Just four women: A balanced Cabinet was not a priority for this Government

Women for Election had called for a balanced cabinet, for political leadership, for the government to recognise that it is, after all, 2020. The government’s response was to appoint four women, writes Ciairín de Buis, the CEO of Women for Election
Just four women: A balanced Cabinet was not a priority for this Government
ONE OF THE CHOSEN FEW: New Minister for Justice Helen McEntee

FOUR women. Three government parties in government chose, between them, to appoint only four women to cabinet.

Four women, 11 men. A political choice was made, a balanced cabinet was not a priority.

And yes, both the ‘super-juniors’ appointed are women. But I have no doubt that either of the women appointed, and others, would be well able for a Ministerial role.

The decision was taken not to appoint them as Ministers — we could instead have had six women at cabinet and nine men, or seven women and eight men, or eight women and seven men. These were all choices the government could have made.

Junior minsters (super or not) cannot vote. And regardless of whether or not the cabinet votes very often, the distinction between the roles is clear.

Since the cabinet announcements we heard an outcry about some areas being forgotten – some even likened the cabinet appointments to a Cromwellian approach to political appointments. But little was said about the fact that women, who are more than half the population, are just over quarter of the cabinet members.

It is not by accident that we only have four women in cabinet, it is not by accident that we only have 36 women in the Dáil, it is not by accident that less than quarter of those elected to our councils are women.

From left, Alison Cowzer from Women For Election, Minister for Local Government John Paul Phelan TD, and Ciairin De Buis from Women for Election, and author of this article, last year.
From left, Alison Cowzer from Women For Election, Minister for Local Government John Paul Phelan TD, and Ciairin De Buis from Women for Election, and author of this article, last year.

It is as a result of political choices. When parties don’t run more women in the local elections, that is a political choice. When parties choose not to run a balanced ticket in the general election – when they choose to do the bare minimum legally required of them, that is a political choice. When more women are not appointed to cabinet, that is a political choice.

Women for Election had called for a balanced cabinet, for political leadership, for the government to recognise that it is, after all, 2020. The government’s response was to appoint four women.

In contrast, a balanced Seanad, another call of Women for Election, was a priority – and nine of the 11 Taoiseach’s nominees are women bringing better balance and some diversity to the Seanad. I don’t imagine it was any challenge for the Taoiseach to find nine women who were willing to be nominated to the Seanad.

Parties aren’t doing themselves, or the electorate, any favours. More women, in all our diversity, would strengthen our political system. More women means more diversity, which in turn means better decisions.

I’d challenge any political party to find any community in Ireland where women aren’t active, involved and volunteering and working on behalf of their local community. The type of women who would make a wonderful addition to their local council or the Dáil. When Women for Election host our Inspire training for aspiring candidates, we hear contributions from women who have been elected – almost all of them, to a woman, tell us they were asked to run. Political parties need to do a lot more; talking about more women entering politics won’t ensure there are more women in politics. Political parties need to go out and ask women to run, and then they need to ensure those women are supported when they do run for political office.

Readers, if you want to see a balanced cabinet, a balanced Dáil, balanced councils, and you are not politically active why not become politically active? Why not join a party — one that works for you and your values —and challenge them to better balance? Or think of running as an independent to represent your local community?

Or if you haven’t supported Women for Election financially before (or could afford to give more now) maybe now is the time for you to donate? Now is the time for us all to do more than rage at home — we need to have our voices heard; politics needs to change.

I wish the new government well, we have challenging times ahead as a country, and none of us really know what lies ahead of us. We’re emerging blinking and learning to live within our new more restricted lives. We’re not sure what lies ahead on the political landscape but we are facing a number of crises – Covid, Brexit, our environment, our economy. Any one of these could reshape our lives in ways we don’t yet know.

But we do know we need a better system. We need a political system that better reflects us, all of us. Political parties need to do more than talk about getting more women into politics.

About the author

Ciairín de Buis is the CEO of Women for Election an independent, not for profit organisation that wants a balanced political system.

We provide training and support for women across the political spectrum, we want to see more women succeed in Irish political life. See www.womenforelection.ie

The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 introduced gender quotas – which apply for both men and women - into the Irish electoral system. Our quota system allows for a party’s state funding to be cut by half unless at least 30% of their general election candidates are of each gender. This requirement is set to increase to 40% in 2023.

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