Politics

Miss representation

Gender quotas – love or loathe them, they are here to stay. 
 
There are 166 TD’s in Dáil Éireann, only 28 are women. 
 
We rank 24th out of 28th EU countries for female representation with only 15.7% of our TD’s being women as opposed to an EU average of 27.5%. Even more embarrasingly on a worldwide scale we rank joint 88th along with North Korea for percentage of women in parliament. 
 
We have never had a female head of government, a female Minister for Finance or even a female Minister for Foreign Affairs. 
 
It is clear for all to see that women are massively underrepresented in Irish public life but even after the introduction of gender quotas this problem will remain.  Why should 51% of the population only hold 15.7% of the representation?
 
Those opposed to gender quotas will tell they discriminate against men by using gender and not constituency work and local popularity as the deciding factor for selection. 
 
The axis of power is so disproportionally turned away from women that they have to work at least twice as hard as the equivilant male candidate to get elected. 
 
The biggest factor in getting elected in Ireland is already having a seat, and political life in Ireland has traditionally been dominated by dynasties. 
 
Previous TDs who were selected as candidates after their fathers include Enda Kenny, Brian Lenihan JR and Séan Haughey. 
 
Gender quotas seek to level this playing field by ensuring a mere 30% of all candidates, not even representatives, are to be female. If the requirement is not met then parties will receive less funding. 
 
While I am personally in favour of gender quotas as part of opening the field to women, I do not believe that they will succeed alone in significantly advancing the cause of the fairer sex in Irish public life. 
 
Already, after the introduction of said quotas we are seeing capable aspiring female TDs having their fitness for public life scrutinised by virtue of the Y chromosome. 
 
There is an unanswered question of why so many women are turned off by the prospect of a career in the public. 
 
You might think of sexism and misogyny as archaic terms from another era but they are not.  
 
Look to Australia and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was subjected to an unprecedented amount of sexist abuse during the three turbulent years of her premiership. 
 
Prime Minister Gillard was told she “was unqualified to run the country” because she didn’t have children and had her partners sexuality quizzed on live radio. 
 
The catch-cry of her opponents was ‘ditch the witch.’ She was also mockingly referenced at an opposition party fundraiser menu as the “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & a Big Red Box”. 
 
Even closer to home, in November 2010 Taoiseach Brian Cowen asked then Labour leader Éamon Gilmore to “reign (Joan Burton) in now and again” after being questioned by  the Finance Spokesperson.
 
Women in politics are subjected to a level of sexist criticism that their male counterparts are not. Ask yourself when you last heard a jibe about Charlie Flanagan’s appearance, Gerry Adams choice of dress or Micháel Martin’s haircut. 
 
This is unfortunately a worldwide phenomenon. When Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State much was made of the fact that she tied her hair with a scrunchie.
 
People will tell you they abhor sexism and misogyny. But many of the same people will still see fit to comment on the dress, weight and even the reproductive choices of a female politician. 
Until we change the innate sexism women in public life face they will continue to remain underrepresented.
 
Although gender quotas will increase the number of female deputies in the Dáil, they do not address the root problem.
 
Women all over the world are put off running for public office because they fear they will not cope with the increased level of scrutiny levelled at them, even from within the political classes. 
 
In order for an Oireachtas that serves as a true reflection of our society, we need to learn that it is not acceptable to level sexist jibes at females in the public eye.