Politics

Gender quotas within politics

The battle for a place on a party ticket is always guaranteed to lead to enraged outbursts and bitter comments from possible candidates. 
 
However, as we move closer to next spring’s general election, there is one issue on the Irish political agenda causing upheaval with parties – Gender quotas.
 
In July 2012, the Gender Quota Bill was passed into law, meaning that political parties will be denied state funding if they fail to meet the requirement that 30 per cent of their candidates in the next general election are female.
 
It is difficult to deny that the current progression of female politicians in Ireland is slow. Since the founding of the Irish state, a total of 91 women have been elected to the Dáil – to put this into context, 166 people are elected to government in every general election.
 
The current number of female TDs stands at a record high, but still only amounts to a dismal 16 percent. 
 
On a global platform, Ireland sits in 89th place in parliamentary gender equality, lagging significantly behind nations such as Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Iraq and Afghanistan – countries which we would naively presume are less advanced than Ireland when it comes to feminism in politics. 
 
At the time it was passed, the bill was welcomed by party leaders, with Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin vowing to strive towards a 50:50 gender split.
 
However, now that the general election is looming closer and vacant spots on party tickets are being snapped up, the reality of gender quotas is beginning to cause commotion within parties, Fianna Fáil in particular.
 
The party’s convention in Longford last week descended into chaos when Connie Gerety-Quinn was chosen as Fianna Fail’s candidate for the constituency, while North Cork Councillor Kevin O’Keeffe last month admitted that the “gender issue is playing havoc” within the party.
 
Speaking to Campus.ie, Suzanne Collins from Women for Election said that this resentment towards female candidates has not turned them off running for a place on a ticket, but that the quotas have instead been a major encouragement.
 
“If you look at the gender quotas for election legislation, it’s worth bearing in mind that it was proposed by a male dominated cabinet, it was voted in by a male dominated Dail, so there is real leadership from the male dominated top of political parties,” she said. 
 
“The men who are already elected see the importance and value of increasing female representation.”
 
Despite the aim of gender quotas to help women in politics, female politicians themselves are divided in opinion on the issue, with TDs such as Lucinda Creighton and Mary O’Rourke being extremely vocal about their opposition to the quotas.
 
Some state that quotas are an outright insult to female politicians, as they suggest that women are not capable of securing places in government through their own ability, and need to rely on concessions from their male colleague to advance in their political careers.
 
The main argument being put forward is that quotas are reverse sexism, and that candidates should be judged simply on their merit and qualifications, regardless of their gender.
 
However, Suzanne says that this point is being proved wrong now that the quotas are being put in place.
 
“For the larger political parties, over 90 per cent of the women they now have on the ticket are either elected at local or national level, or have run before, so the calibre of women being encouraged to come forward is really high, particularly in the larger parties,” she said.
 
“They are proven campaigners, they are highly competent, capable candidates and I think any fears people had that unqualified, incapable women were going to be put on tickets has been firmly put to rest.”
 
Currently, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour are still to meet the target 30 percent, while other parties have not only reached the quota, but have exceeded it, with Sinn Féin at 31.6 percent and People Before Profit at almost 40 percent.