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Call for gender quotas for election candidates
By Caroline O'Doherty

The Irish Times
9 March 2002


INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY: Women will be outnumbered by men in the Dáil for another 34 years at the rate of female participation, reports published for International Women's Day show.

Just 12 per cent of sitting TDs are women and 16 counties have no women deputies to represent them.

The situation at local government level is marginally better with 15 per cent of council seats held by women. However, that places Ireland ninth in a league table of 13 European countries.

The National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) yesterday called for legislation to deprive political parties of half their State funding if they do not maintain a 40/60 gender balance among candidates for local and general election.

The council said the percentage of women elected to the Dáil rose by only 5 per cent in the last 20 years and did not increase at all between the 1992 and 1997 elections. "At this speed we will have equal Dáil representation by 2036," said chairwoman Ms Gráinne Healy. "We're not prepared to wait that long."

The NWCI marked International Women's Day by hosting a debate with political leaders on the under-representation of women in political life.

The proposal for mandatory gender quotas was supported by Sinn Féin president Mr Gerry Adams, Green Party leader Mr Trevor Sargent, the Progressive Democrats, who were represented by Ms Liz O'Donnell, and the Labour Party, which was represented by Mr Proinsias de Rossa.

Fine Gael leader Mr Michael Noonan and Fianna Fáil Minister Ms Síle de Valera were heckled by the audience when they said they would be wary of legislating for gender balance.

All except Ms de Valera supported a proposal to legislate for a 40/60 balance in ministerial appointments. The Minister said her party would "look at the possibility".

The debate heard that while 47 per cent of appointments made by the Minister of Social, Community and Family Affairs were women, the numbers in other Departments were as low as 11 per cent.

All six representatives supported the re-establishment of the Oireachtas Committee on Women's Affairs, although none could explain why it had been disbanded.

The occasion was used to release two new reports investigating the participation of women in politics. The Áit ag an mBord (Place at the Table) was compiled by four women's groups in the Connemara Gaeltacht, Longford, Cork, and Ballymun, Dublin. It found women were severely under-represented in local and regional structures
such as city, county and town councils; health boards, VECs and other administrative and development bodies.

A second report, entitled Politics Needs More Women: What the Irish Political System Must Do, was written by the NWCI and showed where quotas were imposed in other European countries, the number of women in politics had increased significantly.

France, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden all experienced increased female participation after legislation or the adoption of voluntary gender balance principles.

Dr Yvonne Halligan, of the Centre for the Advancement of Women at Queens University, Belfast, reported similar improvements in Portugal and Iceland where high-visibility promotional campaigns were run. She said gender balance initiatives had resulted in women taking half the seats in the recently established Scottish Assembly and 60 per cent of seats in the Welsh Assembly.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr O'Donoghue, welcomed the reports and debate as "thought- provoking".

He said women's groups would be able to make further submissions at 10 regional forum meetings to be held later this month as part of the National Plan for Women.

Reproduced by permission of The Irish Times.

     


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