Our gender-blind party leadership needs to wake up and smell the coffee

The leaders of all the political parties claim that they place high priority on growing the numbers of women in politics. Following the local elections and cabinet reshuffle how are they faring?

This table shows the situation (as of today) across the 28 EU member states. Ireland is ranked in 24th position – an abysmal but unfortunately consistently poor position for this country. This is what gender quotas are supposed to help fix.

Gender quotas
All the parties signed up to the new gender quota legislation (the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act, 2012) that in the next general election will require all parties to ensure that at least 30% of their candidates are women (and 30% are men; these proportions are set to rise to 40% in due course). Failure to do so will result in hefty fines (50% reduction in the generous public funding that parties receive).

The May 2014 local elections were seen as a dry run. Even though (mistakenly) the gender quota legislation didn’t apply in this case, the parties committed to achieving the 30% nonetheless. In the event only Sinn Féin (narrowly) and the minor left-of-centre parties achieved this (31.6% of SF candidates were women). Labour almost made it (29%), whereas Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were way off (22.8% and 17.1% respectively).

A lot more needs to be done by all of the parties if they are to achieve the 30% figure in 2016 – which is where the recent ministerial reshuffle comes into frame.

Ministerial reshuffles
First, the good news. As the Table above shows post-reshuffle, Ireland (with 4 out of 15 cabinet ministers) is ranked 13 out of the 28 member states, leaping up from our previous position of 25th (when we had just two women cabinet ministers).

But when we broaden the analysis to include ministers of state, things do not look quite so impressive. Comparative figures are not readily to hand, but based on data reported by Yvonne Galligan in Politics in the Republic of Ireland (edited by John Coakley and Michael Gallagher, p.265) the second round of the recent reshuffle saw Ireland take a step back. Adding cabinet ministers and ministers of state together this reshuffle has resulted in 20% of ministers as women, down from 22% at the start of this government and equal to the record set by the Rainbow Coalition in 1994 – twenty years ago.

We’re months away from the next general election and it won’t be long before the parties start the process of selecting their candidates, this time with an eye on meeting the 30% targets set by the gender quota legislation. In order to meet these targets steps need to be taken to attract more women into politics. The inability of most parties to meet 30% targets in the locals and this most recent gender-blind reshuffle are hardly likely to help.

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