Posted tagged ‘women in politics’

Parliamentary women

March 12, 2010

More than 90 years since Constance (Countess) Markievicz was first elected to the British House of Commons, and by virtue of the same election to the first Dáil, we are still far from having equal representation for men and women in our parliament. Out of 166 TDs (members of Dáil Eireann, the lower House of the Irish parliament) 22 are women. Party-wise these are distributed as follows: 8 are in Fianna Fáil, 7 are in the Labour Party, 5 in Fine Gael, 1 in the Greens, and 1 (Mary Harney) non-party.

Against this backdrop the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny TD, proposed a new party policy under which there would be minimum quotas for women candidates in elections to bring about an increase in the number of women representing the party. This proposal was rejected yesterday by the Fine Gael parliamentary party. According to an Irish Times report, the decisive argument against the proposal was advanced by one female TD, Lucinda Creighton. And this is how she explained her opposition:

‘It’s a very easy solution to a very complex problem. It’s not a fix for solving the factors that prevent women from getting into politics and the issues that prevent them from staying in politics. You really have to look at other things like the long hours, childcare and how [women] are treated in the political environment.’

I guess I have some sympathy with both positions. Quotas are, I believe, a start to correcting the imbalance. But I also agree that the problem will not be corrected unless and until the national parliament is reformed and working conditions are less insane than they currently are. The existing rules are built around notions of a gentlemen’s club, with on the one hand bizarre late evening sittings, and on the other amazingly long holidays. There are reasons other than female representation that should bring us to want to reform all this, but one way or another it is urgent that this should be done.

My guess is that in the event quotas will be off the agenda, as will reform. Going on as before is just that much easier and more comfortable. Shame on them.

Politics – just a man’s world?

June 10, 2009

When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Europe Minister, Caroline Flint, resigned over the past week she complained that, in the British cabinet, women were treated as ‘female window dressing.’ Without wanting to get into the reasons for her resignation or the specific merits of her complaint, it is still worth asking whether politics, as a profession, has managed to escape from the male domination that so long characterised it.

Partly this is about working conditions and the work-life balance. So for example, on Tuesday, May 26 of this year, the Irish lower house of Parliament, Dail Eireann, began its business at 2.30 pm and adjourned at 10.50 pm. This kind of pattern tells us immediately that this will be an impossible life for anyone who has or wishes to exercise family responsibilities; of course that affects men also, but in the nature of how society is still organised, it will be women who, disproportionately, will be unwilling or unable to adapt to these working hours.

Also, anyone watching or following parliamentary debates in these islands will be struck by the almost yobbish element that characterises a good deal of what is described as ‘debate’. Politicians are seen trying to shout each other down, interrupt in a discourteous manner, make jokes at each other’s expense, disrupt proceedings. Again, these practices (which governments occasionally promise to reform but never do) run counter to a culture that supports and encourges women, and indeed some minorities.

It is time to look much more closely at the political ‘career’ and to reform parliamentary practices to put an end to this kind of culture. Its existence is not just unpleasant, but also sets a bad example to our wider society as we try to persuade people to avoid anti-social conduct. It is time for politics to grow up, and to become really inclusive.


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