“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