities occur when developing policies. The public sector equality and human rights duty, arising from section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, places a responsibility on all public bodies to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by their policies and plans. This includes having regard to gender equality and, in practice, means all public bodies should reflect on the gender equality implications of their work. Departments integrate this work into their strategic planning and annual reporting process.

The mainstreaming of gender equality into the budgetary process is also being promoted by the Government. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform took forward a pilot approach in respect of gender budgeting in 2018, integrating equality budgeting into the existing budgetary process, involving the existing performance budgeting framework and using the processes already in place. A pilot programme on equality budgeting was introduced in six policy areas and extended in subsequent years. The initiative is supported by an equality budgeting expert advisory group, which brings together expert knowledge on how best to progress this important work. On 9 March 2021, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Finance announced that the Government had agreed to mainstream the approach to equality budgeting and to build on the progress to date in this area under an equality budgeting initiative. An interdepartmental network of senior officials, chaired jointly by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, has been established to implement equality budgeting fully in line with recommendations contained in the OECD review.

Mainstreaming of gender equality is crucial if we are to avoid unexpected and unintended gender equality impacts from policy and funding decisions. It must cut across all of Government, all policy developers, all budget managers and all service providers. Work is under way between the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to identify further measures to expand our equality budgeting capacity further.

The outgoing national strategy for women and girls provides a whole-of-government framework through which women's empowerment would be advanced. The strategy set out six high-level objectives. Five of these took a thematic approach and aimed to advance socioeconomic equality for women and girls; promote their physical and mental well-being; increase their visibility in society and equal and active citizenship; promote women's participation in leadership; and combat gender-based violence. The sixth high-level objective focused on, and was aimed towards, embedding gender equality in decision-making. These objectives were advanced through 139 actions undertaken by Departments and agencies in co-operation with social partners and civil society, as appropriate.

The strategy had initially covered the years from 2017 to 2020 but was extended by a further year due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the implementation of actions under the strategy. While the strategy has now concluded, much of the work undertaken as part of it continues. Many of the initiatives outlined here today arose from actions under the strategy. The strategy will be evaluated this year, alongside the migrant integration strategy and the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy. The Government has committed in the programme for Government to developing and implementing a new strategy, which will reflect the concerns regarding gender equality in the coming years. The development of any future strategy will be conscious of, and respond to, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on women. Work on a new strategy is anticipated to begin later this year.

I will now turn briefly to my own ministerial portfolio on engagement on gender equality overseas. This has been informed by our own national journey. Gender equality is at the heart of Ireland's foreign policy. At the UN Security Council, we have been leading the charge to advance the women, peace and security agenda and to bring women to the decision-making table. In September, when we held the presidency of the Security Council, we set a new record for bringing in women from civil society to brief that body. In our development assistance, we focus on interventions that have a transformative impact on gender equality. In 2021, we made new commitments to support women-led organisations and to provide dedicated funding for girls' education, which is arguably the most transformative investment of all. Violence against women and girls is among the most egregious of human rights violations globally and is a key driver of inequality. Ireland continues to advocate for, and invest in, efforts to end gender-based violence, especially for those most vulnerable and in areas affected by conflict.