Equal representation demands a reconfiguration of constituencies, say academics

The representation of women in the Dáil has hit crisis levels, two leading academics told the Equality Authority conference yesterday. By Christina Finn

"There is no doubt Ireland will fall to the hundredth place in the world in the representation of women in government if the presence of women in government does not increase," said Susan McKay CEO of the National Women's Council of Ireland (pictured).

Ms McKay said that the departure of three female Ministers this year was significant, especially if they will be "replaced by men". Fine Gael TD Olwyn Enright and Labour TDs Liz McManus and Mary Upton stated in recent months that they will not run in the next general election.

The World's Women report released by the United Nations yesterday said inequality between men and women is "highly visible" in politics.

The report noted "slow but steady improvement" in national representation, yet only 23 countries have women occupying 30% of the seats in parliament. Currently, women make up 13% of the Dail.

Professor of Equality Studies Kathleen Turner argued for a review of political constituencies. She said in order for inequality to be tackled the number of constituencies must be reduced. Constituencies should not just be regionally based, Kathleen Turner said. In order for women to be better represented in government there should be "women's panels" around the country, and panels that represent other sectors of society.

"Society is not represented in government," said Prof Tuner, adding that there should be a "radical shift" in what constitutes a constituency. Women, people with disabilities, old people and other minorities do not have representatives to choose from, she said.

Having women present in government changes the priorities of government according to Prof Turner. Women support health, education, and social welfare because of their role in society as the "primary caretakers" she said. When it comes to making cutbacks on health, disabilities or children's allowance, unless someone has experience or awareness of how important an issue is "they are not going to be sensitive to it".

Speaking at the conference today, Minister for Equality, Mary White said that an equal society was vital and that she was looking forward to, with the help of the Equality Authority "making this country a country of equals".

Ms McKay criticised Minister Mary White for not addressing the issue of women in politics. "Equality has declined but she is against the quota system being adopted. I don't know how [Mary White] can now reject that concept?"