Posted on March 07, 2016 at 01:14 PM

Patricia King Womens Conference
Patricia King Womens Conference

To mark International Women’s Day, Congress General Secretary Patricia King looks at how far we have to go to achieve real equality


Gender inequality remains a persistent feature of life on this island.

Women are disadvantaged in work and still carry a disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work.  Women are also severely underrepresented in the political, economic and administrative systems.   

Women are specifically referenced in the Irish Constitution - but there is no reference to gender equality and no reference to fathers. 

The highly controversial 8th Amendment recognises foetal rights as equal to the rights of pregnant women. Consequently, provisions for women’s reproductive health are highly restrictive. 


But women are over-represented among people on Low Pay and in precarious work.  

Thus, 65% of those earning the National Minimum Wage are female.

Women are the ‘managers of poverty’ in low income households and form the majority of part-time workers, north and south.   

We are all too familiar with the growing casualisation of work that has become endemic in sectors such as, hospitality, retail, education and care.

The Dunnes dispute highlighted some of the worst examples of bad employer behaviour, where the company controlled workers hours to suit its needs.

We cannot underestimate the value of the stand taken by those brave Dunne Stores workers.  There is no doubt in my mind that we would not have seen the comprehensive University of Limerick review on low hour contracts had the dispute not happened. 

One of our largest infrastructural deficits lies is the lack of an affordable, accessible, quality childcare. As a result of our market model, parents across this island face some of the highest childcare costs in Europe.

In Northern Ireland, Congress have argued that if a childcare strategy is to succeed then the Northern Ireland Executive must consider legislative measures such as those applying elsewhere.

Following a comprehensive survey of workers in the Republic, Congress is demanding that the incoming Government urgently invest in a properly resourced childcare system that would include extended parental leave for the first year of a child’s life. 

The Gender Pay Gap (as defined by Eurostat) stands at 8.8% in Northern Ireland and the latest figures available show the Republic of Ireland with a gap of 14.4%.

Interestingly it stands at 17.7% in the UK (2015).

Much of Northern Ireland’s progress is explained by increasing numbers of females working in the public sector, where equality of pay is more prevalent, while in private sector occupations women earn less than men.


When it comes to economic decision making Ireland is out of line with European standards which call for 40% female participation on non-executive boards.

Only state boards have shown improvement in the representation of women at one third, compared to private company board representation at 9%.

This figure is just 5% among Ireland’s Top 500 companies of whom 43% have no women at all on their boards.  This is despite the fact that women account for nearly half of the current paid workforce. 


The majority of public sector workers are women but they tend to populate the lower to middle income grades and are significantly under represented at senior grades, at just 33%. 

Under representation is also a strong feature in the third level education system where over 80% of senior posts are held by men.    

And we in the trade union movement have a lot of ground to make up.

Well over half our membership is female, while our leadership roles are predominantly occupied by men.

We can take take great heart from the enormous success of the civil marriage equality referendum and we must work even harder to support the civil marriage equality campaign in Northern Ireland.

Gender equality is more important now than ever but our official track record is bad. The commitment of those in power to address these issues is questionable. 

The most effective way to advance gender equality is through organisation in our workplaces. 

An essential step to reducing inequality across society is to lift workers out of the Low Pay trap.  All workers should be entitled to earn – at a minimum - no less than the Living Wage, on properly structured banded hour rosters. 

That would be a real gain for female workers and a big step forward for equality.

Watch a short video from the 2016 Congress Women's Conference


Permanent link | Categories: International Women's DayEqualityGender Pay Gap