Monday 24 October 2016

Debate: Should there be gender quotas in politics?

Suzanne Collins and Mary O'Rourke

Published 15/11/2015 | 02:30

Mary O'Rourke
Mary O'Rourke

Suzanne Collins and Mary O'Rourke debate the issue of gender quotas in politics.

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FOR - We can't continue with 16pc

Suzanne Collins

Recently I asked a female candidate for one of the larger parties why she hadn't contested a general election before. A long-time councillor with an impressive record of public service and campaigning, she seemed like an obvious choice for her party.

The candidate told me that she had been approached by the (male) powers-that-be previously. She expressed interest, but also concerns around a lack of profile outside her area, raising enough money, and nervousness dealing with national media.

The powers-that-be promptly moved on to a man who, despite facing the same challenges, said yes immediately.

This time, the powers-that-be approached the woman again. She expressed the same concerns, except this time her party responded differently. They arranged canvass teams at the other end of the constituency, provided advice on fundraising and media training, and the woman is now running.

This shows how the gender quota for selection has created opportunities for women, particularly within parties. Where parties have supposedly struggled to find female candidates in the past, they now are looking harder within their ranks and succeeding. The prospect of losing 50pc of public funding for failing to field 30pc female candidates has really focused efforts.

In reality, parties select candidates who will increase their vote and win seats. Despite fears of unqualified women being imposed on the electorate, Women for Election's research has found that 90pc of female candidates from the larger parties are already elected at local or national level or have run before. These women are competent, capable, proven vote-winners.

It is simply not possible to continue as we are, with only 16pc of women in the Dail, with only 95 female TDs ever elected, and only 15 women ever serving at Cabinet. Change is needed and gender quotas work. They are the only internationally proven method of rebalancing the gender disparity in representative politics.

Quotas are, however, only part of the solution. It is essential that women receive training, mentoring and support (a huge part of the work of Women for Election) to maximise their opportunities and votes. Getting women on the ticket is half the battle; getting them elected is vital.

As we gather to debate the issue at the 'View - Temple Bar Arts & Politics' festival this Thursday, it is worth remembering that politics is the art of the possible. Quotas have created possibilities not only for women running in the upcoming general election, but for those young women and girls who will hopefully see more women in public life, hear more female voices on the airwaves, and be inspired by the possibilities open to them.

Suzanne Collins is a member of Women for Democracy.

AGAINST: Women are being treated as appendages

The gender quotas in politics is raising its head in a very loud way these days. I never expected the debate would be harmonious but in fact it has become rowdy and bizarre in many constituencies.

The main tenet underpinning the gender quota legislation is a provision that political parties which do not field 30pc female candidates will have their state funding slashed.

Finance is a powerful ­motivator and, in the case of gender quotas in politics, it is a huge factor now underpinning many constituency conventions.

Let me be really clear, from the very beginning I was not in favour of this Bill. I had left Dail Eireann before the Bill was introduced by the now ­Commissioner, Phil Hogan. My main reason for objecting to this measure was the unjust nature of it. It is discriminatory against women and unfair to both women and men. Women are being treated as ­appendages to be added hither and thither just in order to achieve the quota.

Election conventions are an essential part of most political parties in Ireland whereby the party delegates assemble to choose their candidate. In many cases these have been swept aside on the basis that a woman is to be chosen regardless of the outcome of a vote. This means that in many instances there is no vote but instead the assembled delegates, often numbering hundreds, have been told, this is your candidate and that is the end of the matter.

Even though I had left Dail Eireann, I followed the debate on the matter through the Dail records. There were two strong debaters against the Bill - Joanna Tuffy, TD, Labour, and Maureen O'Sullivan, TD, Independent. They made their case based on unfairness and I echo that.

In my view, a person should be picked to go forward as a candidate based on their merits and their potential, not on their gender.

Yes, there are far too few women deputies but a sledge hammer such as this measure is not the way to achieve more female members in Dail Eireann.

Machiavelli wrote many centuries ago: 'The end justifies the means.' Yes, the end is admirable - more female politicians. The means, as currently being used to get to that holy grail are in many cases disgraceful and undemocratic.

Before everyone starts ­castigating me, let me state quite clearly: I want more women TDs in Dail Eireann. Dail Eireann would be a much better place if there were greater female representation.

To that end I am engaged and have been for the last three months in an odyssey around Ireland visiting female Fianna Fail members who have been selected legitimately and democratically by the party members to go forward for Dail Eireann.

I will continue on that path and my forecast is that Fianna Fail will have at least half-a-dozen strong, able, ­articulate women in Dail Eireann come spring 2016.

This may seem a modest proposal but for us, in Fianna Fail, it will be a giant step forward.

Mary O'Rourke is a former Fianna Fail minister

Sunday Independent

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