SUFFRAGETTE, THE MOVIE, is just out. Starring Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts, a working class washerwoman turned politically engaged freedom fighter, it offers modern audiences a glimpse into the battle waged by Emmeline Pankhurst and her followers.
We watch as Maud is drawn into the movement and meets many of the leading suffragettes in her quest for a more egalitarian society. And for our efforts of getting more women in the Dáil, there probably isn’t a better recruitment tool.
Last week Women for Election was running a political bootcamp for women here who plan on running. Women for Election is an organisation that offers a tailored training and support programmes to women seeking to enter public life; and provides and facilitates a cross-party network of political women, committed to gender equality in Irish political representation. They believe that a diversity of voices in our politics will lead to more robust decisions, and help create a fairer, more inclusive and dynamic society.
You see in the 2011 General Election only 86 of the 566 candidates running were women (that’s just 15%). Women won 25 of the 166 Dáil seats (that’s 15%), with this increasing to 27 (16%) following the 2014 by-elections. This is the best representation women have ever had in Dáil Éireann, but it is an increase of only 5% in the last 35 years. Since the foundation of the State in 1918, just 95 women have been elected in the Republic of Ireland; our Dáil has never been less than 84% male.
At local level the story is kind of the same: women make up just 16% of elected representatives, an increase of only 1% in ten years, despite comprising about one third of the membership of the main political parties. At this snail pace of change it will be 2250 before we can claim balanced political representation. Maybe my watch is wrong but that seems like a very long time. Internationally Ireland fares very badly, ranking just 83rd of 190 countries in the Inter Parliamentary Union’s world classification table of women in parliaments, and just 20th of the 27 EU member states for female political representation.
It’s unsurprising when you consider how female politicians are talked about by the media. From the treatment of Angela Merkel, women learned that even if Forbes magazine labels you the most powerful woman in the world, it will still see fit to run an article on your “frumpy power suits” and “silly pageboy haircut.”
From Hillary Clinton’s experience we have learned that women in politics will be questioned, not on their political beliefs, but on their favourite designers; that they will be arbitrarily lambasted both for being too feminine and not feminine enough. From Sarah Palin’s Vice Presidential campaign they have learned that no matter what your ideas on the environment or the economy, voters will sexually objectify you when you are immortalised as a blow-up doll. The trickle down effects of these messages are clear.
The new quota system is welcome but unless further action is taken, Ireland will continue to miss out on women’s skills and talents for another generation which is why we need initiatives like Women for Election. But maybe women should turn things on their head – stop fighting for female equality in areas that interest us and start fighting for inequality in areas that don’t interest us at all.
Maybe that housework stuff – we want far fewer rights to do that. Same for endless work-childcare juggling (bring in the guys. We’re only women – we aren’t up to the challenge and never were). Basically, continued inequality in the exciting areas of life, for the next 200 years – fine. But we’ll be wanting out of the boring stuff too and the make-up and accessorising duties. The fight for female inequality starts here.
Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath.