The road not taken

“Fix your mind on the ideal of Ireland free, with her women enjoying the full rights of citizenship in their own nation, and no one will be able to sidetrack you.”

The above quote is from Constance Markievicz, the first woman ever elected to Dáil Éireann. 92 years on from this historic election, Ireland has one of the worst records for female representation in parliamentary structures in the world. Women make up a mere 14% of the Dáil or taken in another light – the Dáil has always been 84% male. 47% of Irish women have no female TD to represent them while 100% of men have a male TD to represent them. Student unions, often seen as a bastion for liberalism and equality, fare no better with women being underrepresented across the country at sabbatical officer level. Indeed, the last female President of USI was well over a decade ago.

Yet, we are told that the fault lies not with the political system and status quo but with us, the women. Apparently, everything is our fault. Recent research however would indicate that these arguments and assumptions are simply not true. An Oireachtas report (Women’s Participation in Politics, 2009) found that women face additional barriers to entering politics that men do not encounter. These barriers are known as the 5 C’s: cash, culture, confidence, childcare and candidate selection procedure. Knowing this we cannot continue to ignore the fact that women are discriminated against in politics because of their gender.

When I was asked to write an article to encourage women to get involved in student unions, I didn’t envisage that I would start with such a drastic outlook on the current situation. But the time has come for the women of Ireland to stand up and be counted in all political arenas, including student unions. To quote from the former cabinet Minister Gemma Hussey – we must realise our sparkling anger and demand change.

And one of the ways to make that change happen is to get involved. Stand for election: class rep, part time officer, sabbatical officer – any position I could name – you should stand for it! Not just to make history and not just to make a difference but because you will make the best friends and have some of the most wonderful and bizarre experiences in college through your involvement with the student union.

I was very lucky that through my position I met both President Mary McAleese and former President Mary Robinson -both amazing inspirational women. I could pick out many more fantastic events and opportunities that came my way as a result of getting involved but there is a word limit on this article! When you put your name on that ballot paper, you don’t know what awaits you but it really is one of the most thrilling rollercoaster rides and I would recommend it for any woman out there.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— , I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost

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4 Responses to The road not taken

  1. This is an article I wrote after receiving a request from Tomas Conway, USI Gender Equality Officer to write about my experiences in student politics and to encourage more women to get involved.

    Linda

  2. Michael says:

    “47% of Irish women have no female TD to represent them while 100% of men have a male TD to represent them”.

    This comment frankly defies logic. Even if we are to accept the somewhat bizarrre premise that TDs, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology, cannot represent members of the opposite sex, the disproportionate amount of male TDs simply means that women are underrepresented in relation to Ireland’s gender ratio, not that a large proportion are not represented at all. To put it another way, for every male TD, there are 14,000 or so male citizens, whereas for every female TD, there are 90,000 or so female citizens. Regardless of how these numbers may fluctuate, 100% of the population is represented in the Dáil by definition. If a female candidate is elected in my constituency, does she not represent me? I would certainly be surprised to be turned away from her constituency office on the basis of my gender (or indeed hers).

    It would seem to me that a system which guarantees “parity of representation” along gender lines would not only serve to reinforce gender divisions, but would fly in the face of the democratic principle itself. Leaving aside the complete overhaul of the electoral system that would be required, the only way such a situation could be achieved would be through the active prohibition of certain candidates from running in selected constituencies based purely on their gender – surely this runs counter to the very notion of gender equality as well as the goals outlined in the Oireachtas Report you mention, which demands a greater diversity of candidates on the country’s ballot papers?

    Lastly, while you lament the lack of a female president of the USI over the last 10 years in your first paragraph, your last paragraph serves to remind us that twice that amount of time has passed since a man was President of Ireland. I’m sure the many hundreds of thousands of men who voted for Presidents Robinson and McAleese will be dismayed to discover that they have gone unrepresented by our Head of State for over two decades.

  3. And how men have been President of Ireland since the position was created? Far more than two and we have never had a female Taoiseach. Hardly underrepresentation of the men of the country!

    With regard gender parity flying the face of democracy, democracy is already comprised by 60% of consitituencies in the last General Election did not offer people the chance to vote for a woman. The quotas you talk about (akin to the reserved seating system) is not what was suggested and supported by the All Party Group who investigated the issue. The quotas suggested (and supported in principle by every party) are internal to each political party so that at selection convention level there is a choice of both male and female candidates for those within the constituency to choose from. Having more choice in the electoral system, is never going to be a bad or undemocratic thing, in my opinion.

    Linda

    • Michael says:

      I never suggested that men were underrepresented, I was merely highlighting the flaw in the logic of the argument that men are incapable of representing women and vice versa.

      I think you may have misread the section of the report which deals with the percentage of constituencies in which women candidates appear on the ballot paper. What the report actually says is that 60% of constituencies had no women candidates from either FF or FG. In fact only 5 of the 43 constituencies had no women candidates at all on the ballot paper: http://electionsireland.org/results/general/30thdail/candidates.cfm

      Quite a difference there! It seems to me the only reason the reserved seat system is problematic for Bacik and co is that it would (quite rightly) be open to a challenge under EU law. The next best option for the ideologue is of course to stack the pool of candidates along gender lines, preserving the veneer of democracy by providing the voter with an artificial choice dictated by the principles of that wonderful of oxymora, “positive discrimination”. Democracy should mean the right of the electorate to make a free choice from candidates selected on merit. No one should have a right to appear on the ballot paper based on gender, skin colour, nationality, religion, sexuality or any other criterion besides merit.

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