The Government is to introduce minimum standards in the third-level sector to tackle sexual harassment and violence.

Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said while there is good work being done in some institutions, it is not in all institutions and recommendations from an expert group due to be published shortly would help that.

At a European event in Dublin to tackle the issue of sexual harassment and violence at third level, the minister said just under 40% of people presenting at the sexual assault unit in Dublin were students.

She said she believes the introduction of female only academic posts will also help reduce the incidents of sexual harassment and violence at higher level.

Asked about reports that Aer Lingus would be ending its policy of mandatory make-up and skirts as part of their uniform,  Ms Mitchell O’Connor said that she wears make-up, but if a woman does not want to wear make-up she should not be required to do so.

She also said the Government is due to make "very strong" announcements about women’s issues after tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting on International Women's Day, but would not be drawn on the details. 

Opening the conference,  National Women's Council of Ireland Director Orla O'Connor said she expected that that Ireland will ratify the Istanbul Convention tomorrow and it will now oblige Ireland to act to eradicate violence against women.

Project Coordinator for the Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Third Level Education (ESHTE) project, Tara Brown, said third level institutions need to work with women's organisations, gardaí, sexual violence services, student bodies and Government departments to achieve "positive change".
The ESHTE project has developed a toolkit that can be used by higher education institutes to help train staff and create awareness in this area.

Union of Students of Ireland President Síona Cahill said higher education institutes must support and resource student bodies to raise awareness about sexual harassment and violence.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor described to the conference how her idea to create female only posts at third level were met with silence and scorn by both men and women.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor said after she made the announcement to allocate 45 positions in academia over the next three years exclusively to women, men stayed mostly silent and that committed feminists patted her on the head and told her the positions would be second rate.

She described her efforts as a "tiny tilt towards equality" and said while women have been competing against men for decades only a fraction of them are coming through.

She asked: "Do I do nothing and let nature take its course, knowing that nature... has been astonishing slow?"

She also queried why none of Ireland’s powerful or influential men were present at today’s event.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said people were making a huge mistake if they continued to talk to groups of women only about these issues.

She said she did not know how to solve the problem but that if women do not engage and involve men in making change "it isn't going to happen".