At the moment I am busy making plans for a trip to Rwanda in February. I received funding from Irish Aid’s Simon Cumbers Media Fund last summer for a project on women in politics there, so if you’ve seen me tweeting rather a lot about Rwanda, gender quotas or gender politics generally this will be why!
Rwanda has the highest rate of women politicians in the world, with a 52% representation across its two houses of parliament. This is achieved through a mixture of electoral quotas and reserved seating. Ireland has 15% women across our two houses of parliament, and candidate quotas of 30% have just been introduced which will apply at the next general election.
Since I received the funding, the project has grown legs and will now form the basis for a Masters thesis I’ll be completing at UCC under the guidance of Fiona Buckley, who’s a leading academic in this field.
Whether you agree with quotas or not, there’s certainly something to be learned from the only country in the world where there are more female than male politicians. It’s worth remembering that there are more women than men in Ireland, but that’s not replicated in politics.
What I want to find out is why, and what changes when there are more women. If you have ‘normalised’ female politicians, does that create its own momentum and allow other women to run confidently and without the issues faced by women in countries like Ireland, where there are established factors preventing this?
I’ve spent the last few months interviewing people like Joan Burton, Kathleen Lynch, Áine Collins and Mary Lou McDonald to hear their own experiences, and they have been interesting, not to say enlightening.
In Rwanda I hope to interview a corresponding number of women politicians and have been in contact with Health Minister Dr Agnes Binagwaho and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo about this already. It’s important to get a back-bench view as well, though, so I am hoping to identify more candidates for this.
I’ll be tweeting about all of this over the next while using the hashtag #scmf, so please follow if this is of interest.