Gender must be included in Government policymaking – New reports call for inequalities in lives of men & women to be addressed

Posted on: 15 February 2005

Gender is still given only limited consideration in the development of national policies despite continuing imbalances between women and men across all walks of life according to two reports launched today, Tuesday 15 th February, by Niall Crowley, Chief Executive of the Equality Authority. The reports by The Policy Institute, Trinity College Dublin and The Women’s Health Council argue that gender mainstreaming (incorporating gender equality into mainstream policies) is vital to ensure that men and women are given equal opportunities to realise their potential. The research also highlights the need for gender mainstreaming to be underpinned by genuine political commitment and the provision of the necessary resources and supports to enable policymakers to realise gender mainstreaming in their day-to-day practice. Plus Ca Change…? Gender Mainstreaming of the Irish National Development Plan – the 15 th paper published under The Policy Institute’s Studies in Public Policy series – praises the commitment displayed by the government to supporting the implementation of gender mainstreaming in the Irish National Development Plan (NDP) but suggests that this commitment has not delivered on its promise to date. The study details the uneven implementation of the Plan’s nine commitments to progress gender mainstreaming. It outlines a number of desirable future steps to address this and advance gender mainstreaming including: Harness political will – the inclusion of gender mainstreaming within the remit of a Cabinet Committee to promote and encourage its implementation across policy areas and government departments. Include a commitment to gender mainstream policies in the strategy statements of NDP funded government departments Provision of long-term support and resources to ensure that the institutional mechanisms to support policymakers and service deliverers in implementing gender mainstreaming are central to the policy-making process. “While the positive attitude to gender mainstreaming expressed within the National Development Plan is encouraging, measures and programmes still frequently fail to consider and address gender in their day-to-day work”, states Dr. Anne-Marie McGauran, author of The Policy Institute study. “For example, only one of the NDP’s monitoring committees has achieved the Government’s required gender balance which means that on the vast majority of committees, policy issues and measures are debated and decided with little input from women. Secondly, just over a third of measures actually consider equal opportunities within their project selection. This means that many programmes rarely think about how they can contribute to gender equality. There seems to be a feeling that gender equality ‘is done’ or has been achieved but when you look at the disparities that still exist in for example, educational outcomes or employment progression between men and women, it is clear that we need to be continually thinking about how best to support and ensure that men and women achieve their potential across all aspects of their lives.” The second report launched today and completed by The Women’s Health Council, Integrating the Gender Perspective in Irish Health Policy: A Case Study, offers a ‘real world’ illustration of the importance of addressing gender within national policy. It provides a gender analysis of Ireland’s national cardiovascular health policy, Building Healthier Hearts (1999), and was completed as part of a wider project for the World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Europe. It found: The Policy was limited in its consideration of gender. A t the time it was produced, Irish cardiovascular health services were relatively undeveloped, so geographical equity of access to services was the Strategy’s principal concern. Gaps in the availability of gender-specific information in particular areas of the strategy, suggesting that further gender-specific and gender-disaggregated research is required. The importance of building in gender analysis at the initial point of policy development – if gender is not included in initial policies/strategies then it is unlikely to be an issue for future actions or reports. “Heart disease has traditionally been thought of as typical to men”, said Geraldine Luddy, Director of the Women’s Health Council, “in spite of the fact that over their lifetimes women are as affected as men by the disease and have high rates at older ages”. Key findings made in recent years (Women’s Health Council, 2003) indicate the necessity of including both sexes in policy and research on heart disease. Most starkly, for example, it has been found that women may not experience chest pain or any of the other the generally accepted symptoms of heart attack/disease. Instead, women may experience symptoms such as neck, shoulder or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea or vomiting. This and other g rowing evidence about the impact of gender on cardiovascular health provides the rationale for ensuring that the national cardiovascular health strategy is gender sensitive, and that gender is built in from the development stages of the document. The authors of the studies jointly commented that gender is one of the most fundamental organising characteristics of society and affects all of our lives. Gender mainstreaming means that the normal ideas, attitudes or activities of society, including policymaking and service delivery, generally incorporate a gender perspective and become a normal feature of mainstream thinking. In this way, it can help achieve more equal outcomes for men and women across all aspects of their lives including employment, caring responsibilities and health.