As a young woman in politics it is evident that there is still a huge gender imbalance in representation in all aspects of political life. Although Ireland has made massive strides in the improvement of the participation of women in politics, the statistics remain stark.
Each new Dáil has seen to slowly increase the amount of women elected each time, but unfortunately change is still painstakingly slow. In the 33rd Dáil, 36 women were elected out of 160 in our national parliament (22.5%) meaning Ireland currently rank 87th in the world for the amount of women in parliament. With only 4 senior ministerial positions given to women in cabinet and a further 3 women appointed as ministers of state, Ireland is still playing catch up towards ensuring that the voices of mná na hÉireann are heard at the top table in decision making.
Gender quotas were introduced back in 2012 meaning 30% of all candidates must be female which have, in fact, been shown to have positive influence towards increasing the number of women in politics. However, it would be remiss of me to ignore the damage they are also doing. Gender quotas can create an unhealthy narrative that women only receive a party nomination because of their gender rather than their ability. Many believe the selection of a candidate should be solely based on merit but what about equal representation? The function of our parliament is for lay people to serve the population as a public representative by passing and voting for legislation. Our parliament should reflect the population and represent the people of Ireland, but how can they do that authentically when women represent 50% of the population but only account for 22.5% in the Dáil?
As well as that, the tokenistic use of women as a second candidate in order to secure state funding should also be condemned. Putting women in unwinnable seats or as a 'sweeper' candidate will only further discourage women’s participation in politics. In depth research and reports, including the Oireachtas report 'Women’s Participation In Politics' in 2009, identified five major obstacles to women entering political life commonly known as the 5C’s (Confidence, Cash, Childcare, Culture and Candidate Selection). It highlights issues such as women having less confidence than their male counterparts, including 'imposter syndrome' as part of this insecurity. Women in more public roles are often held to higher public standards particularly when it comes to conduct online, presentation in how they dress and how they hold office.
Politics is noticeably male dominated and is often times unsuitable for women when political life and a public setting go hand in hand. The challenges are particularly stacked up against women who have young children with anti-social hours, no formal maternity leave and childcare being one of the largest barriers to women overall on society as a whole.
Women’s representation must be made a priority until equal representation is achieved but some believe we’re are decades away from 50-50 representation in politics in Ireland. With gender quota’s being increased to 40% in 2023, most are of the belief that all politics is local and quotas should be introduced at local elections in order to ensure that women have a more clear cut pathway to a career in national politics.
However, societal stigma towards women in today’s world is changing rapidly and many positive advancements have been made even in the last decade alone, but there is still a struggle in equal representation in many other sectors outside politics including IT, maths and science. Women must continue to break down the barriers and shatter those glass ceilings, but we are a long way off yet and the next generation may not be ready for equal representation. With the disheartening reality that not enough women are willing to put themselves forward for election even in youth politics, how can we inspire the next generation of young women to come involved in politics when youth parties still lack female membership? The onus falls onto us, the youth, to correct the mistakes of the last generations and improve political life for women for future generations by ensuring women get involved but also stay involved in politics.
I am truly optimistic that with more public outcry and recognition of female representation in our parliament that this is an issue political parties can no longer ignore and take seriously. With the political landscape drastically changed in the aftermath of the General Election of 2020 and the gender quotas being increased to 40% by 2023, I hope that the next election will change the political landscape with better female representation. Nevertheless, it could be a while before full gender equality is achieved in all aspects of political and societal life.
Emily Larkin is a third-year student studying primary school teaching in Dublin. She on the national executive of Young Fine Gael serving as director of Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity. She is one of only two women sitting on the executive. Recently, Emily helped set up the Women’s Network to promote young women in politics in Young Fine Gael.