“We will never realise the full and equal participation of women in our economy unless we ensure that adequate and affordable childcare are available to all.”
That was the message delivered by the Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, Michael Wardlow, at the ‘Getting a Fair Share?’ conference which focused on the issues impacting on women’s economic independence in Northern Ireland.
Held at Riddel Hall, Belfast, it saw the release of details of a new study from the Commission: ‘Childcare: Maximising the Economic Participation of Women’.
The report highlights the high costs of childcare in Northern Ireland, costs which make up around 44% of an average income compared to the UK overall figure of 33% and 12% across the EU. It also identifies that the availability of appropriate childcare does not match demand, particularly for families in rural areas or those with children with disabilities.
Michael Wardlow added: “These are significant and important issues for families, not least because it the role childcare plays in a woman’s ability to enter or stay full-time in the workplace. Around 46% of parents said that the cost of childcare had influenced the hours they worked, rising to two-thirds in the case of mothers.
“The Equality Commission’s most recent Monitoring Report shows that seven in ten of all monitored part-time employees are women. We also know that more than a third of women of working age who are unavailable for work say that this is due to family and home commitments. The comparable figure among men was less than one in twenty.
“Of course, the provision of good quality, affordable and accessible childcare not only allows women to participate more fully in employment; it also enables fathers and male carers to re-shape their role in family life.
“We consider that this is really important if we are going to challenge the underlying assumptions which are prevalent across wider society about men’s and women’s roles in the home or at work.”
Junior NIO Minister Jennifer McCann, who addressed the conference, said: “One of the things that affects the economic independence of many women is the availability of childcare. For the past three months, the Department has been garnering public opinion on the childcare needs of people here.
"We wanted our Childcare Strategy to be fully informed by the views of the people it will benefit. Good quality, affordable childcare that is accessible to all, can only enhance the economic independence of women. Work on the development and implementation of the Childcare Strategy is now underway.
"We must aim to achieve a society in which men and women are equally respected and valued as individuals, and in which there is equality in terms of opportunity, rights and responsibilities.
"I would like to thank the Equality Commission for arranging this informative and thought provoking conference and the shadow report they have drafted in relation to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.”
The event had a capacity audience of around 80 people from the private, public community and voluntary also heard contributions from a number of speakers on different aspects of the issues impacting on women’s economic independence.
Tracy Meharg, Executive Director of InvestNI, dealt with the challenges and opportunities facing women in business and female entrepreneurs.
Bronagh Hinds, Senior Associate with DemocraShe, examined women’s position in the economy and the impact of the recession.
Adrianne Peltz, President of the National Union of Students and Union of Students in Ireland, gave an insight into issues facing women in further and higher education.
Lynn Carvill, of the Women’s Research and Development Agency, addressed some key concerns about the impact the Government’s welfare reform proposals would have on women’s economic autonomy.
This discussion will be the first of a series around Northern Ireland over the coming months and it will inform the Commission’s Shadow Report on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Northern Ireland.
This will include ECNI's contribution to the Northern Ireland Executive’s mid-term review of its Gender Equality Strategy.
To join in the discussion go to www.equalityni.org or use #herfairshare on Twitter.