Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power and Local Area Representative Laura Reid spoke of the need for more female representation in the Dáil at a talk hosted recently by DCU’s Pádraig Pearse branch of Ógra Fianna Fáil.
Both speakers at the event, which took place on Thursday April 11th, addressed the question: ‘Why Should Women Enter Irish Politics Today?’.
Senator Power and Reid both expressed the need for action to be taken to ensure over half of the Irish population are fairly represented at national level but expressed alternate views on whether new gender quota legislation is the right way forward.
At present, 85% of Dáil representatives are male. Under new gender quota legislation, parties will have their state funding halved unless 30% of their candidates in the next general election are female. This figure will rise to 40% for subsequent elections.
Reid said that she would “rather not run at all than be picked just because I’m a woman”, however Senator Power said she reluctantly accepted that gender quotas are necessary to ensure voters have a choice. “We’re one of the worst countries in the world for female representation at parliament”, she said.
A study conducted by an Oireachtas Committee some years back identified the main obstacles dissuading women from putting themselves forward for election as the ‘five Cs’ – cash, childcare, selection conventions, confidence and culture. From her own experience, Senator Power believes the strongest of these are confidence and culture.
“For some reason women doubt themselves more than men”, she said. “A lot of women that are incredibly well-qualified and would make excellent politicians say to me ‘I don’t know if I could do that’.” Both speakers promoted the Inspire ‘Women for Election’ programme which is a non-partisan, one-day programme for women interested in politics, aimed at making them realise their skills and potential capabilities as politicians.
As well as a lack of confidence and apprehension surrounding the ‘boys club’ culture, childcare needs also prevent some women from putting themselves forward for election. Over 90% of full-time carers are female. According to Senator Power, balancing the roles of politician and parent can be very difficult. “I think a lot of people who either have kids or think they’re going to have them in the next few years automatically rule themselves out of politics.”
On the subject of her own party’s performance in government, Senator Power said the recent Meath East by-election result was very positive for the party. “I think we’ve learned an awful lot” she said, adding “longer term what we need to do as a party is to reconnect with the communities that we come from and make sure that we’re representing those people properly.”
Image Credit: Conor McCabe Photography