Since the foundation of the State there have been 91 female deputies elected and the current Dáil has 25 sitting female TDs (the number of women currently in the Oireachtas rises to 43 when you include Senators). This is the highest number of women elected in a general election in Ireland. I think we can all agree that women, 50% of the population, making up only 15% of the Dáil is not good enough and something needs to be done about it.
Yes the numbers have increased over the years, the biggest jump being made between 1977 and 1992 when the percentage of female TDs rose from 4.1 to 12%. However, the numbers have slowed down again and only five more TDs were elected in 2011 than had been in 1992.
Research has come up with the five ‘Cs’ by way of explaining the lack of women in politics:
Childcare – according to a 2009 report from the National Women’s Council of Ireland, an average of one fifth of the day is spent, by women, engaged in caring and household work. This is three times as much as men do.
Cash – women are less likely to have access to the same kind of funds as men.
Candidate Selection – the current selection process tends to favour men who are known within the party over women, who might not be as visible, making getting selected difficult in the first place.
Culture – politics in this country is still seen as ‘the old boy’s club’ and the women who are already in politics are viewed as the exception to the rule.
Confidence – women are less likely to put themselves forward for selection.
What can be done about this imbalance? Gender quotas are, increasingly, looking like the only way to make these kind of changes.
Minister Phil Hogan (FG) has introduced a bill that will see political parties have their state funding reduced unless they reach a target of having women make up 30% of their candidates at the next general election.
Gender quotas are something that I’ve struggled with, my gut reaction when I first heard about them was ‘No way, I don’t care what the reasons behind it are it’s still a form of discrimination’. However, the more I thought, read and heard about women in politics I found myself reluctantly admitting that they’re a necessary step on the road to ensuring that women are better represented in government.
Lately though, I’ve been having trouble with the idea again, not because I’ve changed my mind on the fact that something needs to be done to balance out the numbers but because I’m not sure it’ll make the kind of difference that I first thought it would. Yes, we’d have more women in the Oireachtas but would it be enough to bring about the reform we want and need?
Take the treatment of our current crop of female TDs, I can’t help but notice how they’re spoken about by the general public, other women in particular, whenever they appear on TV and/or radio. Twitter is particularly bad for this kind of carry on, within seconds of, say, Mary Lou McDonald (SF) or Lucinda Creighton (FG) appearing on screen my Twitter stream erupts with what I can only describe as uncalled for, and at times down right vile, comments about things that aren’t related to their politics at all.
Disagreeing with a politician is one thing, Lucinda and I are never going to see eye to eye on the subject of marriage equality, that’s what politics is all about but this is nothing but an excuse to name call and make comments about people’s private lives. I’m sure you all know the type of comments I’m talking about. There is absolutely no need to refer to a woman as a bitch, boot or c*nt and/or make jokes (which are never funny anyway) about the state of their marriage just because you disagree with whatever policy they’re talking about. Male politicians don’t come in for nearly as much stick and their private lives are almost never unnecessarily brought into the equation, yet women are somehow seen as fair game.
What shocks me most when I see this happen is that nine times out of ten the comments from other women are the worst. I’m talking about smart and articulate women here, who are more than capable of arguing the actual issue/topic in question but instead they resort to…well, it’s almost bullying if you ask me!
What happened to giving credit where credit was due? These women clearly have brains, they wouldn’t have made it to where they are in their careers if they didn’t. It takes guts and courage to put yourself out there and stand for public office, we should be applauding the women who already have instead of tearing them down.
Is it any wonder that culture and confidence are listed as reasons for women not entering politics? When I see what they’re up against with regards to reaction from other women my admiration for them grows, again this doesn’t mean I actually agree with them politically, because I’m not sure I’d be confident enough to put myself out there on such a public platform.
Yes there are women, who while disagreeing on a political level will still respect the TDs in question but they appear to be in the minority at the moment.
Until the attitude of women, towards the women we already have in politics, changes then calling for more balance in the Oireachtas and gender quotas to get us there is nothing short of hypocrisy. How can we talk about being supportive to women who wish to enter politics when we aren’t exactly supportive of the female TDs we already have?