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Lack of progress on gender equality

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The Mayo News speaks to the county’s two Oireachtas female representatives to mark International Women’s Day


Áine Ryan

UNSURPRISINGLY they are disappointed that the Mayo County Council chamber in which they once sat still only has two women representing constituents, as opposed to 28 men.
Sinn Féin Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh may be busy in Dáil Éireann whilst Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers now represents her constituency in the Upper House of the Oireachtas, but both women are at one about the lack of gender equality in political representations – locally and nationally – in this country.
“The fact that there are only two women on Mayo County Council really shows a lack of progress since I was elected to the local authority in 2004. Indeed, there were three then,” Rose Conway-Walsh told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday).
Interestingly, she explained her decision to enter local politics was after she brought a group of women, who were on a Community Development course, to watch a meeting at Áras an Chontae and observed the ‘starkness’ of a male dominated chamber.
However, she says the lack of balance is not simply due to a prevailing male culture which views politics ‘as a man’s job’.
“It was a woman who asked me ‘who would be minding the children’ during my first political campaign. Another woman made the comment, ‘Isn’t it great he (her husband) is letting you do this’. There was also a very nice man who genuinely said to me, ‘I’ll give you my number one because they need someone up there to make the tea for them’,” Rose Conway-Walsh said.
She stresses that true gender balance is needed so that both perspectives become part of an ideology and ethos.
She feels strongly also that our society ‘does not do enough to promote women throughout their life cycle’.
“Why aren’t we encouraging older women who have the benefit of life experience to enter politics. Take a family carer who could inform policies,” she suggested.

Political platitudes
MEANWHILE, Lisa Chambers told The Mayo  News yesterday (March 8, International Women’s Day) that it was a positive occasion we should not ‘just give platitudes to women and that we continue with action in addressing the many inequalities and imbalances that still persist in modern Ireland today’.
“Just 23 percent of our TDs are women and at local government level just 25 percent of
councillors are women, with big variations across urban and rural areas, as we can see in Mayo. The Seanad fares better partly due to the direct appointments made by the Taoiseach with nine of his eleven  nominees being women,” Chambers said.
Referring to the Mayo County Council gender imbalance, she said: “We have just two female councillors out of 30 on Mayo County Council and I don’t think that’s a proper representation of our county. We should strive for better balance and ask ourselves why so few women are putting themselves forward for election?”
Continuing, she said: “There is no doubt that the lack of maternity leave for female politicians plays a role as does the late hours and time away from home that is particularly difficult for women who are still the primary carers in most families.”
Significantly, Ms Chambers added another more contemporary obstruction that deters women from entering public life.  
“The level of abuse directed at female politicians is also having an impact, particularly online and it is putting women off entering politics and forcing women out of politics. We know from various studies the female politicians attract more vicious and personalised abuse than their male counterparts with many female politicians reporting direct threats of violence towards them.”
Looking towards the future, Senator Chambers observed: “I believe our country and our politics will be better served with a more representative Oireachtas and local government. It’s important that young girls see women in leadership positions and within their government.”