What do the Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, Lord Tui Afitu, and Irish parliamentarian Lucinda Creighton TD have in common? They don’t like gender quotas. Lord Tui Afitu in fact doesn’t altogether see the point of having women in parliament at all. He has just been reported as saying:
‘Increasing women’s share of seats in parliament alone is not a solution and does not guarantee that they will make decisions that benefit the majority of women.’
Women, he said, have a ‘mystical status’, and he perhaps therefore thinks that this is incompatible with the rough and tumble of politics.
Lucinda Creighton, to be fair, doesn’t have any doubts about the contribution women politicians can make, but she doesn’t want them to get into parliament on the back of gender quotas, and she opposed moves to introduce these in her party, Fine Gael. But she is speaking as one of only 23 female members of the Irish lower house, Dáil Éireann. That means that women constitute just under 14 per cent of Irish parliamentarians. This compares with 21 per cent in the UK, 33 per cent in Germany, and 46 per cent in Sweden.
And then, how can this improve at all when the new Fine Gael/Labour government in Ireland can only manage to include two women in the new cabinet? Yes, the pool is limited, but it does contain some highly competent women – and far more than two – who would make excellent ministers.
The fact is, if people like Lucinda Creighton do believe that women should be more visible in the political landscape, then it would seem increasingly logical to conclude that some measure such as quotas will be required to break the existing pattern. The argument that eventually women will break through because their obvious talents will push the system that way doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, as this things have not really got much better over recent years. It is time to get more radical.