The voice of reason

Business, CSR | Wed 20 Jul | Author – Business & Finance stop fighting paper scissors rock gender equality

If the corporate playing field is levelled, should the same not be done across the political landscape, Maura Reidy asks?

In 2015, gender quotas were introduced into the Irish political system. Parties’ candidates must consist of 30% females or face a cut in State funding by half. This measure has resulted in the highest recorded percentage of women in the Dáil with 22% of TDs being women; a substantial increase from the meagre 15% elected in 2011. This development is by no means insignificant.

It is a remarkable evolution and one which is needed not only to ensure that half of our population is adequately and fairly represented in government, but to establish legislation that takes into consideration a full perspective of our nation’s needs and the issues by which they are affected. How can we aspire to create public policy for the good of the country when the voices of 50% of us are expressed by only a fraction of those who are actually represented around the table?

The latest figures indicate that Ireland ranks 76th in the world for female parliamentary representation. Indeed, we have made immense progress in recent years but we still have a long way to go if we are to have a balanced ballot and equality amongst the decision-makers in our government.

ENCOURAGING INITIATIVES

However, the problem lies not in a lack of educated, experienced and capable women. The issue lies in the awareness, encouragement and involvement of women in the electoral process.

Initiatives have been undertaken around the globe to inform and empower women to take a stand to the disproportion faced in both the political and professional worlds.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, these pertinent political issues were addressed by Joan Weinmann, co-chair of Equal Voice, a Canadian multi-partisan organisation committed to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada. Not dissimilar to our own organisation, Women for Election, Equal Voice has a vision of municipal, regional and federal offices which are occupied in such a way that adequately reflects the public.

“There are a number of issues that simply are not being addressed that need to be in order for half the population to be better taken care of,” Weinmann says.

BALANCED REPRESENTATION

Weinmann believes that the many of the issues affecting women in particular, such as childcare, can only be tackled through the legislative process. Although this may only be achieved when there are more women around the table. “When we don’t have women around the table, I think the only side of childcare that comes forward is a man’s perspective on that particular issue,” she declares.

It is not just a fight for feminism. Weinmann explains that the different perspective brought to the discourse and debate is needed for men just as much as women. Society is formed in equal measure by both genders and so it is only logical to portray the population as such when crucial choices are being made.

AWARENESS

Since its inception in 1994, Equal Voice has been heard across the country. Today, it comprises of 3,500 members and nine chapters from coast to coast. Weinmann accredits the organisation of not only heightening awareness of the need for a better gender balance but also of encouraging more and more women to run for office – an outstanding feat whose success is clearly visible as Canada is ranked 62nd in the world for female parliamentary representation with 26% of the seats occupied by women.

The notion that politics is an old boy’s game is commonplace

While only a few places ahead of Ireland, Canada is undergoing admirable change. Last year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared himself a feminist before unveiling a gender balanced Cabinet.

“We’ve been advocating for a gender balanced Cabinet for about 10 years and to our amazement we now have one. That’s a great stride,” Weinmann proudly states.

TAKING TO THE POLLS

A progressive Prime Minister and a national initiative, all with the aim of initiating a change in the country’s political configuration, have yielded excellent results. But the reasons as to why women are hesitant to put themselves forward for election appear to be the root cause.

Politics has long been a male-dominated endeavour and the fact remains that many women do not see a seat for themselves at the political table.

‘Take a Girl to Vote’ is one of Equal Voice’s programmes which aspires to increase awareness among girls and young women. By encouraging parents to bring their daughters to the polls and universities to establish chapters, the younger female population are becoming more informed on the importance of having their genders’ opinions heard at the highest possible levels.

It is not however just a case of information. Many women feel anxious at the thought of running for office due to their typical responsibilities of being primary caregivers. Whereas men are often able to carry out a campaign, women are more cautious as to how this could affect their home life.

Maura Reidy

Maura Reidy

“We have embarked upon opening up the debate about liveable legislature to make politics work as well for women as it does for men,” explains Weinmann.

She continues to make the point that the private sector has enacted liveable hours of 9-5 and so why not politics. If the corporate playing field is levelled, should the same not be done for the political?

This last point is not only being advocated in favour of women. Even men could benefit from hours which are more suitable for sociality. Not to mention the rather distressing fact that decisions which directly affect us all are being made at all hours of the night.

“As a citizen of a country, I don’t want my legislators to be making important decisions at 10pm at night either.”

BEST FOOT FORWARD

The notion that politics is an old boy’s game is commonplace. The rough and tumble nature of politics causes women to be deterred from involving themselves in the uncivil discourse.

Weinmann speaks of Equal Voice’s latest campaign entitled ‘Talk Tough Not Rough’ which advocates a more refined approach so as to attract more women. Culminated with the oftentimes outrageous and inappropriate media portrayal of female politicians, this campaign is encouraging women to stand up to opposition and believe in their own abilities to not only run for office but to succeed and make a difference.

The different perspective brought to the discourse and debate is needed for men just as much as women

“It is about instilling that level of confidence in women so that they feel that they are equally capable of putting their name on the ballot and winning,” proclaims Weinmann.

It is clear that confidence is key and perhaps the most pivotal part of all of the Equal Voice initiatives. As they ambitiously seek to train and equip 5,000 women in five years, the organisation is ensuring that the pool of potential female candidates never runs dry.

ROLES OF ENGAGEMENT

Weinmann describes the reality of women who become anxious at the thought of running for office owing to their lack of political experience. Not that men have the experience either, but they somehow feel more certain of their abilities in the political field. However, this is where the rules of the old boy’s game are beginning to change.

By offering training, information and inspiration, Equal Voice is equipping a team of women to lead the political evolution already underway in Canada. A shift in the political playing field is occurring across the globe and the Equal Voice slogan of ‘Be Her, Support Her, Celebrate Her’ will be heard in every corner.