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Women in Politics

I often receive questions from students and constituents alike about what it is like being a woman in politics. I have put some of the questions that arise most often below and I hope it provides a helpful insight.

Q1 There are fewer women involved in politics, why do you think this is?

One of the primary reasons why there are less women involved in politics comes down to the fact that men are seen as the traditional face of politics. Traditionally politics was seen as an arena for men and I think that in order for more women to become involved in politics, this image needs to be altered. In the case of Ireland, although there has been a significant shift in attitudes relating to the role of women in over the past two decades, I do not think that the change in the political sphere has been as quick.  Furthermore, the practicalities of political life can have a significant impact on the willingness of people to become involved in politics. Long hours and a demanding schedule can act as a disincentive to many women becoming involved in politics due to its impact on family life.

Q2 Would quotas, that require political parties to select a minimum number of women candidates, make a difference?

Quotas requiring a certain number of candidates to be women would make a difference. Quotas would get women on the ballot paper and increase their public visibility. Once they are on the ballot paper, it is then up to the public to elect them. In the last European elections of 2009, twelve women ran for election in total with three of them, including myself, getting elected. In the last Dail election eighty-two candidates were women and twenty-two got elected. Therefore, it is interesting to note that there is a higher proportion of women representatives in the European Parliament from Ireland than there are in the Dail.

Q4 Would video conferencing / distance parliament sessions, encourage more participation by women?

I would say that the use of video conferencing may alleviate some difficulties that exist in the operation of parliaments at the moment but may not necessarily act as an incentive to participate on its own. New technologies could be used to streamline much preparatory work that is required in political institutions. However, it is important that political institutions are seen to conduct their business in public. The members of institutions need to be seen to come together as a collective when making decisions. This provides a level of legitimacy unattainable if parliament was to meet via video link. Furthermore, there is a lot of work relating to politics that cannot be done in this way such as canvassing, constituency work, and attending events.

 Q5 Should candidate selection focus on women, who are active in community / civic issues?

Candidate selection should focus on women active in the community and active in relation to civic issues. But I think this should be for all candidates, both men and women. Those people who are heavily involved in the community and in civil society are very much in tune with the people in communities and have to potential to make very good politicians as a result. Usually however, the majority of candidates are people who have an interest in politics and are involved in civil society or communities in some way.

Q6 Would the demystification of politics encourage more women’s involvement?

I think people, men and women, have gotten an insight into how the political process can have a direct impact on their lives with the recent political decisions taken in order to tackle the financial crisis. I think many people have become angry at the disconnect between the political establishment and the public and consequently, they have felt spurred on to become involved in politics.

However, there is a level of politics that will remain mystified to those not from a political background until they actually get involved. Speaking from my own experience as someone not from a political background, it was difficult at the start when I was first elected to become familiar with the political process. However with hard work and determination these difficulties can be overcome.

Q7 Would a political party’s use of social network sites attract more women into politics?

Social networks may help in a small way but I think they are limited in many ways due to people really only being linked to other people and organisations they are interested in. Social networks also appeal to men just as much to women so I think if they can be used in this way, they can appeal to both.

Q9  How would you encourage more women into politics?

I think women need to be shown that politics can be a rewarding career. Perhaps this is something that needs to be tackled at an early age through the education system and career guidance.

Q10   Which female political figure do you admire and why do you believe she is successful?

I very much admire German Chancellor (Prime Minister) Angela Merkel. She became the first ever female Chancellor and also the first Chancellor from the former Communist East Germany. As a Protestant East German woman she broke the mould of the traditional leaders of her Christian Democrat Union Party (CDU), who were traditionally Catholic West German men. She is also a member of the European People’s Party whose political grouping I sit with in the European Parliament. Being the leader of the largest economy in Europe is not easy and Chancellor Merkel has steered her country and the European Union through some very difficult times with great determination. She has a reputation for being quite formidable at European Council meetings and she has sat at the table at high profile meetings of the G8 and the United Nations as well.¬† She topped Forbes Magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful women in the world for the past four years. She has also achieved academic success and received a Doctorate in physics. I think all of these things combine to create a very capable and admirable figure.

I think she is successful because of the determination she has developed due to having to overcome many obstacles to get to where she is today and also due to the respect she has built up both at home in Germany and in the European Union through her hard work in the political arena and the positive results that work has produced.

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