#morewomen was a trending hashtag on twitter during the General Election 2020 (GE2020) election campaign. Launched by the Women for Election (WFE) group, the campaign pushed to achieve greater election of female TDs across the country. As we know, only one more female TD than in the previous Dáil was elected – nowhere near the numbers hoped for – and many constituencies are left without female representation. Furthermore, a number of high-profile female TDs lost their seats.
Ireland now has 36 female TDs in 27 constituencies – or 22.5% representation overall. Of the parties, Sinn Féin has the biggest female representation (13 women elected), however, the Social Democrats outrank them on gender balance (66.6%). Ireland’s 22.5% representation contrasts with representation in other countries such as Rwanda (61.3%), Bolivia (53.1%), Sweden (46.1%) and Finland (42%). Indeed, the global average is 24.1%, so Ireland is not even reaching that figure. Ireland’s election quota system means parties face losing half of their funding if women don’t make up at least 30% of their candidates (this will rise to 40% in 2023). However, WFE CEO Ciairín de Buis has commented some of the larger parties seem to view the quota as ‘the bare minimum’ rather than the target. Because only 33% of GE2020 candidates were women, the lack of female TDs in the new Dáil isn’t all that surprising.
The National Women’s Council of Ireland has called GE2020 ‘a missed opportunity for gender equality’. While the election definitely represented a vote for change, women didn’t benefit. There had been concern from some, including Solidarity-People Before Profit candidate Ruth Coppinger (another female candidate who failed to secure a seat), that women’s rights issues were not getting the attention they deserved during GE2020. The Women’s Council did promote a successful ‘Feminist Manifesto’ during the GE2020 campaign, asking candidates to sign up to a number of key asks should they be elected to the next Dáil – including policies on ending violence against women, climate change and safe and local access to abortion. Many candidates across parties signed up – however, some might contend that certain parties and candidates signing up to #FemGen also support policies, and campaign on platforms, that are ‘unfeminist’ in nature. This same sentiment no doubt led some voters to respond to the #morewomen campaign, with a ‘Yes #morewomen but not any women will do!’ countercry.
This harks back to one of the eternal debates – are quotas and affirmative action measures feminist? Should you vote for a woman just because she’s a woman? This is a difficult question to answer, nonetheless, there is an argument that women (and their policies) should not be held to a higher standard than men, and that just by having more women at the table you are working towards achieving a ‘critical mass’ of women which can ultimately lead to systems-change in the long run. While people should certainly vote according to their values – and choose candidates who best represent those values – if there had been more female candidates in GE2020, not just the bare minimum (33%) of candidates to choose from, this would be less of an issue.
Looking to other countries for inspiration, we have seen how Finland’s new (young, female) cabinet, led by Sanna Marin, promotes diversity and a focus on gender. Without straying too far into essentialist arguments, Finland’s gender-friendly policies such as plans to give all new parents the same leave, and to introduce a shorter working week, suggests that having women in power, can – under the right circumstances at least – lead to a different way of doing politics. In order to achieve #morewomen candidates, a culture of gender diversity and strengthening the political pipeline is key. Groups like WFE play a crucial role in this regard, and it is also excellent that gender and women’s rights issues are gaining more prominence through initiatives like the Citizens’ Assembly. However, it is really imperative on us, the electorate, to demand more women candidates – and a greater diversity of women candidates – so that we can choose more women, great women, to represent us in the future.
Photo by Lorie Shaull on Flickr
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