Women of many political hues form one-day coalition

New TDs share their election experiences before International Women’s Day

Ahead of International Women's day some of the Dáil's newest TD's met for a panel discussion in Dublin. Increasing female representatives, the pay gap and The Eighth Amendment were the big issues discussed.

 

Women politicians now account for 22 per cent of the membership of the 32nd Dáil, up from 15 per cent of the last one.

Several of them turned up at an event yesterday in advance of International Women’s Day. Newcomers Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell, Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers and People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith were joined by older heads Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats, Independent Joan Collins and Senator Ivana Bacik, who was standing in for Labour leader Joan Burton.

Women’s week

Maria Walsh

“There was obviously sexism on the doorstep, but it wasn’t a backlash to gender quotas.

“I ran because of the experience I have had as a businesswoman with three young children. On the doorsteps, people would tell me: ‘You should be at home minding the children’. I told them the baby was back home with a tin of milk and a kettle and would be just fine.”

Chambers, too, got her share of unreconstructed comments, including: “Oh, so you’re a gender quota candidate then?” She wasn’t. She came through the Fianna Fáil selection process.

She learned a few harsh realities on the canvass. “I’d get to the door and a woman would say: ‘Wait a minute, I’ll go and get my husband.’”

If no woman came to the door, Chambers made a point of asking to talk to one. “Politics was seen as a man’s game. Something that women didn’t go into. Quotas have changed all that.”

She recalls one occasion on the canvass when “a man came up to me and told me I’d look better if I put on some make-up, like in my campaign posters. As women, we’re always judged on how we look, not what we say. Unfortunately, it’s a factor of our job and of our gender.”

Other comments on the canvass included: “Have you got a boyfriend?”; “Are you going to have children?” and “You look great up the poles.” She was having none of it. “You have to grow a thick skin and you have to build a bridge and get over it.”

Murphy was heartened by the strong support she got from women. She thinks the “female agenda” can be overplayed.

‘No difference’

“Women can bring something very positive to politics as they tend to make it more collaborative and less combative.”

Murphy thinks gender quotas were a “fabulous success” that have helped to change candidate selection and culture.

This year’s general election will be seen as “pivotal”, says Murphy, giving a generous shout-out to the “big traditional parties who took a risk”.

“If there’s a quick election and they have [make sure] 40 per cent of candidates [are] women, I think there will be a lot of people worried.”