Various commitments have been made in the Programme for a Partnership Government with a view to empowering women in the area of employment. These include reducing the gender pay gap, assisting the return of women to the labour market and promoting female entrepreneurship.
Many of these commitments are being progressed under the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020, which is being implemented under the guidance of a Strategy Committee chaired by me.
The Strategy provides the framework for action on women's equality, including in the workplace. It includes commitments to tackle particular challenges which remain for women in the workplace, among which are the continued under-representation of women in business leadership and senior decision-making, the gender gaps in labour market participation and in pay, and the underrepresentation of women in apprenticeships and in many occupations and sectors, particularly those requiring science, technology, engineering or mathematical skills.
The Government has reflected these challenges in the priorities to be addressed in the Strategy, with the advancement of socio-economic equality for women and girls identified as one of its six high-level objectives. 45 of the 139 actions in the Strategy are contributing to this objective. The Strategy is published by my Department on http://www.genderequality.ie/ where periodic progress updates will be available in due course.
Among the significant developments under the Strategy this year has been the establishment in July of the Better Balance for Better Business Review Group, a business-led initiative to advise on how more women can be involved in decision-making at the top level of businesses in Ireland, and the advancement of draft Government legislation requiring employers to publish information on the gender pay gap in their firms. Work is also continuing on the phased implementation of the new Affordable Childcare Scheme to support parents with the cost of quality childcare.
The Strategy builds on an extensive body of legislation to address discrimination and promote equality of opportunity for women and men which has progressively developed since equal pay legislation was introduced in the mid-1970s. This legislation has prohibited discrimination and harassment in employment on the basis of gender and family status, among other protected grounds. It also provides for means of redress for complainants in such situations. It encompasses employment equality, equal pay, maternity protection and parental leave legislation, as well as provision for the establishment of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Workplace Relations Commission. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (www.ihrec.ie), whose statutory functions include providing information to the public in relation to human rights and equality, has published guidance on rights and duties under this legislation.