Will 2016 be the year we achieve gender equality?

Are we complacent or brainwashed into thinking men are better at making decisions?

Inequality between men and women is evident everywhere in Irish society.

Inequality between men and women is evident everywhere in Irish society.

 

Will the new year be the year for 50/50? Can women and men living in this Republic expect to be treated equally as envisaged in the 1916 Proclamation which guaranteed “equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens”? It seems unlikely.

Recently, in a speech at the Institute for Lifecourse and Society at NUI Galway, President Michael D Higgins said there is no “popular demand” for equality and no “groundswell of support for a version of the State that might introduce it”.

Furthermore, “the building of a republic on true republican values such as equality was, for much of the modern period of our history, a task for the future, frequently to be dismissed as utopian”.

Inequality between men and women is evident everywhere in Irish society. Until decision-makers comprise an equal number of members of both sexes, things will, and do, go horribly wrong.

We have had corrupt and sloppy planning and development; the financial debacle when the top ranks of the banking sector were dominated by men; the Abbey Theatre privileging male playwrights; plans for the 2016 commemorations that are mainly about men in army uniform; and the controversy within the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

The IFA website shows that all nine members of the executive board are men. The 31 county chairmen are male. All except one of the more than 50 executive council members and the 16 committee chairmen are male. The only woman represents “Farm family”.

The IFA has 6,160 female members so it is not as if there are no competent women available. Con Lucey’s report on structures and procedures in the IFA, which set out to be “forward looking but learning from the past”, makes no mention of the sex of decision-makers or how this may have contributed to the crisis.

Half of decision-makers

No organisation, whether in the public, private or civil society sector, can function efficiently and effectively, and, more importantly, for the benefit of members and citizens, unless women represent half of decision-makers. This is not to say that women are more honest, smarter or less arrogant than men. They are not. There is an equal number of clever, stupid and efficient men and women in society.

However, women bring a range of expertise, perspectives, creativity and complementary skills to synergistic decision-making. Poor decisions are the inevitable outcome when women are left out of the process.

Because men are more likely to be in positions of power, they are also more likely to make self-serving decisions when they are in a room with few or no women present. High levels of testosterone prime individuals to pursue dominance and status, and make maximising pay-offs and corrupt behaviour more likely. The introduction of “I’m worth it” salaries and collapse of trust within the IFA was inevitable.

The IFA crisis provides an apt metaphor for the consequences when women are under-represented at all levels of decision-making in Irish society. In the latest EU Gender Equality Index, Ireland scored 26.5 on the domain of power, the ninth lowest and well below the EU average of 38.

A recent report from the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Hearing Women’s Voices, explored women’s under-representation in current affairs radio programming at peak listening times in Ireland. It shows that overall 72 per cent of voices on radio are male and 28 per cent female. Invited experts are almost all male on some shows.

Themes also matter with 89 per cent male guests when war and conflict is on the agenda, 70 per cent men when politics is discussed, and 42 per cent women when the topic is health.

Power imbalances

There is overwhelming evidence that inequality and power imbalances between men and women are bad for society as a whole.

Patriarchy, sexism and misogyny in Ireland have ensured that, among other things, we have an archaic maternity service, the lowest breastfeeding rates in the EU, an intractable problem of violence against women and unaffordable childcare.

More equal societies perform better on a whole range of indicators such as education, health and crime. The Paris Framework Convention on Climate Change includes action on gender equality and the empowerment of women because a safer world is not possible without them.

Why do we put up with the current levels of gender imbalance? Are we merely complacent or brainwashed into thinking men really are better at making important decisions and women’s natural role is in the home minding children? Both are probably true. It is time to demand equality and 2016 must be the year for 50/50.

Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion and a member of the Health Ireland Council.

drjackyjones@gmail.com

Listen to episode 10 of The Irish Times Women’s Podcast on women’s voices on air at irishtimes.com

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