Progress for equality at a snail’s pace

Recently there have been articles circulating in the main stream media around the fact gender equality is a long way off from what is considered an ideal parity. This was something that I wrote about for a college assignment that looked at the slowness of gender equality by the numbers. One thing that I wanted to get across, which I am not sure that I did, was how even by the “standard” of what was considered to be equal the numbers didn’t add up to the reality. If you look at the numbers and how they rounded them up, countries could do rather well in one or two areas and reasonably well in another area. Essentially ticking off the right boxes. Looking at Ireland, for example, as a country it did quite well considering a factor that lowered our points at that time was the lack of access to healthcare I.E abortions. This actually doesn’t reflect the reality that women experience on a day to day bases and also ignores the growing wealth divide which is reflected in hospital waiting list, homelessness and rise in crime. As of today the realities of equality by the number reaching anything sort of ideal is being eroded again, this is reflected in countries: abortion laws and the increasing wealth divide that is being felt around the world.

Progress is still at a snail’s pace

You could be forgiven for thinking that there was progress made in closing the gap of equality between men and women.  You can be forgiven because 2017 ended with a glimmer of hope after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.  A story that revealed the grotesque underbelly of Hollywood. Consequently, this had a domino effect, that perhaps didn’t start with the Weinstein scandal, of women (and men) finally coming forward to name and shame those within power who abuse their position of privilege.  Robert Dahl wrote in his 1971 seminal book ‘Polyarchy’  that to measure the quality of democracy requires two prior judgments: (1) Making sure that, in terms of institutional characteristics, a country is sufficiently democratic, and that, as a minimum, it has universal suffrage, and (2) proportional representation.

Ireland’s progress according to Gender Equality Index of Europe 2017: Progress is being made, but at a rather slow pace. In fact, the progress is so slow that the Gender Equality Index of Europe 2017 press release is called progress at a snail’s pace. In some cases around Europe there has been no progress or improvements in areas such as unpaid work, and in-family arrangements.

The release goes on to say that The EU’s score is just four points higher than ten years ago, now 66.2 out of 100.  Ireland scored a respectable 69.5, which is remarkable considering the areas that the index press release states that ‘signs of better equality lie in the area of decision-making’, exactly the areas that Ireland ranked lowest in.  If you were to just use those as an indicator of gender equality the average for Ireland drops down from 69.5 to 48.6.  This is a significant drop, and even more significant if you look at lowly Greece, which is 50 before the adjustment to just 21.5 after, or if you were look at Sweden, which remains high with 79.5 after adjustment from 82.6 (see Fig.1).

(Fig 1.

Representation of women in Ireland:

In Europe, women are not represented well in terms of politics and in fact, in six countries (Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, and Malta) women represent less than 20% of parliament members.  In Ireland’s national parliament, representation of women went from 16.3% before the 2016 elections to a slight increase to 22.2% after the 2016 elections, still less than a quarter (see fig.2). This is thanks to a law introduced requiring political parties to field at least 30% male and 30% female candidates in the next two general elections.  This law is to address the historic under-representation of women in Irish politics. Ireland has the twelfth lowest representation of women in power in the EU and is below the EU average of 28.7%.

(Fig.2 Less than a quarter (22.2%) of TDs in Dáil Éireann were women in 2016)

Men significantly outnumbered women in all national decision-making structures in Ireland in 2016. Before the 2016 election Ireland ranked  86th – joint with North Korea and the Republic of Korea – of 140 countries worldwide in relation to the political representation of women, representing a substantial deterioration since 1990 when Ireland was ranked 37th. Currently, Ireland is ranked 81st.

Women in the workforce:

From the latest figures from the CSO, we know that just over half of women(51.5%) aged 15 years and over were in the labour force, at work, or unemployed in 2016, a slight increase on the proportion from 2006 of 50.2%.  In contrast, the proportion of men in the labour force over the same time period dropped from 72.7% to 67.8%(see fig.3).


Historically, women have been more affected by unemployment than men. In 2000, the unemployment rate for women in the EU was around 10%, while the rate for men was below 8%.  In Ireland, men have a higher rate of employment.  The male employment rate in 2016 was 69.9%, over 10 percentage points higher than the female rate of 59.5% and below the EU average rate of 71.8%(see fig.4). The twelfth lowest rate in the EU.


So what exactly is the underlying problem?

How society values women, in the workplace as well as the value of women’s contribution to improving the economy.  In Ireland, one of the biggest areas of work comes from the construction industry.  We see that the gap in employment closed during the economic crises. In the CSO statistical yearbook, press release statistician Helen Cahill is quoted as having said: “More girls than boys sat higher level papers in the Leaving Certificate exams in English, French, Irish, Biology, Chemistry, Art, Home Economics and Music in 2016. More boys than girls took higher level papers in Mathematics, Physics, Design and communication graphics, Construction studies and Engineering.

While women are more likely to have a third-level qualification than men, with over half  55.1% of women aged 25-34 having a third-level qualification in 2016 compared to just 42.9% of men in this age group. More than four out of five 82.4% graduates in Engineering, manufacturing and construction were male in 2016 while 79.3% of graduates in Information and communication technologies were male. Women represented more than three out of four 76.4% graduates in Health and welfare and 71.4% of graduates in Education.

In 2018, Ms Cahill is quoted as saying gender differences in educational attainment are still evident.  Going on to say that 60% of females aged 30-34 had a third level qualification compared to 46% of males of the same age group.  However, females were still less likely to be employed compared to males, although this gap narrows as the level of education increases.

The biggest challenge for women today is that they still expected to carry the biggest burden of unpaid work, such as caring for children, caring for the elderly, sick and disabled at home, as well as the majority of household work according to the 2018 gender equality report. To achieve real change for women we need to turn awareness and intentions into action. Gender equality is not just about women. It is about our society and our economy.

While European women are better educated than men (44% women aged 30-34 vs 34% men got a university degree in 2016), women remain largely under-represented in decision-making positions in companies and still earn 16% less than men on average across the EU. We see in Ireland that while women are more likely to achieve a third level education, men historically are the ones employed.  

There seems to be a disconnect between the value of education and the economy, and a disconnect between the value of women in the workplace, as well as women in the home.  Through all of the research one statistic that continues to come up, is that the majority continues to believe that women’s role in society is to take care of their homes and families. With one-third of EU Member States,  no less than 70% of Europeans, who believe so.

The glimmer of hope that ended 2017 shouldn’t be confused as a victory.  Progress is still too slow, and the role of women still needs to be recognised outside of the home. This is why representation matters. Politicians can learn to update their policy attitudes when they are exposed to more heterogeneous political environments, which overall, makes for better-informed and inclusive decision-making both politically and economically.

The #metoo movement has just begun to open up the conversations around the value of women in society. Equality is the end, but progress is still at a snail’s pace.  

Categories: Journalism, Politics, Thoughts on social issues

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