Room for women in politics means ‘unseating men’

Former minister Liz O’Donnell says quota law will be ‘game-changer’

Former Progressive Democrats minister of state for foreign affairs Liz O’Donnell has said making space for women in politics will mean “unseating” male politicians.

Addressing a National Women’s Council of Ireland conference in Dublin, Ms O’Donnell complimented the Government on introducing a quota law which will halve State funding to parties unless 30 per cent of general election candidates are women.

“Like it or not, making space for women in politics means unseating men. Women tend to do better in smaller parties where there’s space, but if a woman has to undo a man’s position then that’s when it gets tricky – and that’s why it hasn’t happened,” she said.

Ms O’Donnell said she thought the quota law would be a “game-changer”.

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She said feminism was needed more than ever, and the debate about abortion legislation last year was “merely a rerun” of debates in previous years.

“If feminism was stronger and completely centred as a part of political ideology in Ireland we would not be dragging ourselves through this tortuous conversation and dialogue about the rights of women in pregnancy,” she said.

Journalist Una Mullally said Ireland had yet to deal sufficiently with the historical abuse of women and their children in religious and State-sponsored institutions.

“These women were locked away and demonised for having sex or being raped. This was Sharia law with rosary beads and an Irish accent,” Ms Mullally said.

Ms Mullally said “gender equality deniers” existed, adding she often warned female journalism students they should prepare themselves to be resilient because they would face more abuse than their male counterparts.

“Male columnists do not routinely get called whores, or bitches, or ‘feminazis’, or get rape threats, or receive a particularly vicious and virulent strain of abuse that is gendered,” she said.

Minister of State for Equality Kathleen Lynch described herself as being in the "old guard of feminism" and said Ireland remained a long way from true gender equality.

Ms Lynch said women still experienced discrimination in the workplace. “I firmly believe that we need to identify influential male supporters of feminism in the workplace if we are to move to true gender equality,” she said.

Angela Towers, spokeswoman for the British No More Page Three social media campaign, which is calling for a ban on photos of topless women in the British version of the Sun newspaper, also addressed the conference.

She said she hoped “Page Three” would be removed from Britain’s “societal wallpaper”. Ms Towers also pointed to the report of the Leveson Inquiry, which praised the Sun for its campaigns against domestic violence, rape and size zero models but added, “it is clear that those campaigns have, perhaps uncomfortably, sat alongside demeaning and sexualising representations of women”.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times