On Wednesday, 9 November 2022, Early Childhood Ireland was pleased to attend the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s Care Policy and Practice Conference on Achieving Gender Equality At Work. Focussing on how to achieve gender equality in work, the conference highlighted care and its perception and importance to society.
According to IHREC, the fact that women do far more care and care work than men plays a significant part in women’s lower economic status. On average, women are paid less than men and are vastly underrepresented in senior-decision making positions. The labour market and many workplaces remain less than accommodating to women and families who are trying to combine work and family commitments.
Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality
This is particularly relevant to the Early Years and School Age Care sector in Ireland, and as such there were several relevant speakers, including the Labour Party Leader Ivana Bacik TD, and the Minister of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD. Deputy Bacik currently sits on the Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality and spoke about a number of recommendations that will be made by the committee in their December 2022 report. Primarily, they will recommend a universal Early Years system in Ireland which will be vital to gender equality in Ireland. Deputy Bacik was clear that government needs a more radical approach to early years, and that every child should be guaranteed an Early Years place. The Labour leader also spoke to positive developments in the sector, including the publication of the Employment Regulation Order which establishes minimum pay levels for the sector. Seen from a gender equality perspective, the Early Years ERO has important implications for equality as the Early Years and School Age Care workforce is made up predominantly by women, with some 98% reporting as such in recent Pobal surveys.
The importance of Early Years and School Age Care to gender equality
The Minister Roderic O’Gorman TD also spoke about the importance of Early Years and School Age Care to gender equality, noting that strengthening the sector has been a key priority for the Government. The Minister noted that the introduction of Core Funding in September 2022 has already started to have an impact on the availability of early years places for young children, particularly in urban and commuter areas where the need is most acute. In terms of gender equality, it was the Minister’s view that reducing costs and increasing capacity were important tools in addressing gender equality. Interestingly, the Minister also reinstated Ireland’s commitment to the European Care Strategy and the Barcelona Targets, a mechanism aimed at increasing female labour-market participation by enhancing the provision of early childhood education and care. These targets set out that an EU-wide 33% of children aged 0-3 and 90% of children aged 3-to-school-age should have access to high quality and affordable Early Years services. The Minister noted that these targets have been reached, and that there was now scope to revise them upwards.
Following the Minister’s speech there was an interesting panel discussion on Early Childhood Education and Care’s importance to Gender Equality at Work. This panel discussion touched on a number of developments in the Early Years and School Age sector, and how this has contributed to gender equality. Notably, the introduction of Core Funding and the Employment Regulation Order were upheld as positive developments in the sector in this regard.
However the overall consensus was that more work was needed. It was the position of a number of sectoral representatives that more work was needed in “demarketising” the sector and that a public model of Early Years was ultimately needed. This public model could take many forms; through a public-private partnership or through a fully publicly owned system, or through the State creating a system that is responsive to societal needs and that works for all. Failings in “joined up thinking” from various governmental and planning bodies were noted as a potential barrier to the sector effectively responding to the current needs of society. Consideration must also be given to a universal right to Early Years, which will become central to furthering gender equality in conjunction with other State schemes such as maternity protections and the various forms of parental leave.
If you would like to know more about this conference, or speak to us about our work, please get in touch with our Policy, Advocacy and Campaigning team at firstname.lastname@example.org.