Bring on the bolshie women to bang some heads together
Published 06/08/2015 | 02:30
In the next general election it is vital that we elect plenty of women to Dáil Éireann. It is vital for this country and vital for the futures of our children and grandchildren.
We need to elect plenty of women of all parties and of none. We need women who are new to politics and who aren't afraid to do things differently. Women who have big brassy dreams of how Ireland could be. Women whose focus is on the big picture and not on the parish pump. We need bolshie women with loud voices and plenty of courage.
But most of all we need to elect women who realise that in order to effect real change they must find a way to work across party lines and across the chamber. I know how very fanciful that sounds, but I am very serious.
I recently took part in a radio programme where we discussed food guilt. As we talked about the latest food nutrition fad (it is a fad - the new one will be along in a couple of years) I railed against the lack of taste in the so-called fresh fruit and vegetables I buy in the supermarket. My salads never taste as good as those I eat when I am in Spain or Italy. The difference of course is that in Spain or Italy the vegetables are fresh and have arrived that morning from the local farm. The best chefs, be they in a restaurant or at home, grow their own.
Wouldn't it be great to grow your own vegetables? To eat what's in season and is so fresh that it still has taste when it arrives on your plate, free from sprays or chlorine washes (they wash lettuce in chlorine, I kid you not). But seriously, who has time to grow their own vegetables?
Most families with young children have parents working, possibly leaving the house between 7am and 8am and not returning until nearly 12 hours later. If you are lucky enough to live reasonably near a supermarket, your weekly shop will take at least an hour and will probably be done over the weekend. Cooking a meal every evening, albeit with tasteless fruit and vegetables, is challenge enough for most of us. Most women I know are already worn out with trying to keep up with the washing, the housework and ferrying children to and from their activities. I know there are some great guys out there, but study after study has shown that it is women who still do the lion's share of the housework. Growing your own vegetables? We just about have time to cut the grass.
So what's this got to do with women politicians? Well, we have a big problem in modern society. In our rush for equality and the choice of how to live our lives as women, we have forgotten that we don't (in the traditional sense) have wives at home looking after "the domestics" of life. We have sought (and have still to find it fully) equality in a world that was designed by men, for men who, if they had families, had wives at home. Running a home requires a lot of effort and work and we have now squeezed this work into the margins of our lives.
We, as a society, are now beginning to see just how valuable those "housewives" were. They weren't paid and had no real status - hell, they didn't even have a decent title. I mean, "housewife" - they married a house? They were not only invisible themselves but so too was the work they did.
Now we are heading to crisis point on many levels. Food, which I have already alluded to, is cheap and not great quality but apparently that's what we want or need in our busy lives. Supermarkets will change just as soon as we demand they do.
But our crisis is bigger than that. We have a caring crisis. And this is a direct result of the women who for decades silently and freely provided all a family's care needs. They did a fantastic job, and it's only now that we are realising we have created a caring vacuum.
So far, the Government seems to think the answer lies with the private sector. The result of that is that we have creches that are almost unaffordable if you have more than one child. Private nursing homes are currently running at a cost of about €1,500 per week. Think about that for a minute. Someone has got to be making a big profit, especially when you consider that many of the staff (largely women) who work in these caring institutions are among the poorest paid in our society.
And that right there is the main reason we need more women in politics. To fix our broken priorities. Caring has to be front and centre of any society. We all came into the world needing care, and very likely we will all need some level of care before we depart.
We need a whole new focus on family-friendly policies in every sphere of our lives. From enabling workers to take time out to meet their care responsibilities to providing affordable, high-quality care for those who need it. We need more community care options, especially for our older citizens, and more sheltered housing. A recent report by Alone said that one in three residents of nursing homes could live at home if they had supports available. That is nothing short of a disgrace. The Government cannot wash its hands of this aspect of our national life any longer.
However, the Government is full of men - mainly straight, middle-aged, middle-class men who have never had to bother themselves with caring duties. No wonder we are in trouble.
Feminists have been breaking glass ceilings and calling for more women at the board table and in Dáil Éireann for decades. We are making progress and change is happening, but it is too slow, which is why we needed quotas. But quotas alone won't bring the changes we need.
I want an Ireland where my daughters (or their partners) can take time out from their jobs to care for their children (or, maybe me) without causing irreparable damage to their careers. I want them to be able to look after their sick child themselves, to attend the Nativity plays and make memories with their babies they will cherish forever. I want them to have time to grow their own vegetables and to make a good meal in the evening. Utopia? No, not if you're a woman. This is how it should be.
We are a small country with a tiny population. We should be able to make these changes easier than most.
But we need the bolshie women with the brassy dreams and the loud voices to begin the process. Watch out for them come the general election. And then vote for them. And let the change begin.