National Women's Strategy

National Women's Strategy 2007 - 2016

The National Women's Strategy 2007 – 2106 (NWS) was launched in April 2007, following an extensive collaboration between Government Departments and a consultative process with the social partners and the National Women's Council of Ireland. It was developed as a national policy to implement the Beijing Platform for Action developed at the Fourth World Conference of Women.

The Strategy was the key policy document in relation to the advancement of women in Irish society across all facets of the economy and society, adopted by the previous Government.  Implementation of the Strategy has continued since that date.  The commitments in the Programme for National Recovery of the subsequent Government, elected in February 2011, equate with the key aims of the Strategy as published and therefore it remains the key policy document to foster the achievement of de facto gender equality.

The overarching aim of the Strategy is the overarching aim of this website:

An Ireland where all women enjoy equality with men and can achieve their full potential, while enjoying a safe and fulfilling life.

The Strategy contains 20 key objectives and over 200 planned actions which together aim to achieve this vision.

Implementation of the Strategy relies upon the efforts of a wide range of Government Departments and Agencies and intersects with a number of other key Government policies and strategies.

The objectives and actions contained in the Strategy are grouped under the three key themes of:

• Equalising socio-economic opportunity for women; 
• Ensuring the well-being of women; and
• Engaging women as equal and active citizens.

 Implementing the National Women’s Strategy

Within a year or so of the launch of the National Women’s Strategy, the economic downturn began to become apparent.  This impacted significantly on male employment in the first instance, notably in the construction sector, but as the downturn persisted, slowing domestic demand began to impact on sectors where female employment predominates, including retail and the catering sectors.  Reductions in public sector expenditure has also impacted upon some services.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the five year period since the National Women’s Strategy was published has shown considerable progress across all themes and objectives.  In addition, the increase in labour market participation of women over the previous decade has frequently enabled women to contribute to the economic well-being of their families where the male partner has become unemployed due to the downturn.

An interim review of the Strategy is in preparation and is expected to be published before the end of 2013.  The following is an outline of the key elements of the Strategy:

National Women’s Strategy Theme One

Equalising Socio-economic Opportunity for Women

Theme one of the National Women’s Strategy addresses a range of issues which together foster economic independence for women and assist them to live free from poverty, including in their older years.

In addition to the issue of personal economic independence, European Union economic policy also encourages the greater economic engagement of women as a prerequisite for economic growth and competitiveness.

Accordingly, this broad-ranging theme relates, inter alia, to increasing female labour force participation, closing the gender pay gap, supporting female entrepreneurs, ensuring women and girls can reach their full potential in the educational system, providing childcare and other supports to enable women to engage in the labour market and reducing the numbers of women experiencing poverty.

The table below includes the objectives of this theme, some of which are interlinked:




To increase the participation of women in the labour force


To decrease the gender pay gap


To promote the advancement of women in the labour market


To support more women as entrepreneurs


To seek to ensure that women and girls achieve their full potential in the education system


To ensure that childcare services are optimised to meet the needs of parents and children alike


To ensure that the care infrastructure supports women’s socio-economic engagement


To reduce the numbers of women experiencing poverty


To reduce the numbers of female lone parent who experience poverty


To reduce the numbers of women experiencing poverty by increasing pension cover



















Progress to date under Theme One of the National Women’s Strategy

At the launch of the National Women’s Strategy, women’s labour market participation in Ireland was continuing to grow and was approaching the EU’s target of 60 per cent for the period.  The economic downturn and an increase in the baseline population have both contributed to a significant downturn in the employment rate for women.

By the end of 2011, there were 840,800 women (aged 15-64) in employment, an annual decrease of 9,400, giving a female employment rate of 55.4 per cent.

An overview of the labour force in Ireland between 2008 and the end of 2011 shows that:

  • The number of women in the labour market (both employed and unemployed) has fallen by 16,300 over the four years while the number of men in the labour market has fallen by 93,600.
  • The number of women in employment has fallen by 65,900 over the period while the number of men in employment has fallen by 178,400.
  • The unemployment rate for women doubled over the four year period while the unemployment rate for men almost trebled over the same period.
  • The number of men in part-time employment has increased by 35,600 between 2008 and 2011. Just over 13 per cent of all men in employment work part-time compared with over 35 per cent of all women in employment.

Equality for Women Measure
Pressure on public expenditure required the Department of Justice and Equality to moderate its allocation to the European Social Fund assisted Equality for Women Measure, one Strand of which enables community based groups to work with disadvantaged groups to work with women currently outside the labour market to upskill and undertake developmental and training courses to assist their transition back into the labour market. Nevertheless some 3000 women avail of this measure each year and a good number make the transition to employment and formal education and training.

More - Equality for Women Measure

Gender Pay Gap
The causal factors of the gender pay gap are complex, as is its measurement.  Studies in Ireland have identified a number of measures which, collectively were expected to lead to a reduction in this gap.  The gender pay gap impacts upon the lifelong earnings of women and can contribute adversely to women’s risk of poverty in older age.  The availability of childcare, a existence of a minimum wage, the elimination of gender stereotypes and the advancement of women into management and decision-making roles have all been identified as measures which can lead to its reduction.

Data on the measurement of the gender pay gap vary quite widely.  International comparators show that Ireland’s gender pay gap continues to fall below the EU average.  Eurostat data are based on the difference between man’s and women’s average gross hourly earnings as a percentage of men’s average gross hourly earnings for paid employees.  While the EU average is 16.2 per cent, Irish data for 2010 show a gap of 13.9 per cent.  However, this represents an increase above the 2008/2009 data which were 12.6 per cent.

Further information can be found on the Gender Pay Gap section of the website.

Women’s Educational Attainment
Irish girls and young women continue to outperform their male counterparts in educational attainment.

Ireland currently occupies top position for female graduates across the European Union as measured in the keynote statistics for the European Union’s economic growth policy "Europe 2020".  This measure targets the tertiary educational attainment of the age group 30 to 34 years and sets a target of 40 per cent by 2020.  While Ireland’s men are already above this EU target level at 43.1 per cent (2011), Ireland’s women are at 56 per cent, compared with an EU average of 38.5 per cent for women.  One of the ongoing challenges for Ireland will be the maximisation of the economic engagement of this very well educated population.

Another of the Keynote statistics for "Europe 2020" is the "percentage of the population aged 18-24 with at most lower secondary education who are not in further education or training".  With an overall target of 10 per cent to be achieved by 2020. the EU average  is currently (2011) at 13.5 per cent, (11.6 per cent for girls and 15.4 per cent for boys).  Ireland outperforms these rates considerably, with an average of 10.8 per cent in 2011.  When gender disaggregated, the percentage of girls who are early school leavers is only 8.8 per cent, compared with 12.8 per cent of boys.

Women’s Entrepreneurship
Women’s entrepreneurship continues to expand in Ireland and is supported by a number of recent Government initiatives delivered by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Enterprise Ireland, together with the City/County Enterprise Boards.  In addition, a number of initiatives funded by the ESF funded Equality for Women Measure support women’s entrepreneurship.  This includes the very successful "Going for Growth" initiative and National Women’s Enterprise Day

The development of childcare services continues, both to support working parents and with a focus on the benefits of early childhood development through the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme. The number of places established under the National Childcare Investment Programme now approaches 25,000.

Women and the risk of poverty
The economic downturn has increased the risk of poverty in Ireland.   Europe 2020 statistics suggest that 1.3 million in Ireland are now living at risk of poverty, a significant increase since the publication of the National Women’s Strategy, linked without doubt to the economic downturn and the increase in employment.

Published statistics on poverty tend to fluctuate and make their analysis difficult.  In 2011, the SILC survey undertaken by the CSO shows that 50.7 per cent of those in consistent poverty were women, compared with 53.6 per cent a year earlier.  However, the availability of gender disaggregated data by age group is very limited and does not currently enable the measurement of gender differentials among the older age group.

National Women’s Strategy Theme Two

Ensuring the Wellbeing of Women

This Theme links a number of objectives contained in the Strategy, including work/life balance, health, promotion of physical activity, sexual and reproductive health, violence against women and human trafficking.

Many of the objectives under this Theme link closely to Ireland’s international obligations, including under UN CEDAW and the current EU Strategy for Gender Equality

The table below includes the objectives of this theme, some of which are interlinked:



To enhance the work/life balance for women


To improve the health status of women in Ireland through gender focused policies


To improve the physical health status of women in Ireland


To improve the reproductive and sexual health status of women in Ireland


To improve the mental health status of women in Ireland


To promote healthy lifestyles for the women in Ireland


To increase the number of women participating in sport and physical activity in Ireland


To ensure the health and safety of pregnant and breast feeding women at work


To protect women from bullying and harassment in the workplace


To combat violence against women through improved services for victims together with effective prevention and prosecution


To address the issue of trafficking of women and children
























Progress to date under Theme Two of the National Women’s Strategy

Enhancing Work/Life Balance for Women
EU Policies on gender equality emphasise the importance of ensuring that family responsibilities are shared within the family unit to enable both women and men to progress their careers; to ensure their economic well-being across the life cycle and to contribute fully to economic growth and competitiveness.

As a result the EU has recently strengthened its legislation in relation to family leaves to support "assisting spouses" who are most frequently women and to lengthen parental leave.  However, despite these initiatives, men are still much less likely than women to avail of family focused leaves, across Europe and not just in Ireland.  There is a need to break down barriers, including stereotypical roles and attitudes if a significant change is to be achieved, including in Ireland.

Women’s Health
Since the National Women’s Strategy was published there has been considerable progress in the delivery of cancer screening services for women.  BreastCheck completed its national expansion in 2011. Between February 2000 (when BreastCheck first began screening) and the end of November 2011, the programme has provided 826,210 mammograms to 368,851 women and has detected 5,071 cancers.

In September 2011, CervicalCheck completed its first three year screening round. Since the launch of the programme in September 2008 to the end of August 2011, almost 950,000 smear tests have been processed and more than 710,000 eligible women aged 25-60 have had at least one free CervicalCheck smear test.

The TReat Study of cancer care for older women was completed by the HSE during 2011. The results of the study were presented at two conferences in 2011.

A significant body of work has been undertaken in relation to women and their cardiovascular health.

Sexual and reproductive health – the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme
Since the National Women’s Strategy was published, the Crisis Pregnancy Agency was one of a number of health agencies which were restructured.  It was subsumed into the HSE.  It continues to deliver a programme of initiatives to address crisis pregnancies and promote good sexual health.

Statistics published by the British Department of Health in May 2012 show that the numbers of women who gave an Irish address when obtaining an abortion in Britain fell for the tenth year in a row from 4,402 in 2010 to 4,149 last year, a 7 per cent drop. More than half that number were women in their twenties; 1,289 were women in their thirties while 257 women were over the age of 40.  This decline in the number of abortions reported in Britain reflects a continuing decline.  In 2008, the number was about 4,800 and it had exceeded 6,600 just ten years ago.

In 2011, over €3.2 million in funding was allocated to the area of crisis pregnancy and post-termination counselling and medical check-ups by the Crisis Pregnancy Programme. There were approximately 77,000 requests for information from the Positive Options service (via SMS requests and website visits) and approximately 68,000 visits to the website.

The decline in the numbers presenting for abortion in Britain is likely to have been influenced by better and safer sexual health following a large number of sexual health campaigns targeting different age groups and promoting safe sex since the Crisis Pregnancy Agency was establsihed.  In 2011 alone, approximately 42,000 ‘Positive Options’ materials were disseminated through crisis pregnancy counselling services, GP surgeries and colleges. The campaign was re-developed and re-launched during 2011 with newly executed TV, radio, poster and online advertising.

Violence against Women
Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, was established in 2008, in accordance with the Government’s commitment contained in the National Women’s Strategy.

Cosc completed its priority work on the development of a National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence for the five-year period from 2010 to 2014.  In March 2010, the National Strategy was approved by the Government and published.  During 2011, a Strategy Oversight Committee monitored implementation of the strategy and assisted in identifying solutions to any high level difficulties or delays.  The committee is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality.  A report was submitted to the Strategy Oversight Committee in June 2011. In addition, progress on the implementation of the strategy was encouraged and monitored by Cosc on an ongoing basis.  Overall, good progress has been made on the implementation of the strategy.

The strategy contains 53 activities contained in 23 actions which cover four high level goals.  The goals are

  1. to promote a culture of prevention and recognition through increased understanding of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence
  2. to deliver an effective and consistent service to those affected by these forms of violence
  3. to improve the effectiveness of policy and service planning and
  4. to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of the strategy.

While the strategy actions relate primarily to responsibilities of state actors, the input, involvement and utilisation of civil society actors is essential to the delivery of the strategy.  The intent is that by the end of 2014 the National Strategy will have contributed to:

  • A clearer societal acknowledgment of the unacceptability of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence
  • Greater recognition and a broader understanding of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence
  • Greater confidence in high-quality and consistent services
  • Increased safety for victims
  • Increased accountability of the perpetrator
  • Structured and improved planning and monitoring to ensure continued effectiveness.

The primary function of Cosc now is to lead and coordinate the implementation of the National Strategy.  A vital element in the development of the strategy was the remit given to Cosc to address the issue from a cross-government perspective rather than solely from that of the justice sector. Cosc’s role covers co-ordination across the justice, health, housing, education, family support and community sector. Cosc has not taken on the duties or roles of other departments or agencies but facilitates and assists them in engaging with and coordinating with each other and with the civil society organisations.  The development of a trustful relationship between Cosc and its state and civil society partners was an essential building block in the delivery of the strategy and continues to be necessary for its implementation.

Full information on the work of Cosc and on links to services to assist victims of violence against women are contained on the Cosc website

Human Trafficking
A commitment to strengthen efforts to address the growing problem of human trafficking was also included in the National Women’s Strategy 2007 – 2016.  In June 2009, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in the Department of Justice and Equality published the National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Human Beings in Ireland 2009-2012.

The Action Plan is divided into four priority action areas, namely: prevention of human trafficking and awareness-raising; protection of the victim; prosecution of the trafficker; and response to child trafficking. A second National Action Plan is currently being developed.

A comprehensive programme of training in the area of human trafficking has been undertaken within An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force.  Ireland has also enacted the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, 2008 making human trafficking an offence with penalties of up to life imprisonment and (at the discretion of the Court) a fine.   A number of prosecutions have already succeeded under the act.

Ireland has also ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. During 2012, Ireland was the subject of country visits by both the Council of Europe and the OSCE to assess the States response to Human Trafficking. Ireland has maintained a Tier 1 (best) ranking in the US State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit also oversaw the establishment of a number of consultative structures i.e. an Interdepartmental High Level Group to advise the Minister; a Roundtable forum comprising representatives from Government Departments; NGOs and International Organisations; five interdisciplinary Working Groups to progress issues relating to the National Referral Mechanism; Child Trafficking, Awareness Raising and Training; Sexual Exploitation and Labour Exploitation.

A Data Collection Strategy was developed in 2009 for the purpose of understanding the nature and extent of human trafficking in Ireland.  An annual data report has issued for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. In the period up to end 2011 c.225 potential Victims of Human Trafficking were encountered by An Garda Síochána. Around 90% of these victims were female and 16% of these females were children. The most common type of cases encountered are adult females trafficked to Ireland from certain areas of western Africa for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Administrative Immigration Arrangements have been put in place to provide protections for persons with no legal basis to remain in the State i.e. 60 day recovery and reflection period and/or a 6 month renewable temporary residence permission where the person wishes to assist with an investigation or prosecution. The State provides the following support services to victims of human trafficking – accommodation; medical care and planning; psychological assistance; material assistance; legal aid and advice; access to the labour market – vocational training and education; police services – crime prevention; repatriation; compensation; translation and interpretation services; etc.

The Anti-Human Trafficking Team in the HSE develops individual Care Plans for all persons who are potentially victims of human trafficking.  These care plans include a range of issues including medical health, GP referral, counselling, psychological care, sexual health, material assistance, accommodation, training needs, education, etc.

The State has conducted a number of awareness raising initiatives aimed at increasing public awareness of the issue of human trafficking. The State has held specific awareness raising and training events to create awareness of human trafficking among those who could encounter potential victims of human trafficking in the course of their work e.g. labour inspectors and students at second and third level institutions. Specific detailed training has been provided to members of An Garda Síochána, staff in both the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Legal Aid Board.

Theme 3 – Engaging Women as Equal and Active Citizens



 Engaging Women as Equal and Active Citizens


To increase the number of women in decision-making positions in Ireland


To increase the number of women involved in the arts in Ireland


To use media proactively to support gender equality and the advancement of women


To foster the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals through Irish Aid


To use multi-lateral aid and development policy to promote  the role of women and gender equality in developing countries


To enhance the capacity of Irish Aid and Development Partners to respond effectively to Gender Based Violence in conflict, post-conflict and developing environments


To ensure the integration of gender perspectives into all parts of the United Nations System


The involvement of women in decision-making positions in all sectors is a prerequisite for any democratic society. This has been a key objective of EU, Council of Europe and United Natins policy for many years.

In Ireland, the low numbers of women in decision-making positions can be seen as a democratic deficit. In politics, the percentage of women in Dáil Éireann following the General Election in February 2011 was just 15 per cent (a slight increase of two percentage points on the pre-election figure).  Ireland ranks in 24th place out of the 27 EU Member States for the percentage of women in the national parliament, well below the EU average of 24 per cent. Female representation in Seanad Éireann is higher at 30 per cent, due in large part to the appointment of seven female representatives, out of a total of eleven, by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, T.D., from among the Taoiseach’s nominees to the Seanad in May 2011.

Following a proposal by the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Monitoring Committee of the National Women's Strategy established a Sub-Committee on Women in Decision-Making in 2010. The Sub-Committee met on eight occasions during 2011 and completed its report recently. This draft report was submitted to the Monitoring Committee for approval in 2012 and will be submitted to Government shortly prior to its publication.

Collaborating to Implement the National Women’s Strategy

The National Women's Strategy contained a number of commitments to ensure that it would be implemented.  The headline objectives were as follows:




To implement gender mainstreaming as the principal instrument for the
achievement of gender equality in Ireland


To provide financial support to implement the National Women’s Strategy


To ensure that the National Women’s Strategy is fully implemented






 Implementation of the Strategy is overseen by the National Women's Strategy Monitoring Committee. The Monitoring Committee is representative of key Government Departments, relevant State Agencies and the Social Partners, including the National Women's Council of Ireland. The Monitoring Committee is chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for Equality.  It meets as regularly as is necessary to ensure that progress is sustained.

The objectives and actions contained in the Strategy fall under the remit of various Government Departments, reflecting the "whole-of-Government" approach of the Strategy.

Annual Progress Reports on the implementation of the National Women's Strategy to are submitted to Government each year.

National Women’s Strategy 2007-2016, Progress 2007/2008

Implementing the National Women’s Strategy 2007-2016, Progress 2009

Implementing the National Women’s Strategy 2007-2016, Progress 2010

National Women's Strategy Joint Progress Report 2011/2012

Mid-Term Review of National Women's Strategy

Towards Gender Parity in Decision-Making in Ireland

Implementing the National Women's Strategy 2007-2016, Progress Report as of 01/05/2015

 The strategy also contains actions which will contribute to its implementation and to a greater awareness of gender equality issues in relation to policy-making across all Government activties.