I'm Tired of the Men-Only Attitudes in Certain Jobs. Let's Change Politics So It Attracts the Women It So Badly Needs

Daily Mail (London), April 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

I'm Tired of the Men-Only Attitudes in Certain Jobs. Let's Change Politics So It Attracts the Women It So Badly Needs


Byline: Catherine Ardagh

MY family have a long tradition in politics, going back a couple of generations, so in many respects I have been brought up with politics all around me. I spent my youth collecting election stickers from the count floor and caught the political bug at a very early age.

So when an opportunity arose to run for office myself, I welcomed the chance to make a difference in how our communities and societies are run. No other avenue for participation in civic society affords the same potential to make an impact and change things for the better.

And one thing that definitely needs to change is the role of women in politics.

As a qualified solicitor and barrister, I know what it is like to work in a male-dominated culture. I have my own established practice, but the attitude from many men in the profession is, 'Aw, how nice for you, you have your own little practice - fair play.' I'm often expected to work in family law rather than grittier avenues such as commercial. And this same macho-fused attitude is pervasive in the political sphere.

There has never been a female ceann comhairle or clerk of the Dail. For that matter, there has never been a female captain of the guard either. These are all senior positions in the Oireachtas, all held by men.

Only recently, we have the first female chief justice and also the first female attorney general.

Quota The symbol of these appointments should not be lost on those in the political profession in Ireland.

Other than Mary Harney, there has never been a female leader of any political party in Ireland. However there have been a few deputy leaders and hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

Even in 2014, media coverage of the Dail tends to be at Taoiseach's question time so the main participants are nearly always male and this needs to change. There are two out of 15 Cabinet members who are female. This is far from ideal.

Change will not happen unless everyone is on board for it and there has to be a huge cultural shift to reach where some parliaments have already delivered - and that is a straight 50:50 split between men and women.

Half of the countries in the world use some type of electoral quota for their parliament with Rwanda the 'best in the class' with 56.3 per cent female politicians.

I am actually a recent convert to female quotas as I always believed in women getting elected on their own merits but unfortunately this has not worked and Ireland needs to take drastic action.

The 30 per cent quota introduced by Minister Phil Hogan is the first step towards increasing female involvement. There have been numerous reports done by successive Oireachtas committees over the past 30 years but unfortunately little has changed.

The bottom line is there are extra challenges for women to participate, particularly if there are children involved. Women need to change as well and meet these challenges. These challenges have been variously described as the 'five Cs' - confidence, cash, candidate selection, culture and childcare. …

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