Colette Sheridan: Give women a chance when you cast your all-important vote

All women candidates are asking is to give them a fighting chance, so says Colette Sheridan
Colette Sheridan: Give women a chance when you cast your all-important vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Ursula von der Leyen are proof women can succeed in politics

BEFORE we get too excited about the news that, for the first time in history, at least one woman candidate will stand in every constituency in the forthcoming general election, Fine Gael has the lowest percentage of female candidates.

The percentage stands at 30.5%, which means that Fine Gael just squeezed in over the quota.

Currently, at least 30% of a party’s candidates in general elections must be women. This will rise to 40% in 2023.

All the talk of gender quotas can sometimes make us women feel as if we’re a minority group that requires some form of positive discrimination. But we are not a fringe element of the population. We are actually more than half the population.

As a spokeswoman for Women for Election — an organisation that runs training programmes for women interested in politics and being election candidates — said last week: “Political parties need to wake up to the fact that we need political leadership which represents us all.”

Over the past decade, progress on women’s political empowerment has reversed slightly in Western countries, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.

Its political empowerment sub-index — which measures the gap between men and women at the highest levels of political decision-making — is where the gender gap remains the widest.

But there are women who, despite barriers to progress, rise to high political office such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, the longest serving female head of government.

Nancy Pelosi has become the most powerful women in American politics and plays a vital role in opposing Donald Trump.

Asked by Time magazine if the impeachment of Trump is the most important thing she’ll ever achieve, she says that while it’s the most important thing that Congress can do — short of declaring war — she is “most proud of the Affordable Care Act.” And that is perhaps an example of women’s political priorities.

Good health is all we can hope for and if it fails us, the least we can expect is medical intervention that doesn’t cost the earth.

It reflects well on Pelosi because affordable health care is a vital issue in America, where getting sick can bankrupt you.

Here, health, housing and pension age are the key issues in the run up to the election. (Taking time out from these vital matters, the media last week got all exercised about Leo Varadkar’s admission that he has taken cannabis. That this trivial matter was already well-aired in Hot Press years ago didn’t dampen the reporters’ insistence in trying to quiz the Taoiseach about his drugs consumption.)

Women don’t tend to dwell on irrelevancies when it comes to political discourse. There are too many important things at stake.

Often, in households, women hold the purse strings. They know what’s coming in and how much is going out on groceries, utility bills, mortgage payments and the necessities for their offspring.

These could be termed women’s domestic issues. Of course, they’re not solely the concerns of women, but we tend to focus on the practical.

In politics, what is regarded as a ‘woman’s issue’ is generally understood to include things like pay equality, childcare, reproductive rights, girls’ education — particularly in countries where it’s not a given — violence against women, property ownership and political participation.

In other words, not nuclear weapons or the ‘right’ to gun ownership in horrible Trump land, but the day-to-day stuff that is all about dignity and fairness.

But instead of polarising men and women, trying to box ‘us’ and ‘them’ into widely diverging roles, we need to drop the clichés and realise that so-called women’s issues are everybody’s issues, aspiring to achieve decent economic and social policies.

Women in power, just like men in power, are not perfect. Women can preside over awful regimes or societies that are full of shortcomings in terms of progress.

For example, Estonia’s youngest and first female president has made great strides in advancing her country towards being an inclusive, digital society. But violence against women remains a major problem in her country and Estonia’s gender pay gap is the highest in Europe and among the highest in the world.

While leadership matters, often, institutions that prop up the State, matter more.

Female leadership needs to be seen in the context in which it is operating. Like their male cohorts, the political actions of women are institutionally constrained by laws and procedures, cultures and norms.

But in the meantime, gender quotas are the best solution to the under-representation of women in politics.

Women are not going to do a worse job than men. Chances are, female politicians will up the ante and strive for a fairer society because they know what it’s like to be discriminated against. All women candidates are asking is to give them a fighting chance.

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