Posted tagged ‘women in parliament’

The political equality struggle

March 10, 2011

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.


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.