More to be done for women’s participation in political life

10 December 2021

Speaking at the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s Increasing Women’s Political Participation webinar, Labour TD and Chair of the Special Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality Ivana Bacik said that more needs to be done to progress women’s rights in Ireland and improve levels of women’s participation in electoral politics.

Deputy Bacik said:

“There is no doubt that women continue to experience high levels of gender-based abuse and harassment in carrying out their everyday roles as public representatives. This misogynistic abuse, particularly online, is becoming an increasing barrier to women’s political participation. In order to stamp out this stain on political life, we need to take a broader look at equality and diversity policies in every aspect of life, including the taking of ‘positive action’ measures to promote equality.

“This issue of ‘positive action’ to promote equality is often controversial. Some people even speak about it as ‘reverse discrimination’ but it is impossible to tackle inequality just by banning discrimination. Where you have decades or even centuries of discrimination, there is no level playing field – instead you must introduce positive action measures like quotas to bring the disadvantaged group up to the same level as the privileged group.

“We know from experience that positive action measures are necessary to achieve a more diverse and inclusive political system – in which sexist bullying or abuse is not tolerated. Without such positive measures, we will never achieve the levels of women’s representation necessary to generate a ‘critical mass’ culture where sexism is eradicated.

“In July this year, I was proud to have been elected as the 37th woman in Dail Eireann – out of 160 TDs. That means that we now have 23% female representation in our parliament. To put it another way, men make up 77% of our TDs.

“Indeed, I am only the 131st woman ever to have been elected to the Dail, a shocking statistic especially considering it is over a century since we won the right to vote. The very low representation of women as Oireachtas members struck me when I was first elected to the Seanad in 2007, and became quickly conscious how pale, male and stale it was – and how few women had ever been elected to parliament here.

“As a member of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, I authored a report on Women’s Participation in Politics in 2009. We found that women face serious obstacles in entering politics. From the accounts given of women’s experiences, and the international literature, these obstacles were identified as the ‘five Cs’: childcare, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection procedures.

“In short, women tend to bear the bulk of child caring responsibilities; they earn less than men, lack sufficient confidence to put themselves forward as candidates, and have to endure a male-dominated culture in political parties. We need to stand up and challenge against this culture and while gender quotas have been a useful way to shake up the political parties, it has not translated into national representation. Our 30% quota introduced in 2012 has already generated some positive change; and I hope that the 40% quota in the next General Election will see us return many more women to the Dáil.

“In 2021, we can take stock of the great progress for women’s rights in Ireland over the past 103 years, while seeing how much remains to be done. Experience elsewhere, and now in Ireland, clearly shows that, without enforceable legal targets or quotas, the numbers of women in politics will not rise and those women who are in political life will continue to experience ‘everyday sexism’. Irish democracy will remain unfinished and incomplete.”

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