European Commission statistics published in 2014 show Ireland's gender pay gap is increasing. It was 14.4% in 2012 compared with 13.9% in 2010 and 12.6% in 2009 and 2008. The average EU gender pay gap stands at 16.1% (2014).
There are now over 975,000 women active in Ireland’s labour market and of these around 500,000 have children, meaning they have caring responsibilities.
Despite the pay gap, the situation for Irish working women has improved radically since Ireland joined the then EEC in 1973.
More women can now access the labour market, thanks to the abolition of the marriage bar for women in public service jobs, and stronger equality legislation from the EU.
Back in 1961 the population of Ireland was 2.8 million and women accounted for just 26.4% of the workforce. By the time we joined the European Community in 1973, there were 287,800 Irish women in employment, representing 27% of the total employed.
In the years following accession the figures began to improve rapidly. In 1987 the employment rate for women of working age was 35% and by the following decade it was up to 42%. The EU average the same year, 1997, was 51.1%.
The EU set a target rate for female employment of 60% by 2010, and Ireland had exceeded that figure by 2007. By 2008 there were 921,600 women in employment in Ireland (compared to 1,186,900 men) with an employment rate of 60.5%.
However, during the economic crisis the figure dropped significantly, falling to 55.2% by 2012. In 2014 the rate increased slightly to 55.9%.
The female unemployment rate was as low as 4% during Ireland’s boom years but it more than doubled during the crisis to 8.3% in 2009 and rose to a peak of 11.4% in 2013 before falling back to 9.9% in 2014.
CSO figures for 2013 showed that one in five women aged 20-24 were unemployed in 2013.
Although the situation for women in employment is improving, inequalities remain. In some cases women suffer direct discrimination where they’re simply treated less favourably than men. Or they may be treated unfairly due to a policy or practice that’s not designed to discriminate, but still results in unequal treatment.
However, it’s worth remembering that any discrimination, regardless of whether it’s deliberate or not, is banned under EU legislation.