Of gender, jobs and quotas

Party representation in Dáil Éireann (Irish lo...
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Over on political reform one of the most commented pieces in recent times concerns the description of the new Fine Gael front bench as ‘Male, stale and pale’. This description is in itself ironic given the complete absence of any women in the self described progressive parties like the current SF line up or even the Green party in the last Dail. Labour do better it’s true as a portion of their Dáil representation but that has as much to do with their small size as anything one or two more TDs less than they have now and their portion drops in double digit percentages.

In the comments and cited in evidence of the experience of female candidates is a survey from the National Women’s Council of Ireland, which to be honest reads like a whine  list or litany of awful things from the campaign trail that anyone who has stood in an election could offer up, whether male or female. I had a canvasser of mine who was hunted from a doorstep in a urban Dublin area by someone brandishing what they thought was a shotgun!

I would contend that an alternative view to the notion of quotas might be that we should have an electoral system that did not serve to penalise political parties for taking chances on candidates, whether male or female, who the parties fear the electorate might potentially decide to be wrong for them. This would allow the parties to be run as many candidates as were interested in offering themselves for consideration and it would be up to the public to decide who they wanted.

The fact is that PR-STV can work as a form of instant primary but parties do not do so as the issues of the potential of low transfers between party candidates might ultimately cost them seats. If total national seat allocation was based on the portion of the national vote received with the constituency election being a means to choose which specific individuals got the seat we might see more people take a chance along with parties being more willing to take that chance with them. The national seat distribution could be topped with those party or even non-party candidates who had the highest vote without being elected at the constituency level.

The other issues being raised about the nature of politics that is supposedly off putting to women, clubbishness and so on strikes me as missing the point. Convincing people to vote for you and support a course of action you advocate requires things like building alliances,  being somewhat thick skinned about personal comments etc. All of this effort against what is human behaviour is a bit like suggesting that sport X should change its rules so that more people who are currently unsuited to it could play it. But it would cease to be the sport it was. If you think soccer players should be able to catch the ball go play rugby or football, if you think people shouldn’t be able to make such rough tackles in football then play soccer. If you think that people shouldn’t club together to achieve their collective aims then electoral politics isn’t for you.

I hate to be citing Big Brother as empirical evidence of much of anything but the fact that the female contestants picked one another off while the males tended to club together until such time as they absolutely had to fight amongst themselves says something even if it’s hard to be 100% sure what it is.

Those negative comments from the NWCI Survey could be as easy found by asking male candidates of their experiences too, as I was a candidate at one time below are a few responses to the comments I’d add. The ‘quoted’ remarks are from the NCWI post on the survey

‘Negative comments from women [like] ‘politics is no place for a woman’ and ‘isn’t your husband great to be allowing you to do this’, to ‘don’t forget to make time for your children and don’t neglect you family’ really annoyed me. At the first council meeting, I was referred to as the ‘new girl’.

DK – I was in my 30s and even then most members of the party thought of me as a lad barely out of short trousers. Older people in Ireland are incredibly patronising of younger people, it’s not about gender.

‘And one elderly man on the doorstep said he would vote for me because ‘you would be handy for cooking them dinner in the council’ – he didn’t intend to be rude, but that was his truth”

DK – If people are put off by every negative comment and experience on a door step then they’ve no place contesting an election. Ask anyone who has contested an election and they will regale you with horror stories of craziness and abuse they’ve experienced. It will be a minority of people that behaviour like this but out of 100,000 people even 0.1% is a 100 people. The fact that I’d worked in IT lead some voters to think I’d be great for fixing the PCs in the council.

‘As I was on the ticket with a male, I was mostly ignored at the doors, unless I happened to be on my own – even when male party members were canvassing with me, the public tended to speak to them, not me.’

DK – It is your job as the candidate to make an impression on the voters, it is not the voter’s job to single you out. Be pushy, assert yourself. Why would someone choose to vote for someone to speak up for them when they don’t even spoke up for themselves? Remember you’ve come to their home, you have to convince them to chose you above all others.

‘Some women commented that as a young woman, I should be happy to be married and have children, not get into politics’

DK – I recall research from Liam Weeks at UCC on the 2004 local elections that showed that the worst for voting for young women were older women. But it is ironic that, if in part the under representation of women in politics is due to the behaviour of women voters that, the solution is to reward this behaviour by having a quota for those same women! Believe me a quota system won’t be seeing loads of 20 something women getting elected.

‘I stay in it (politics) because I want to continue making a difference in my area and to influence policy within a larger party, but it is frustrating!’

DK – Politics is incredible frustrating, if you can’t cope with frustration then knocking on thousands of doors isn’t for you. This like people complaining that they’d be Olympic distance champions only that they found the hours and hours of training to be really boring. If you can’t do the work involved in the training then don’t expect to get the medals. And political change takes place over decades, not a few months or years.

‘Women found it encouraging seeing a young female candidate seeking re-election’

‘Intimidation and bully tactics are still a very prevalent part of party politics. While existing female councillors are tolerated, obstacles and barriers are put in place to prevent further new female candidates from entering politics’

DK – Bullying or overbearing behaviour is common in lots of jobs, but  let’s face you have to have some sort of ego to stand in front of the public and ask that they vote for you not someone else. If you can’t cope with encountering overbearing egos then representative politics isn’t for you.

‘[There is a] Paternalistic attitude within the political party. Assumptions made that I am in more need of advice because I am a woman. Mostly among older men. Men in their 20s and 30s treat women equally on the whole’

DK – anyone who is on the younger side in any organisation will have any number of older people trying to bend their ear to provide them with the benefit of their advice and experience. Even if much of it is useless and repetitive. You will get the same from the voters. Learn listen and if it’s of any use then great but mostly you’re humouring people.

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