Dearth of women in politics – The whY factor

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Meet the next wave of Sinn Fein TDs

“The true republic: men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less” Susan B. Anthony-1820-1906

On January 30th last, I had the pleasure of an invite, organised by the very able team of Women for Election -in partnership with the US Embassy Dublin, to hear from Professor Jennifer Lawless. And yes after airport type security I was let inside!

Professor Jennifer Lawless is internationally recognized as the expert on women’s involvement in politics and is the co author of “It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office”. She has published numerous articles in Political Science Journals and has issued several policy reports on the barriers that impede women’s candidate emergence.

Professor Lawless joined a gathering of over a 100 women, live via webcast, offering her thoughts, research and advice to potential candidates and all those interested in seeing more women run for political office here in Ireland.

Equipping women for politics – Support, encouragement, empowerment, confidence and communication.

Prof Jennifer Lawless introduced her acclaimed research on why women don’t run for public office. She states that when women run they do just as well as men yet across the globe only 20% are women.

Overwhelmingly it remains a man’s world. That’s a massive 30% gap- not rocket science to conclude a fundamental wrong when the political system does not reflect 50% of the population. Surely then this dilutes the legitimacy of democracies? Ireland is ranked, just ahead of Zimbabwe, as 76th in the international league of women’s representation whereas, in Sweden, parity with men is more or less achieved. There is a lot to do to address this and to modernize politics and provide a progressive socie

Why don’t women put themselves forward?

Politicians in the main come from 4 professions – Law, Business. Education and Political/Community activism and within these professions the gender balance is practically equal yet women are a third less likely ever to consider politics. Women’s achievements in the Political sphere are more complex than men’s.

What are the central barriers?

(1) Family reasons. Something women have grappled with for decades. They are ten times more likely to be responsible for household and children and are usually employed. This leaves no time for anything else. The public’s negative connotation for mothers of young children no longer appears to hold true. Take that Alaskan gun-toting mother of young children, Sarah Palin, she received admiration rather than hostility from Josephine and Joe Public when running for Vice-President in the US. It was entirely different reasons that led to her defeat

(2) As women and their children get older there is more opportunity to engage in politics but then this systematic delay shortens any success in the political arena.

(3) Confidence issues. Women often demean and devalue themselves-cultural inheritance of traditional roles and their place in society. The Media has at times a negative influence on women’s capabilities for Politics, though they are also tools that can be employed to reassure voters that women are up to the job. It has never occurred to women to get involved or become a candidate. They do not put themselves forward. Majority of women in politics were asked by others to be involved- obviously others saw in them tremendous ability. Perhaps we are not as grandiose as men!

(4) Our daughters don’t have role models to perpetuate involvement as the women who run appear to be exceptional, outstanding and remarkable, far beyond the reach of the ordinary gal. This reinforces the idea of the need to possess high faluting standards that ordinary women neither want nor feel they are qualified for. Added to this is the notion (and at times the truth) that politics is not a noble profession and women are too smart to get involved

(5) Finances- less access to cash. From US research women can raise equivalent money and often raise more than their male opponents but work harder to obtain it. They are more likely to be drip feed- no wads of cash knowingly handed over- women must earn it by installments .Financial support is available- it’s just more onerous for us women to be trusted with the entire amount at once.

(6) Polarization of politics -women are more likely to prioritize issues when they affect social affairs. Gender salient issues like health, education, childcare, human trafficking etc. Having to compromise or dilute stances as a member of a Political Party is viewed negatively.

Prof Jennifer felt that gender parity is decades away from achieving critical mass. Though personally I think we will be embedded in the political system within 2 decades. Men need us alongside – this is a new dawning for them also. They cannot and should not carry the responsibilities of our world alone, they must share the burden and satisfaction that comes with good politics that improve all of our lives.

It is important to understand impediments and then find solutions. The experience of quotas internationally has been very positive. Quotas will “concentrate the mind” according to Phil Hogan as he attempts to redress this prejudicial imbalance of female representation.

I wholeheartedly support the quota legislation- it can and does work and yes there are competent and capable and gracious and smart and honest women out there who will add to the progression of our society that we are all in dire need of. Just ask and support them. It is imperative that we achieve gender parity and get women at political tables to lead, influence and make policies.

I discussed the malignant influences on the socialization of our children -especially our daughters. We emerged from men’s shadow and believed that we had achieved an understanding that opened up the world for us, no longer forced to abide by traditional roles as was the norm for generations of women living under the cosh of patriarchy. I am appalled and angered by the cynical exploitation of children (particularly targeted at girls) by corporations whose blatant greed has hijacked childhood and is successfully creating a narrow image of what it means to be a girl. The media, with their WAGS and Bimbos, have waged a sustained assault on them that threatens to undo all that has been fought for and won. Women in the Political sphere will lead in tempering this obscenity that (un)consciously promotes a “Stepford wives syndrome”.

Start politics at home- encourage all children to be politically active through school debates, student union positions, youth organizations, School councils etc. Encourage them to watch and enjoy intelligent movies, provide for thought provoking discussions on the world, its wonders and its unfairness. To develop enquiring and open minds and to ask questions .To be seen and heard.

“The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside but in the councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union, between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race”. Susan B. Anthony 1899

Thank you for the wonderful opportunity. I will now resume my usual position at the outside of the Embassy with placard in hand.

“FAILURE IS IMPOSSIBLE”

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