Taoiseach: 'Epidemic of violence' against women must stop

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking after a special cabinet meeting this morning. Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
By Juno McEnroe
Political Correspondent

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the "epidemic of violence" against women must come to a halt, as the Cabinet agreed measures and laws to combat gender inequality.

Increasing the number of women on state boards, paying parties more money to run female council candidates and highlighting gender wage gaps in firms were among the measures agreed.

Cabinet also ratified the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that requires members to take action against domestic violence, to strengthen laws protecting women and to fund support groups.

The special meeting of ministers to mark International Women's Day took place in the Academy Building in Dublin city centre, also the location of a 1911 public meeting where the Irish Women Workers’ Union was founded.

“I think a lot of people will recognise that there is an epidemic of violence against women," said Mr Varadkar.

It needs to stop. We know the names of many women who have had violence perpetrated against them and the ratification of the Istanbul Convention today is a very important part of that.

The meeting agreed a new law requiring firms with over 250 employees to reveal gender wage gap details, based on hourly rates. At a later stage, firms with more than 150 workers will be obliged to do the same - in the future, the requirement will apply to companies with more than 50 employees.

The government said the measures will help reduce the gender pay gap, which currently stands at 14%.

Separately, it was agreed that political parties which ensure at least 30% of their local election candidates are women will get financial incentives.

The funding scheme will reward parties that reach that threshold with €250 per candidate. Those who increase their numbers of female candidates from the 2014 elections will get €100 per candidate.

"That funding has to be ringfenced and used exclusively for equality and diversity and promoting the role of women in politics. It is the carrot rather than the stick [approach]."

Mr Varadkar said the intention was, at a later stage, to look at full gender quotas for local elections.

While not going as far as introducing full gender quotas that now apply to general elections, the government said the incentives for the May elections were a start and would be added to with research on issues surrounding female participation on councils. A number of rural councils have little or no women. Offaly has no women councillors at present.

Elsewhere, ministers discussed increasing the number of women on state boards. The Government has set a target of 40% female representation on all state boards. The percentage of boards currently meeting the 40% target is only 47.6%. Junior justice minister David Stanton said: “The record is uneven. More than 50% of Boards are not achieving the target. It is no longer acceptable that some sectors are not playing their part or that women are not getting a fair share of the seats at key decision-making tables.”

A new inter-department group will now help increase women’s awareness of vacancies on boards and introduce more robust obligations for agencies.

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