Parliamentary women

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.

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13 Comments on “Parliamentary women”

  1. iainmacl Says:

    The arguments put against quotas/shortlists by many people in this country and elsewhere (such as last night’s exchanges on BBC’s Question Time) are all very well from a philosophical context (‘candidates should be selected on merit’, etc) but we’re not living in this idealised world. We’re in one where the disproportion is so stark and extreme that something requires to be done immediately in addition to shifting social policy and other cultural changes.

  2. I find discussions about quotas etc frankly to be very silly. Women have made up the majority of the electorate in Ireland since 1922 when they got full franchise on the same basis as men (only women aged over 30 could vote in 1919 election you refer to, men over 18 were allowed to vote).

    And because women have made up the majority of voters in every democracy in the world for quite some time it is surely rather obvious by now that they DON’T WANT to vote for women simply because they are women? I think more than a few political parties might have spotted it if they actually did choose candidates on the basis of gender?

    So you might as well set quotas for the number of left-handed people in the Dail (though come to think of it, we ciotogs are doing rather well in the Whitehouse …)

    • kevin denny Says:

      Gerard, you are attributing the under-representation of women to demand only. That women are the majority of voters is not relevant: there is no obligation to vote for one’s own sex. As an economist, you should be aware that there are also supply issues. There is no point in pretending that the Dail, like many work-places, is family friendly and that this primarily impacts on women.
      Whether quotas are a good thing, I don’t know. My instinct is that it is not for the same reasons mentioned by Lucinda Creighton. However,in combination with other reforms, quotas might have a part to play.

    • Gerard, you cannot vote for a woman if there are no women candidates. That’s the issue.

      • Sean Says:

        Because it is obviously neither a fair nor a perfect world, we do need to have some mechanisms in place to correct naturally occuring imbalances. Quotas are only part of this, but the underlying issue is the reason why so few women choose political careers. If the system moved away from feeding local,time-consuming small concerns to one where diplomatic, legislative, international issues etc, were the main focus, I have no doubt that more women would get involved. Also, it might be worth considering bringing high profile women in by appointment to political positions rather than by the traditional democratic route to address the imbalance in the short term.

  3. Bridget Says:

    I wholly disagree with the concept of gender quotas. To introduce them is to label women as lesser than men. If we give women allowances in this way, they are being treated differently and this is not equality.
    I realise that we are not living in a gender equal world, yet there are more progressive steps that political parties can take to encourage women into politics.

    This needs to start at grassroots level in the universities. UCD, my college, have just elected its third consecutive all-male Students’ Union. Not one woman ran. Given that we are a university with a female majority, this is ludicrous.

    If more women are to get into politics, the political system must be friendlier to women. Childcare needs to be made a priority, as does tackling issues like ridiculous rape and sexual assualt sentences and convictions and domestic violence. I would consider myself a political person, but would never get involved in a system that actively excludes me and does not make an effort to tackle the issues that affect my sex and I.

    Progressive action is not gender quotas, it is positive action in women’s issues, and the dispelling of the current image of the Dáil, as well as action at third-level politics. It is no coincidence that many of our party leaders were involved in student politics. Encouraging women early on is key, as is encouraging men to fight women’s corner and embrace equality.

  4. There are a few things I fail to understand in all the discussion about gender quotas. The first of these is: why stop at gender? There are several, significantly under-represented groups in the Dail at present. Travellers, atheists, young people and muslims, to name but a few. And let’s not forget the under-representation of people who have actually worked in businesses in the real world. India has taken to setting quotas for lower castes as well as for women: so the precedent for multiple quotas in a democracy already exists. Please give me a reason why we should not set quotas for ALL under-represented groups?
    Because once you go down that road – stepping away from the framework of representative democracy that we already have whereby ANY citizen (without a prison record) is entitled to stand for election – then there is no logical reason to stop at a quota for just one group.

    The other thing that baffles me is: what exactly is the gain supposed to be from setting quotas for women? What difference would a higher share of women TDs make? Either you believe that women are innately different to men and therefore will bring different values and skills to the governmental process (in which case, on what measurable grounds are the differences superior to those of men); or you don’t believe there are any innate differences (the standard gender feminism blank slate perspective) in which case so what if we have more women in the Dail?

    As for the terrible ‘female unfriendly’ working conditions in Dail Eireann, then explain this to me: why are there not more men in teaching given the extraordinarily favourable working conditions they enjoy? Or could it be, perish the thought, that women and men are drawn to different types of jobs with different working conditions and that reducing the already world-leading short working hours of the Dail won’t make a blind bit of difference?

    That’s why I don’t buy the ‘supply constrained’ argument for a moment Kevin.

  5. Joseph Says:

    Maureen O’Sullivan is also a non-party female TD.

  6. Kate Bopp Says:

    I do not believe that gender quotas are the answer. The obstacles that women face in furthering their careers, whether political or other professions, are the very practical elements of day to day life. There is not an adequate support structure in place. A woman still has to choose between parenthood and a career. If these other areas were covered, more women would be free to pursue and succeed in their chosen occupation. The mindset has to change. Perhaps more men should consider training in childcare, teaching & nursing. A woman’s role still needs redefining. When a woman runs for office, she should be successful because she is the very best candidate, not because she has ovaries.

  7. Perry Share Says: has quite a good analysis here, together with an extensive discussion!

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