There was much debate when Gender Quotas were introduced in Irish National Politics back in 2012. Although I saw many dangers I agreed with the measure. We were told that gender imbalance was so serious that this drastic step was needed if we were to make progress in any reasonable timescale. We were told that Gender Quotas would be a temporary measure and other actions would be taken that would address the underlying reasons for gender imbalance which would in time make gender quotas unnecessary. This seemed entirely reasonable to me. It was a blunt weapon that would only be used temporarily.
Unfortunately very little real action has been taken to make politics more accessible to all. Jim Daly’s recent decision to step away from politics illustrates this all too well. The kind of people who put family first are the kind of people we need in politics. Politics is not family friendly.
There have been no real steps taken to address this even though we know that this effects women more than men. Not just because there is no maternity leave for politicians. (Any serious efforts to address Gender imbalance would surely have addressed maternity leave for politicians.)
Women are still more active and responsible for parenting in the vast majority of Irish homes. This is the core of the issue I think. Real gender equality can only be achieved when parental responsibilities are shared more equally between men and women. This would involve shared maternity/paternity leave where either parent could easily decide to be the primary parent while their partner works. We have seen some increase in paternity leave but we are nowhere near equality. I am not suggesting that maternity leave be reduced. We should just recognise that families operate in many different ways and women should be facilitated to work in in the same way men are.
By introducing quotas without making any other changes we have reduced the quality of national representation in this country. We have not increased the overall number of women involved in politics, we have just pushed the ones that are already involved to the top to make it look like the problem is solved. Only 23% of county councillors are female. This is considered the training ground for T.D.’s.
Imagine if we did the same with Nurses? Nurses and Midwives are an incredibly important part of our health service. A good Nurse is both a patient’s carer and advocate. Lower quality Nurses and Midwives would lead to worse outcomes for patients. Over 90% of Nurses and Midwives are female. If we decided to introduce a gender quota for Nurses and Midwives without taking any other measure to encourage male interest we would reduce quality.
There would have to be a lower leaving cert points requirement for males. There would have to be either more male places than female in colleges or lower passing out requirements for males. This would be because the males would have on average lower academic ability as identified by their lower points scores. There would of course be exceptions but on a national level the quality of Nurses and Midwives would be greatly reduced. This would not be because Women are smarter or better than men, it would be because the pool from which the men are picked would be much smaller. It would be a disaster.
This is what we have done in Irish politics. There are notable exceptions but on the whole how can quality not have been reduced? How can a pool of 23% of County Councillors providing 50% of future T.D.’s not be of lower quality than the other 50% drawn from the 77% of male County Councillors?
The goal of having political gender balance without quotas needs to be remembered. Gender Quotas are a means to an end, not an end in itself. And lets tackle the boardrooms while we are at it.
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