Delivering Gender Equality: The Greatest Challenge

International Women’s Day 2024

Reflections by Denise Charlton, Chief Executive, Community Foundation Ireland

When setting the theme for Women’s Day 2024, the United Nations identified gender equality as the greatest of human rights challenges. It is a bold declaration which unfortunately will come as no surprise to our network of 5,000 voluntary, community and charitable groups.

The harsh reality is that whether you look locally, nationally or globally women and girls are in the frontline of every challenge: social, economic, conflict or the biggest challenge of all climatic.

Community Foundation Ireland

With the on the ground knowledge of our network of partners, our access to best-in-class research and our role as a convener The Foundation often has an ability to identify emerging challenges.

In the past year our community partners received over 1,200 grants totalling over €20 Million – all of this funding is in support of achieving our mission ‘Equality for All In Thriving Communities’.

The headline figures may grab attention – but it is the impact which the  generosity of our donors delivers which transforms lives. That is what truly makes us a philanthropic hub.

With our donors, our grantees and our many supporters we have been leaders on promoting gender equality since the year 2000.

We have together changed policies and laws, confronted discrimination and opened up opportunity.

There has been progress, there have been victories.

Yet we also know there are women and girls who through circumstances not of their making have been left behind.

We know too that equality is fragile and those hard fought for victories can be so easily and quickly undermined.

Confronting Inequality

We see this fragility when confronting poverty in a cost-of-living crisis.

Research from both the Child Poverty Monitor at the Children’s Rights Alliance as well as our partnership with the ESRI shows that it is women and children who are impacted most.

Trying to keep food on the table and a home warm are often barriers to women gaining access to schooling, training or work. Leaving them and their families trapped in poverty.

These pieces of research are agenda setting and have at least started the conversation and focussed both policymakers and commentators alike on the need for tiered and targeted welfare, educational, training and other supports.

Our work tells us that women and girls face discrimination at every stage of life. What starts as lack of access to education and training becomes pay discrimination and lack of opportunity at work resulting in a gender pension gap in later life. That is a cycle which so many of our partners are committed to breaking.

Migrant, Traveller and Refugee communities increasingly have to deal not just with economic discrimination but now the challenge of the emboldened voices of the far right.

The images of loud, threatening and violent disorder outside accommodation centres where inside mothers try to comfort young children are hugely disturbing for all who believe in equality.

As a Foundation we are working with communities both Irish and migrant – as well as the leading advocates and campaigners looking for a better way.

Our connectivity with communities has been recognised by Government at senior level and we are delivering comfort, shelter and support as well as legal advice on migrant issues.

Sexual Violence

International Women’s Day also brings focus on the issue of gender based and sexual violence.

Getting the crime of coercive control recognised in law, commitments to have consent taught in all educational syllabus and more refuge spaces in every part of the country are just some of our successes together.

Establishing Cuan, the new national agency to end sexual violence in all its forms, is an important development.

Ministers, senior officials and our partners used the public launch just two weeks ago to acknowledge the positive impact achieved thanks to the strategic support from the Community Foundation.

Together with our partners we look forward to playing an active role as Cuan begins its work in earnest.


The biggest challenge of all is of course climate and biodiversity. Both disproportionately impact on women and girls.

We give hundreds of communities access to the expertise to formulate local action plans on ending the throw away society by boosting the Circular Economy, where women truly are the leaders.

While over 200 communities are also protecting plants and wildlife – thanks to our leadership on biodiversity.

Women Philanthropists

Women in philanthropy are making their mark. You maybe aware that the Government last December published the first ever National Policy on Philanthropy.

When we briefed Minister of State Joe O’Brien TD and his senior officials on what we want from the policy, I was particularly proud to spotlight a powerful group of women in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown.

They have come together to make their part of Dublin more just, fair and equal.

A parenting project, after school clubs and a positive aging project allowing people to spend later life at home have all become reality. Powerful trailblazing women showing the power of local giving ever before it was recognised by Government.

On this International Women’s Day they serve as a reminder of the positive contribution strategic philanthropy can make in delivering Equality For All In Thriving Communities.

Support Gender Equality

If you share our equality mission we would love to chat, check out the Strategic Giving Section.