The first war cries were heard yesterday at a conference in Galway organised by the Women’s Human Rights Alliance (WHRA) in co-operation with the Irish Centre for human Rights, National University of Ireland, Galway and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
As well as putting public pressure on the Government to deliver on its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), using the United Nations’ agreement as a tool in mounting a High Court challenge is also being considered.
Nóirín Clancy of the WHRA said it was more than 20 years since the Government ratified CEDAW and while some gains had been made since then, there was still a long way to go.
“It’s almost like a State secret, yet it is the most important international treaty on the rights of women,” she said.
Last July, representatives from several Government departments were quizzed on their progress in implementing the convention by an expert CEDAW committee in New York.
The delegation was asked why only 13% of those in politics were women and why 23% of women are at risk of poverty at a time of economic boom.
Members were also asked to explain why there was such low prosecution and conviction rates for violence against women and why 80% of women were in part-time and low-paid work.
Ms Clancy said the Government would be called before the CEDAW committee again in January 2007. While the UN committee cannot impose any sanctions on the Government for lack of progress on women’s equality, the latter can be shamed.
“The problem is there is very little awareness of international treaties in Ireland so we are now telling women’s groups that your Government have signed up to this very radical document but they are not implementing it,” said Ms Clancy.
Ms Clancy said they now wanted to meet Government representatives and go through each of the recommendations and ask them what they are doing to implement them.
Local women’s groups would also be asked to push local TDs to put CEDAW on their list of priorities.
“We want to get more organised at both national and local level so that everyone is working together on this because there is not enough progress being made. If there was just 13% men involved in politics there would be uproar,” she said.