There are now more women in either the Dáil or the Assembly than have been at any time since those institutions were established. More women are members of the Government and the Executive than ever before. The necessity of ensuring that more women are elected to political office was thrown into the spotlight with the introduction of gender quotas in the south influenced the candidate selection in the general election for the first time. This all suggests that women are in a stronger position in public life now than they ever have been before, but this is only partly true. Women still face greater barriers to entering public life than men do, they face more challenges to have their voices heard once they have put themselves forward and if and when they become successful they will face greater scrutiny and critique than men will ever be subjected to.
The issues of women in political and public life is only one of the problems which women still face on a daily basis. Men, on average, earn 13% more than women and studies show that women still carry out the vast majority of household and childcare duties, whether or not they are in full time employment. Although statistics show that girls out-perform boys at every level in the education system, men still go on to have higher level jobs with more influence later in life. One of the major issues with these problems is that very often they’re not regarded as problems at all, which makes it even more difficult to deal with the issues that women are facing. Nowhere is this problem more prevalent than within politics and public life.
Women for Election is an organisation which aims to see a balance of men and women in political life in Ireland through encouraging and equipping women to put themselves forward and to deal with the challenges that they face while doing so. Last week, they ran their ‘Inspire’ programme in Belfast, the aim of which is to equip, inform and inspire women into taking more active roles in political life. This programme was aimed both at women who wished to run for political office one day and women who wish to influence the public agenda. Even though this programme was only one day long, it was a great way to take stock of the reasons why women are more reluctant to engage in political life and discussed practical, realistic ways in which to combat this. In addition to great workshops, advice and debate around issues which affect women in particular in the workplace, there was such a motivating sense of comradery between all the participants.
The need for an organisation like Women for Election in Ireland shows just how deep the problems which women are facing run. The bias is so ingrained into the political system that around 100 years after the women’s suffragette movement there is still a need to call people out on the sexist attitudes and misconceptions. It’s true that things are moving in the right direction, but that’s only because of the work that’s being carried out by organisations such as Women for Election which highlight these issues and provide practical, realistic solutions. It’s essential that women are properly represented at all levels of government, not only does it make the institutions more representative of the societies which they are serving, but it also means that those institutions gain something, a mix of ideas and approaches that institutions which exclude a part of society cannot understand.