This post is inspired by the depressing news that an able female politician has resigned for personal reasons. I sympathise, I really do, imagine having a young child and a job where you have to commute between two locations. And your husband also has a job where he has to commute between two locations (and not the same two – they both have to be in Dublin but have constituencies in different parts of the country). And the hours are long. But she was actually known in politics, no one had ever heard of him. Of course, it was their decision to make and if it’s the right thing for them, who am I to quibble. But yet.
The text below is lifted from the site of the National Women’s Council of Ireland:
Only 13% of those elected to the Dail (lower house of Parliament) are women.
This percentage has risen by only 1% over the past 10 years.
At this rate, it will take 370 years for the percentage of women in the Dail to reach 50%.
The percentage of women appointed to the Cabinet in this Government has declined by 7% while the percentage of women Ministers of State has decreased by 11%.
Only 17% of those elected to the Seanad (upper house) are women.
Only 16% of elected Councillors are women.
The percentage of women appointed to State boards has rarely reached 40% although this has been an official Government guideline since 1991.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance and Public Service consists of 16 men and just one woman.
And then an Oireachtas (Dail and Seanad) report itself announces gloomily:
Since 1990, when Mary Robinson was elected as Ireland’s first woman President, Ireland’s rate of women’s political representation has reduced drastically. In 1990, Ireland was in 37th position in the world classification of women’s representation in the lower or single house of national parliaments.
However, by October 2009 Ireland had fallen to 84th position, with 23 women TDs out of 166 (13.8%); ranked equally with Djibouti in East Africa (www.ipu.org).
The report considers quotas for women quite extensively. It seems to me that, generally, the most vigourous opponents of this idea are women. Perhaps because they are the ones whose views are always sought. I remember when the report came out, a number of female politicians were asked their views on this vexed question. And it is vexed. A number of them said words to the effect of “I got here on my own merit, it can be done and I don’t approve of quotas.” The implication in their view was that quotas are almost like cheating. And that view has a lot of sympathy. Suppose there is a better man for the job, yet it is given to the woman, wouldn’t that be terrible? The unfairness and, of course, the wrongness of that.
Now, consider this: some time ago, medical schools in Ireland became concerned about the fact that the majority of their incoming medical students were women. Girls were performing better in the final school examination that controls entry to medicine. A new additional entry test for medicine was devised to try to balance entry by gender. There was some outrage. One of the things that struck me though was at no point did anyone raise the two issues which are invariably raised when quotas for women are suggested:
1. Won’t those boys who got in on the “aptitude test” and would not otherwise have got in feel bad about the higher performing girls who they are displacing? Personally, I would feel terrible, if it were me…
2. Aren’t we risking not having the very best students as our doctors. Don’t we want the best students to be doctors?
But let’s be honest here, the real reason that they are so keen to get in men is that huge numbers of female doctors go part time in their thirties when they have children. Working as a GP seems to facilitate this. Working in a hospital does not. Who is going to man (no pun intended) the emergency wards? Perhaps though this indicates a need for a wider rethink of medical careers rather than a gender control of the intake. Perhaps the same is true for politics.
One of the most interesting things about female role models and confidence I have heard was from Maire Geoghgan Quinn. She was speaking about being offered the Gaeltacht portfolio by then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. She would be the first female full cabinet Minister since the foundation of the State (Countess Markiewicz was Minister for Labour in the first Dail before independence). She is as tough as old boots, MGQ, but she said that when she was offered the job, the first thing she said was “Do you think I’m up to it?” She said that it is a comment she has always regretted. I find it almost unbelievable that someone like her would have said that. I think it shows two things: 1. that the fact that she was to be the first full female cabinet Minister in some 60 years weighed on her mind and 2. that like many women lacked confidence in her abilities. There might be something in this role model business.
[Now, clever readers, the title of this post refers to a novel by a well known feminist author – guess away, no googling.]