Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a central pillar of Ireland’s foreign policy and our policy for international development. Ireland’s foreign policy review, The Global Island, commits Ireland to advancing gender equality globally. A Better World establishes gender equality as one of four core priorities for Ireland’s international development policy. The policy commits to ensuring that we have an overarching focus on gender equality and women and girls in all of our partnerships and interventions. Finally, Ireland’s third National Action Plan for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions (2019-2024) sets out the Government’s commitments to implement the Women, Peace and Security agenda of the UN Security Council.
Ireland is internationally recognised for its strong focus on gender equality in its Official Development Assistance (ODA). In 2019, more than 76% per cent of Ireland’s bilateral aid contributed to gender equality – From 2016 to 2017, Ireland ranked second, only behind Sweden, in terms of the amount of its ODA that contributes to achieving gender equality.
Ireland’s focus on gender equality recognises that it is both a fundamental human right and is key to achieving all the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Up to a quarter of the indicators included in the SDG framework implicitly or explicitly address gender equality, while progress on SDG 5, gender equality, underpins the achievement of all the SDGs. We are contributing to the achieving this goal through our work with a variety of partners including governments, UN agencies and civil society organisations.
In addition to integrating gender equality into all of our partnerships and interventions, A Better World commits to increasing our focus in a number of key areas in relation to gender equality including:
We know that education and poverty reduction go hand in hand. While significant progress has been made on increasing the overall number of girls and boys attending primary school, girls are still not starting or finishing primary school at the same rate as boys. In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, far fewer girls than boys go on to secondary school. The education of girls is a priority in our support for universal primary education in our partner countries. At international level, we support the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a partnership aimed at improving access to quality education in the developing world. GPE recently adopted girls’ education as a priority.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most socially tolerated abuses of human rights worldwide. It is the act or threat of harm inflicted on a person because of their gender. GBV contributes hugely to poverty and ill health worldwide and prevents many people, the vast majority of whom are women, from reaching their potential. Ireland places a high priority to ending gender-based violence through support for a number of specific programmes aimed at preventing and responding to this issue.
The Irish gender-based violence working group in Sierra Leone reports on the implementation of the 2019 Sexual Offences Act.
Women’s Economic Empowerment and Support to Women Farmers
Inequality affects every aspect of life. For example, despite being responsible for between 60% and 80% of food production, women have limited access to key agricultural resources such as land, credit and new technologies. Increasing, women’s ownership of land or access to credit or fertiliser can result in significant gains in food production and reduce levels of hunger. In our work on food, we take account of the experience, needs and rights of women farmers in particular. Ireland has a rich history of supporting agriculture and livelihoods programmes in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia and Sierra Leone, targeting female as well as male farmers and supporting women’s access to critical resources such as land.
In 2019, we increased our support to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) from €2m to €2.5m per annum. Promoting gender equality is a key element of IFAD’s work to reduce rural poverty and improve food security, and they have been at the forefront of gender equality in rural communities. We are working to enhance our focus on women’s economic empowerment through the Africa Agri-Food Development Programme. We are also investigating new partnership options designed to enhance access to finance for female-led, agri-food MSMEs.
Expanding access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Lack of access to basic healthcare and reproductive health services has a severe impact on women and girls. Maternal mortality rates in the developing world, which give an insight into the overall level of healthcare available to women, remain unacceptably high. About 295,000 women died during childbirth in 2017 and 94% of these deaths happened in low resource settings. The vast majority of these deaths are avoidable and show why it is important to consider the different needs of men and women when working on issues such as healthcare.
Improving maternal health and expanding access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights is an important focus of our work. In Uganda, in 2018, Irish support ensured that 94,221 adolescents and young people in Karamoja accessed sexual and reproductive health and HIV services. These include HIV counselling and testing, access to anti-retrovirals, treatment for sexually transmissible infections, family planning services, counselling, and provision of information. In Tanzania, in 2018, we continued to prioritise maternal health through support for primary healthcare provision, leading to a 9% increase in women delivering their babies in health facilities and an 18% increase in pregnant women attending at least four visits to antenatal clinics. This support also included a strong training component, contributing to the recruitment of 7,680 qualified health workers.
Women, Peace and Security and Promoting Women’s Political Leadership
Ireland’s third National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security forms a central element of our broader commitment to gender equality. The Plan commits Ireland to recognising the particular adverse effects of conflict on women and girls; to prioritising gender equality in all aspects of our engagement in international peace and security; and to championing women’s right to equal participation and their important role as leaders in all peacebuilding processes. It also includes supporting the protection of women and girls and recovery from all conflict-related harms. Examples of our work to support gender equality in peacebuilding include supporting a Joint Rule of Law programme in Liberia to build specialised prosecution of SGBV cases. In Palestine, in 2019, Ireland supported the Occupied Palestinian Territory Humanitarian Fund to work on preventing and responding to GBV, reaching over 45,000 people. In Sierra Leone, Ireland has played a leading in role in integrating gender in the government’s response to COVID-19. The Mission supported Ministry of Gender & Children’s Affairs (MoGCA) implement their Gender Responsive COVID-19 Framework by embedding two Gender Experts in the national-level response command structure (EOC) and five Gender Experts at district-levels.
Ireland supports programmes that support and promote women’s political leadership. An example of this is our work with the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global voice and forum for parliamentarians from 173 countries around the world. Specifically, we support the IPU’s Women in Politics Programme, which aims to build more representative and accountable parliaments through the increased and enhanced participation of women in politics and to strengthen the work of parliaments in relation to gender equality.
Women are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and they play a vital role as agents of change in addressing the climate crisis. This is highlighted in our policy brief, Women as agents of change: Towards and climate and gender justice approach. Gender equality, and supportive social movements and institutional transformation are critical elements for generating ambition in climate action and informing a people-centred global response. Our international development policy, A Better World, prioritizes gender equality and climate action.
In 2018, Ireland provided €80m in climate finance, demonstrating the achievement of the Programme for Government Commitment of €175m in climate finance over the period of 2016 to 2020. As we scale up our funding on climate action, we are committed to continuing to ensure a focus on women and girls. We direct the vast majority of our climate finance into climate adaptation, and channel it to sectors and interventions of greatest relevance to women, such as smallholder agriculture, household energy needs, and social protection.