Sunday 25 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: It will hurt democracy and meritocracy, but it's a necessary evil

Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Katherine Zappone, Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Regina Doherty were at the front of a photo taken at Government Buildings when Enda Kenny unveiled his new Cabinet
Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Katherine Zappone, Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Regina Doherty were at the front of a photo taken at Government Buildings when Enda Kenny unveiled his new Cabinet
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

On the day Enda Kenny announced his new Cabinet, the ministers all lined up one behind the other for a photograph in the corridors of Government Buildings.

At the front was the Taoiseach, followed by Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Katherine Zappone, Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Regina Doherty. And then there were 12 men in suits.

By putting his female ministers to the foreground of the picture Mr Kenny was disguising the fact that he had fallen well short of a promise to appoint a Cabinet that was split 50:50 in terms of gender.

It was the first broken promise in the aftermath of the election and came despite a record election for women. There are now 35 female TDs, an increase of 40pc on 2011. But the Taoiseach didn't face any criticism for it because there were no obvious omissions.

Nobody pointed and said "she should definitely be at the top table".

Forcing political parties to have 30pc women on their election tickets has worked to some extent - but those who make it to Leinster House still have to earn their stripes.

Gender quotas have a value but they also run the risk of undermining women who have worked hard to get 'into the room'.

Where is the balance when one woman is appointed on merit and another on gender?

I was on the board of a voluntary sporting organisation for two years and while it wouldn't have met the new gender balance rules, we had some very experienced women in key roles.

The board had provincial quotas to ensure a balanced regional representation but not a gender requirement.

The women were elected by the grassroots members from the 32 counties. None of them was considered the 'gender candidate'.

But quotas also act as a sticking plaster over the real deeper problems that prevent women rising to the top of the corporate, political and sporting world.

Society has moved a long way in terms of giving women basic rights but they still face more obstacles than us men.

The obvious biological one can't be helped, but others such as the perception (and Constitutional expectation) that women should spend more time in the home are hard to overcome.

We need to break down the barriers that stop women getting involved in these public roles.

Level-headed men would welcome such a move as it might even bring a bit of balance into their lives.

For all the women who want to worry less about childcare and rushing home in the evening, there is a cohort of men who would love if it was acceptable for them to tell the boss they have to take Monday off to bring their child to the dentist.

Then there is the argument that women will represent women better than men ever could.

That may be the case, but then we need to start looking at who represents young people and the elderly. Should organisations start applying 'sexuality quotas' to ensure the LGBT community are suitably looked after?

Quotas restrict democracy and meritocracy.

They may be a necessary evil for now, but we need to start looking at the bigger picture if women are going to be proper equals.

Irish Independent

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