"Women Building Democracy - 2000 and Beyond" - O'Donnell Calls for Stronger Voice for Women
Speaking today in UCD at the Millennium Project of the European Women's Foundation, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Liz O'Donnell T.D., said that "the struggle for representation of women in public life is far from over. Only 13% of the members of the Dáil are women and the critical mass of women in politics needed to sufficiently "feminise" politics is still a long way off. The fact is that political life is neither woman nor family friendly. It is tailor-made for men with supportive wives. Women have been central to Ireland's economic transformation. Women now make up 46.8% of the labour force".
The Minister said that facilitating women's participation in the work force is a key pillar of this Government's Employment Action Plan - part of a concerted effort on employment among all EU Member States. Ireland reaffirmed its commitment to include a gender perspective in all policies and programmes at the Beijing plus 5 meeting. The National Development Plan allocated £4 million pounds to help Government Departments and State agencies to gender mainstream all their policies. A further £23.2 million will go to towards positive actions targeted at women and girls.
"Over the next seven years, the Government will invest £250 million to increasing the range and improve the quality of childcare facilities in the work place and in the community", she said.
Since the coming into force of the Employment Equality Act , the Minister said that Ireland now has one of the most modern and progressive models of anti-discrimination in the EU in relation to employment. It prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.
"I was privileged to represent the Irish Government at the multi-party talks which ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement", she said. "The right of women to full an equal participation is written into the Agreement. This is remarkable in many respects. It is the first time in these islands that the achievements of equality has been given the status of legal obligation. The Agreement demands a society that is truly inclusive - all religions, all political parties, all men and women."
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It has long been recognised that women bear the brunt of financial and social inequity particularly in the developing world, the Minister added. Gender considerations inform all our work, but in certain cases we also undertake projects with a particular focus on specifically women or men where it is felt necessary to target and redress individual inequities. Ireland Aid's approach attempts to consider the impact on both women and men as an integral part of all projects, from planning to implementation to monitoring and evaluation.
"In some parts of Ethiopia, for example, it is estimated that 75% of girls of school age do not have access to primary education. To address these problems, Ireland Aid is supporting a non-formal education programme with schools established in the local community close to the children's homes. In Tanzania we help women to establish agriculture related businesses. Our micro-finance programme in the Sidama region of Ethiopia can boast 70% participation of women".
In recent years, projects aimed at increasing female participation in democratic processes and at capacity-building for female parliamentarians have been co-funded in diverse countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, India and Eastern Europe.
"Many of you are from countries currently seeking membership of the European Union. Each of us is engaged in furthering the empowerment of women and in strengthening women's capacity to participate fully in all areas of human endeavour. And you have a fantastic opportunity to build properly functioning democracies if you ensure that women are present in significant numbers from the beginning".
Finally on the question of immigration the Minister said that the Government has only in the last two to three years begun to frame modern responses to address the situation and is putting in place asylum and immigration arrangements which aim to comply with our international and domestic constitutional human rights obligations. "As Minister with special responsibility for human rights, it is my duty to ensure that the international obligations Ireland has under the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol are met in full", she said. "As member of a liberal party, I am particularly conscious of the need for our Government to resist the temptation to respond defensively or repressively to these challenges and to ensure that a human rights's based perspective informs our asylum and immigration policies and practices, and that tolerance of difference is actively promoted in an increasingly multi-cultural Ireland".