It’s complicated

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

WOULDN’T you just wonder about Mrs Claus and how she has dealt with all the attention her longtime husband has gotten over the centuries, especially at this time of the year. Bet you he gets stressed and grumpy during these busy days making all sorts of demands for mulled wines and mince pies as he builds up his tolerance for alcohol and sweetness before his round-world trip.  
Not that On the Edge would ever go all gung-ho feminist about that enduring relationship.
After all the gender equality issue is way too complex and nuanced to apply binary arguments.
But then, whilst sipping a seasonal hot port, I happened to trip across a Guardian column exploring how female leaders appeared to be dealing with the pandemic more successfully than their counterparts. The columnist, Jane Dudman cites the fact that Covid-19 levels have been significantly lower in Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark where there happens to be female leaders: Erna Solberg, Sanna Marin, Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Mette Frederiksen.
We are already familiar with this argument in the case of New Zealand which has been a world leader in managing the virus under the premiership of Jacinda Ardern. Germany has until recently been top of the class too with its longtime leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel.(Sadly, the cases and deaths have begun to rise rapidly in Germany, with the country now closing all nonessential shops.)
Dudman quotes a series of compelling figures to support her argument. Let’s use just one here to illustrate her point: Finland, with a population similar to Ireland, has had just 370 deaths.  
Continuing, she argues that analysis by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum states the difference is real and may be explained by the ‘proactive and coordinated policy responses’ used by these female leaders.
However, she concedes that like with everything to do with coronavirus ‘it is probably too early to make any firm assertions’.
Which brings her to the female phenomenon known as Margaret Thatcher. (Those of us who watch Netflix series The Crown were recently reminded only too well of how she led the male-dominated Westminster Parliament with balls of steel, figuratively speaking!).
Dudman notes that Thatcher did little for women’s rights and, moreover, brings that picture into a more contemporary setting with the example of the UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel.   
Patel, she writes ‘avows an authoritarian stance that is even harsher than the law and order policies of the 1980s, while her personal style as a leader has led to the resignation of the Government’s own independent adviser on ethics’. Not much of an advert for female leadership, Dudman argues.
It is then she arrives to the well-trodden argument, the pivotal point when – and only when – constructive policies can be widely implemented politically and across society.
It is when more than one-third of positions of power are held by women.
Significantly, writes Dudman: “Even in Finland, for instance, where most government ministers are women, activists wanting reform on cultural issues have said that having the youngest female leader of a country – prime minister Sanna Marin – counts for little until change has the support of the system behind the prime minister.”
That’s the crux of the matter. It is the anthem so many women have had to sing throughout the different waves of feminist activism. On a positive note though, isn’t it wonderful to see more gender balance in these Nordic parliaments?
So, isn’t it a shame that less than a quarter of the TDs in the 33rd Dáil are women? It seems regressive since we are a people who have elected two progressive women as our first citizens, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. But then again the role of Uachtarán is titular and doesn’t wield real power. Not in the visceral sense.
Ah yes! In the season that’s in it, one wonders what Mrs Claus would say about such matters.