Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality - Opening Statement to Joint Committee on Gender Equality

15 Sep, 2022

On Thursday, 15 September 2022, Professor Yvonne Galligan, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at TU Dublin, presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Gender Equality concerning recommendations made by the Citizens’ Assembly.

Professor Galligan's statement focused on Leadership in Politics, Public Life & the Workplace. 

Politics

The gender quota recommendation came in two parts: one, to extend the candidate gender quota to all political electoral contests (Rec 20a), and two, to increase the candidate gender threshold from 30% to 40%, applying to all elections (Rec 20c).

An analysis of the gender pattern of candidates at general, Seanad, local and European elections showed that female candidates comprised at least 32%. The share of male candidates was a maximum of 68%.   The analysis concluded that a relatively small number of additional female candidates would be required to reach the 40% threshold, based on the total number of party candidates at the elections listed. Thus, having females comprise 40% of all candidacies is an achievable objective. It was noted that the 2019 European Parliament elections had an even split of male and female contestants.

Therefore, based on the most recent set of elections, it would be feasible for parties overall to meet the 40% candidate gender quota. It is also realistic to have it extended to local government elections.

A related recommendation focuses on increasing penalties for party non-compliance (Rec 20b). There are two aspects relating to this recommendation – the need to increase the party penalty in a general election context and the application of a meaningful penalty or sanction for Seanad and local elections. In terms of the former, the issue has not arisen to date. In terms of the latter – especially for local elections - a financial penalty could be linked to party funding. It would need to be of consequence to provide sufficient motivation for parties to conform to the 40% candidate gender quota. The Seanad elections are more complex still, given that parties do not, or do not directly, nominate candidates.

Public boards

There are 194 public boards with an overall female membership profile of 45% in February 2022. However, this positive profile masks a wide variation in board gender representation. For example, 63 (32%) boards had less than 40% female members at that time.  

While an overall profile of 40%:60% gender balance on state boards is a long-standing (and achieved) ambition of successive governments, getting the 63 boards to come up to this level is not straightforward. Some boards have a tiny membership that militates against a 40:60 gender balance (e.g. Army Pensions Board and Credit Union Restructuring Board with 3 members each). At any time, there are a number of board vacancies (e.g. Irish Water has 12 members, of which 7 are filled: 3 females, 4 males). In February 2022, this amounted to 165 vacancies from a total of about 2089 board places. Were these vacancies filled by females, the overall gender proportion of board members would come close to equal.  

Recommendation 21a is to make funding to these boards contingent on achieving gender balance by 2025. Boards at risk of a funding penalty must closely examine ways of improving their gender balance. While the target date of 2025 is feasible, the increase required needs targeted action by all involved. This could include encouraging nominating bodies to put forward female nominees or signalling interest from female applicants through a strong statement in the advertisement for members. It also requires a risk analysis by each board on the viability of its work in the context of reduced funding consequent on not reaching the 40% target.

Family-friendly practices

On 28 June 2022, Minister Peter Burke TD (Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage) received Cabinet approval to introduce maternity leave for city and local councillors. This goes some way to implementing Rec 23(a), Making maternity, paternity and parental leave available to all elected representatives, including Ministers (through legislation or constitutional amendment as required). This is a positive beginning to bringing elected representatives into the ambit of family-friendly practices that apply to other working parents.

Applying this provision to TDs and Ministers could require a referendum of Article 15.11, and possibly Article 41.2. However, lessons and practices from COVID-19 on remote meeting attendance and decision-making could offer a way of routinising flexibility in parliamentary working practices and disrupting gender stereotypes before a referendum is undertaken.

Social media

Recommendation 24 addresses the urgency of providing a legislative and policy framework for making technology and social media companies accountable for their publication and dissemination of online sexual harassment, bullying, and other abusive behaviour targeted at women and girls. The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 addresses the individual experience, but there is further safeguarding work to be done by making social media sites accountable for the publication of such abuse. In that regard, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, 2022, could address this recommendation.

Workplaces

Recommendation 25 relates to ensuring that workplaces implement gender-neutral recruitment and promotion policies. This includes policies targeted at promoting gender equality in leadership positions, operation of gender-sensitive and anti-discriminatory selection and promotion policies and procedures, and equal opportunities for training, mentoring and assignments for all workers, including those working part-time and remotely.

It would be helpful in promoting gender equality for the Committee to reiterate the importance of this recommendation to employers, unions, employees and the general public. Current good practice in human resources and people management practices incorporates these issues. Encouraging widespread adoption of good practice in this area would enhance equal opportunities between women and men, especially as women are more likely to work part-time, and possibly remotely.

Appendix

Citizens' Assembly Recommendations on Leadership in Politics, Public Life and the Workplace (recommendations 20-25)

  1. By the end of 2022:

(a) Extend the gender quota for party candidates at general elections to local elections, elections to the Seanad and European Parliament elections and review every 5 years.

(b) Increase penalties for parties that do not meet the statutory gender quotas.

(c) The 30% threshold should be increased to 40% for women (and 40% for men) for all elections.

  1. Improve gender balance on boards by:

(a) Making funding to public bodies contingent on reaching a 40% gender balance quota by 2025.

(b) Enacting gender quota legislation that requires private companies to have at least 40% gender balance according to specific criteria such as turnover, number of employees etc.

  1. Public funding to cultural, sports, arts and media organisations should be contingent on:

(a) A quota of 30% representation of women, and of men, on their Governing bodies by 2025 and 40% by 2030.

(b) Published plans to advance gender equality in their organisations.

(c) Annual reporting on progress towards agreed quotas on gender representation and funding.

  1. Improve family-friendly practices for all representatives elected to public office by:

(a) Making maternity, paternity and parental leave available to all elected representatives, including Ministers (through legislation or constitutional amendment as required).

(b) Providing flexible working options, including remote working and voting and adjusting meeting times and rules to suit caring responsibilities (through legislation or constitutional amendment as required).

  1. Strengthen legislation, reporting and monitoring of press and social media by:

(a) Holding technology and social media companies accountable for immediately removing online content that constitutes sexual harassment, bullying, stalking, sexually violent or abusive content that they have identified or about which they have been informed.

(b) Penalising and eliminating hateful and abusive language, including on the basis of gender, with regular reviews to ensure legislation keeps pace with technological advances.

  1. Workplaces should be required to develop, resource, implement and monitor gender-neutral recruitment and promotion policies and practices, including:

(a) Specific policies to promote gender equality in leadership positions.

(b) A requirement to operate gender-sensitive and anti-discriminatory selection and promotions processes.

(c) Equal access to training, assignments and mentoring opportunities for all employees, including part-time and remote workers

The Report of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality is available here.