That Seanad Éireann takes note of the Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women.
Vol. 135 No. 7
That Seanad Éireann takes note of the Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women.
I welcome the Minister for Equality and Law Reform to the House.
Thank you a Chathaoirligh, for your kind words of welcome on my second visit to the Seanad. I was here briefly last week on an Adjournment debate. It is nice to be here and I appreciate your kind wishes.
I am very pleased to open the debate on this major report in Seanad Éireann. The report has been described as a tract for the times and I believe it should serve as a blueprint for the development of our society along fair, rational and compassionate lines. The choice, it seems to me, is between planning for a future which realises our goals and which takes account of changing patterns in living and working or sitting back, merely reacting to events as they arise. I believe we should try and determine the future, not be its pawns. It is, therefore, both an important and healthy exercise that we are debating the recommendations in the commission's report here in the Seanad just as we have done in the Dáil. I welcome the contributions to be made today and I would like to assure the members of the House that I will take careful note of the points they make in drawing up a programme for implementation of the report.
It is undoubtedly a major challenge to tackle implementation of the report. The report proposes a massive programme of institutional, administrative, legal and constitutional reform. There are 210 separate recommendations in all and many of these are themselves broken down into component recommendations. This is an extremely comprehensive agenda to set any Government.
For me, there is a happy conjunction between publication of the report, with the access to research and analysis it provides, and my own appointment as the first-ever Minister for Equality and Law Reform. My appointment means that for the very first time there is a Cabinet Minister with specific responsibility for women's interests and concerns. As a key part of my job I will assess every single Government policy proposal from a gender impact point of view. This represents a qualitative leap forward in terms of the seriousness with which women's issues are considered. Indeed, four years hence my objective is to ensure the some "women's issues" are no longer considered solely women's issues but have the attention accorded to them they deserve as the mainstream human rights, social and economic issues they are.
The debate on this report today takes place in the shadow of the Kilkenny incest case which illustrates, with an immediacy no report could have, the powerlessness of women and minors in situations of extreme violence. Who could not be moved by that young woman's dignity and fortitude? Who could not resolve to help her and her son? The important point is that legislators must learn from such terrible experiences and try to ensure that more effective intervention, penalties and supports are put in place. In this context I welcome the establishment by the Minister for Health of the committee of inquiry into the health services and I also welcome the commitment by the Minister for Justice that the law will be changed soon to provide for an increased penalty where a girl over 15 years of age is the victim of incest.
The bravery of Lavinia Kerwick, another victim of assault, has given an impetus to the Criminal Justice Bill which should be passed by the Dáil today. This proposed legislation will empower the Court of Criminal Appeal to review unduly lenient sentences at the instance of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It will also require courts, when determining the sentence to be imposed for a sexual offence or an offence involving violence or the threat of violence, to take into account any effect — including long term effect — on the victim.
I refer to these cases not just to cite the truism that good can come out of evil but to make the point that, despite the distress and shock of such cases, our society has moved a long way in a positive sense over the past two decades. Twenty years ago it is likely that such crimes would have remained hidden, taking their toll year after year in human misery and no doubt contributing to our statistically high incidence of depression and alcoholism. The care, attention and skills of the garda responsible for investigating these cases, Garda Reddy, reflects the sea change in Irish society. Twenty years ago the Garda Síochána would have been totally unequipped to deal with this issue. Much of the change in attitudes over the past twenty years is due to the enlightened approach of the report of the First Commission on the Status of Women and I expect the report of the Second Commission to play an equally positive formative role for decades to come.
For my own part I have taken account of the constructive proposals the commission makes to ensure that all women can avail of protection or barring orders as redress against violence or the threat of violence in their homes. It is not acceptable that they should be confined to cases, as at present, where the spouse is the aggressor and I hope to remedy this situation as a matter of urgency.
At international level I would also like to inform the House that Ireland is strongly supporting adoption of the draft Declaration of Violence Against Women by the United Nations General Assembly later this year. The declaration sets out a comprehensive definition of violence against women, and suggests preventive guidelines for each state as well as encouraging states to develop penal, civil, labour and administrative sanctions in domestic legislation.
I thought it important to focus in some detail on the issue of violence against women and to outline the Government's response in this area because I am aware that there is widespread public concern about the scale and incidence of such violence. If we can at least learn about the inadequacies and gaps in our preventive system we can help abused women and children more promptly in the future.
Violence is just one of the broad range of issues dealt with in the commission's report. If there is a constant theme in the report it is the fact that so many women have such little power over their own lives. And without power one cannot have choice.
On International Women's Day earlier this week I had the privilege of launching in Ireland the European Community's Charter on Women and Decision-making. The issue of women and decision-making may sound somewhat intangible but it goes to the core of the structures and organisation of our society. Decision-making is concerned not just with the ability to take decisions but with the power to take decisions. Many ordinary women for example, have the ability to take decisions about their environment — how to ensure their streets are safe and user-friendly — but they have not the power to put those decisions into effect. The fact is that the power points in our society, where decisions are taken, are dominated by men.
Decision-making in all its manifestations is about access to power. In a democracy that means access to political and public life. It is in everybody's interest that a representative democracy has people in public life drawn from a cross-section of our community, yet for many years we have had minimal representation of women at local and national level: 11 per cent of councillors, 12 per cent of Dáil Deputies and 13 per cent of Senators are women and this represents the highest level of success ever, so we still have a long way to go.
It is not surprising, of course, that there are relatively few women in public life. For a start, the power relationship in many homes is still an unequal one and the issue of the active participation in politics by the woman of the house remains out of the question altogether or else a source of potential conflict between husband and wife. In addition an active political life entails a great commitment of time. A woman with young children, just like a man with young children, needs back-up given ungrudgingly and reliably for childcare and other domestic responsibilities.
There are also financial outgoings involved with running for political office. Women, because so many of them work in the home and more work in low paid occupations, are less likely than men to have the necessary financial resources. This means that our political parties have to look carefully at how they facilitate participation by women and how such participation may be encouraged. My own party has found the practice of reserving seats on our Executive to be a constructive and effective strategy in bringing forward women of talent.
The commission's report directs a number of recommendations specifically towards political parties which I believe it behoves us to study. One of the commission's recommendations which is included as a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government is the provision of State funding for a women's officer in all political parties and this will be expedited in due course. It is important for any democracy to be balanced and to take on board the conerns of all its citizens. If we do nothing to lower the barriers to women's participation we are, at the same time, excluding half our intellectual capital for problem solving and seriously skewing our political agenda.
The report breaks new ground in its detailed treatment of women working in the home. It draws very clear attention to the need for supports and rights for these women in order that they too should feel they have choice and authority in their lives and that the career they have chosen to pursue has recognition and respect. The report makes the important point that women working outside the home, full- or part-time, and women working as homemakers are not categories in opposition. Very often they are the same women at different stages of their lives. I would like to confirm the Government's commitment to bring forward legislation for joint ownership of the family home in order to recognise the homemaker's contribution in a concrete way and I put on record my satisfaction that the Government has recognised the contribution of mothers to the general good by increasing child benefit substantially in the budget. The fact that this increase is made in the context of a very tight fiscal situation is an indication of the Government's commitment to improving the situation of women in the home.
The report also examines the reality of women's working lives. It makes the point that women work for the same reasons as men — money, fulfilment and status. However, the pattern of many women's participation in paid employment may differ from that of men for the simple reason that they have children. They must not be handicapped for this fact of life and I intend to give careful scrutiny to the proposals the Commission makes in the area of reconciling family and working life. This should benefit men as well as women.
Indeed, EC-wide studies show that, ideally, men too would like to spend more time with their children. As a society we must then pursue a more flexible, imaginative and responsible approach to enabling men and women meet their family and work responsibilities. In this context my first such initiative will be the introduction of adoptive leave.
The report makes the point strongly that the EC structural funds to become available to us on foot of the agreement at the Edinburgh Summit should be invested in projects which benefit women as well as men. This means, specifically, that in drawing up the operational programmes in the Community support framework we must have regard to the impact on the proposals on women in the same way as we now consider the impact on women of Government decisions. Indeed, if we are not to become a two tier society it is essential generally that we factor our categories of disadvantage into our operational programmes.
The scope and size of the commission's report is immense. As I have said earlier there is a detailed analysis of problems leading to 210 different recommendations. My priority now is to draw up a programme of implementation for myself and the other Government Ministers which is based on the recommendations in the commission's report.
In drawing up this programme the Government will have to have regard to the issue of costs arising, among other factors. The commission performed the useful exercise of categorising its recommendations on the basis of the expenditure considerations they would give rise to and this will facilitate our task.
In my own area of responsibility, I have already outlined the initiatives planned on joint ownership of the family home, barring and protection orders and adoptive leave. In addition my Department is working on two major complex pieces of legislation. First the strengthening and improving of existing employment equality legislation. The two Acts in question, the Anti-discrimination (Pay) Act and the Employment Equality Act, will be reviewed taking into account the case law they have given rise to and any perceived shortcomings or anomalies they contain. I also intend that as well as women other disadvantaged categories of persons will be protected by their legislation.
Second, my Department is preparing an Equal Status Bill which will afford non-discriminatory protection with regard to education and access to goods, services and facilities and the disposal of accommodation or other premises.
The legislation providing for automatic joint ownership of the family home is part of a package of protections and supports intended to be in place before the referendum on divorce takes place next year. These measures include increased funding for the family mediation service and civil legal aid. I have a particular desire that this Government should address the problems of marriage breakdown rather than seek to ignore them as has been the case in the past.
I am glad to have the privilege of initiating this debate on the report of the commission in the Seanad. In concluding, I would like to express my thanks to Judge Carroll and her colleagues on the commission for the major contribution they have made to the public good. I would also like to record the valuable contribution made by the 600 plus submissions received by the commission and by the many individuals and organisations who gave freely of their time and expertise to assist in its efforts.
I would like to assure the Members present and through them the women of Ireland that I intend to pay careful attention to the contributions made today on all sides of the House so that they can be taken into account as we formulate our priority programme for implementation.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Taylor to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. He will do an excellent job because as a Deputy he has over the years concentrated on inequality in society and has attempted, where possible, to bring about natural justice. I had the pleasure of working with the Minister on various committees and I know his history in this regard. I wish him well in his new Office.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss this fine report and I compliment the people who compiled such a detailed analysis with recommendations made in a number of areas which affect women in Irish society. It is important that we address the report in this House. The Government must look at the report and prioritise matters on which action might be taken.
The recommendations can be divided into two categories. The first category includes recommendations which require substantial funding; Government must decide to which of the recommendations requiring financial investment, immediate priority will be given. I urge the Minister to give priority to the recommendations regarding the provision of childcare and child support. Recommendations which do not necessarily entail financial investment constitute the second category. These recommendations entail legal changes and the introduction of legislation in a number of Departments to regularise the current situation.
The commission's recommendation for the introduction of an equal status Bill is significant. Areas recommended for address by the legislation are relevant in the light of the recent Kilkenny incest case, the Lavinia Kerwick case and many similar cases with which public representatives throughout the country are familiar but which have never been highlighted publicly. It is important that the Minister and his Department address this issue as a matter of urgency.
The commission recommends the establishment of an equality commission and suggests that it be an independent semi-State body. This commendable recommendation should be acted upon by the Minister with a view to implementing an equal status Act. The recommendations in relation to monitoring the implementations of the report are vital and a monitoring system should be put in place.
It is difficult to decide which of the important issues in this report to address first. Women working in the home are the forgotten women in Irish society. Despite the vital role they play in society they have never been given deserved recognition or adequate legal and State support. The situation of women working in the home must be considered from a number of viewpoints, the first of which is financial. I welcome the commission's recommendations that social welfare payments and allowances for dependent children be directed to the spouse in the home who in most cases, provides for the children. Such measures would ensure that neither the children nor the mother would be victimised because of not having access to income. I welcome this recommendation in relation to lower income groups especially.
The other area in relation to women in the home is their entitlement to benefit. Many of them are not entitled to optical, dental and other benefits because of the PRSI system. That matter must be closely examined with a view to giving them equality of opportunity in relation to entitlements in the social welfare code, as the commission recommends.
Women in rural Ireland are particularly vulnerable. We hear of cases like the Kilkenny case, and there are many other instances throughout the country, but because of the closed nature of Irish society we do not hear about what is going on, or at least we ignore it and pretend it is not happening. Much depends on the locality and on educational and religious conditioning. As isolation increases, the problems of women in rural Ireland, and particularly older women, must be given priority. In recent years there has been a considerable reduction of services in rural Ireland. An Post has been closing down post offices and CIE has been reducing its services to rural areas. Women who do not drive cars are dependent on public transportation and they find it extremely difficult when they have to travel to avail of services. Priority must be given to this matter.
There is a high level of depression in parts of rural Ireland and the problem has not been addressed seriously by the social or health services. There is even an attempt to ignore it. I would like to commend this report for addressing this issue.
Isolation can lead to many problems. In many instances it can lead to women becoming victims of abuse. This is totally unacceptable and the matter must be closely monitored. In the recent past it is unfortunate the Government and the Oireachtas could only react to what was happening rather than ensuring proper structures were in place, to deal with the matter. As the Minister quite rightly said, we should not be reacting to situations; we should be out there anticipating problems and putting systems in place to take care of them. I would like to commend the Minister for his foresight on the issue in question.
I read with interest the section on the participation of women in politics, and policies in relation to women in politics. I was amused by some of the recommendations because one of the most serious issues hindering women's involvement in any type of organisation, whether political, voluntary or community, is the fundamental lack of proper childcare services in the community, the work area, and indeed in this House. If younger women had that facility available to them they would have the freedom to become involved. They will only get that freedom if they know their children are being properly cared for in the right environment. Otherwise, they cannot give the necessary commitment to the political system.
Some of us who have made it into the political system at this level are extremely fortunate. However, it must be said that any woman who has been elected to either House of the Oireachtas, has done so only by making enormous sacrifices, not just on her own part but also on the part of her husband and children. In a sense one could say politicians' children are disadvantaged because of the way the system works and the unsocial hours attaching to the job. Recommendations have been made about making the hours of the Oireachtas more civilised and acceptable. Speaking as a Senator, shorter sitting hours, such as nine to five in Dublin, would not suit people like me who live 180 miles from here. The reality is that I have to be away from my children two or three nights a week, so I would be as pleased to sit until 10 p.m. or midnight getting on with the business and thus be able to spend more days at home with my children. The sitting hours of the Houses of the Oireachtas as they affect Dublin and rural Members must be given consideration.
The report recommends that 50 per cent of the Members of the Seanad should be women, and that parties should agree to put forward women candidates on the various panels. The mind boggles as to how that could happen. The sentiment is excellent but the Minister will have to tell us how we can put it into practice. Having gone through a Seanad campaign twice I find it very difficult to know how you could deliver on that recommendation. It might be easier to introduce that type of proposal in the Dáil than in the Seanad. The recommendation is not very realistic and the people who made it are perhaps not familiar with our type of political system and the intricacies involved. It is somewhat far-fetched. Women should not be put in to the Houses of the Oireachtas just because they are women. That could be dangerous. Some 51 per cent of the population are women and within that 51 per cent there is great brain power and ability. If people are given freedom, if the system is made more flexible and if women are given the opportunity to get into the system, then they will be able to make it in their own right.
For young women with children the most inhibiting factor to becoming involved in politics is the lack of proper childcare facilities. That is something that needs to be addressed urgently. After that it is only a matter of getting involved and, in time, women will be prominent on the political scene if they are given that opportunity. I do not believe there is an inherent bias in our community against a candidate because she is a woman and the election of President Mary Robinson and an increased number of women elected to the Dáil proves my point. We should not go overboard on that issue.
An interesting recommendation arises in relation to women and the Churches. It suggests that all the Churches in Ireland should make a formal statement on the equality of women and men particularly in the context of marriage and relationships. That recommendation is extremely important because Churches of all denominations play a very important role in shaping the attitudes of their brethren throughout the country. Much of the bias and discrimination that occurs is due to conditioning from the Old Testament in particular, and the various readings in the churches in relation to the traditional role and position of women. It is very important that the Churches respond to the women of modern Ireland in a realistic way and become more familiar with and relate more to current realities. I have no doubt that the hierarchy of all denominations, having involved themselves more in the social activities of the community, will address this issue. The Churches and our educational system, have an important role to play in the society regards women.
I welcome the recommendations on education. In many instances they reinforce some of the programmes already put in place by the Department of Education, particularly in relation to the use of text books, the role of women, the attitude portrayed and the pictorial messages put across. I commend these recommendations to the Minister. The Department of Education is putting many of them in place but we still have a long way to go. It is important to ensure that girls have the same access to subject choice as boys because girls have been discriminated against in the past. There have been improvements recently but not across the educational spectrum. Until we have equality in the area of subject choices, women will not be in a position to take up employment in traditionally male dominated careers.
Health is a very important area. Surveys have shown that women's health is down the scale in the order of family health. Women only take care of their health when the rest of the family have been taken care of. The result is that women in the lower income bracket have a poorer health standard than women in the higher income bracket. This must be addressed.
Access to medical attention is also of vital importance. Women in rural areas do not have access to the same services as women in Dublin. This must be addressed by the health boards. There should be an onus on every health board to provide equal access to health care. I refer in particular to mammography units. As there are few of these units throughout the country not many women have access to them. It is important that this area, too, be addressed.
I commend the commission's recommendations in relation to the rape crisis centres. I thank the Minister for Health who, yesterday, provided additional funding to the rape crisis centres across the country. The money being provided is less than what many of us hoped but, at least, it is a move in the proper direction. I hope the Minister and the Department continue to give priority to that area.
The media have a huge role to play in relation to attitudes to women and how women rate in society. As a former member of the Women's Rights Committee where we addressed many issues, particularly advertising and broadcasting, I welcome the recommendations in relation to the ASI. It is important that women are not portrayed as second class citizens. Prior to Ash Wednesday, there was an advertisement for Jif on television. A blonde woman was seen to pour Jif on to an empty plate and she was then reminded not to forget to put Jif on her pancake. I object to that advertisement because I feel the blonde woman was portrayed as rather stupid. It conveyed a wrong image of women. That type of advertisement should not be allowed. I hope RTE and the Advertising Standards Authority will be more vigilant in future in relation to that type of advertisement. We must ask why it was not a male putting Jif on the plate and a woman telling him not to forget his pancake. The imagery conveys a particular message. That is unacceptable as Senator Roche will agree.
I do not buy Jif.
There are many recommendations in this report which are highly commendable but, in the final analysis, we have to decide what can be implemented. The Government has a major responsibility in this area. Priority must be given to women in greatest need, to women in greatest danger and to women who are very disadvantaged economically, socially and from a location point of view. All three can go hand in hand. It is important that women in danger are taken care of.
I welcome the legal recommendations in relation to barring orders and the extension to include co-habitees. It is extremely important that legislation along those lines is put in place quickly. The number of co-habitees in society is increasing. The normal application of the current law does not apply to them and the result is that women in these circumstances are often in an extremely vulnerable position. The current legal position cannot defend their situation. This recommendation will not cost money but this legislation should be introduced urgently to protect women in that situation.
I look forward to various Ministers coming here in the future with Bills along the lines of the recommendations in this report. This would be amending legislation in some instances and new legislation in others which will bring about greater equality and protection for women.
I welcome the Minister of State. I would also like to have welcomed Deputy Taylor, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, if the opportunity had presented itself.
By any standard, this report is a remarkable document. It is comprehensive, compassionate and makes compelling reading. It is significant for both men and women. The report proposes what has rightly been described as a massive programme of reform — constitutional reform, administrative reform, institutional reform and above all of attitudinal reform. The report is challenging on all counts but nowhere is it more challenging than on the latter. The ultimate challenge and the most difficult to meet is not in the constitutional or legal areas although those areas are daunting enough. Laws can be redrafted, the Constitution is not or should not be inflexible. Neither does the ultimate challenge lie in the administration of schemes, the changing of tax regimes or the reform of institutions; with tenacity, perseverance and time, even the most entrenched bureaucracy can be changed. The ultimate challenge posed by this extraordinary and magnificent report is in the area of attitudes. Our attitudes and reactions to equality issues, to status, to what is regarded as appropriate or right are so much a part of our being that the issue of attitudes is the most difficult one to address. Yet, this is the area where most work needs to be done. Conditioning has produced a mind set in society. This applies to men and women. It is so entrenched, that the most difficult area to deal with will be individual attitudinal change, which is precisely the area where the most change must be achieved. Amending the law, building new institutions, changing the Constitution, revamping the tax code or implementing other worthy proposals made in this report and in its predecessor, will achieve little if the concept of truly equal status is not firmly established in the minds and hearts of every citizen of this State, irrespective of gender.
Before discussing the report, I wish to welcome the positive response it has received from Government and from all sides. I also acknowledge the admirable response of politicians on all sides who have indicated their willingness to invest the time and effort necessary to bring about the changes which the report proposes. In advance of the report's publication, a Department of Equality and Law Reform was established and the Programme for a Partnership Government contains objectives which accord with many of the important recommendations of the commission.
The Minister for Equality and Law Reform has already given an unqualified welcome to the report which he repeated here today. He has promised to invest energy and time in this matter and to establish a priority programme for the implementation of its recommendations. We should lobby all Ministers in this and successive Governments to ensure that recommended programmes are put in place and promises fulfilled. Early action has been promised on a broad range of specific initiatives.
Urgent amending legislation on the removal of pay discrimination and on the creation of employment equality has been promised and will be forthcoming. The former has already been the subject of attention in this House and an equal status Bill has been promised. Priority is being assigned by Government to joint ownership of the matrimonial home and legislation in that regard will be on the Statute Book by early next year.
A divorce referendum, giving Irish people an opportunity to speak again on this important issue, is proposed for next year. In the recent Estimates increased funding was provided by Government for the Legal Aid Board and for family mediation services in spite of State financial constraints. These services are particularly important to women. The Minister for Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Justice have already indicated their intention to take action on barring orders and on sentencing policy in rape and incest cases.
The report, as the Minister and Senator Taylor-Quinn have said, provides us with over 200 recommendations. It is impossible, given the time constraints of this House to discuss more than a few. The report begins with an important chapter dealing with constitutional and legal issues where the State, and more precisely the Government and the Legislature, will make the major contribution. The recommendations in this chapter include the deletion of Article 41.2.2º of the Constitution, a constitutional amendment to prohibit all forms of discrimination based on sex, support for the 1992 Government White Paper on Marital Breakdown including a recommendation that the divorce issue be submitted to the people at an early date and constitutional and legal responses to the X case. The latter area of that chapter caused some division within the commission. Three members indicated that they did not support one option and or a number of specific points relating to Article 40.3.3º. The commission notes that the decision of the Irish people last November in the referenda on travel and information achieved the result recommended in the second option put forward by the commission. Thus the commission is mindful of what now remains to be done by the Oireachtas to enact appropriate legislation in response to the remaining issues raised by the X case.
The commission makes important recommendations for the enactment of equal status legislation. It recommends the reconstitution of the Employment Equality Agency as a full equality commission, a point dealt with by Senator Taylor-Quinn. It recommends a legal regime of community property in marriage, which I consider vital. When we speak about marriage, I assume we are talking about non-traditional relationships also; the financial contribution of either partner is as important in non-traditional relationships as in traditional marriage. Improvements in legislation for the enforcement of maintenance orders and improvements in the mediation service are two important recommendations made by the commission.
The Government's commitment to effect change in many areas covered by the report has already been mentioned by me and by the Minister. It is, however, worth pointing out that commitment to change in a number of key areas, both by the present Government and its predecessor, predates the publication of the report.
I want to discuss one specific recommendation — the proposed deletion of Article 41.2.2º of the Constitution. I acknowledge fully the problems identified by the commission with regard to the language used in Article 41.2.2º and in particular, the reference therein to the State, and I quote: "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." I recognise, as the commission does, that the reference to "duties in the home" can be negatively interpreted. However, taken as a whole, the aspiration in this Article, particularly when one reads Article 40.2.2º in conjunction with Article 40.2.1º, is positive, a fact recognised by the commission. I wonder, therefore, whether a more appropriate alternative to deleting Article 40.2.2º would be to effect some positive change in its wording, in order to bring it more into line with modern thinking. The commission proposes that the Constitution makes a positive statement on gender equality, a proposal I unequivocally support. However, for a statement on gender equality, should we not simply rearrange the words of Article 40.2.2º to create a statement not subject to negative connotations?
The opening chapter of the Commission's report also deals with that most horrific and apparently growing phenomenon, violence against women. I accept points made in contributions today and last week that violence against women is not a new phenomenon; it is perhaps more visible now than ever before because Irish society is becoming more open. One of the most distressing issues one has to deal with in public life is the plague of violence, so much a feature of modern life. Violence takes many forms, ranging from the horrific incestuous rape and violence of the recent Kilkenny case, to the mental violence experienced by many Irish women.
The commission comments and does so rather tamely, on the inadequacy of existing legal redress. The Kilkenny case, which has come to the public's attention since the publication of the commission's report, underscores the degree of understatement contained in this. The Lavinia Kerwick case and the Kilkenny case clearly point to the fact that if we are to consider ourselves as a civilised or a Christian nation we must address this particular horror that has dwelt among the Irish people for far too long. I fully endorse all the recommendations in this section of the commission's report and I call on the Minister and the Government to put all necessary resources into the task of achieving the changes proposed without any further delay.
I will deal briefly with the commission's treatment of sentencing in rape cases. I have been, and will continue without apology to be, a forthright critic of discrepancies in sentencing in rape and incest cases. I was criticised by some in this House for expressing my views on the sentence in the Kilkenny case. Given the great public revulsion about how the judge chose to deal more leniently than the law permitted with the monster who perpetrated those horrors, my criticism remains as resolute as ever.
I would, however, be disturbed if judicial idiosyncracy forced us to introduce mandatory sentencing. The more appropriate manner of dealing with excessive leniency in sentencing might be to allow appeals by the State in such cases, as has been proposed by the Minister for Justice.
The Kilkenny case was not the only one recently to illustrate idiosyncracies in judicial behaviour. It was certainly the more horrific, but there was another which caused me to pause when I read the details in our newspapers. In this case two men involved in the multiple rape of two women were given a lesser sentence than the judge would otherwise have given because they were members of a travelling group, because they were nomadic. It strikes me as extraordinary if in sentencing, the lifestyle of the perpetrators of the crime is more important that the trauma suffered by the victims. I cannot understand the logic; if logic is the right word in that circumstance.
Another area where logic is brought seriously into question by recent events, again highlighted in this commission's report, is the treatment of incestuous rape, which is apparently treated as a lesser crime in law at present. The logic of this escapes me. Rape is a particularly horrific crime. Incestuous rape is no less horrific. Whether in the family or elsewhere, rape is even more horrific if carried on year after unrelenting year, accompanied by additional physical torment and debasement. It is baffling and infuriating that this should be treated as a lesser crime for the purposes of sentencing in a so-called civilised nation.
I, therefore, welcome the recent comments by the Minister for Justice on this matter. The speedy statements which followed the Kilkenny case should be followed by speedy action. Before the passage of a significant period of time, we should have brought the penalty for incest fully into line with the reality of the crime.
The report also raises the manner in which State agencies deal with cases of incest or violence in the home. This strikes me as an important area. Like every public representative and everyone in this House, in my clinics I have come across the tragedies of wife battering, incest and marital rape and I have been struck time and again by official reluctance to act. As a man, I feel violent towards the perpetrator when I hear of such a case. I cannot understand how people in caring agencies see the impediments to action more clearly than the need to act. People who should do something in these cases, turn the other way. They turn the blind eye and the deaf ear. In crime within the family in particular, the tradition has been to turn the blind eye. That is not good enough.
I was particularly horrified in the Kilkenny case by the fact that this could go on over such a long time. I do not wish to stray to the area which is now the subject of inquiry, but people in the community must have known what was happening. The caring professions must have known. How could it possibly have happened that for over 16 years, these people did not call a halt to the torture, torment and the extraordinary bestiality that existed in that so-called family?
While I am glad that caring agencies will try to be aware of problems in the home at an earlier time, administrative actions do not go far enough. This reluctance to deal with these issues is so ingrained in Irish society that we need to go a step further. We should consider imposing a statutory responsibility on every public servant, in particular those employed in caring agencies, to pursue any suspected case of violence in the home or the family, in whatever form that violence takes. This could be difficult and the proposal may be regarded by some as controversial. Some public servants may not welcome such a proposal. I think such a radical measure is required to force people not to turn a blind eye.
Before moving from this section of the report I shall make two further points relating to issues raised in the report and by recent events. The first matter is barring orders. I welcome the Minister's undertaking to change and to amend the law on this issue.
The second is the question of the treatment of offenders. However, I wish to go further than simply sentencing. One judge made a valid point last week — as I have often criticised judges I should also praise them when they do make valid points. He said it is important that the area of treatment be dealt with, and treatment takes many forms. There is radical treatment, psychiatric treatment, a whole range of treatments that are missing at present. It is not good enough that offenders spend a number of years in custody and are decanted back onto the street without proper treatment, in many cases to reoffend.
I will deal with the chapter in the commission's report on women in the home. If I have any disappointment with the report it is with this chapter. It would be wrong to describe the chapter as slight, but there has been a tradition in Ireland of paying lip service to the role of women in the home and doing little else. There are valuable and valid proposals in the report on this issue but many women who have dedicated themselves to homemaking feel that they have been ignored in the general debate on women's rights. It is not true of this report but the language in which some articulate the cause of feminism has added insult to the injury many women in the home have suffered over the years. A huge amount needs to be done in this area. The mention in the report of the recognition and support of home makers is welcome. The State needs to follow this up with action. The proposals on joint ownership of the family home and all income of spouses is also welcome. I raise the same point here as I raised earlier about what constitutes a spouse — the words "spouse" and "marriage" are used repeatedly. There are many non-traditional relationships and I presume the commission intends that its views on the joint membership of income and the family home also apply to joint ownership in non-traditional relationships.
There are many areas which require change as they affect women in the home. I will mention a few specific issues because we could all draw up long lists and it is not fair to others who wish to contribute. There is the question of training for women in the home. We have many training courses run by FÁS and other agencies which help to reorientate people in the workplace and retrain workers. However, women in the home are excluded from these courses. Women in the home are denied the right to participate. It strikes me that that is an institutional deliberate under-valuation of the work done by the homemaker and it is something which requires urgent attention. The failure of the State to recognise the job done by women in the home as work so far as the social welfare code and social welfare insurance are concerned has been well documented but it remains an issue that requires attention.
The need to recognise the expertise of the woman in the home and the home maker applies right across Irish society. I can give an illustration of this from my experience. It is extraordinary the dismissive attitude that is adopted, for example by members of the medical profession, to the undoubted expertise that women in the home build up. For example, my wife, concerned about an orthopaedic problem with one of the children, took the child to a hospital. Having queued for hours to see a "specialist" she was told that she was fussing. Because I was as insulted as my wife by that condescension I took it upon myself to ring this gentleman and suggest that he might mend his ways. On the next occasion my wife went in, he said: "You are the woman I have to be very careful with". It turns out my wife's views on the medical needs of the child in question were at least as good as the views of several specialists because we took several opinions before her concerns were confirmed. There is a need to recognise that the woman in the home has developed a huge amount of expertise that would be recorded as professional expertise in every other walk of life but is generally dismissed when it comes to women in the home.
Senator Taylor-Quinn spoke of the need for more women orientated health care. This is an area where I, as a mere man, can make a few observations. We have four children. When our first child was born I was not allowed near the delivery suite. I was ushered out. One of the things that struck me in all four deliveries was how non-client oriented the service in maternity care actually is. Women are met by a group of strangers. There does not seem to be any orientation of the work around a particular woman or a particular woman's needs. Women's requirements tend to be dismissed. I remember in a certain hospital hearing a nurse say: "these pregnant women make me sick". I am sure those pregnant women might have had some observations on the quality of care from that particular official. Most of the professions have been developed by males and there needs to be a reorientation in thinking in them.
Much can be done with regard to the area of access to education for women in the home. We hear mindless rubbish trotted out on radio and television stations hour after hour. Some of it is undoubtedly populist but there is no reason television and radio should not be used to provide women, men, or unemployed people in the home with new training facilities, with the capacity to share in education, for example, to go to degree status. I recognise in this regard that some very valuable work has been done in recent years through co-operation, between UCD and some women's groups.
I want to touch on the area of education. I recognise and endorse the sentiments expressed in the commission's report in this area. This is an area that needs sensitive change. It is an area that interests me as a person who is professionally involved in education. The last contributor made the point about stereotyping and conditioning. I need to re-emphasise those points. Stereotyping begins in the home but it is enforced by education and it is time steps were taken to stop this.
This is a remarkable report. It is significant, it is timely, it is provocative and it is a challenge to us all. The Minister, either consciously or otherwise, referred to Plato's case for equality of treatment. I was struck by his comments, as I was when I read the original comments. More than half the human talent of this nation is invested in the women of this nation. Is it not a terrible tragedy that the nation for so long has failed to build on and utilise that talent?
I welcome the Minister into the House.
I particularly welcome this excellent report which proposes equality in Ireland. I would like to see all the recommendations in it implemented. It is a milestone in pulling together the thinking and experiences of the excellent people on the commission and those who made submissions to the commission. I was interested to see that in 1972 about 200 submissions were made to the commission; this time 600 submissions were made. This shows the incredible interest there is in this field and the realisation of how important it is. This report is important not just for women in Ireland; it is important for Irish society in general. I am pleased that one recommendation has already been implemented, that is, the appointment of a Minister for Equality and Law Reform and since so much law reform is involved in this report, I am sure he will do an excellent job implementing the recommendations in the report.
There are a number of distinct levels at which change is required. I looked at the report as a whole and at areas which were important to me. The most important thing was that so much of the report was at a very fundamental level and that all the chapters were interrelated. For example, how can you isolate the area of women in the home? We are all in the home; I would suggest that even men are in the home.
Sometimes women who work solely in the home have an exhalted idea of the lives of those who work outside the home. A few weeks ago I held an afternoon clinic. When it started to rain I remarked to the woman with me that I had not taken in the washing; she replied: "Do you take in your washing?" Everyone does these common household tasks. The sooner we realise that we are all working towards a common purpose the better. No one is trying to isolate anyone in any sector; we are men and women in and out of the home and anxious to go forward together.
I would like to talk about violence in Irish society which this House addressed last week in the context of the Kilkenny incest case. Senator Kelly spoke in that debate about Irish ambivalence towards violence. The report refers repeatedly to violence, namely, sexual violence, physical violence, violence in the home and sexual harassment in the workplace, it is unfortunate that violence appears to be such a problem. I cannot say if it is more of a problem in Ireland than elsewhere, but I am not happy to live in a country where violence is tolerated. I hope these issues of violence are urgently tackled; I realise it will not be easy to do so because of social attitudes and the financial costs involved. The implementation of the Child Care Bill, for example, is required urgently and even though the Bill's provisions will cost money to implement I urge the Government to make the necessary funds available.
Acts of violence against children and women have been acknowledged but not enough recognition is given to acts of violence against the elderly. Too long a sacrifice, occasionally, turns the heart to stone. Many people who care for the elderly do so without sufficient help. It is important that more help be provided and I will return to the section regarding carers later.
The chapter on health contains an important section, which, unfortunately, has become topical again this week. This is section 11.6, dealing with maternity and treatment of life threatening conditions during pregnancy. The report says:
It is relevant to consider the rights of pregnant women in the context of life threatening conditions during pregnancy, e.g. ectopic pregnancy, eclampsia, cardiac disorders, cancers, brain tumours, etc. As far as the commission has been able to determine, it is universal practice in Irish hospitals in cases ofectopic pregnancy to remove either the ectopic pregnancy or the affected part of the fallopian tube should this prove necessary with either course of action resulting in termination of the pregnancy. In cases of cancer of the cervix of the uterus we understand all hospitals dealing with those conditions offer treatment in the form of a hysterectomy and chemo- or radiotherapy. If the cancer is detected in the latter stages of pregnancy, the wishes of the woman and her partner are observed, i.e. either immediate treatment or delaying treatment until birth by Caesarian Section is possible.
The report goes on to say that the commission recommends that legislation be brought in so that pregnant women with life threatening conditions can have appropriate medical intervention. Unfortunately this week the situation was somewhat muddied. Last year, the Attorney General recognised that one could not say categorically that a woman's life would not be endangered because of her pregnancy. This is true because of improved treatment of some conditions during pregnancy.
I would like to outline the life threatening conditions mentioned, one of which is a serious past history of cardiac conditions. What pregnant woman is going to place herself in a life-threatening situation so that she can have an abortion? Abortion is a frightening word in this country, but it is a word we have to understand. It means the termination of a pregnancy before the child is viable. Some of the worst cases are late abortions where after 18 to 20 weeks when the child is almost viable, the pregnancy unfortunately, has to be terminated.
This happens in Ireland; the Medical Council defines it as "treatment". There has been enough current comment from members of my profession for the House to realise that we must face up to what we imply by "treatment".
I note with interest a letter from members of the Trinity Medical School inThe Irish Times of 10 March 1993, and I quote:
In itsGuide to Ethical Conduct (1989), the Medical Council gave its full support to Principles of Medical Ethics in Europe, which, in Article 3, states “A doctor must refrain from imposing on a patient his personal philosophical, moral or political opinions” and this includes doctors' views on abortion.
Yet, the council now wants to impose the personal views of some members on the rest of the medical profession. This is a very serious directive yet it is highly ambiguous and was not unanimously supported by the council; six medical members and one lay member, who said publicly why she would not support it, voted against the directive.
The Medical Council has been wrong in the past. There were serious problems concerning the registration of foreign medical graduates, involving a lengthy court case, which would have cost the members of the medical profession in Ireland a great deal of money, had the previous Minister for Health, Dr. O'Connell, not said that members should not have to pay a special levy, because the Medical Council should have realised its directives were wrong.
There is sufficient medical opinion on the possible dangers to life during pregnancy for the Seanad to determine that what is being said by the Medical Council in this case is not true. Cardiac disease in weeks 18 to 23 of pregnancy is a case in point, as is uncontrollable high blood pressure in the period when the child is almost viable. If the pregnancy can continue for 26 weeks nowadays the child and mother will survive with good medical care. In cases where the mother's blood pressure cannot be controlled and she develops fits then there is the danger of a stroke and death. Sadly in these cases the early indication of the pregnancy or a caesarian section, after consultation with the mother, may be necessary. These are among the most depressing cases to deal with because the pregnancy is almost complete. It will be in the most wanted pregnancies that this occurs; that is life. Someone who has hoped for a child for ten years becomes pregnant and suddenly everything starts to fall apart.
The incidence of cancer in early pregnancy was discussed by Professor Ernest Egan and Professor James Fennelly at a meeting on medical disorders in pregnancy in the College of Physicians a few weeks ago. Even Professor Fennelly, who has written extensively on how often one can treat cancer and continue a pregnancy, said one could not be dogmatic as there may be cases where termination is required. Professor Egan said in cases of acute leukaemia, which occur in one in every 75,000 pregnancies — that means one case every 18 months in Ireland — that the pregnancy may have to be terminated to give proper treatment to the mother.
A few years ago doctors were not in a position to treat such cancers in pregnancy or otherwise. Now, thanks to the tremendous advances which have been made in the treatment of cancer, treatment is possible. Seventy per cent of leukaemias are curable. Even in chronic cases hopefully one can keep the pregnancy going and treat the women at the same time — the treatment can be deferred — but the situation with acute leukaemia is not the same.
A more commmon condition is breast cancer in early pregnancy. Treatment of this condition has improved enormously especially in the last five years. The situation may arise about eight weeks into a pregnancy, that a malignant lump in the breast is discovered. Full discussion with the patient then has to take place as to whether, together with removing the lump, chemotherapy will be used, because chemotherapy will probably affect the child. It is all very well to say that the child may be lost as a result of the treatment but there is also the possibility that the child may be severely damaged and it is the mother, not the medical practitioner who will have to look after the child in that event. We must take the commission's recommendations in this matter into account.
The last comment I would like to make on this area is about suicide. The question of the threat of suicide in pregnant women is a difficult one. I am extremely sorry that a member of the Medical Council has seen fit to pronounce on the Supreme Court judgment of last February. I do not know what fresh evidence the member has but it should be disclosed because of the important consideration that the Supreme Court might have decided differently if it had available to it the information that has emerged since last February.
The British Medical Journal, volume 302 of 19 January 1992, carried a leading article at about the same time as the Supreme Court case last year entitled "Suicide in pregnancy and the puerperium". I am not a psychiatrist but the British Medical Journal is common reading for the medical profession most of whom would have seen this article. The puerperium is the name given to the six week period after delivery, when the mother is considered to be at risk for many medical and psychological reasons. Risk to the mother diminishes after the puerperium. The subheading of the article reads: "Much rarer now: thanks to contraception, legal abortion and less punitive attitudes." I will not torture the House by reading it in its entirety but the article by Professor Kendall, Professor of Psychiatry at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, points out that the incidence of suicide in pregnancy has been decreasing this century and that improved social attitudes have contributed to that decrease.
As President of Cherish — the society for single parents — I would like to point out that changes in social attitudes are desirable and that sufficient change has not yet taken place. Many young women are still terrified to find themselves pregnant outside marriage. The younger the woman, the greater fear as she may not yet have established an independent life for herself and her pregnancy may be considered socially unacceptable by her parents on whom she still feels dependent.
In his article Professor Kendell points out that the suicide rate in pregnancy is low. That is not surprising. Most women are pleased to be pregnant and to have a baby to look forward to. Many women who commit suicide during pregnancy have psychiatric problems, as one would expect. Professor Kendell points out, however, that studies in several countries found that the women of child bearing years who committed suicide were likely to be unmarried. In the surveys he quoted 62 per cent of women who committed suicide are unmarried while only 13 per cent of all pregnant women in the survey were unmarried, indicating how much more likely an unmarried woman might be to commit suicide. It is interesting that it is normally in the third month of pregnancy that a woman would commit suicide. She would then have missed two periods and know she was pregnant, although her pregnancy would not yet be obvious.
The surveys quoted in Professor Kendall's article were not conducted in Ireland but I have no reason to believe that the situation is different here although there is one possible difference. Dr. Deborah Quinney of Liverpool University discovered some years ago in her historical survey on infanticide in the British Isles that the level of infanticide was higher in Ireland than in other parts of the British Isles. Older gardaí would probably support that conclusion. The member of the Medical Council who suggested that there is never a risk of suicide during pregnancy and that the Supreme Court decision was wrong because there is evidence to show that it is very rare for a pregnant woman to commit suicide, is using statistics in an incredible way.
The Supreme Court case concerned a girl of 14 years who become pregnant as a result of alleged sexual abuse. Her situation was totally different from that of a married woman of 30 years delighted with her third pregnancy. There is no comparison between the two cases and I do not know why a comparison has been drawn. If evidence exists that may have led to a different Supreme Court decision last February, the member of the Medical Council should produce the evidence at once.
Some years ago another Irish 14 year old child gave birth in a graveyard, in front of a grotto of the Blessed Virgin Mary and both she and her baby perished. That child cannot have been very enthusiastic about her pregnancy. Before that, babies' bodies were found on a beach and in a bog and the mothers of those children cannot have been enthusiastic about their pregnancies. I suggest that a beach or bog is no place for a baby to be born. The fact that pregnancies are concealed shows the stress suffered by some pregnant women. I am distressed that the Medical Council has not issued a disclaimer about this matter already.
A cheerful aspect of the commission's report is that many recommendations can be implemented at no financial cost. For example, we talk about the value of women's work in the home. I understand why the commission decided they would like Article 41.2.2º deleted but it would be better if it became an aspirational article. We could have a group of aspirational articles which would include Articles 2 and 3 and Article 41.2.2º. Furthermore, I hope the Minister does not get bogged down with the Fitzwilliam Tennis Club issue. If that club is such a fun place I am sure the issue can be dealt with it by cancelling drink licences or something like that, rather than by more severe measures.
Issues relating to marriage have been well dealt with in the report. There may be an over-concentration in Ireland on the issue of divorce but divorce is necessary given the number of broken marriages which leave women and children in irregular situations. The position of all persons within society must be upheld by law.
The report calls for divorce legislation, but I am glad that it stresses also the importance of helping marriages in trouble. Not enough is being done in that respect despite the efforts of Relate, the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council and other organisations. I hope the State will give more support to voluntary organisations involved in this area. It is important to run such organisations on an ongoing basis. If a grant is given just every now and then, the organisation does not know if it can continue to the following year and this is not helpful.
The Family Mediation Service has been seven years in existence and as far as I know it has not yet been put on a permanent basis. I hope it will be made permanent and the service extended throughout the country. The emotional and practical hardship that occurs as a result of the breakdown of a marriage could be greatly alleviated, the children could be spared a great deal of stress and recriminations could be kept to the minimum if the Family Mediation Service was available throughout Ireland.
We must examine the situation of women looking after small children at home who may feel very isolated. We have the lowest level of child benefit in Europe. The French rarely talk about their great love for the family but when I look at the level of child benefit in France and the childcare available to women there, I wonder if we could not show our great love for the family by doing more for the mothers of small children. Any self-help groups for women who feel isolated should be strongly supported and a small amount of finance in these areas goes a long way. However, it is not just the finance but the moral support which is so important, to show that the Government cares about these small groups and is interested in what they are doing.
I spoke earlier about carers. Those who care for mentally handicapped and for physically handicapped children, who eventually become adults, need an enormous amount of help. The money they save the State is staggering. Carers, most of whom must apply for allowances because they are means tested, receive £59 a week if they are eligible but it would cost about £300 to keep a child in care.
However, we must not only give more money to carers; we must also give moral support to those organisations involved with the mentally and physically handicapped who support carers so they can have breaks from home and take some holidays. There are extraordinarily good Christian people, I suppose non-Christians, also, who take handicapped children into their homes so that their parents can have a break. It is vital to show our recognition of the work done by those people.
I spoke earlier about the elderly. I am sure some Members saw the recent television programme about the trap in which many women are caught trying to care for elderly, disturbed spouses, perhaps with Alzheimer's Disease, or daughters who had to give up work to look after elderly parents. We are not doing enough to help in this area. These women have had to give up so much, and what about their pension rights and what will happen to them in the future? We need to give not just money but also to acknowledge their work.
I will speak briefly about those who want to work outside the home. As a woman doctor I have seen how difficult it is for women to continue in the professions and in jobs that require a structured career. I welcome the introduction of part-time work and flexitime. This makes an enormous contribution in allowing women to continue in the workplace. It has been important in my own profession because many patients like to choose a woman doctor. How can we have more women in senior consultant and general practice positions unless we manage to retain them in the training programmes when they are in their late twenties or early thirties and are perhaps having children? I am interested to find that quite a number of men are also applying for part-time work and flexi-time.
As a sister of a farmer, I would be very foolish not to mention rural women. Rural women do so much for this country and they get little or no recognition, least of all from the farming organisations. The ICA is a marvellous body and I am delighted to see how much attention is now being given to it. When I was a member of the Irish Medical Organisation I used to threaten them with the ICA if they did not heed my words. I am delighted to see that many people are taking more notice of the ICA now. I make a plea on behalf of women who feel they are isolated as a result of a lack of transport, poor local facilities, poor access to health care facilities and so on. The French are very good in this regard. I have seen ladies in rural France supplied with little Motobecanes to allow them to do their shopping, go to the doctor and so on. This is another way rural women could be helped without much expenditure.
I would like this report to be monitored, and I hope within the next weeks the Minister will devise a programme with set targets because there is nothing as effective as a target. I hope he will return to the Seanad next year when we can see if the target has been reached and debate the matter again.
I would like to share my time with Senator Gallagher.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome this most important debate. As the Minister said this morning, he is the first ever Cabinet Minister for Equality and Law Reform and I particularly welcome that. I also welcome his statement that he will assess every Government policy proposal from a gender impact point of view.
I think all Members were most impressed by and interested in Senator Henry's contribution. It is a perfect example of the intention that the Seanad should benefit from the expertise of its Members in their various areas of activity. Senator Henry's contribution illustrated that, particularly in relation to women in pregnancy.
We have already heard from one male Member of the Seanad. I hope the male Members will study the report and contribute to it with just as much enthusiasm and interest as women. If we are to make social progress it is essential that men see this report as relevant to them because it is about participation on equal terms and conditions. It is about the rights of both sexes and those rights are intertwined.
Senator Roche referred to his rights as a father in relation to the birth of his child. The rights of men as nurturers and as parents are taken on board in this report and men should recognise that. There is a specific reference to grants for locally based women's groups and there is a suggestion that it should be extended to men in the future. There is an interaction and an intertwining between the interests of men and women and this must be taken on board in these discussions. It is not simply about women; it is about all members of society.
I wish to refer to the section on women in the home and to a letter in the newspapers this morning from an organisation called Mothers Working at Home. There is a misinterpretation of the report in the response of that organisation and of some other individuals. They are misinterpreting the role of the commission. I do not think women should see each other as in opposing camps, whether in the home or in the workplace or, as often happens, partly in the home and partly in the workplace.
I support the proposals in the commission's report to introduce flexi-time, job-sharing and other opportunities for women and men to share in domestic responsibilities as well as in the public domain and in the workforce. I also welcome the opportunity for women who chose to stay at home when their children are young to return to the workforce. This is most important for men as well as for women. There has to be flexibility in this area and the report addresses this very comprehensively.
May I refer to the term "feminist" because some organisations use the term as if it was incompatible with the nurturing role of women? I do not see it like that. When I started calling myself a feminist I was a full-time mother in the home with young children and I used that term with pride and conviction. I believe feminists are concerned about more than women in the workplace and in the public forum.
As regards women in the home, there are radical proposals in the report, particularly in the area of shared income. Until women have the right to income they will not have choice and power. The report made recommendations regarding joint ownership of the family home and I welcome the fact that the preparation of legislation in this area is at an advanced stage. Reference was made to shared income from employment and social welfare. Each adult social welfare recipient should have an income in their own right and not as a dependant. I strongly recommend that this be implemented as soon as possible.
I am interested in the section of the report dealing with women in poverty. Senator Taylor-Quinn referred to women getting into positions of power. Women on low incomes find it almost impossible to get into positions of power. Being on a low income they cannot afford the deposit to run for election; trying to get elected is time consuming, and a lonely process. This means that women on low incomes do not have the power to do other than simply scrape through life. It is very important that we refer to the recommendations in the report dealing with that area.
There is a recommendation that women in poverty should have access to advice, training and opportunities in jobs, educational programmes, etc. and it is intended to target extra funding for childcare, preventive health care programmes and educational programmes for these women. I also welcome that. The issue is one of equality for men and women alike because men in poverty are similarly disadvantaged, but in slightly different ways.
I welcome the proposal for public health programmes on parenthood. The important statistic in the report suggests that a young woman from a disadvantaged background dropping out of school at an early age is ten times more likely to get pregnant than a young woman who does her leaving certificate. I do not know where the commission got that information but it is in the report as a fact. Public education and sex education in schools are essential if this issue is to be addressed.
I welcome some actions that have already been taken. Under the Unfair Dismissals Bill, discussed in the House yesterday, one cannot be dismissed on grounds of sexual orientation. The introduction of this legislation shows we have already begun to implement one of the recommendations in the report. The Criminal Justice, Bill will implement other recommendations, specifically relating to sentencing and consideration of the feelings of victims of violent crimes. I welcome the commitment to introduce an equal status Bill, which will deal with many of the issues in this report, and to introduce legislation on divorce next year.
I welcome Senator Henry's comments on pregnancy. We must honestly face up to the issues and not try to cloud them.
I looked through the 1972 report of the First Commission on the Status of women and the reference in the present report to those recommendations which have been implemented. It gives us reason to hope that many of the recommendations in this report will be implemented. Numerous legislative measures introduced since 1972 were the result of the recommendations in that report: the Anti-discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, the Employment Equality Act, 1977, the removal of the marriage bar in the Civil Service in 1973, the Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act, 1981, the Worker Protection (Regular Part-Time Employees) Act, 1991, the Social Welfare Acts which have improved the situation for married women and lone parents, the Family (Home Protection) Act, 1976, the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976 and the Family Planning Act, 1992.
When the first report was published in 1972 the situation of women in Ireland was much worse than it is today. The fact that we have a Minister for Equality and Law Reform, gives us confidence that these proposals will be implemented. The increase in the number of female representatives in the Dáil and Seanad will ensure that these issues will be energetically pursued in both Houses.
The report recommends that there should be a monitoring committee and that a progress report should be published and laid before each House of the Oireachtas each year. It is important that we monitor progress and this will be greatly facilitated by the fact that we have a Minister who has said he will assess every Government policy proposal from a gender impact point of view and has given a commitment to monitor the implementation of the report's recommendations.
I welcome the report and recommend that every agency, not just the Government but also the social partners, read it and take the recommendations on board.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I congratulate the commission and those who made submissions to it on producing a fine report, every word of which is worth noting. For my part, I will focus on the legal issues which affect the status of women. This area is most important because it is the first step on the road towards equality. Women cannot seek rights identical to those of men until our laws provide for this. While I believe the real problem faced by women in today's society is the ingrained attitude of men, nothing will change until the necesssary laws are put in place. Nothing will give women their rights and the confidence to demand those rights until they know they can cite the laws to back them.
The only legislation introduced with regard to the equality of the sexes relates to the workplace. That is the direct result of pressure from the EC. Our laws are obviously lacking.
Addressing the Constitution, I note that women are referred to only in the context of the family, not as individuals. Article 41.2.2º provides that "... 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." There are two things wrong with this. First, it seems to say a woman's place is in the home. Second, if this is the case and the State pretends to recognise the importance of such a role, why then do women not receive direct payments from the State for their work in the home? Why is it that the only payment made directly to women is for what is considered her duty, that is, child benefit for her children? Dole payments are made to men and include a payment for a dependent wife, which that woman cannot receive directly. Women cannot have any say in their lives until they have independent means, and I urge the Government to examine this matter.
Article 41.2.2.º states that the State shall endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to work outside of the home and it adds, "to the neglect of their duties in the home". In other words, our Constitution, the legal core of this State, expressly states that a woman's place is in the home. This is incredible. It needs to be removed from our Constitution as soon as possible, and I would welcome a referendum on this. Another point that is evident is that it fails to recognise that women may work because they want to work, that women work for the same reasons as men — for money, for personal fulfilment, for company, etc. The Constitution does us no favours. It is outmoded and I would like that Article removed and replaced by an expressed prohibition on all forms of discrimination, direct or, more importantly, indirect, based on sex.
The report deals with the issue of divorce. I do not consider that matter as one which affects women any more than men and therefore I do not propose to deal with it in the context of equality. However, I wish to refer to related matters. Regarding the question of property, the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989, allows a judge to make any order regarding property in a judicial separation but recently a judge held that a woman's work in the family home did not count in calculating ownership. I welcome the introduction of legislation to give joint ownership of the family home and from my work I know that this will be very significant to a large number of women in this country. This will not affect a judge's discretion in making orders pursuant to the 1989 Act but will ensure that women have at least an entitlement to 50 per cent ownership of the family home.
The Succession Act, 1965, entitles a spouse to a legal share of one-third of the assets of a deceased spouse who has left a will and two-thirds of the estate on intestacy, if there is issue. On the face of it, that does not affect women any more than men, but given the fact that women surprisingly outlive men, the legal right to a share should be increased to half the estate where the other spouse dies testate, that is, leaves a will. The law relating to intestacy in my opinion is fine and should be left alone.
Another matter which needs to be dealt with is that women often do not know how much their spouse earns, what his assets include, etc. A spouse should have a legal right to obtain this information from the spouse's employer, financial institutions or otherwise. Only then will women know exactly their entitlements.
The system of maintenance as I know it, is a farce. First, it provides for spouses only. Second, unless the husband is a PAYE worker, he has ample opportunity to put together a statement of means and go before a judge showing how little he can afford to pay his wife. Third, the woman who gets a maintenance order then faces the ordeal of having it implemented in such a way that she will actually obtain money. The remedies to enforce payment consist of either an attachment of earnings order, which must be obtained from a court, or imprisonment of the spouse on an order for committal. The spouse's imprisonment for non-payment does not put bread on the table for the unfortunate dependant. The attachment of earnings order is not always possible and automatically involves the employer in a family matter. If the employee leaves that employment, a new order is necessary. Therefore, the laws at present mean that a woman is constantly going through the courts in order to get her entitlements. Why can the State not play an active role in this area by setting up a computer system of automatic enforcement where payments are manifested and controlled from source?
I agree with the commission's recommendation that the minimum age for marriage should be raised to 18, with the usual provisions for exemption. I am also in favour of greater funding for the mediation service.
With regard to what the Minister said earlier, I welcome that greater funding will be made available for the Legal Aid Board. This is crucial. What is the point of womens' rights if the poor sections of our community cannot afford to enforce them? The Legal Aid Board, should be given a proper statutory basis and definite funding on which it can depend and which will allow it to plan ahead. Only then will women be in a position to obtain their rights.
There is a huge backlog of work facing the Legal Aid Board. Solicitors are working night and day and I know many of them personally. This delay denies women the justice they deserve. Furthermore, many women are denied access to the board by virtue of their geographic location. In Monaghan, for instance, the nearest law centre is in Dundalk, County Louth. That is not good enough. I cannot tell a women who needs urgent assistance that she has to get a bus to Dundalk simply to make an appointment and then she must go back again and again for assistance. The board must be provided with adequate funding so that it can service the necessary rights for women.
It should also be pointed out that no women has been appointed to the Legal Aid Board, of which there are 12 members. The former Minister for Justice appointed four men when there were women available and qualified for the position. So much for State intervention.
Regarding the laws relating to violence against women, recent cases have highlighted the level of seriousness and ongoing violence against women in our modern society, yet the Garda when called to a home do not have the power to charge the assailant with common assault unless they have either witnessed the assault or the victim makes a formal complaint. The victim is not in a position to complain as she is aware that she would suffer a worse beating as soon as the gardaí leave the house. The woman is very vulnerable and is given no protection in this area. The Garda should be allowed and encouraged to makeex parte applications for protection orders for a spouse whom they know suffers from domestic violence. Protection orders should also be available in all cases of domestic violence. For example, a mother who suffers abuse from the son should be able to avail of such an order. This would also help protect co-habitees who at present have no protection in law.
Barring orders and protection orders are responses to emergencies. They do not address the real problem and on that basis I welcome the recommendation that counselling services should be available to both victims and offenders. I hope this could be implemented and administered by health boards or by the probation services.
Time does not allow me to deal properly with the serious issue of rape, and I know we have had recent discussions with regard to the Kilkenny incest case. I welcome that increased funding is being made available to the rape crisis centre, but, again I point out that there is no such centre in Cavan/Monaghan, for instance. Women suffer enough from violence without being further discriminated against by virtue of their location. Again, I urge the Government to provide specific funding for the establishment of such centres in geographical locations around the country.
The legal procedures in rape cases need urgent attention. The victim at present does not have a right to her own legal representation because she is only considered as a witness in what is the State's prosecution. Yet her morality is scrutinised in a way that would discourage any woman from pursuing redress through the courts.
I consider myself an equalist rather than a feminist. I believe in equality of treatment and equality of opportunity for all, regardless of sex, colour, religion, belief or otherwise. This report deals very well with discrimination against women and, overall, I welcome its recommendations, particularly in the legal areas that I have focused on today. I hope that the Government will implement as much of this report as is financially possible and will monitor the implementation.
Rarely have I seen such a comprehensive and detailed report. It is a well presented and well researched document on which I compliment the Commission on the Status of Women.
It is now 1 p.m. It was agreed on the Order of Business that we would have a sos between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
This is the first occasion Deputy O'Sullivan has been in this House as Minister. In the short time I have known the Minister I have found him honourable and hardworking and I wish him well.
The importance of the report before the House today is such that it should not be confined to any one sex or age group. Society's attitude to women affects every aspect of life and every human interaction. A proper and working relationship between women and men is important. The first experiences of life usually take place in the family home. I am speaking of a home where the full family unit can live in happiness, peace and tranquility and i will clarify this further.
The Succession Act, 1965, introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Lenihan, was a significant advance giving a wife or spouse legal entitlement to property for the first time. The Act entitled a wife or spouse to inherit one third of the deceased spouse's property. Joint ownership and an equal sharing of the family home is essential. The sooner that recommendation is made law the better. The legal framework necessary to enact this provision should be introduced forthwith. I do not foresee any difficulties with the preparation and introduction of legislation on the matter.
I am not sure if joint entitlement to all household income is a good idea. Some men who received 50 per cent of all household income, might squander it. We need to exercise care when interfering in these matters. However, the idea of establishing which partner is better at looking after family finances is a good one and agreement among family members is all important. It is usually the wife or mother who looks after the administration of the home and does an excellent job in the majority of cases.
I agree that the surviving spouse should retain the full estate when a partner dies intestate. I wish however to draw attention to recommendation 1.5.6 (h) on page 41 of the report which provides for "no responsibility for pre-marital debts of the other spouse." If somebody marries in the knowledge that a partner is in enormous financial difficulties, she or he cannot disclaim all responsibilities in the matter. One cannot shirk the responsibility of a bankrupt partner or of a partner with considerable debts, if one enters marriage with that knowledge. One should not be entitled to walk in and obtain benefits but to walk away if problems arise. However, I would add one proviso. Account should be taken of cases where debts were concealed by one partner. An innocent young man or woman — and there are many still around — could find that a partner had studiously and carefully avoided disclosing that they were in considerable debt. Responsibility should apply only where there is prior knowledge of a partner's debts.
The Minister mentioned the Kilkenny incest case and the Lavinia Kerwick case in his opening address. Incest is sometimes regarded as a less serious crime than rape, but both are horrific crimes. I share the view that to be sexually molested by a family member may have more horrific psychological consequences than a rape. I am pleased that the Minister is introducing essential legislation to tighten up rape and incest laws and to inflict heavier penalties on those convicted of such horrific crimes.
I wish to draw attention to a growing but inadequately recognised phenomenon. This report does not touch on it because it deals only with the status of women. In theIrish Independent of 9 March, the headings in page 3 include: “Sex offenders ‘left to rot”’, which is about a serious crime commented on by Judge Fergus Flood; “Child Care Act ‘hit by a lack of resources”’ and “Family held at knifepoint in £25,000 raid”. The Irish Independent is a widely read family paper. Other headings include “Rapist ‘convinced that victim was his fiancé”’, which appears on page 5 and “Abuse Plea ‘no excuse’ for sex attack” on page 4. The Irish Independent sets out in detail a number of serious sexual crimes committed recently.
While I have no information that crime is worse today than it was ten, 20 or 30 years ago, I believe the situation has steadily worsened. I believe the amount of pornographic material in print and in videos is the cause of the serious increase in the level of crime. It is very difficult for us as a small country to control the spread of pornographic and "snuff" videos. It is a matter the EC should take on board. We must do everything possible to eliminate crimes against women.
I have noticed an alarming increase in the number of suicides among young men. I wonder if other Senators have noticed this trend? Although I have no statistics on the matter, I am sure there are suicides among women also. Many are the result of pressures on young people and how they react to these pressures. Problems may begin in the home if one or other parent is out of work or there are marital difficulties. Children are aware of the situation and it affects them.
We do not have an adequate back-up service for young people suffering from psychological problems. We are unable to help them. We must try to improve services and provide support for families who are removed from the mainstream of society, families on social welfare, and people on low incomes. Action is urgently needed.
I listened with interest to Senator Henry when she spoke about the different back-up services that are available. The problems in the home which I have listed are genuine and a family mediation service is necessary to help matters. The Catholic Marriage Advisory Council and similar religious organisations, who often work voluntarily, provide a good service. The State can also help these families so that they may help their children overcome their problems. It is important that the State help in any way it can.
I watched a television programme recently which profiled a number of rape crisis centres throughout the country. The level of services available in Kilkenny and Waterford was appalling. Solicitors' offices are often described as Dickensian but these centres were of even poorer standard. The only modern note was a computer. Rape crisis centres should be located in areas accessible to people who have experienced traumas of this nature. This is essential. Considerable progress has been made but much remains to be done.
Senator Gallagher's speech this morning was well researched, thorough and thought-provoking and I would like to congratulate her. However, I disagree with the Senator on a number of points. She made a point about marriage that a wife should have legal rights and know her rights. I do not believe a person should exercise their legal rights unless it is really necessary. One needs kindness, understanding and gentleness in order to see the other person's point of view and, in this connection, a family mediation service might be able to help people who are having marital difficulties.
Another point made by Senator Gallagher was in relation to a situation where a garda had been called to a home where violence had taken place. The garda cannot prosecute unless an individual makes a statement. The reality is that it is difficult to obtain a statement and if a complaint is not made in court problems are likely to arise. Often a woman is afraid she will be beaten after making a complaint. However, she will probably receive the same beating even if she does not make a complaint. If a marriage has disintegrated to such an extent that someone is being assaulted — sometimes it is the husband but in 95 per cent of cases it is the wife — it is important that a statement be made to the Garda Síochána. Bullies are generally cowards and anyone who beats a defenceless person is a bully. The only thing they understand is equal strength and the courts are the way to deal with those people.
The courts usually make correct decisions but, unfortunately, they occasionally make a mistake. The decision in the recent Kilkenny incest case was lenient. This crime deserved a more grievous sentence. Current sentencing policy is not satisfactory. We have to find the cause of these problems and try to resolve them.
Judge Fergus Flood made a considered and careful comment in relation to the absence of treatment and counselling programmes for sex offenders in Irish prisons. Most people leave prison with their original problems unresolved because there is no treatment available for them. I am not suggesting that we send them to Butlins for a holiday but some effort should be made to provide counselling for those people when they are in prison so that when they leave prison they will have had the benefit of such counselling.
I agree with some of the points in the report but there are some with which I disagree. However, the overall trend of the report is good and I hope it is implemented.
I wish to share my time with Senator Ormonde.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the appointment of the Minister for Equality and Law Reform and I welcome him to the House. It is noteworthy that he is the Minister for Equality because throughout the debate reference has been made to the fact that we are talking about equality. This report would be more accurately titled a report on inequality in society. My worry is that women's issues might be dealt with as a kind of flavour of the month, grasped with great enthusiasm and then dropped. That would do this report a great disservice.
I concur with other speakers who said that this is not about women's issues. This is a human rights issue. The topics raised in this report are to do with human rights, they are not specifically women's issues. I have argued repeatedly that there are very few issues I know of, or that I have come across in my work, that are specifically women's issues. Once we label things as women's issues we are greeted with comments such as, "not this again", and, "you are not one of those", but that is to demean the work of this report. There is an onus upon us to make sure that this report is treated as seriously as a commission on income tax reform or social welfare reform. It should not be adopted for a month and forgotten when it no longer makes the headlines.
The people who wrote the report are very conscious of that because they recommend that we monitor the situation to ensure the recommendations are being implemented. The Minister referred, as did other speakers, to the changes which are needed. Some of the changes highlighted in Senator Gallagher's excellent contribution were legislative changes. Many of the changes which need to be made are, in my view, attitudinal.
We risk alienating a number of men and many women if it is seen that we are replacing discrimination with a new breed of superwoman. I presume that is not what any of the people who compiled this report, or any of the Members want. We do not want one form of discrimination to be replaced with another form. That is not what this report is about. Men and women are equal. Unfortunately, the greatest barrier to equality can often be women's conditioning.
I would like to refer to the position of women in the home. I was one of those women for eight years when I married, and I must admit it was a period I enjoyed very much. We have to ensure that women who are working full-time in the home do not feel we are saying there is a breed of woman who works and another who stays in the home, and never the twain shall meet. The same type of woman works in the home and then goes into the labour force, or does both at the same time. We should not see this as a barrier, then segregate, divide and conquer. The fact that we are paying lip service to women in the home but we do not have joint ownership of the family home is a disgrace. That has not just come to light in this report; we have known about it for a long number of years and the fact that we have not addressed it is to our shame.
Like Senator Gallagher, I see myself as an equalist, not a feministper se, and certainly not a strident feminist. The strident feminism which has identified men as the enemy does much to deepen the divide between the sexes, and I would guard against that. There are as many men who assist women as there are women who assist men, whether partners or colleagues. I do not want to see a battle of the sexes begin because it would result in this report being left on a shelf.
The report says that women should be involved at every level of society and I agree with that. I would, however, like to deal with the reality of that statement as it affects the people I represent. A large area of my constituency suffers levels of unemployment from 60 to 70 per cent. The venues for the meetings of the Women's Political Association would exclude the women I represent from participation at that level. Women have to be careful not to erect barriers restricting access to our own gender by virtue of the fact that somebody cannot afford to get to Buswells, the Shelbourne or other venues. There are huge numbers of women in west county Dublin — Blanchardstown, Clondalkin and Tallaght — who would not feel those venues were accessible to them. Women in those suburbs, where a large percentage are unemployed, would believe these women's issues are a luxury which do not relate to their life styles. That is incorrect. We must make these women understand that what is in this report is more relevant to their life style than to what might be described as the well heeled, articulate women who can fight for their rights. I would like to guard against people being compartmentalised.
Women need assistance in certain areas, such as barring orders, family law and in respect of sexual abuse. These issues are not related to specific socio-economic groups. What these women need is personal development through adult education courses. I was involved with an adult education group before I became involved in politics. Because of the structure of the vocational education committee we found we could not do what we wanted, but we had a farseeing adult education officer who virtually handed over the reins of responsibility to us. We decided that if there was no crêche there would not be classes. The vocational education committee are the only people who involve themselves in adult education but this was not their line of expertise. These are practical problems from which women, and men, suffer daily.
Another aspect mentioned in the report is the large number of teenage pregnancies and the urgent need for adequate sex education in schools as well as the stay safe programme. I ask the Minister to comment on the fact, that unless there is 100 per cent parental agreement the stay safe programme cannot proceed. I signed the form for my daughter and when I asked if the programme had been started she said no because not all the parents had signed the form.
In relation to teenage pregnancies the report recommends a specific campaign pointing out to girls the disadvantages of early, unplanned pregnancies and pointing out to boys the responsibilities of parenthood and the need to share responsibility for contraception.
Senator Henry said great strides had been made in this area. They have not. We no longer condemn a young girl who becomes pregnant but I do not see us going out of our way to help her. In my clinic I see young unmarried parents, young girls who are left, literally and metaphorically, holding the baby. Because of a total lack of sex education, most of the pregnancies are unplanned, and 99 per cent of the fathers take no responsibility. There has been little or no change. We give an allowance, we no longer frown on unwanted pregnancies, but there is no great change for the woman or young girl who finds herself in that situation.
There is reference in the commission's report to the position of women in the Church and I fully endorse the commission's findings in the matter. In this country the Church plays a major role in the moulding of opinion and the formation of attitudes. I have chosen to make a contribution on this subject and unless the Church implements the changes which this report calls for, equality will be sadly lacking.
As a member of a local authority — many Senators are also members of local authorities — I would like to mention the built environment as referred to by the commission. In the greater Blanchardstown area, which has a population of 50,000 people, there is not one single public lavatory. There is nowhere a mother can go to change a baby's nappy. These are basic practical requirements we have failed to provide.
I fully support the commission's findings in relation to the built environment. Certain playgrounds designed and constructed for use by young children are totally unsafe and unsuitable. Housing and courtyard schemes designed by architects, some of which have won awards are in certain cases unsuited to the lifestyles and needs of women and families. There is much work to be done to improve the built environment.
Senator Gallagher referred to legal matters covered by the report. It is all very well to talk about the need for rape crisis centres and for civil legal aid but as I said last week in relation to the Kilkenny incest case, we have a responsibility to put our money where our mouth is. Again, I urge that this report not be taken as a flavour of the month report. Lip service is paid to the need for rape crisis centres and for civil legal aid but we must decide on priorities within the limited financial scope available to us and act upon them. The case of a woman obliged to go on a waiting list for civil legal aid to obtain a barring order after a beating makes an absolute nonsense of the lip service paid here and in the other Chamber to the needs of women and children in violent situations.
With regard to the health implications of the report I mention specifically the maternity services and the practice of block booking patients. I had occasion to visit the Coombe Hospital recently — it is 11 years since I had my last child — and I could not believe what I saw. The entire waiting area of the Coombe Hospital was crowded like a cattle mart with row after row of women who had all, obviously, been told to come at 10.30 a.m. Who decides to call 200 heavily pregnant women to sit and wait for countless hours in a waiting room? To rectify situations like that does not require money, but proper administration. I urge that improvements that can be made without finance be undertaken immediately. The ludicrous situation at the Coombe Hospital was worse than when I was having my children in the days when hospitals had to cope with a baby boom.
It is discriminatory and absolutely unacceptable that maternity costs should not be allowable for tax relief. I urge that the situation be rectified immediately. A matter which came to my notice during the general election and which has received much airing since is the case for the registration of still births. I urge the Minister or Ministers concerned to resolve this sensitive issue immediately. This is a human matter where a caring response is required. Mothers and fathers of stillborn children are affected by the present arrangement and it would require little major work to enable stillbirths to be registered.
There has been some changes in the depiction of women in advertising in the media but the changes have not been sufficiently radical. There has been a tendency to replace a woman who is supposed to be subservient with a woman who is supposed to be macho and who regularly puts her partner down. I do not accept that depiction either. I would like to comment on the Gay Byrne Show this morning on which four men, Senator Lee among them — I heard part of the programme only — discussed the economic situation or job creation. That situation is as unbalanced as the appearance of eight or ten women together on "The Late Late Show", and serves to segregate and to marginalise certain men and women. Broadcasters have a particular responsibility in the community. Nobody would argue that Gay Byrne is God and knows everything but I urge greater mingling of females and males on discussion programmes.
This document, contains a vision of society based on choice. Women who work full-time in the home should have their work acknowledged. Women who work outside the home should not encounter discrimination. I would like to live in a society in which women were neither patronised nor marginalised but treated with respect and fairness.
Is féidir leis an Seanadóir Ormonde cúig noiméad de m'am-sa a thógáil, más mian leithi.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome this report and I congratulate the Minister for Equality and Law Reform for taking it on board. I worked with the Minister in the other Chamber and, I am sure, he will be an excellent and sensitive Minister in this portfolio.
This substantial report recommends a massive programme for reform. So many issues are covered by it that I found when reading it over the last two days that it would require a full seminar and not a five, ten or 20 minute contribution. To talk about all the issues I would like to dwell on here would be impossible. The parts of the report I studied include women in the home, women and child care, rural women, women in situations of disadvantage and women in politics. The contributions throughout are magnificent and I congratulate Justice Carroll, her colleagues and all the contributors on the tremendous recommendations put forward.
I wish to talk about the role of education in the formation of attitudes towards where Irish society is going and how best we can talk to young people who will be taking over from us. We are in the middle of bringing about change and it is for us as pioneers to set things in motion. Schools have a major role to play in deciding how best to achieve equality of opportunity in terms of subject choice and in terms of links with the community, with various training bodies and with programmes designed to encourage non-traditional career thinking. Young people must be prepared for integration into the world as persons, not just as women or men. I did not stand for election as a woman because I guarantee you had I done so, with 12 men on my panel, I would not have been elected. I stood as a person and I am glad to be a woman. That inward sense of personhood is what I would like to convey to today's young people. We must start with this generation and encourage parents, teachers, guidance counsellors and all interested bodies to help bring up young people with a positive concept of life and non-aggressive manners. While I recommend and am delighted with this report I hope it will not lead to aggressive talk or to further divisiveness with women on one side and men on another. I was brought up among boys — I did not have a sister — so I may have enjoyed more childhood freedom than some other women. I was privileged in that way. I did not have to project myself with a different air.
In my role as a guidance counsellor I have to deal with problems. We spoke last week about violence against women and about the recent sad case. The unspeakable ugliness of the brutal and inhumane ill-treatment and abuse of that young woman over a 16-year period is hard to take. At least we are now talking about something which was once a taboo subject. There was always a hidden agenda but we know it will never be the same again in Irish society. That is a good thing.
I welcome the Minister's guidelines in relation to the investigation and management of cases that comes before the professionals. I also welcome the Minister's contribution in relation to funding. However, we must be very careful. What do we mean when we talk about funding? It is great in theory but the reality is very different. As a school counsellor I usually have to wait a considerable length of time, perhaps 12 months, before any action is taken on a case I refer. The Minister must ensure that each case referred is examined and that long term counselling is provided on a daily or weekly basis. We do not have sufficient personnel on the ground nor is the coordination between school counsellors, educational psychologists, the director of community care, the Department of Health, school home links, junior liasion officers and the whole range of professional bodies. We are all working in isolation.
I am sure that this report would have taken a different slant in relation to the issue of violence against women had it been published prior to last week's events. I want to ensure that every child and woman in a vulnerable situation is given the necessary resources and backup from the community so that a person does not have to wait 16 years for assistance. I congratulate and salute that girl because she has done a great day's work for Ireland. She has come out under terrible pressure and spoken about her case. If women continue to highlight their ordeals we will have a new Ireland. We must start educating our young people for life and help them to determine their futures.
I always hated the phrase "token women" in relation to women in politics and on State boards. The word "tokenism" was never part of my vocabulary and I do not like women being appointed to political positions or otherwise merely to look good and create a balance. I hope that the women who have recently been elected will pave the way for the next group of women to become involved in all aspects of Irish life — cultural, social and economic. I want to see participation by us and I will help in any way I can, through my profession, to protect women against violence.
One small point I would like to discuss is my concern that we may alienate our menfolk. While reading the report, I wondered why it was necessary to compile it. Is it because we are ill at ease and will be downtrodden further if we do not do so? I hope that changes will be implemented through our educational system rather than from this report.
I would like to think that parents will play a large part in future education. Apart from consultation with teachers when a child is misbehaving, parents should also have an ongoing input in the formulation of policy, in relation to subject choice, debates, sex education and education for life. We have one ethos in the school, which is educational, and another ethos in the home. Very often young people are educated until 3 o'clock in the school environment. Then they move out into another environment. The community, parents, teachers and the professionals must try to create a better society to live in so that there is continuity for our young people. That might help to solve the problem of violence against women and other activities occurring in the home as a result of lack of communication. At least it would open the lines of communication between the home, the school and the public. Had that happened and had there been a healthier outlook in the community, this young woman would not have had to endure the trauma of the ugliness she suffered for 16 years.
I welcome the report. I am looking forward to working with those organisations and people who have made contributions. Let us bring forward legislation which will create a healthy society without fear. We are moving in the right direction.
I welcome and congratulate the Minister. I will speak very briefly because not only have the speakers immediately before me but the speakers immediately after me are more competent than I am to speak on the subject.
I found this an extremely instructive report and, as an historian, I have no doubt it will be a source for the study of the self-image of women for generations of historians to come. A particularly instructive way of looking at it is to compare and contrast the majority report with the extremely incisive minority report by Dr. Fionnuala Kennedy. I will not go into detail, but it seems to me that the main difference between them, apart from obvious latent ideological differences, concerns the emphasis on economics and on economic and unemployment opportunities. I am surprised at how little the main report dwells on that aspect. It says at the beginning that without economic independence there is no real choice. The future for women, as for men, has to be one of increasing choice. There is little in the report as to how economic independence can be achieved, apart from re-arranging grants, subsidies and welfare schemes, to make women equal with men. As most of these schemes are inadequate for men also this would improve the gender balance but would not do a great deal to improve the overall social balance in society.
There is one fleeting reference in the chapter on disadvantage to the fact that many disadvantaged women suffer because of the way society is structured and organised. There is very little discussion of structural poverty in Irish society. While one can accept that at any given socio-economic level women will be disproportionately disadvantaged compared with men, that is in many cases only a minor part of the total disadvantage and relative inequalities in Irish society. I would like to see people of the calibre of those who contributed to this report turning their minds to ask not only how can women within a different category be compensated for their gender but how equality of opportunity and equity of treatment can be extended to men and women in Irish society. Since it more or less accepts the structural inequalities in Irish society, this is in many respects a conservative report, even if it is radical in its recommendations on specific issues. When it is explored in detail I hope cognisance will be taken of that perspective.
In her contribution, Dr. Kennedy listed the number of submissions on various topics. The biggest number of submissions that reached the commission concerned recommendations for the payment of women who work in the home. That seems a basic recommendation and is more fundamental to achieving equity in society than many recommendations which have attracted greater attention. I hope that will be central to the thrust of Govenment policy. That would tackle the basic inequity in Irish society both between men and women and among women themselves. Most of the other issues, however desirable, are relatively peripheral to that central issue.
I agree with Senator Enright about the impact of pornographic videos. I also agree with Senator McGennis about putting one's money where one's mouth is as far as rape crisis centres are concerned. To my shame, I knew little about the work of the rape crisis centre in Cork until last Monday when I read a report in theCork Examiner. I could not believe what it said about how badly funded it was. I did some homework since and found it is appallingly badly funded, as they all are throughout the country. If we are to be serious about this, we must do as Senator McGennis said. Some improvements have been recommended in the last couple of days, but these would still fall far short of what is required to provide adequate resources for the outstanding work being done in these centres. I understand that even these improvements are on an ad hoc, year to year basis. The centres need guarantees of stable, long term funding in order to conduct their work properly.
After Senator McGennis graciously mentioned my name she moved on to talk about women in advertising. I could not see the connection between me and women in advertising but she was making a serious point. We would all support the recommendations in the report which strive to curb the infliction of violence on women and the sexual harassment of women. Even if every recommendation in the report is implemented, how many of us believe in ten years time there will be less violence against women or less harassment of women? Apart from the specifics mentioned, there is a thrust towards permissiveness in society which will inevitably and inexorably lead towards greater violence against women and greater sexual exploitation of women. The way the media salivate over sex cases, even while they deplore the mistreatment involved, more than undermines the specific condemnations, although no doubt the individuals concerned deplore what happens. The way these occurrences are treated is conducive to creating an atmosphere in which this type of behaviour will continue to flourish. Although I approve of these recommendations, I am also concerned that in the wider society we will continue to behave and to respond in a way which will nullify the impact of specific reforms.
This report ought to be widely read in higher education, both for specific attitudes towards women in higher education and the attitudes of higher educationalists towards the role of women in society. Higher educationalists have an opportunity to exert a disproportionate degree of influence by their attitudes. I hope most of them — I should say most of us — will take cognisance of this report even if they did not agree with everything in it. It is an extremely educational report in that respect.
Críochnóidh mé le focal i dtaobh na teanga. Níl ach alt gearr sa tuairisc i dtaobh na Gaeilge ach is alt maith é: "An Ghaeilge agus an cultúr dúchais":
Aithníonn an Coimisiún tábhacht ról na mban mar mháithreacha agus mar bhuimí leanaí i dtíolacadh na Gaeilge mar theanga mháthartha...Fáiltíonn an Coimisiún roimh an mhéadú le tamall anuas i líon na gclár teilifíse Gaeilge do pháistí agus molann siad go leanfaí den chlaonadh seo.
Aontaím go hiomlán leis an moladh sin.
I would like to share my time with Senator Kelly.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I join other Senators in congratulating Judge Carroll and her colleagues on a very impressive, comprehensive report. We are particularly indebted to that group for the amount of data, analysis and research carried out. From the political and ministerial viewpoints, it will serve as a valuable source for policy formulation and for drafting of legislation.
The Minister in his opening speech referred to fairness in society. In another context yesterday I had occasion to refer to the same theme of fairness in the case of unfair dismissals. Fairness runs through our Constitution and, therefore, is an important theme that should permeate the legislation and work we do here.
There has been progress but there is a long way to go. My wife and I married in 1970. There was a marriage bar then and my wife lost her job. There are undoubtedly hangovers from the past and many elements of discrimination still operating and a lot of ground needs to be made up.
This is a broadly based report and I would just like to touch on a few issues. It is well documented that there is a clear link between educational attainment and job prospects. Parents generally do not differentiate between the boys and girls in their families. They would like them to have the same educational opportunities but the difficulty arises in areas such as subject choice. There is a question of equality of opportunity in relation to the subjects available. The reality is that girls are still confined to a limited number of occupations. In that context the report makes several important recommendations. They suggest a conscious gender equity policy by the Department of Education. A relatively routine matter would be time-tabling when certain slots are available during the day for stereotyped girls' subjects and boys' subjects. The students and their parents need to be more conscious of the importance of subject choice for career choice.
In relation to teachers, who clearly play a political role in the educational system, there is the question of gender awareness and gender equity for existing teachers and, needless to say, for future teachers. Therefore, the curricula of the education departments of the universities and the teacher training colleges need to take account of gender equity. Equally, sexism should be eliminated in textbooks and other teaching materials. Such sexism is often unconscious.
Senator Lee referred to women working in the home, as did Senator Ormonde. The report calls for supporting the rights of women in the home. I welcome the commitment of the Minister, Deputy Taylor, to proceed as a matter of urgency with the joint ownership of the family home which is concrete evidence of equality in terms of the home itself. The increases in the budget for child benefit are tangible evidence of assistance in that regard.
The issue remains one of choice, freedom to work outside the home. The evidence, we are told in the report, shows that women are as concerned as men about the money, fulfilment status that jobs provide. The challenge is to reconcile family commitments and working life. In that context, I welcome the Minister's commitment to study that area to see what can be done at Government level.
We are told in the report that just under 33 per cent of women aged between 15 and 64 participate in the labour force in Ireland. That is substantially below the EC average of 42 per cent. Just under 33 per cent of women participate in the labour force, yet women make up almost 50 per cent of the population. Looking at the register of the unemployed we find that 23 per cent of these people are women. This raises the problem of re-entry to the workforce for women which, in turn, raises important questions such as flexibility, childcare facilities and access to training. Women are often faced with a dilemma. They wish to spend as much time as possible at home with the family and, at the same time, they wish to use their knowledge and skills in the workforce. I have spoken about this to women who feel torn between the two demands. This raises the question of flexibility in work.
Flexibility is a very important issue in modern working life and there are strong economic and competitive reasons why firms today are adopting flexible practice and trying to reduce or remove demarcation lines between certain types of jobs. The report rightly points out that the trade unions also need to make adjustments in that regard, and in fairness to them they have begun to do so. The report points out that this flexible approach to work is a reality of the 1990s. I would see it as an opportunity to advance possibilities because of the flexible theme running through management thinking and may well provide more opportunities for women to participate in the workforce.
In 1991 I spoke in the other House on legislation in relation to the protection of regular part-time workers. There are several categories of women who are either in the workforce or who wish to work. In my own constituency of Dún Laoghaire I know there are many women who wish to work in order to put bread on the table. Part-time work, for example in supermarkets, suits them. In economic terms it suits the supermarket owners as well because the vast bulk of their sales are on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week and they are quite slack on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. That means they require part-time workers for the peak periods. That type of part-time work suits many women, as well as men, and suits the economic imperatives of the companies.
In the case of medicine it is a great pity that more qualified doctors cannot find the opportunity to work perhaps on a job-sharing basis. In economic terms it is very expensive for the Exchequer to fund a course in medicine. It is a huge investment by the State. Many qualified women doctors would be delighted to get back into the workforce and it would be an economic return on the investment that was made during their training period.
The report is honest enough to identify that there are costs involved. There is a reference to the additional social welfare costs and to other overheads. The fact remains that the question of flexibility is an evolving topic. The Government has an important role in that regard.
I would like to see a code or practice for access to training as this is a very important factor in re-entry to the labour force. The Labour Relations Commission under the Industrial Relations Act, 1990 is empowered to formulate codes of practice. There is only one being formulated to date — a code of practice for essential services. This might provide further opportunities for access to training.
A sum of £40 million was allocated in the budget to the county enterprise partnership boards. These are small, start-up local initiatives to get business going on the ground. When I was Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Employment last year we identified venture capital for small enterprise as a key problem. We also highlighted the fact that this type of money is equally important for women entrepreneurs as it is for men entrepreneurs. We felt we had to make that point. A further point with which I agree is that these county enterprise boards at present being set up should provide skilled training. FÁS, which will be involved in them as part of the board representation, provides skilled training in the entrepreneurial area for women as well as men and we certainly need more of that.
I welcome the report and I look forward to implementation of its recommendations at parliamentary and Government level as soon as possible.
I would like to congratulate the acting Chairperson on being selected as one of the acting Chairpersons for the House. I think the Senator is the youngest acting Chairperson to date.
May I add that I think I am the first female to chair the Seanad in this session; it is appropriate in view of the report we are discussing.
I thank the commission under Judge Carroll for their excellent report. Indeed, to study it properly would take weeks of intensive study. There are 210 recommendations but I have concentrated on one chapter, namely, that dealing with rural women.
In my estimation, rural women face most of the problems urban women face as well as many more. Their principal problem is that of isolation. By this I mean being far from health or educational services, or any kind of emergency service. Of late we have seen a huge decline in public transport in rural areas with the result that if a woman in rural Ireland does not have access to a car she is practically cut off from all sources of help. She has to rely on the goodwill of neighbours to get her to and from routine visits to doctors, dentists, etc. There are much more serious problems for a woman in rural Ireland who is a victim of domestic violence when the nearest refuge could be 40 miles away. I challenge anybody to say how a woman is going to travel 40 miles without public transport, with perhaps two or three children in tow, at a crisis in her life. There are recommendations in this chapter suggesting that Government agencies ensure the availability of greater rural transport by combining school bus facilities with those of An Post and other agencies that regularly send vehicles around the countryside; together they could form a rural transport network.
In regard to healthcare, a recent survey has shown that rural women often neglect their dental health. I am sure that if a general report was done it would be seen that rural women also neglect their general health, because, as I have already pointed out, access to a doctor on a regular basis is difficult. Attendance at antenatal or post-natal clinics is a nightmare, especially if the woman has more than one child. If ten or 20 women all have a 2 p.m. appointment, you would need the patience of a saint to keep two or three children happy while everyone takes their turn. Waiting rooms are often cold and draughty and there are no facilities to amuse children. As I have experienced that, I can sympathise with any woman who has had to do it on a regular basis.
Women's access to information could be increased by the better positioning of public telephones in rural areas; a good solution would be to have a public telephone box near every primary school. Most women collect their children from school and it would be easy for them to use a telephone box near their local school. State agencies should also provide free phone numbers for information on social welfare, local government facilities, etc. This would not cost the State an enormous amount of money.
We now turn to what I consider the invisible women of Ireland. It came as a great surprise to me reading this chapter that four or five of my aunts in west Cork actually do not exist because they are farming wives. In the census there is no record kept of the number of women who work on family farms. There is a category for women to declare that they themselves are farmers, and many women who are widows or single avail of that opportunity, but there is no category in the census for women to declare that they, together with their husbands, run a family farm. This invisible woman contributes a great deal to the State. As there is no official record kept we do not know how many of them there are, although we can deduce that there are more than 100,000. We do not know how many hours they work. A recent survey carried out by theIrish Farmers Journal, and quoted in the chapter, suggests that many of them do up to 38 hours manual work per week. Most of those who filled in the questionaire said they did not get, nor did they seek, any payment for their work. They and their work are invisible; their work is not counted.
There is little encouragement to male farmers to have their farms made over in joint ownership with their wives. Farmers' wives have no social welfare rights, except as widows. If a husband has joined a social insurance scheme his wife is only entitled to a widow's pension. She is not entitled to dental, optical and many other benefits, limited as they are, to which PAYE workers' wives are entitled; those married to self-employed people suffer the same discrimination.
There is no recognition of the fact that most women carry out the administrative side of farming. They fill in the farm accounts, answer the phone, arrange for the vet to visit and all the other administrative tasks. There is no provision for women in farming to go on in-service training courses; An Grianán is the only residential centre in Ireland for farming wives. This is not enough to meet the needs of farming wives. The farming unions do not encourage women to take an active part in the formation of farming policy outside the family home. In Ireland we have a band of invisible women who contribute a great deal to the economy.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy T. Kitt to the House.
I too welcome the Minister to the House who was the Minister with responsibility for Women's Affairs. I am pleased that Deputy Taylor has been appointed Minister for Equality and Law Reform as he is a fine person and is committed to the implementation of many of the proposals in this report. As a member of the commission I am pleased to be speaking on this report.
The Minister said that the implementation of the recommendations in this report will be a major challenge. It will also be a challenge to Members of both Houses to ensure that these recommendations are implemented. This is a programme of reform, requiring institutional, administrative, legal and constitutional change but, as Senator Roche pointed out, the most important change needed is in attitude. The report of the First Commission on the Status of Women has done a lot over the past 20 years to change attitudes and the recommendations in this report will change them further and hopefully, more quickly. I also hope there will never be a need for a third commission on the status of women.
As other Senators have noted the report is enormous. I have been living with this report for the past two years and by now it is a part of me. In my term in the Seanad, I will be pressing very hard for its recommendations to be implemented.
On International Women's Day, the Minister spoke about women in Ireland having ability but not power. There is no doubt, as everybody acknowledges, that women have ability, but they do not have power. All the decisions made affecting the lives of women are made by men. Last week's case which the Minister referred to has influenced us greatly and prompted the Minister for Health and the Minister for Justice to set up an inquiry and to bring forward legislation. That very sad case shows how the lives of women and children have been affected by the attitudes and power of the people who have been in authority.
As politicians, the Government and the Members of both Houses have a great responsibility. There are other institutions, like the church, which also has great influence on the people's lives. The commission has made a recommendation that all of the churches should make a statement about women and their position in Irish life today. We considered one area last Thursday. The churches in Ireland have been silent on this matter. I have never been to church and heard a priest give a sermon on how it is not acceptable to society that women and children are abused, either physically or sexually. As politicians, we have to speak on this issue, as must the other major institutions in this country such as the church.
There are many chapters in this report and they deal with various issues. One of the major areas, one mentioned by Senator Gallagher, is that of constitutional and legal reform. We need an equal rights amendment to the Constitution. I support Senator Gallagher here and the recommendation here that Article 41.2.2º be deleted. The Constitution should be amended to prohibit all forms of discrimination, either direct or indirect, based on sex. I welcome the Minister's commitment, made in the Dáil last week, to introduce equal status legislation and his commitment in this House today that he has set in train the preparation of such legislation.
I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of establishing an equality commission. We have the Employment Equality Agency; up to now the only equality legislation has been in relation to work. As Senator Gallagher pointed out, most of this legislation was forced on us because we were a member of the EC. Times are changing. The Minister for Equality and Law Reform seeks change and I call on him to appoint an equality commission.
The issue of community property is a constitutional matter but it greatly affects the economic dependency of women. It is a matter that it is relevant to the debate. Senator Enright and other Senators spoke of the difficulties in introducing a regime of community property. I do not see any problem with that. Senator Enright said that most men will give their wife the money and she manages the affairs of the household. That is fine. At present, however, in this country no woman in the home has any right or entitlement to a share of her husband's earnings. That is unjust and I would certainly welcome the introduction of joint entitlement to all income. Senator Enright spoke of the difficulties in doing this where there were pre-marital debts and so on. On legal advice we have envisaged an opt-out clause and I do not accept the arguments that have been made against this proposal.
The commission's report did not call for the introduction of divorce, but asked for the holding of a referendum on divorce. I welcome the commitment given by the Minister at the launch of the report to hold a referendum on divorce in 1994. He assured us the law in relation to joint ownership of the family home will be introduced before them and that he will detail the divorce legislation to be implemented following a referendum. That would be helpful. During the last referendum on divorce many women were frightened; they felt they would be left without any financial support. Senator Gallagher pointed out that she does not think divorce is a gender issue, and it affects men and women. I agree but if one considers the separations and the history of divorce in other countries it is usually women who instigate the proceedings for divorce and separation. On that basis we, on the commission, believed it was a gender issue.
The expansion of the mediation services and the raising of the marriage age to 18 years is important. We speak of the family almost as being a sacred institution but then give it very little support. The mediation services and counselling services are the poor relation in Irish society. Much of this is due to the fact that it is usually women who are victims in these cases and women's issues have always been given second place in this country. That will not continue to be the case. There are quite a few women here now and there is also a definite change in the attitude of men. I do not believe for a minute that men are anti-women but they do not know the difficulties many women face. Therefore, there is an advantage in having women represented in fair proportion in all areas where decisions are made affecting the lives of all people.
When we talked about the Kilkenny case last week the Minister for Health referred to the inquiry being established and the measure to be introduced by the Minister for Justice. Our report, under the heading of constitutional and legal issues, made several recommendations for the treatment of complaints in rape trials, sentencing in rape trials, child sexual abuse and civil legal aid. All of these issues could be considered again in relation to incest. Our recommendations give good guidelines for introducing legislation in these areas. I ask both Ministers to read our recommendations when they are considering their proposals.
I was upset to read inThe Irish Times this morning two letters that said the Commission on the Status of Women was not really concerned about women in the home. There was also an observation by a visitor in the Gallery yesterday that she felt we were the commission for the women of status. I totally reject that. We were asked by the Government in our terms of reference to pay particular attention to women in the home and we came up with 13 separate recommendations. I ask the two women who wrote to The Irish Times that they might consider reading our report and the recommendations.
I listened to Senator Lee speak on inequalities in our society. He spoke about inequalities for men and women and we accept that. However, we were asked to examine issues relating specifically to women and there were quite a number of issues to consider. I accept there is a much broader agenda and I am sure the Minister for Equality and Law Reform will be considering that matter.
I was interested in what Senator Lee had to say about payment to women in the home. We examined that question in the case of two specific areas — women who were looking after children and women who were caring for handicapped children or elderly relatives. We did not consider that the State could afford to recompense a woman who chose to stay in the home to look after her husband and allow him go out to work. We felt that to be a matter between her and her husband. We considered child care, carers, elderly people and handicapped people and made recommendations in all of these areas. We were aware of the economic realities of today and Finola Kennedy acknowledged that in the minority report. Where possible, we focused on targeting and if Senator Lee read the report in full he would be aware of that. Obviously it is very difficult to go through all of the recommendations; I accept that.
The regime of community property I referred to would be of benefit to women in the home. I agree with Senator Gallagher's suggestion of making separate payments to spouses and removing the term "dependant" altogether. Many women feel uneasy about this concept of economic dependency. They feel they are dependent on their husband or on the State. Women want to get away from the concept of dependency. We want them to be treated as equal in all way to men.
For the majority of women, whether they are in the home or whether they go out to work, and for men also, childcare is a most important issue. Flexibility of working, as Senator Hillery pointed out, is essential and it would suit many shops or businesses. In medicine, law and other such areas women find it extremely difficult to make it to the top if they have to take time off during what they feel is the most important years of their lives to look after their children and their families. Women should not be penalised for this. We must examine our present work arrangements with a view to ensuring that there is equal participation of men and women in all areas of life. I accept that men are anxious to be involved in looking after their children and many of the recommendations we have made will benefit them as well as women. As a result society as a whole will benefit.
We examined the situation of disadvantaged women and that of young single mothers. This was an area about which Senator McGennis spoke earlier. Young single mothers, as Senator McGennis said tend to come from the lower socioeconomic groups and they often end up dependent on the State for all of their lives. We tried to address this issue. We said they should be given the opportunity to avail of training and second chance education to allow them to re-enter the workforce and not be dependent on the State for the remainder of their lives.
We have a long way to go in the educational process. We have to educate for parenting. We have to educate boys and girls for life. We must give all our people a sense of responsibility to ensure that boys as well as girls accept the responsibility of parenting.
Senator Lee talked about other areas of inequality; about traveller women and women prisoners. There are very few women prisoners in Ireland. I visited the women's section of Mountjoy Prison, at that time there were 33 women in prison while there were 2,200 men. They are a very small group with special needs and we made recommendations in that regard. According to an article in one of the Sunday papers, it costs the State £700 a week to keep a woman in Mountjoy Prison. Most women prisoners are victims of society. They have suffered tremendous inequality, they have been doubly disadvantaged all their lives. I would like to see our recommendations implemented in respect of a half-way house, for education and retraining opportunities.
I would also like to see our recommendations on traveller women implemented — again, they tend to be doubly disadvantaged. Senator Gallagher spoke about women living longer than men. The only group of women who do not live longer than men are traveller women and obviously this is due to their very difficult lives. I would like the Minister for Equality and Law Reform to look at our recommendations.
A number of women Senators today have spoken about the problems faced by women in rural areas. I come from a rural constituency and I would like to address this matter. Many women in Ireland feel very isolated and they have difficulty as regards access to public services. Senator Hillery spoke about his involvement with the county enterprise partnership boards who are recommending funding for women. I have one objection to the county enterprise partnership boards, namely, most of them are almost completely comprised of men. In their membership is the county manager, the chairman of the county council, county agricultural officers, the chief executive officer of the vocational education committee and, unfortunately, in today's society all are men. I accept Senator Hillery's point that funding should be given to women as well as men but when women approach these boards, all of the people they are dealing with are men. It is not acceptable to me; neither do I think it would be acceptable to Senator Hillery nor any of the other male Senators.
We made interim recommendations. We issued our first statement in the early stages of the commission's work and we made five or six recommendations the Government could implement without incurring any cost. One of these recommendations was that any appointments to State boards in the interim should be women in order to bring the percentage of women up the 40 per cent level we recommended. As one Senator pointed out this morning, the Legal Aid Board now has an all-male membership. The Government accepted our recommendations; they said they agreed with them fully and would implement them. Yet, they appointed an all-male Legal Aid Board.
As we said in our report, monitoring is one of the most important elements and in that regard we made two recommendations: that a monitoring committee be established and that progress reports on the implementation be made annually and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is vital. Otherwise, I do not believe the recommendations in this worthwhile report will ever come to fruition.
I accept fully the commitment of the Minister and of all of Members in these Houses. However, other issues appear to be more urgent and they tend to get attention. We have an obligation to women and to men to ensure these recommendations are implemented and that will take a lot of courage and commitment on the part of the Minister and of us all. Therefore, I urge the Minister who is a progressive thinker and who has the commitment and courage needed, to implement these recommendations. I do not want to see this report filed away as happened to the reports of the Commission on Social Welfare and the Commission on Taxation. I want it placed on the Minister's desk marked "urgent" so he can see it daily.
The House is privileged to have a member of the commission present today. Senator Honan, I welcome your submission. I also take the opportunity to welcome Minister of State, Deputy Browne to the House this afternoon.
I welcome the report and thank the Minister for his contribution and his commitment to implement the recommendations. It is another step towards achieving equality of status for women. Notwithstanding the developments of the past 20 years and the work done by many women to obtain equality, it may take a long time for the recommendations to be implemented. I remember the excellent work done by people like Monica Barnes and Nuala Fennell when they came into the Dáil. They worked diligently to improve the situation but when I discussed it with them they said they felt very frustrated with their limited success in achieving equality for women, for which they worked so hard.
The present situation has arisen because of tradition and the history of the treatment and status of the different sexes. It takes time to change tradition, practices and attitudes. As the previous speaker said, attitudes must change and, in that connection, I hope it will not take as long to implement the recommendations in the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women as was the case with the report of the First Commission. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the necessary changes are made.
I would like to welcome the statements on the status of women in the home. Many women place a high status, and rightly so, on work outside the home. Women in the home have felt marginalised and removed from the mainstream of society. This is unfortunate because women in the home should have the same status as people who decide to work outside the home.
Women who opt to work outside the home are entitled to achieve fulfilment in the career of their choice but that does not always happen. If you look at the various sectors of society, management, politics, the Civil Service or elsewhere the number of women who attain high positions does not reflect the number of women in the organisations. Something happens along the way where the system does not give them the same opportunity as men to secure senior management positions which is what society deems as success. Any marginal improvements that have been made have been because of the work of the many women's organisations and other organisations who tried to achieve equality.
Last week we discussed the question of violence. I welcome the suggestion in the report that society shall have the means to deal with the problem of violence in the family so that we do not have a repeat of cases such as the Kilkenny rape case, that intervention can be made in such situations by social workers and the Garda and that barring orders can be obtained by persons other than the wives of the offenders.
Previous speakers referred to women in rural Ireland. In the past the family farm was the area where there was equality, where men and women had complementary roles in running the farm. However, equality did not extend to ownership and women did not have the power that comes with ownership of property or the family farm. In all other areas there was co-operation, understanding and a joint solving of the problems.
The previous speaker mentioned that the Churches should make statements on equality and I would welcome that. The Churches have been weak in their approach or have been reluctant to get involved. It is unfortunate that there are still objections in many areas to girls becoming altar servers. It is a minor point but it is a significant indication of the attitude of some Churches towards the involvement of women in the ceremonial of religion. The Churches are leaders in our society; if example is to be shown by our leaders towards achieving equality for women surely the Churches have a strong role to play in that area. They now have an opportunity to respond in detail to this report and to give their views as to how they see their role in achieving equality of status for women in society.
The report refers to the difficulties experienced by women in prison. This issue has been discussed in this House on many occasions and there have been many reports on the subject. We should have a debate with the Minister for Justice on the treatment of women in prison in view of statements made in this House over the past three and a half years — at least as long as I have been here — and of the change of Government. We should obtain from the Minister her views on the changes she would envisage in the treatment of all prisoners, and particularly women prisoners.
I welcome the report and hope its recommendations will be implemented at a much faster rate than those in the previous report.
I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words on this report. I am struck more by what is not in it than what is in it. I spoke here five or six years ago on the subject and I was taken to task by some of the "women libbers" at the time. However, Marian Finucane gave me an opportunity to go on her programme to defend my point of view. Needless to say that was the end of it.
I do not believe that women are discriminated against to the extent that some people would have us believe. I got my first job at 14 years of age and it was a woman who employed me. She and her brother ran a farm and it was she who was in charge. Subsequently, I was a rate collector for ten years and I could count on the few fingers I have left the number of men who paid the rates; it was always the women who were in control of the purse. Afterwards I had to change my job due to an unfortunate accident. For 20 years I sold direct to housewives, farmers and the general community and I can tell the House that if you did not sell to the woman of the house you did not sell to the man. In all cases the woman controlled the purse and decided whether she was going to purchase.
I am sure the Chair will agree with me that during the Seanad election campaign if it was not possible to meet a councillor, and most of them are men, if you had a successful talk with the woman of the house, the councillor was usually favourably disposed towards you. Again, this proves that the women have the power; I believe it is as true today as it was the day it was written that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
As I have said on previous occasions, the grants for first-time home buyers are too low. I got married in the 1950s and built a new two storey three-bedroomed house; it had hot and cold water which was a luxury at that time. The grant amounted to 40 per cent of the price of the house. Today, grants amount to only 2 per cent of the house price and this creates great hardship for families. I am completely pro-family and I make no apology for it. By family I mean that I say the old traditional family, with a father and mother, married and living happily. Thank God, I had 33 years of happy married life until the Lord decided we should part.
I feel that there is more discrimination today between women than there is between men and women. I wonder how prevalent is the "Zoe Baird" syndrome in this country? I do not talk or associate much with the higher strata of society but I do associate a good deal with the ordinary people living in the country and in the town of Sligo. Many of them are childminders but few of them get more than £1 an hour. Very few of them, regardless of the number of hours they work, get more than £40 a week while some of the people who employ them get more than that in a day. If they are in the legal profession they might get that amount of money for settling a case on the steps of a courthouse. It is important that we pay childminders a proper wage.
Every woman is entitled to a fair and just wage, whether she is a career woman, a professional or a professional child minder. Minding children is more important than working in the Four Courts, in the Civil Service or in any other employment. No mother should have to work outside the home out of necessity. I believe that many mothers who do are missing out. I reared a family and on days when I was in the house when the children came home from school the first thing they would ask was "Where is mammy?" When children come within 30 or 40 yards of the house they run because they have something very special to tell their mother. A child minder will listen to them to oblige but even the most dedicated child minder is not the same as a mother who will take them on her knee and give them a hug, a kiss and a bit of love and attention and show a serious interest in the little story they are telling.
I quote a letter from a woman who is completely on my wavelength:
As a founder member of "Mothers Working At Home", which is a support group for mothers, I wish to take issue with our feminist TDs appearing on RTE. These self-styled protagonists in the cause of women's rights are obviously unaware that the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, regarded by them as a triumph for the rights of women, is in fact highly discriminatory against mothers at home. In truth it completely ignores them.
I would like Senator Farrell to quote the source of his reference.
I will when I have finished reading it. The letter was written by a woman, Mrs. Nora Bennis and that is why I quote it. Indeed if I said this, I would have a gang of women at my throat and would hardly get home safe tonight.
The specific calls for health and social welfare benefits all relate to women who are members of the labour force. There is no mention of benefits for those who chose to work full-time in the home as mother and housewife. In this great Charter of Women's Rights no provision whatsoever is made for mothers working at home. Yet psychologists and psychoanalysts worldwide agree that there is no greater service given to society than that of mothering, particularly in the first five years of a child's life. Why then, it is fair to ask, do our women TDs, self-proclaimed champions of women's rights, turn a blind eye to the needs of mothers who work full time at home? Dare one suggest that they do not care? Well, I want to send a clear signal to them and indeed to all our politicians, women working at home will stay silent no longer.
The letter is signed by Mrs. Nora Bennis, Revington Park, North Circular Road, Limerick. God bless her and long may she live.
She has my wholehearted support because she is a mother talking from the heart. It is serious talk and if any of us——
I would like to know the source of that article and the date of issue.
The source is theIrish Independent of Wednesday, 3 March 1993.
In an article inThe Irish Times on Tuesday, 23 February 1993, it said:
"After 20 years of brainwashing by the feminist movement, 74 per cent of women still put motherhood first", says Deirdre Fitzgerald of the newly founded Mothers Working At Home Association (MWAH) which aims to put the emphasis back on women as full-time mothers. She was talking about the MRBI survey which recently showed that this percentage of women viewed motherhood as their most important role. "What are the feminists saying", she goes on, "that all those women are just pure thick and need to be educated?"
That statement was made by a woman. It shows the other side of the story and it is down to earth talk. If I had time I would put all of that article on the record because it gets down to basics.
The Government should seriously consider the suggestion that married women who wish to stay at home to rear a family should be entitled to a five to seven year career break spending a week each year updating themselves on new developments so that could return to the workforce eventually. This recommendation is not contained in the report. Women need extra money when children reach second and third level and they want to get back into the workforce at this stage. Unfortunately the present system does not allow them to do so. There is much discussion at present about job creation and this suggestion if adopted would lead to jobs for many young people. The 74 per cent of women in this country who would prefer to stay at home and rear their families should be given that option. I will be making this suggestion in future as I have done on many occasions in the past.
There is far too much emphasis in this country on the type of work done by both women and men. As I have said on many occasions, the person sweeping the street and the most senior Supreme Court judge, are links in a chain and each link is dependent on the next. For this reason we must ensure that mothers working at home and mothers who wish to work at home get full support from the State.
During my years at work, I always noticed that women were in charge of affairs. In one instance I sold an article to the man of the house. The woman came in and he told her he had bought the article. She said he had not told her he was going to buy it and so there was no sale; he could not have the article. I was mortified by the attack made on the poor man.
Mrs. Nora Bennis, her organisation and her philosophy should be supported by all. She represents, according to the MRBI pool, 74 per cent of women of this country. The article in theIrish Times on Tuesday, 23 February 1993 said:
The Second Commission on the Status of Women report, published in the same week, has provoked much anger: "MWAH would very much like to say ‘thanks but no thanks' for the crumbs which the Commission on the Status of Women have deemed mothers working at home worthy of. When will they ever learn, these self-proclaimed champions of women's rights?" asks Nora Bennis "These feminists lay themselves and their theories open to ridicule when they continue to deny the evidence that the women of Ireland want the right to mother their own children...".
I congratulate the people who prepared this report; I have looked through it and it is a substantial report. While the section on women in the home has many laudable aspects, it is very technical and refers mainly to women's working lives in their complexity and variety, and to economic considerations. The section describes the situation of the élite, of career women. It would be serious, admittedly, if career women, who are excellent at their jobs, could not continue their careers. Every woman has a right to do what she feels is right. If a woman wants to go out to work or retain her profession, good luck to her. We would all be in favour of that and no one will quibble with it. The point, and this report has not emphasised it enough, is that the woman who wants to stay at home should get sufficient assistance to allow her to do so. She should not have to work out of sheer necessity. Today the great majority of women are working because they have to pay mortgages. There should be greater mortgage assistance for the woman in the home.
In the 1950s grants were 40 per cent of the price of the house and one could build a good house for £1,500. I built my own house for £1,000 in those days. I was a truck driver; I drew the gravel and made the blocks in the evenings; it took me four years and it cost £1,000. I got almost £500 in grant aid, £275 from the county council, £275 from the Department of Local Government and £10 extra from each if I went through a building utility society; that applied only in the West of Ireland.