Saturday 22 October 2016

A return to gender would be bad for women

Mildred Fox says all working mums juggle family and careers - but as a TD, the pressure can get too much

Mildred Fox

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

Mildred Fox pictured outside Leinster House on one of her first days, back in 2002
Mildred Fox pictured outside Leinster House on one of her first days, back in 2002
Mildred Fox with her daughter Caoilfhionn Tighe

I hate gender quotas. To me, they seem manufactured to present a healthy picture of a situation. They remind me of a cheesy Christmas card I used to get with a shiny, happy family snap on the front, just that little bit too sweet to be wholesome. They are idealistic, they are forced and in the democratic process, they have the potential to sell us short. At least you know where I stand.

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The concept of political parties running more women is a fine one - indeed 30pc would be a great start, but only if it is genuinely something which is beneficial to our political system, to the electorate and to candidates themselves.

I do not believe that forced gender quotas are the best way to achieve this.

It almost sounds like I don't want women to run at all. I do, in fact, want more women to run. There are thousands of everyday women out there who would make a far better job of running the country than many of our present and past governments. We have the ability, the confidence, the education and life experience, so what is taking us so long to sign up for all the job vacancies in our political parties? Why aren't we caught up in a stampede to brush the evil male humans aside and take their jobs?

Well, here are a few reasons the gender quota isn't going to solve the problem.

The good old selection convention.

Very few women have the appetite for the cut-throat selection conventions of the past. Trying to navigate through these selection conventions is exhausting, infuriating and farcical. In the event a new, fresh candidate might actually cause an upset and beat Mr Popular, chances are Mr Popular would be added to the ticket and make life hell on the campaign trail.

With the requirement now on political parties to ensure that 30pc of the candidates are female the format changes - and this is where it gets slightly complicated for political parties. Some parties are robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Early selection conventions in certain parts of the country didn't select sufficient female candidates to get near this 30pc quota.

In the final constituencies they may deny men the right to contest the selection convention. This does not seem fair or equal to me. Should a woman be picked to run over a man by virtue of the fact that they are a woman, regardless of comparable ability?

Should one constituency be forced to pick any old female candidate to even up the numbers and pick up the slack for another constituency?

Should a political party be forced to add a woman to the ticket to comply with quotas, even if it means splitting their vote and weakening their chances of a seat? Should political parties deliberately chose weak female candidates to fulfil their quotas? Would any woman be happy to contest an election in the knowledge that they may be denying a better person for the job?

The hours required of TDs are the biggest obstacle for women with children. This was the straw that broke the camel's back in my case, and I suspect in many more. With the best intentions in the world, your family comes last. Their days out are the ones you sacrifice to attend some vote-getting event. Their school plays are watched on a camcorder at 1 o' clock in the morning . . . alone.

For all working mothers it is always difficult to kiss your kids goodbye for the day, but knowing that you won't see them for a few days at a time is emotionally draining. This is the reality for most TDs every week. For this reason, there will always be a fall-off in the participation of women in politics while their children are young. It is inevitable, and maybe we shouldn't over-analyse this and make women feel they are less than perfect if they can't do both. Priorities change.

Many women don't measure success through money or status but rather how well they can shape their families. This shouldn't be dismissed or undervalued. Many ideas have surfaced over the years, from establishing creches in the Dail to pairing systems but unfortunately for women, the electorate doesn't respond well to TDs who don't attend their public meetings. This is unlikely to change anytime soon and certainly won't be resolved by gender quotas. To be honest, I don't care if my next TD has breasts or a moustache, neither or even both, as long as they are the best person for the job.

Irish Independent

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