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Consultation on NI policies: join in


wrdaconsWhere are women in Northern Ireland’s Programme for Government consultation?

The Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) is holding a meeting in Belfast on 1 December 2016 to discuss responses to the Northern Ireland Executive’s Draft Programme for Government, in order to contribute to a consultation which ends on 23 December.

Last month the WRDA released an initial summary of all references to women or gender inequality made in the Draft Programme for Government – and there are not very many.

The summary points out that first Draft Programme for Government Framework document, released in May, notably did not contain the word ‘women’ anywhere within its 114 pages.

The new document, agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and released for a consultation period ending on 23 December, mentions women 3 times.

And there is some extra detail regarding baseline gender differences in health and well-being as well as planned actions to address gender inequality.

As is common within government data, the summary continues, the gender disaggregated data contains only categories for ‘male’ and ‘female’ and does not include any outcomes measurements for transgender or gender non-binary people.

There is no overarching acknowledgement that women – over half the population – are still experiencing inequality across all areas of life compared to men.

However, the consultation document notes the need to equality impact assess all the delivery plans for the Programme for Government (PfG) and makes the following commitment:

‘We want to make a clear commitment to addressing key inequalities, particularly those experienced by the Section 75 equality groups, through this Programme for Government, and to tracking progress for these groups in relevant PfG population indicators or associated performance indicators, wherever the data permits.’

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 was intended to be transformative. Its aim was to change the practices of government and public authorities so that equality of opportunity and good relations are central to policy making, policy implementation, policy review and service delivery.

Of the few issues that WDRA found across a range of Outcomes that contain specific references to women, ‘females’, girls, or gender inequality, three are:

Health inequality (Outcome 3): The figures on Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) show that deprivation has more of an impact on women’s health than it does on men’s.

The gap in HLE between the most and least deprived is 14.6 years for women whereas it is only 12.2 years for men.

Underemployment (Outcome 3): The document states that women are more likely to be impacted by underemployment than men.

It highlights that, ‘for many people who are working part-time and who consider themselves underemployed there are structural barriers that can make it difficult to work full-time.’

Health in Pregnancy (Outcome 4): This new consultation document provides more detail in terms of the evidence base and actions than the previous Draft Programme for Government Framework.

For example, a commitment is made to implement a Healthier Pregnancy Programme including a core pathway for antenatal care.

However it is extremely disappointing that this indicator still makes no acknowledgement of the impact of pregnancy and childbirth on women’s physical and mental health.

The only mention of maternal health is as a factor influencing the birth weight of babies.

In the face of growing public concern about women’s reproductive health and rights in pregnancy, WRDA concludes in its summary, ‘the lack of care options for women facing diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities, and the growing need for post-natal mental health services, this is a missed opportunity to address an area of women’s lives that has a huge impact on our health and well-being.’

With over 800 responses to the initial PfG framework consultation, Northern Ireland’s Assembly Ministers have urged those who want to make a positive contribution to the future to engage further with the Executive during the consultation process.

Refering to the consultaion, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, said: “This is a new way of doing government in what is a new era for politics in Northern Ireland. As an Executive we are determined to work as one, and with wider society, to create a better future.”

Chance of a lifetime then. Please either contact WDRA with your suggestions, go to their meeting on 1 December, or comment here as an individual.

To see the whole Programme for Government document, click here.

For more information about the WRDA event or for tickets, click here.

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