State Feminism in Ireland
EVELYN MAHON AND VALERIE MORGAN
The UN Commission on the Status of Women in the 1960s recommended that governments create "women's policy machinery," or agencies for the advancement of women ( McBride-Stetson and Mazur 1995: 3). The term state feminism is used to refer to this institutionalisation of women's interests. Such moves to formalise the process of women's empowerment through legislation and the establishment of governmental or quasigovernmental structures can be seen as paradoxical, even contradictory. In many contexts, the structures of the state have provided the framework for patriarchal and discriminatory actions and policies, so to see the state as the sponsor of feminism raises questions about motivation and commitment for many women. At the same time, structural change is a vital element in combatting institutionalised gender discrimination, and state feminism has played a considerable role in placing such issues on the formal social and economic agenda. In particular, agencies with a remit to monitor the operation of antidiscriminatory legislation, scrutinise the implementation of existing procedures, and provide inputs to new policy formulation in areas such as employment, education, family law, and human rights have been significant elements in state feminism in both parts of Ireland.
In this chapter, we will identify these agencies and seek to evaluate their effectiveness in reducing gender inequalities in Ireland. We first provide some background on the context of the emergence of state feminist institutions on both parts of the island. We then turn to the major initiatives undertaken by government in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in response to women's demands for inclusion in policymaking and follow this with a description of the activities of these institutions. Finally, we evaluate the effectiveness of this policy machinery in developing women's rights in both jurisdictions.