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UN Publishes Assessment of Ireland’s Women’s Rights and Equality Record

March 7th 2017

UN CEDAW Committee ‘Concluding Observations’ reflect crucial gaps in Ireland’s compliance with international obligations highlighted to the UN by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The United Nations CEDAW Committee, which leads on combatting discrimination against women, has published its comprehensive assessment of Ireland’s record on women’s rights and equality.

The UN’s ‘Concluding Observations’ provide the first evaluation in over a decade of the State’s progress in complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The observations were published following the Irish Government’s formal examination, which took place in Geneva in February. The publication comes just ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday March 8th.

The ‘Concluding Observations’ reflect several crucial gaps in Ireland’s compliance with international obligations on women’s rights and equality, highlighted to the expert UN CEDAW Committee by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, in its function as Ireland’s independent national human rights institution and equality body.


The UN makes a number of specific recommendations on issues, brought to its attention by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as key priorities areas, these include:

Access to Justice in Relation to Historical Abuses of Women’s Rights

The Committee has found that Ireland “has failed to establish an independent, thorough and effective investigation, in line with international standards, into all allegations of abuse, ill-treatment or neglect of women and children in the Magdalene Laundries” and that “no effort has been made to establish an independent investigation to identify, prosecute and punish the perpetrators who performed the medical procedure of symphysiotomy without the consent of women.” The Committee also said that “the scope of the terms of reference for the statutory investigation established to investigate abuse in Mother and Baby Homes is narrow such that it does not cover all homes and analogous institutions, and therefore may not address the whole spectrum of abuses perpetrated against women and girls.”

Ireland is urged to “ensure that all victims/survivors of such abuse obtain an effective remedy, including appropriate compensation, official apologies, restitution, satisfaction, and rehabilitative services.” On this point the Committee has requested information to be provided by the State party within two years.

Tackling Gender Based Violence

The Committee has recommended that the state “expedite the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention)” and “introduce a specific definition of domestic violence and other emerging forms of gender-based violence such as online stalking and harassment”

Issues Affecting Specific Groups of Women

The Committee has called for state action for Traveller women on health, education, housing and employment outcomes; for the state to address overcrowding and alternatives to custody for women in detention, and has also called once more on the state to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Impact of austerity measures on women

The UN experts have called on the state to “Intensify efforts aimed at economic recovery in order to address the impact of austerity measures on social benefits for women, particularly disadvantaged women”. In particular, the Committee has recommended that the State “consider revising the Homemaker’s scheme in order to broaden access to the contributory State pension by women”

Participation in Public Life

The Committee has asked the State to “consider extending the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act of 2012 to local government elections” in order to introduce gender quotas for local government elections

Right to health for women in Ireland

The UN Committee also made detailed recommendations on the right to health for women in Ireland, including in relation to the legal and policy framework on reproductive rights.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The CEDAW Committee furthermore welcomed the establishment of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as an independent national human rights institution. It also welcomed the introduction of Public Sector Duty in section 42 of Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 and recommended that the State “ensure that the Public Sector Duty to be utilised to promoting the mainstreaming of gender equality in all areas and sectors”. However, the Committee is concerned that the IHREC is not fully resourced to effectively undertake its expanded mandate, particularly with regard to women’s rights and gender equality.

Recommendation 17: The Committee recommends that the State party allocate sufficient budgetary and human resources to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in order to discharge its functions effectively.

Equinet supports this recommendation, recalling that standards are needed to ensure that equality bodies can implement their functions and powers effectively..

Welcoming the publication of the UN ‘Concluding Observations’ today, Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said:

“Ireland has come a long way in recent years on the protection and promotion of women’s rights and equality, including in areas such as women’s representation and combatting gender based violence, however, as is made clear by this UN Committee report today, a great deal of work remains to be done, including the need for the state to specifically act on access to justice for victims of historical abuses and to commit to tackling in a more holistic and sustained way, the challenges women in Ireland face today from public representation to gender based violence.

“These Concluding Observations form a clear ‘to do’ list for the State to bring its law, policy and practice in line with international standards on women’s rights and equality.

“The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will work over the coming years to advocate for the full adoption by the State of the Committee’s recommendations, with a view to bringing Ireland fully in compliance with its international obligations.”

For more information, check the IHREC website.