Women's Issues in Election 07
Village looks at the issues that affect women and were not addressed by the last government.
Violence against women
Since 2003, organisations in the VAW sector have called for an increase in the annual budgetary allocation of €14m that the sector recieves from the Health Service Executive (HSE). Last year, a 50 per cent incerease of €7m was sought “as a matter of urgency”, and was the minimum amount required to resource grossly underfunded frontline support services for women who suffer physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Despite these requests, annual funding of VAW remained “effectively capped” at €14m for the five years from 2002 to 2006. The 2007 election-year budget saw an increase of €4.5m for frontline services, however, this amount fell short of the €7m requested.
According to Cliona Staidlair of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), €7m was the minimum amount required to provide “baseline” services, and the funding, to be divided among 55 services, and is not guaranteed in future budgets.
The Department of Health and Children told Village that the distribution of funding to the VAW sector is a matter for the HSE, but that the funding allocated to VAW does not include “further personal and support services provided by the HSE to victims [such as] services provided by GPs, hospitals, social workers and counsellors”.
In the most recent survey of frontline VAW services conducted in 2006, 83 per cent of respondents said that they were not resourced to meet current demands.
Recent statistics released by Women's Aid attest to the need for substantial investment. The number of calls made to their helpline increased by 73 per cent in the period that VAW funding was capped - from 14,972 in 2002 to 25,843 in 2005. The proportion of missed calls due to a lack of resources increased from 26 per cent to 40 per cent in the same period – a total of 10,504 missed calls to the helpline in 2005.
Research commissioned by the group found that two out of five women who are in a sexual relationship with a man experience violence. Of these women, nine per cent reported having been choked and 10 per cent said they had been punched in the face. Others reported being struck with golf clubs, hit with a hammer, burnt with an iron and being shot at.
Refuges for victims of VAW are similarly underresourced. In 2004, 1,144 women were turned away from HSE Eastern region refuges. There are currently three refuges in the greater Dublin area with a total capacity of 24 family spaces, well below the 1.7 spaces per 10,000 population that is internationally recommneded.
Both Women's Aid and the RCNI have recommended an increase of €2.5m in frontline VAW services “to bring funding levels up to date and to ensure access to services for all women”.
Fine Gael is the only political party that explicitly commits to this recommendation in its election manifesto. Labour is less explicit on funding, though it does refer to “adequate and guaranteed funding for frontline services”, and has a separate and thorough VAW policy document. The Green Party similarly commits to “increase funding to ensure that phone calls do not go unanswered”. Neither the Progressive Democrats nor Fianna Fáil recognise the shortfall in funding. The PD's promise to “continue to provide funding” and Fianna Fáil merely refers to a Domestic Violence Fund.
As well not providing funding, the government has failed to implement many of the recommendations made in a task-force report on violence against women in 1997. Some of the major recommendations not implemented included a 24-hour national helpline for domestic-violence victims; a national awareness campaign; compilation of statistics on domestic-violence victims; training for frontline staff and counselling for victims at all refuges. Only 11 of the 28 recommendations have been implemented.
Childcare is a massive issue facing women and parents. Irish parents pay on average 20 per cent of their annual income on childcare – almost twice the EU average. According to a report issued by the Forum for the Workplace of the Future in March 2005, the cost of childcare is one of the largest obstacles for working mothers.
Statistics from the Central Statistics Office show that 87.2 per cent of childless Irish women aged 20 to 44 were employed in 2004, but for women with children aged under three years, this figure dropped to 52.4 per cent.
A study commissioned in 2004 showed that Ireland was the worst for reasonably-priced and readily-available public childcare out of 15 EU countries.
According to figures from the National Children's Nurseries Association, full-time childcare in Ireland (whether private, community or workplace) costs on average €172 weekly for a baby aged under one year, and €145 for a child over one year – almost four times more than child benefit. Ireland is also one of the worst in the EU-15 when it comes to tax benefits related to childcare costs.
In 2003, the government promised to extend Breastcheck, the screening service for breast cancer, nationwide by 2005, but the target now is December 2007. Breastcheck is still not getting to women in the West, North West and South of Ireland. It will be 2009 before all eligible women are contacted for their first cancer screening. Almost 2,000 cases of breast cancer have been detected in Irish women since the establishment of BreastCheck in 2000.
Ireland is one of the few EU countries with no nationwide cervical screening programme, whereby all women aged 25-60 are invited to attend their GP or family-planning clinic for a free smear test every three to five years.
The government has committed to national cervical screening programme by 2008. In Ireland there are 1,000 cases of pre-cervical cancer every year and 70 deaths as from it. Meanwhile, there is a massive backlog with smear tests that have been paid for by women. The HSE is planning on sending around 30,000 smear tests to the United States to clear the backlog.
Emma BrownePoverty and Inequality
According to CSO data from 2004, 23 per cent of women were at risk of falling below the poverty line compared to 16 per cent of men. This risk rises to almost 50 per cent for lone mothers, according a UN Development Report from 2004.
According to OPEN, a lone parents' organisation, 85 per cent of lone parents are women.
According to OPEN, one in three lone-parent households were in consistent poverty in 2004; 48 per cent of lone-parent households were at risk of poverty. This report also said that the average arrears of a lone-parent household was €1,092 and the average size credit-based debt was €7,862.75.
Women's earnings are just 89 per cent of men's according to a report, ‘Measuring Ireland's Progress 2005', published by the CSO. On average women are paid 14 per cent less than men.
Just 59 per cent of women are employed compared to 76.2 per cent of men.
Fewer than six per cent of civil servants at secretary-general level are female, while women constitute 81 per cent of clerical-grade staff. In the health service, women constitute 80 per cent of staff, but just 30 per cent of consultants. Only 13 per cent of TDs and 19 per cent of local councillors are women.