Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin launch Womens Manifesto for Assembly Election

20 November, 2003

National Self-determination and Gender Equality

Ireland is a Nation of Unequals.

Irish Republicanism is defined as the pursuit of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and these Republican ideals have underpinned the struggle for national liberation.

The inequality and discrimination experienced by women in Ireland is in direct opposition to these ideals

National Self-determination and Gender Equality are not sequential issues, they are directly linked.

The principle of freedom is a right that all the people of Ireland should enjoy.

As the people of Ireland deconstruct the defining elements of partition, the steps we take on the road to unity need to be informed by the wider guarantee outlined in the Proclamation of the Republic to "cherish all the children of the Nation equally".

Sinn Féin advocates the right to social, economic and cultural equality. This encompasses the equality of all women irrespective of their race, age, marital or family status, sexual orientation, physical or mental capacities, ethnicity, social origin or political or religious affiliations.

And, it must be recognised at the outset that Women's inequality and in turn gender discrimination, is a collective issue for all society in Ireland.

Women in all parts of Ireland share similar experiences of marginalisation.

Sinn Fein is the only all-Ireland party and as such is the only party in a position to push for and deliver on Gender Equality in Ireland North and South.

Women and Unequal Access to Decision Making

Sinn Fein wants to build an Ireland of Equals and we recognise the vital need for gender balance, gender proofing and gender equality in the decision making process.

Women are not fully represented in either national politics or in local government decision-making structures. In the 26 Counties less than 15% of TDs are women and involvement of women in politics at grassroots level is little better. In the 6 Counties only 14% of the total number of MLA's in the Assembly were women and women only make up 32% of the public appointments.

Sinn Féin is working to redress this and actively promotes women in the party.

Sinn Fein is working for:

  • The development of an affirmative action protocol for political parties on the island of Ireland;
  • A public debate on the inhibiting nature of political structures with recommendations to enable women to engage more fully in all aspects of government;
  • Support for the National Women's Council of Irelands call for state and public bodies to implement 60/40 gender quotas on boards of management and in the policy-making arena.

However, women occupying positions of power is not enough. The decision making process goes beyond the field of politics to all levels of society where decisions are made.

Women and the Human Rights and Equality Agenda

Sinn Fein recognises the diverse and shared experiences of women throughout the island. By extension the nature of discrimination that is felt by women is equally diverse. For women inequality is manifested differently when combined with other factors such as poverty, educational disadvantage, poor health care, violence and racism. Therefore, society in Ireland must be underpinned by robust human rights and Equality protections.

Sinn Fein's aim is to build an Ireland of Equals. We seek to realise the potential for all-Ireland progress on the whole Human Rights/equality focus as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement is an all Ireland agreement. The majority of women endorsed it by their vote and are committed to and working towards its full implementation. We insist that the six county Human Rights Commission, as set up under the Good Friday Agreement be re-constituted in a fully comprehensive way to reflect, in terms of representation on the Commission, society as a whole, especially those constituencies who are socially excluded. Sinn Fein calls for:

  • The rights of women to be enshrined as a core component of any Bill of Rights that might emerge. Sinn Fein calls on the Human Rights Commissions in the 26 counties and 6 counties to develop a robust all-Ireland Charter of Fundamental Rights;
  • An all-Ireland Single Equality Act should be developed and include interrelated provisions to tackle discrimination on the basis of gender;
  • Sinn Fein supports the view of the United Nations that women's human rights should be centrally placed on the political agenda in Ireland;
  • The EU Convention on the future of Europe will address issues of substantial interest to women. While noting the advances in EU social policy, we call for an all-Ireland public forum to facilitate women bringing forward their views;
  • Sinn Fein welcomes the National Plan for Women as a step towards addressing inequality and calls for the setting up of a representative body to monitor progress on its implementation.

Women in Poverty

Gender is a crucial factor in determining participation in economic life.

In Ireland, like most other societies, the traditional division of labour has encumbered women with the prime responsibility for domestic work such as childcare, care of the elderly, cooking and cleaning.

As a consequence of the gender differences in the labour market, women rely, to a larger extent than men, on social security benefits in order to support themselves and their families. For example in the 6 Counties:

  • 68% of recipients of Invalid Care Allowance are women;
  • 61% of those receiving Income Support are women;
  • 59% of those who receive Housing Benefits are women;
  • 57% of the families who receive Working Families Tax Credit had women as the main earner.

This figure reflects the relative disadvantage of households headed by women.

Many groups at highest risk of poverty are composed predominantly of women. Sinn Fein fully supports and supplements the recommendations made by the National Women's Council in their call for a human rights based approach to the elimination of women's poverty and social exclusion. On an all-Ireland basis.

Sinn Fein calls for:

  • The right to an adequate, comparable and independent income;
  • The right to appropriate accommodation;
  • The right to accessible and women friendly healthcare;
  • The right to a childcare place for each child;
  • The right to affordable and accessible education;
  • The right to comparable representation in political institutions and public spheres of civic responsibility.

Women in the Economy

Today there are more women in work outside the home than ever before. However women are still over represented amongst those on the minimum wage and in the part-time and services sector.

Women are still less likely than men to have an independent income. When women do have an independent source of income their earnings are on average 80% of men's, despite 30 years of equal pay legislation.

Women are also much more likely than men to have part-time, short-term or casual employment. For example in public administration, education and health sectors 42% of female employee's work part-time, compared to 6% of male employees.

The Equality Commission recently took part in a trans-national study, 'Developing Sectoral Strategies to Address Gender Pay Gaps'. The research focused on the IT and retail sectors. The study found that the average hourly pay for women working part-time is 68% of the average full-time male rate. Closing the gender pay gap primarily relies on equalising wage rates within occupations.

The shortage of quality childcare makes it difficult for women to remain in the workforce or to access full-time employment. Women's unpaid caring work still remains unrecognised, undervalued and unmeasured with the denial of basic rights such as social insurance and pension credits. Women returning to the workforce face additional problems in accessing training and education as their work in the home is not recognised and therefore they are not on the Live Employment Register.

It is essential that structures and work practices are developed to allow the reconciliation and harmonisation of family life and work. Only in this way can gender equality and equal participation in employment be promoted.

To support women in the workplace Sinn Fein calls for:

  • The introduction of a system of paid parental leave in line with EU best practice;
  • Unpaid caring work should be measured and valued in economic terms and the current means test-for full-time carers should be abolished;
  • 'Social security' benefits for lone parents should be raised to the standard of average earnings;
  • The elimination of low pay, an increase in the minimum wage and the elimination of the gender pay gap;
  • A comprehensive all-Ireland study regarding the intra-household distribution of labour and income should be carried out and inter-linked to policy commitments relating to promoting social inclusion and tackling poverty through out the island;
  • Asylum seekers who are in Ireland for more than six months to be given the right to work;
  • In step with the development of an island wide economy employment legislation should harmonised on an all-Ireland basis;
  • The new all-Ireland employment legislation should ensure rights to the broadest category of workers, and that the right to request flexible working should include all working parents with children of compulsory school age;
  • Common structures and comprehensive guidelines should be developed on an all-Ireland basis between employers within particular industries in relation to processes such as recruitment, promotion and training;

Women & Childcare

The opportunities for women to work in paid employment outside the home have never been greater. However due to the lack of affordable and accessible child care many women are denied the opportunity to participate in paid employment.

The 6 Counties has one of the lowest provisions of childcare in the European Union. Recent surveys have highlighted the fact that the 6 Counties had only 34.8 day nursery places for every 1000 children under the age of 5, compared to the average of 71.3 places in Britain.

Studies have shown that the expense of childcare acts as a disincentive and a barrier for low paid women entering the labour market. In Ireland the vast majority of lone parents are female.

Lone parents in the 6 Counties are specifically disadvantaged as their earnings are about one third lower than comparable levels in Britain.

Sinn Fein calls for:

  • Government funded childcare facilities commensurate with area-based need;
  • All centres for further and higher education should have on-site childcare facilities;
  • Paid Parental Leave for employees in line with best practise in the Europe;
  • The promotion of quality affordable community childcare for all those who need it;
  • Development and extension of after school care facilities.

Women & Health

The weight of evidence is that good health is linked to income, education and employment as well as lifestyle and environment.

Women are more likely to be caught in the poverty trap and more frequently put the needs of their families before their own. The risks to their health therefore can be serious.

Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among women in Ireland. One in 13 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime (National Cancer Registry of Ireland) A woman living in Ireland is four times more likely to die from breast cancer than her European counterpart.

As Health Minister Bairbre de Brun prioritised cancer and cardiac care, the provision of children's services and the ending of inequalities in health. After this election Sinn Fein will once again seek to take on the challenge of both Education and Health. They remain our priority.

Sinn Féin calls for:

  • A significant increase in resources for health and social services;
  • The development of an all-Ireland health service with equality of access, which will harmonise and maximise the use of resources;
  • Health care should be free at the point of delivery and funded through general taxation;
  • In relation to the immediate commitments for 'collaboration on cancer and other research, participation in multi-centre trials, health promotion and public information/education' made under the provision for health in the 'Common Chapter' the following should be implemented on an all-Ireland basis;
  • A free, prompt and co-ordinated breast-screening programme for all women over 40 and free and regular cervical screening for all teenage girls and women;
  • A renewed focus on preventative healthcare;
  • Extension of the range and quality of healthcare.

Violence against Women

Violence against women is the consequence of women's unequal status within society.

In Ireland, as with most countries, women experience the vast majority of so-called "domestic violence".

All forms of violence against women must be included when defining the problem. This includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse. We need to recognise that violence can happen in the family, within the community, in the workplace and by the State.

It is not enough for Sinn Féin as a party to reject such abusive behaviour. It is incumbent on us to support rigorous legal instruments and educational and awareness programmes that will ultimately instigate a sea change in social circumstances, behaviour patterns and attitudes in Irish society.

  • Sinn Fein supports a safety and sanctions approach to dealing with the issue.
  • The development of all-Ireland initiatives to promote awareness raising and education around the issue of violence against women including the training of the judiciary;
  • The development of family friendly courts throughout the island;
  • The automatic right to state funded legal representation for victims of rape cases on an island wide basis;
  • A comprehensive rehabilitation programme for offenders;
  • The development of an all-Ireland integrated strategy to prevent and support women who have experienced violence and abuse;
  • Sinn Fein is working to ensure Community Development processes are increasingly developed on an all-Ireland basis. In this regard we want to see significant support for agencies and groups in the Voluntary and Community sector who provide crisis and support services for women in their locality.

Women & Education

Education, Poverty and Social Exclusion are fundamentally linked. Structural inequality is a key factor in educational deprivation and discrimination. Equality of access to education and vocational training is a precondition to women's full participation in society and sentry into the labour market.

The present education systems in Ireland perpetuates gender differentiation in relation to educational and career paths.

Education is a tool for empowerment and choice. Gender differentiation and the reinforcement of 'traditional' roles inhibits the life choices of women in Ireland.

Sinn Fein calls for:

  • All-Ireland initiatives to eliminate gender differentiation and promote the development of a wider range of educational and career choices for girls and young women;
  • Higher education and vocational training schemes to meet the needs of women from deprived urban and rural areas.

Women & Housing

While the numbers of people buying their own homes have steadily increased in Ireland North and South this increase belies a growing problem -- we are in the midst of a housing crisis.

Women, usually as the head of lone parent households, and single people are over-represented on the housing waiting lists.

Poverty and homelessness are clearly.

The use of discriminatory housing policy as a weapon for social and political control still has a negative residual impact in the 6 Counties. A social housing allocation system that perpetuates inequality is compounded still further by commercialisation of dwindling public housing stock.

The present crisis has been created by years of structural neglect North and South. Housing is not a commodity, it is a human right.

Sinn Fein calls for:

  • The development of an all-Ireland Housing Authority;
  • A system of decent affordable housing for all;
  • The development of an all-Ireland multi-agency approach to tackle housing poverty and homelessness that is preventative, innovative and flexible;
  • The development of a centrally funded action plan for the border corridor to tackle housing poverty and homelessness as part of an integrated strategy for regional development along the border;
  • A re-generation of the co-operative housing movement;
  • The development of an all-Ireland forum for regional housing rights;
  • Increase tenant participation in estate building and management;
  • The promotion of an all-Ireland system of rent control;
  • A free 24 hour all-Ireland help line for the homeless and an appropriate training scheme for service providers;
  • Appropriate accommodation for Travellers in consultation with their own community on an island wide basis.

Older Women

The desire for independence, respect and involvement in the decision making process are important factors for older women. The issue of pensions is crucial for older women. Contributory Pensions are determined by the years spent in the paid workforce where an Occupational Pension existed. Unfortunately, many older women are dependent on non-contributory old age pensions. While 52% of retired men in the 6 Counties receive occupational pensions, only 17% of retired women do.

The uncertainty of pension policy has had particular implications for women and their prospects of securing adequate incomes.

More than two-thirds of the 244,039 people receiving retirement pension in September 2001 were women. Most of the existing pension schemes are based on a traditional model of work, which is continuous contribution whilst in full-time work in a lifetime job. This discriminates against women -- particularly those women who were in part-time, periodic employment or low paid jobs

Sinn Fein calls for:

  • Rights based guidelines for pension policy to reflect the differential labour market position of women;
  • A rights based initiative where old age pensioner's social insurance contributions during their working life are linked to inflation;
  • Retrospective pension credits for women who spent their working life caring for others;
  • Statutory funding for Voluntary agencies such as Meals on Wheels;
  • Support for local services including day centres and day care centres.


We commend the Carers Associations on the island of Ireland for providing a loud and strong voice for tens of thousands of full-time, and many more part-time carers. The issue has been placed higher on the political agenda than ever before.

The combination of low pay, high transport costs and the high cost of goods and services, especially in rural areas, means that many carers live in poverty.

Carers must be recognised for the work that they do and valued from a human rights perspective. In addition their work saves the State incalculable amounts of money. On an all-Ireland basis Sinn Fein calls for:

• The Social Welfare system to be modified to ensure that recognition for benefits is given to those who worked in the home;

  • The abolition of the Means Test for full-time carers;
  • Free use of public transport for registered carers and subsidised costs for the use of taxis;
  • Replacement of the present Carer's Allowance with an expanded payment scheme. This will recognise the value of carers' work unlike the present allowance, which is treated as an income support payment only;
  • The creation of an all-Ireland strategy to develop a support service for carers.

Rural Women & Isolation

Rural living in Ireland is often associated with economic deprivation.

People living in remote rural areas share a number of problems such as distance from services and amenities, and isolation from others. These are particularly acute among women and the elderly.

- Women bearing primary responsibility for child rearing.

- The lack of child-care facilities and access to public transport is a particular problem for women in rural areas.

- Elderly women unable to afford the cost of a car are isolated from society or dependent on relatives and the local community.

In the 6 Counties farm based rural incomes have dropped by nearly 75% over the past four years and are continuing to decrease.

Sinn Fein calls for:

  • The development of a local services and information infrastructure catering for the health, welfare and social needs of rural communities;
  • Rural Transport Initiatives vital for the survival and well being of rural communities.

Women with Disabilities

Sinn Féin believes that the rights and needs of people with disabilities must be a Government priority. People who suffer disability need more resources invested in them and their families to ensure equality of access to education, health, transport services and to the workplace. The State must recognise that everybody has the right to a dignified standard of living and general life experience.

Sinn Féin Proposes: -

  • An Independent Living Fund for people with disabilities;
  • Direct payments to people with disabilities and their personal assistants;
  • Increased and secured financial support for those providing services including day resource centres and personal assistance services;
  • Introduction of a cost of disability living allowance on an island wide basis as recommended by the Commission for Status of People with Disabilities;
  • Increase in the Mobility Allowance;
  • Financial support for full-time carers through the increase of the Carer's Allowance and an end to the means test;
  • Funding to continue progress in cutting waiting lists for people with mental disabilities or intellectual disabilities.

Promoting Gender Equality through Participation on a Cross-Border and all-Ireland Basis

Opportunities for meaningful participation for the poor and socially excluded are few and far between.

Building an inclusive community for reunification also means ensuring that the voices of the most marginalised are heard and acted upon.

Sinn Féin believes that those in who have been marginalised and the groups that advocate on their behalf are better placed than anybody to vitally contribute to the reconstructive shaping of support services that address their needs

In many instances Women's support groups can be experienced in negotiating services and explaining physical (infrastructural), financial, and social constraints. However they may not have extensive familiarity with participatory processes; either through lack knowledge or lack of practical opportunity.

This lack of opportunity to participate is no longer acceptable from a human rights perspective as well as from a practical policy development perspective.

Sinn Fein is committed to the promotion of common ownership of the decision-making processes of the Nation. We want to bring about equality of outcome throughout the island. We want to see the development of forums that promote real and outcome based participation constructively interfacing Government with Civic society for the benefit of all the people of the island.

With the promotion of increasingly all-Ireland approaches to economic and infrastructural development we must now also begin to consider their social impact.

This document has shown that Women of Ireland share similar experiences in relation to inequality and discrimination. Parallels can be drawn in all the constituencies mentioned above.

In this regard and commensurate with regional policy development groups that advocate on behalf of Women's rights need to organise collectively on a cross border and all-Ireland basis.

The conceptual and practical contexts for realignment already exist. Together we can make gender equality on the island of Ireland an actionable reality.

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