Gender inequality in NI: where are we in 2024?

In 2020, WRDA produced a number of statistics on gender inequality in Northern Ireland, against a number of key indicators. This data represents an update on the 2020 statistics, against the same measures, insofar as they are available.

It is worth noting that many of the data sources that were relied on in 2020 have not been updated, and that this data had to be gathered manually, where possible. As such, we repeat again the calls for regular, disaggregated data collection and for measures established to be updated on a regular basis.

  1. Women’s Employment, Austerity, Poverty and the Gender Pay Gap
  • In the most recent NISRA statistical bulletin, which covers 2020-21, statistics show that women are more than 2.5 times less likely to be self-employed than men. Women are also more likely to be part-time workers than men and this gap is particularly pronounced when they are parents, with 60% of mothers and 94% of fathers working full time. This is further reflected in the relative earnings and career progression of women; fewer women than men received earnings above the Real Living Wage (by 5 percentage points) and women also reported lower levels of opportunities for career progression (by 9pps).[i] This gap is due in part to women accounting for three quarters of all part-time workers, as part-time work tends to be low paid.[ii]
  • A NISRA survey of employee earnings in Northern Ireland in 2022 reported that “The gender pay gap for all employees (regardless of working pattern) in NI is in favour of males. Median hourly earnings (excluding overtime) for females (£12.82) was 4% below those for males (£13.99).[iii]
  • Sex discrimination is the second largest ground for complaint to the Equality Commission NI, behind disability, with many of these complaints relating to pregnancy or maternity. Complaints to the Commission of sexual harassment in the workplace have risen significantly from an average of 14% of complaints per year to 22% in 2022.[iv]
  • Women are 7 times as likely to be economically inactive due to looking after the home or family. This rises to 10 times more likely when comparing women and men in their 30s.[v] 81% of carers in Northern Ireland are women.[vi]
  • Only 7% of disabled people are in employment and disabled women earn 22.1% less than able-bodied men, and 11.8% less than disabled men[vii]. Covid significantly worsened this data, with a disproportionate number of disabled women being furloughed or laid off and 58% of disabled mothers reported struggling to make ends meet (compared to 38% of non-disabled mothers).[viii]
  • Women have 70% chance of providing care in their adult life; compared to 60% for men. By the time they are 46, half of all women have been a carer (11 years before men)[ix] [x]
  • In 2020 it was estimated that austerity since 2010 will have cost women a total of £79bn, against £13bn for men. It showed that, by 2020, men will have borne just 14% of the total burden of welfare cuts, compared with 86% for women[xi]. While these statistics have not yet been updated, they are indicative of the state of affairs before the impact of Covid and the cost of living crisis were factored in.
  • The group with the highest poverty throughout and worst impacted by welfare reform and the Cost of Living Crisis have been lone parents[xii] in Northern Ireland; of which 93% are women[xiii] an increase since 2020.
  • Hunger and foodbank use disproportionately impacts women, as women are twice as likely to be food insecure as men and lone parent households account for 18% of referrals to food banks, as opposed to 8% of the population as a whole[xiv].
  • Disabled single mothers are losing the most from these tax and benefit changes since 2010. By 2021, they had lost 21% of their net income if they did not have a disabled child and 32% if they did have a disabled child too. 1/3 of this loss is due to Universal Credit[xv].
  • Women are more likely to need access to Discretionary Support grants and accounted for 67% of recipients; this is going to be harder to access due to budget cuts in the year 2023-24 and will have a knock-on effect on poverty.[xvi]
  • Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a government-funded Childcare Lone parents and families with a disabled child are less likely to be able to afford formal childcare and face further barriers to employment.[xvii]
  • Rural women suffer further due to the centralisation of services and access poverty; only 3% of government funding for women’s groups goes towards rural women, a decrease of 10% from 2006.[xviii]
  1. Violence Against Women & Girls
  • From Jan 2023 – Dec 2023 there were 33, 071[xix] recorded domestic abuse incidents in Northern Ireland. This represents an increase on the previous 12 months of 0.4 % (or 144 incidents).
  • From Jan 2023 – Dec 2023 there were 20, 691[xx] recorded domestic abuse crimes recorded in Northern Ireland. This represents a decrease on the previous 12 months of 1 % (or 1,590 incidents).
  • In 2022/2023 there were 8[xxi] domestic abuse related homicides in Northern Ireland.
  • In 2022/23 crimes with a domestic abuse motivation represented 20% [xxii]of all recorded crime.

To contextualise these figures, statistical trends for domestic violence have been on an upwards trajectory since 2004. For example, domestic abuse crimes were more than two and a quarter times higher in 2022/23 then in 2004/05.

  • From Jan 2023 – Dec 2023 there were 4,184[xxiii] recorded sexual offences in Northern Ireland. Of this total number of sexual offences, 1,186[xxiv] were reports of rape.
  • From Jan 2023 – Dec 2023 there were 4,153 recorded offences of stalking and harassment in Northern Ireland. The new offences below above have contributed to a rise in stalking and harassment statistics.
  • New offences: The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceeding Act (Northern Ireland 2001) was amended to include coercive and controlling behaviour, emotional and economic abuse. These offences are recorded as part of the stalking and harassment classification and recording began in Feb 2022. The Protection from Stalking Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 created offences to provide protection from stalking and threatening behaviour. These offences are recorded as part of the stalking and harassment classification and recording began in April 2022.
  1. Politics, Public Life, Peacebuilding and Decision-Making
  • In NI politics, women represent 45% of Lord Mayors[xxv] in the year 2023-24, 31% of Local Councillors[xxvi], 37% of MLAs[xxvii] and just 22% of MPs.
  • In Public Appointments, the most recent statistics from 2022 show that women represent 23% of Chairs and 38% of all Public Appointments – a lower figure than when these statistics were last gathered.[xxviii]
  • Following the appointment of Lady Chief Justice Siobhán Keegan, women represent 100% of Lady Chief Justice but 0% of Lord Justices of Appeal, just 9% of High Court Judges and 26% of County Court Judges.[xxix] Aside from the highest position being held by a woman, all of these statistics are remarkably lower than when this data was last gathered.
  • In the PSNI, zero women hold the position of Chief or Deputy Chief Constable and only 20% are Assistant Chief Constables[xxx]. Women represent 32% of police officers and 57% of all PSNI staff[xxxi].
  • In the Civil Service, although a woman is now the head of the NI Civil Service women represent 11% of Permanent Secretaries; 35% of Senior Civil Servants and 50% of the total NICS workforce.[xxxii]
  • In the Education Sector, women represent 25% of University Chancellors or Pro/Deputy Vice Chancellors, 33% of FE College Principals and 61% of School Principals; despite 77% of all teachers being women[xxxiii].
  • In the Health and Social Care Sector, women make up 78% of all staff as of 2023[xxxiv] but just 40% of Trust Chairs and 80% of Trust CEOs which represents a considerable improvement on the last time this data was gathered.
  • In Local Government, women are just 27% of Council CEOs although, in the most recently available statistics, they represent 42% of the workforce[xxxv].


  1. Equality

Given the statistics outlined above, it is necessary that these hard-fought rights currently at risk are protected and enhanced. Some of the rights achieved through EU membership include equality between men and women[xxxvi][xxxvii], the right to equal pay for equal work[xxxviii], protection against discrimination on the ground of pregnancy and maternity[xxxix], creating measures to provide specific advantages to the underrepresented gender[xl], prohibition of discriminations on the grounds of sex[xli] and the introduction of paid holidays[xlii].

Thankfully, Article 2 of the Windsor Framework is set up to ensure no diminution of rights, and a Dedicated Mechanism Unit has been set up jointly by the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission to monitor this. Despite this, the erosion and potential further erosion of rights across the UK does put rights at risk everywhere in the UK and the fears and concerns of women in Northern Ireland around the outworkings of Brexit are catalogued in a recent report by the Equality Commission[xliii].

Further rights at risk include:

  • The removal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from all applications in UK law and judiciary systems. Whilst the UK government would still be required to abide by the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), the removal of the EU Charter is deeply worrying as it has a much broader level of protection for human rights[xliv].
  • Existing EU case law through the Court of Justice of the European Union can now be overturned in future cases in UK courts and a department from current jurisprudence may lead to a divergence on human rights standards on either side of the border in NI.
  • The EU human rights framework is much more robust than the UK Human Rights Act, however, the removal of both the Human Rights Act and the EU Charter will make it much more difficult for people to access their rights through the courts, as the ECHR is nowhere near as broad or strong as a standalone human rights framework.
  • The Retained EU Law Bill has already impacted the rights of many in Britain and there have been recent discussions by politicians including the Prime Minister about the possibility of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. This would have a devastating impact on all citizens in the UK, not least because it is the basis upon which the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is

In the context of the devolved NI Assembly which has not been operational during 5 of the last 7 years and which has still not adopted a Programme for Government for this term following its return, ‘New Decade, New Approach[xlv]’ (NDNA) represents the most recent plan of action for the Assembly. In that document, there are zero references to women throughout the entire agreement. Further rights that need to be addressed through the Northern Ireland Assembly include:

  • Further legislation to implement all Gillen Review recommendations;
  • Tackling gender pay gaps and discrimination;
  • Implementing the Social Inclusion Strategies that are currently in draft form, including the Gender Equality Strategy;
  • Scrapping the Universal Credit Two-Child Limit;
  • Addressing the historic underinvestment in rural women;
  • Rectifying the under-representation of women in politics, public life and decision-making;
  • Tackling the rise of misogyny as a hate crime, particularly towards trans women, BME women and disabled women;
  • Improving RSE and tackling rape culture;
  • Updating and unifying Equality Legislation;
  • Fully supporting and financing perinatal mental health services and much more.


A full list of Women’s Policy Group NI recommendations to each Government Department is available on WRDA’s website.



As with much of our work, this data paints a picture that the story of the struggle for gender equality often looks like taking one step forward, and one step back. This should not be and does not have to be the norm. Many of the areas where progress is made most slowly – the kind of progress that benefits women overall rather than a small group of women – are areas within control of government policy. Most strikingly, the rise in poverty which so disproportionately impacts women, can be addressed in large part through changes to the social security system, the introduction of childcare for all, and better measures to address sexism in the workplace.

WRDA and the Women’s Sector Lobbyist are committed to this fight, and by joining WRDA or following our social media channels, you will receive updates on the work to level up gender inequality for every woman in NI.


Elaine Crory, Women’s Sector Lobbyist, April 2024

[i] NISRA, Women in Northern Ireland, 2022,

[ii] TUC, Jobs & Recovery Monitor: Gender and Pay, 2023,

[iii] NISRA, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2023,

[iv] Equality Commission NI, Making Women Welcome at Work, 2023,

[v] TUC, Jobs & Recovery Monitor, Gender & Pay, 2023

[vi] Carers NI, State of Caring 2023,

[vii] UK Women’s Budget Group, (2018), ‘Disabled Women and Austerity’,

[viii] UK Women’s Budget Group (2021), Disabled Mother’s 3 Times More Likely to have Lost Work During the Pandemic,

[ix] Carers UK (2019), ‘Will I care? The likelihood of being a carer in adult life’:

[x] Carers NI and Women’s Regional Consortium, 2024, Career or Care? p.7

[xi] Keen, R., Cracknell, R. (2017), ‘Estimating the gender impact of tax and benefit changes’, Commons

Briefing Papers SN06758,

[xii] UK Women’s Budget Group, (2016), ‘A cumulative gender impact assessment of ten years of austerity policies’,

[xiii] Women’s Regional Consortium, Women & The Cost of Living Crisis, 2023, p.30

[xiv] The Trussel Trust, 2022,,the%20general%20population%20(8%25).

[xv] UK Women’s Budget Group, (2018), ‘Disabled Women and Austerity’,

[xvi] Department for Communities, Changes to the Discretionary Support Scheme, 2023

[xvii] Employers for Childcare, Northern Ireland Childcare Survey, 2023,

[xviii] NI Rural Women’s Network, 15 Years of NIRWN, 2021,

[xix] Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (2024) ‘Domestic Abuse Incidents and Crimes Recorded by the Police in Northern Ireland’

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (2023) ‘Trends in Domestic Abuse Incidents and Crimes Recorded by the Polic in Northern Ireland: 2004/05 to 2022/23’

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (2024) ‘Police Recorded Crime in Northern Ireland: Update to 31st Dec 2023’, p7

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Lauren Harte, Belfast Live, 2023

[xxvi] Brendan Hughes, Belfast Live 2023

[xxvii] House of Commons Library, Women in Politics & Public Life, 2024,,and%20in%20Wales%2C%2028%25.

[xxviii] The Executive Office, Public Appointments Report for Northern Ireland, 2019/20, 2020/21, 2021/22,

[xxix] Judiciary of Northern Ireland,

[xxx] PSNI, Our Leadership Team, 2024

[xxxi] PSNI, Workplace Composition Statistics, 2024

[xxxii] NISRA, Equality Statistics for the Northern Ireland Civil Service 2024,

[xxxiii] Department of Education, Teacher Workforce Statistics Bulletin 2022/23

[xxxiv] Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Workforce Census 2023

[xxxvi] NI Assembly Research and Information Service, (2020), ‘Who Runs Northern Ireland? A Summary of Statistics Relating to Gender and Power in 2020’,

[xxxvii] The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

[xxxviii] Article 119 Treaty establishing the European Economic Community

[xxxix] ibid2.

[xl] Ibid24.

[xli] Ibid 24 (Article 21)

[xlii] According to the NIRWN, Rural Voices Report (2018, p.30): ‘Many of the two million workers who had no paid holiday before the Working Time Directive, were part-time working women’:

[xliii] Equality Commission NI, 2024 The Impact of Brexit on Women

[xliv] Human Rights Consortium (2018), ‘Rights at Risk Report’,

[xlv] NIA (2020), ‘New Decade, New Approach’,