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16 October 2014
BBC NI - Eyewitness

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Ann Hope is Advisory Services Officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and representative for Congress on the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland Image of Ann Hope

No-one can deny that great strides have been made towards equality between men and women over the past twenty-five years. I mean chipping away at the coal-face of inequality and discrimination as many of us do, it's very easy to lose sight of the monumental progress that has been made - I mean progress that has transformed our working lives and made them unrecognisable from those of our mothers and grandmothers.

But it's equally clear that we still don't have equality - an example at the beginning of the 21st century, women still lose their jobs when they become pregnant; stereotypes still influence the kind of jobs they get and the level of seniority that they reach; women continue to suffer financially throughout their lives due to their caring responsibilities; and while we may have entered the labour force in large numbers since the advent of equality legislation, women's work continues to be segregated into sectors with low wages and poor opportunities for development and promotion.

For example, women make up 53% of those working in the wholesale and retail trades, about 58% of those working in hotels and restaurants, and 73% of those employed in education, and in fact a staggering 84% of the total employees in health and social work. And if we look at pay, I mean we've had equal pay legislation for over thirty years but women on average working fulltime earn about 82% of fulltime male workers' pay and women working part-time earn around 60% of fulltime men's average hourly rate, which is really shocking when you think that the legislation has been there for so long. It's great strides in some areas but very poor in others.

And we also know that for women re-entering the labour market after having children, it's incredibly difficult for them to find affordable childcare and this has been recognised as one of the greatest barriers to their coming back into the workforce, and obviously that has an effect on their own economic independence and in particular later on in their lives when they are retiring from work, many of them retire without an adequate state pension, never mind an occupational pension - that leads to poverty in old age for many women.

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