We need to change way we do politics to attract more women

Opinion: Ireland is among the 10 lowest-ranked EU countries when it comes to political and economic representation of women

‘Being a politician at national level, if you are not from Dublin or nearby, means a lot of time spent away from home.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

‘Being a politician at national level, if you are not from Dublin or nearby, means a lot of time spent away from home.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 00:01

Browsing Trinity News (the Trinity student newspaper) last February, I was dismayed to see how few women were running for office in the student union. Of 12 candidates, only two were female. Only one woman was elected, and while I am sure she will be excellent, she was also the only person who ran for that particular position.

No woman ran for president, or for communications or welfare. Maybe it is no big deal, or maybe it is part of a bigger picture, one highlighted yet again in the Central Statistics office (CSO) report Women and Men in Ireland 2013.

Ireland is among the 10 lowest-ranked EU countries when it comes to political and economic representation of women. The CSO’s statistical snapshot is already out of date, given that we now have more women in Cabinet than ever. However, in January, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, we ranked joint 60th in the world when it comes to women in ministerial positions, along with Kyrgyzstan, Malta, Ukraine and Uruguay. I doubt the new ministerial appointments have nudged us far up the list.

I have always believed that women are under-represented because of the sheer nastiness of our political system, and because at national level, the system is so unfriendly to family life.

Take the last presidential campaign. It was a mind-bogglingly vicious campaign, and all for an office with some influence, but virtually no legislative power. (Incidentally, during that campaign I called on Dana Rosemary Scallon to withdraw as a candidate until the serious allegations that she had covered up sexual abuse by her brother John Brown had been investigated. I am happy to acknowledge that both Dana and her brother have been cleared of wrongdoing.)

Being a politician at national level, if you are not from Dublin or nearby, means a lot of time spent away from home. Women are much less willing than men to do that, as pointed out last week by Fianna Fáil councillor Rachel Doherty as she ruled herself out of her party’s selection convention for the Roscommon-Leitrim byelection.

Does the CSO statistic that in 2013 there were apparently just 8,700 men who work full-time in the home reflect women’s preferences, or unwillingness by men to embrace work that is seen as low-status because it is not paid?

My husband is one of those 8,700 men. He does a huge amount of caring work uncomplainingly, and without much recognition. Yet he would be the first to say that women who work full-time in the home receive even less acknowledgement.

Invisible

Unpaid caring work, whether it be caring for children or elderly parents, or volunteering in the community, is almost invisible in Ireland. When we talk about women working, we almost never mean women working in unpaid caring work. We mean work in the paid economy, so-called productive work.

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