Two steps forward, one step back

2011-03-06T13:08:53+00:00 March 6th, 2011|Categories: Opinion|Tags: , , , , , , , |
Constance Markiewicz, the first woman elected ...

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Two weeks ago today, I attended an event at the Imperial Hotel organised by the 50:50 Group, which wants to see an improvement in Ireland’s rate of female representation.
On Sunday I watched the count at Cork City Hall as Deirdre Clune lost her seat in Cork South Central, bringing the representation there to 100 per cent men.
However, despite the loss of South Central’s one woman TD, Cork has actually increased its female representation.

For that one step back, Cork took two forward, in the shape of new female TDs, Áine Collins of Fine Gael in Cork North West, and Sandra McLellan of Sinn Féin in Cork East. That’s three female TDs out of 19 representing Cork. Congratulations to them, and to Kathleen Lynch for retaining her seat, and commiserations to Deirdre Clune.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that any of these four women will be better or worse TDs than their male colleagues.

Whether they are better or worse as judged on their individual merits is not the point.

Almost half the population is not represented by people who understand what their lives are like on the most basic biological level.

Irish women are still more likely to live in poverty and still, despite higher educational attainment, earn one-fifth less than men. Ireland comes joint 85th with Cameroon on the level of women in politics.

Women TDs may, as Kathleen Lynch suggested at the 50:50 Group meeting, have a different way of thinking and of approaching problems. They may face different problems themselves (the old staple combo of black suit, white shirt and red tie unfortunately doesn’t apply). Like male TDs, they may be completely useless, or highly successful – that part is not gender-specific.

But the point is, Cork’s three female TDs are venturing where few women dare to tread. Just 15 per cent of candidates who went forward for this election were women.
As Deputy Lynch told that group two weeks ago, she has found on visits to schools that “girls think politics is what boys do”. That has to change.

This election has seen a record number of female TDs elected to the Dáil. That record? 25 women. Out of 166. This is two higher than the most recent record, 23.
Next Tuesday is International Women’s Day. (I’ve been asked why there is no International Men’s Day, to which I would respond – what’s stopping you, men?)

This country has entered a very exciting period. Yes, the economy might be up the swannee, people are emigrating, and many of us are having a terrible time trying to make ends meet.

But with trauma comes the possibility for change, and the only time something changes is when the status quo just will not do anymore.
This election didn’t merely swap one party for another – it allowed in some unconventional new faces, and has polarised Irish politics between left and right to an extent that we have not seen before. This will become clearer when the Dáil term begins.

The world is changing, in a greater way perhaps than it did over the past 50 years. The Arab revolutions prove that, and their ripples will upset the balance internationally for years.

Ireland can change too, and perhaps this first, tiny, step forward can be the first of many for women in this country. It’s not until next Tuesday, but Happy International Women’s Day.

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