UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Equality Commission Recommendations
In January 2019, the Equality Commission submitted a Shadow Report to inform the UN CEDAW Committee's development of its Concluding Observations on the UK. The Report highlights the Priority equality issues affecting women in Northern Ireland that we recommend are addressed by Government. The examination by the UN CEDAW Committee of the UK Government's progress in advancing women's equality, including in Northern Ireland will take place in February 2019.
UN CEDAW Committee's 'List of Issues' on the UK
In June 2018, the Equality Commission prepared a submission to inform the UN CEDAW Committee's 'List of Issues' on the UK. The submission highlights the Priority equality issues affecting women in Northern Ireland (pdf)
that we recommend are addressed by Government.
The Commission raised these issues in Geneva at the Pre-Sessional Working Group meeting of the CEDAW Committee in July 2018, and asked the UN to question the UK Government about the steps it is taking to address them. In July, the UN Committee asked the UK Government for further information on measures taken to ensure that Brexit does not lead to a reduction in the protection of women’s rights, as well as on measures taken in other areas, including a number highlighted by the Commission.
Summary of the priority equality issues affecting women in Northern Ireland:
1. There is a pressing need to strengthen gender equality law to address gaps; and to harmonise, simplify and clarify the law
- There is a lower level of protection for women in Northern Ireland against sex discrimination than in the rest of the UK.
- The Commission has called for the significant gaps and weaknesses in the gender equality legislation to be urgently addressed, including through the introduction of single equality legislation in Northern Ireland.
- To date, there are no commitments by Government to give effect to the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations in 2013 to strengthen gender equality law in NI, including as regards the Committee’s recommendations on pay secrecy clauses and multiple discrimination.
- Further, gender pay reporting requirements for large employers were introduced in Great Britain in 2017, but do not apply to Northern Ireland. While legal provisions exist for the making of gender pay gap reporting regulations in Northern Ireland, and for the introduction of a gender pay strategy and action plan, they have not been brought into force as envisaged.
2. There is a need to address the potential negative impact of Brexit; and to strengthen mechanisms for gender equality
- The Commission has raised concerns about the potential negative impact of Brexit in Northern Ireland on women’s equality rights.
- There is a need for Government to commit to ensuring the non-regression of women’s equality rights, the implementation of future equality enhancing rights, as well to mitigate the potential impact of the loss of EU funding aimed at promoting women’s equality and the impact on the voluntary and community sector There is also the need to ensure effective engagement with women during the Brexit process.
- Further, the Commission has called for a timetabled commitment by Government to take forward a revised Gender Equality Strategy and action plan to replace the Gender Equality Strategy 2006-2016 which expired in 2016.
- There is also a need for additional actions in any finalised Northern Ireland Executive Programme for Government (PfG) and associated delivery plans to advance gender equality across a range of areas identified by the Commission. The collection of gender disaggregated data, including in relation to women with multiple identities, also needs to be improved.
3. Gender stereotyping and the objectification of women must be challenged
- Action is required to counter gender stereotyping that affect women in Northern Ireland throughout the life course, in education, training, work, in the family and wider society, including the media and across social media, including advertising and marketing. There is also a need for further measures to eradicate the objectification and degradation of women, including in the media.
- A 2018 CEDAW Committee Inquiry report on Northern Ireland found prevalence of discriminatory gender stereotypes on women’s role as mothers as rooted in culture and religion and the non-existence of policy to counter existing negative stereotypes.
4. Action is required to increase the participation of women in public and political life, and in peacebuilding
- Women remain under-represented in all spheres of political life, at Westminster, in the Assembly and in local government, as well as in public life and economic decision-making (including on private and public sector boards).
- A 2014 report by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee on Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly highlighted that “the underrepresentation of women in politics in Northern Ireland is a serious issue which must be addressed as a matter of urgency”. A 2014 Inquiry into the position of women in Northern Ireland since the Peace Agreement found that women face barriers to participation in peace building and post conflict reconstruction, as well as in other areas of decision-making.
- To deliver on the Northern Ireland Executive’s agreed targets, (including that by 2021 there should be gender equality for all appointees in both board membership and at chair level), there is a need for the prompt implementation of a targeted action plan.
5. Government must better promote women’s equality in education and challenge gender based bullying
- While girls’ educational attainment has improved, gender stereotyping, the curriculum, subject choice and careers advice still inhibit girls in fulfilling their potential. As regards subject choice, there remains a lower proportion of girls than boys studying STEM subjects in higher education.
- There is also the need to ensure gender mainstreaming in the policies and practices of educational bodies and to promote gender equality including in the curriculum, subject choice, careers advice and teacher training.
- Evidence reveals that girls frequently experience bullying with a sexual meaning. Anti-bullying legislation needs to be brought into force and supporting guidance produced, as well as further action to prevent prejudice based bullying, including challenging gender roles.
6. Action to ensure women’s economic independence; promote workplace equality & ensure affordable, accessible childcare
- There is a need to eliminate industrial and occupational segregation experienced by women within the labour market, including gender imbalances in certain apprenticeships.
- For example, in STEM related professions, men outnumber women by nearly three to one. Whilst women are over-represented in the public sector as a whole, they are significantly under-represented at a senior level in the Northern Ireland public sector.
- Women also frequently experience sex discrimination and harassment in the workplace. An investigation carried out by the Commission in 2016 has highlighted experiences of unfair treatment of pregnant workers and mothers in the workplace.
- A gender pay strategy and action plan for Northern Ireland is urgently required to address identified pay gaps and associated structural barriers.
- Further, women experience a lower employment rate and a higher economic inactivity rate than men. They are more likely to be in part-time employment where they are at risk of low pay and precarious employment. Lone parents, who are overwhelmingly female, also experience specific barriers to employment. Additional actions are required to encourage flexible working practices and sharing of family roles.
- Commission research (2013) also identified the lack of affordable and appropriate childcare provision and recommended the implementation of a Childcare Strategy. To date a Childcare Strategy has not been introduced in Northern Ireland, despite a government consultation in 2015. Whilst there has been an increase in the number of childcare places in Northern Ireland over the last decade, the cost of childcare remains higher than in other parts of the UK.
7. Action is required to ensure access to healthcare & social protection; to tackle violence & address multiple identity issues
- Our written submission also calls for actions to remove barriers experienced by women to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare. For example, as regards reform of abortion law in Northern Ireland, there is a clear need for urgent Government action and response and we have called for a full public consultation on abortion law.
- There is also the need to mitigate the adverse gender impacts of welfare reform and remove barriers to social protection; to effectively tackle gender based violence against women and ratify the Istanbul Convention; and to address barriers faced by women with multiple identities.
- Engagement with CEDAW process
- The UK State Party was last examined by CEDAW in 2013. Since then the Commission has continued to work to lever relevant concluding observations, to secure adoption of our policy positions in support of advancing gender equality in Northern Ireland.
- CEDAW will examine the UK State Party again in 2018/19. The Commission will provide information to CEDAW towards secure concluding observations in support of our 2017 ‘Gender equality - priorities and recommendations’.
- In June 2018, the Commission made a submission to inform the Cedaw 'List of Issues' (pdf) and in July 2018 raised key points in Geneva at a Pre-Sessional Working Group meeting of the CEDAW Committee.
- In early 2019, the Commission published its Shadow Report pdf) to inform CEDAW’s formal examination of the UK.
- Key stages/dates
of Roisin Mallon, Senior Policy Officer at the Equality Commission NI, who attended the Pre-Sessional Working Group meeting of the CEDAW Committee in Geneva in July 2018.
Roisin asked the UN to question the UK Government about the steps it is taking to address a range of priority equality issues affecting women in Northern Ireland.
video broadcastcast by NVTV)