Gender equality - Women’s strategy is vote-baiting

The Government launched its National Women’s Strategy 2007-2016 yesterday.

The document outlines 20 key objective and more than 200 actions to address all facets of women’s lives.

€148m has been earmarked to fund a broad outline of issuing dealing with gender equality.

“Some 30 years after the introduction of our equality legislation relatively few women have yet risen to key decision-making positions in Irish life,” the Taoiseach admitted.

The new plan is a detailed initiative to redress the imbalance by identifying “every facet of a woman’s life on which the State can have an impact”.

The plan includes measures to ensure the equalising of socio-economic opportunity for women, guaranteeing their wellbeing, and affording them the opportunity to engage as equal and active citizens. The goals outlined include efforts is to attract “more women into the labour market”.

A great many aspects of the strategy should be warmly welcomed, but unfortunately the timing smacks of an election gimmick.

It looks like an effort to convince women voters that the Government has undergone a near deathbed recognition that it should finally do something about the rights of women.

Fianna Fáil have been in government for 22 of the past 30 years and their partners, the Progressive Democrats, have been in power for over 13 years, which is much longer than either Fine Gael or the Labour Party.

During the final days of the Rainbow coalition Junior Minister Eithne FitzGerald released the Task Force Report on Violence Against Women. It called for various initiatives, most of which the current coalition has ignored until yesterday. If it is committed to such change, why has it taken 10 years to outline these plans? It should hardly be surprising that the opposition has denounced the National Women’s Strategy as a cynical election ploy.

As part of its overall strategy, the Government is setting up a new office called COSC, to deal with issues of domestic violence. This should be up and running in the early summer. Headed by senior civil servants from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it will be staffed by experts seconded from various agencies, including the Health Service Executive, Garda Síochána, and the Probation Service.

In fairness, it should be said that the overall strategy was outlined yesterday in an impressive document. Of course, the need for action also essentially highlighted the failings of the State over a broad area of women’s affairs. Indeed, the document can be seen as a report as well as an aspiration.

The measures outlined are a compilation of worthy and commendable objectives, but the fact that those objectives are so broad after so long amounts to a report that could be summarised as: very little done, even though there was an awful lot to do.

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