Women's Roles in Irish Political Parties: Continuity and Change
23 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2013
Date Written: July 7, 2013
This paper maps the gendered histories of Ireland's main political parties: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin. It shows that women’s representation is not fixed across the party spectrum. As institutions, parties possess their own distinct ideologies and norms, and respond to demands for change in different ways. Though all parties bar Fine Gael have introduced creative measures to place women on the national executive, candidate quotas remain a relatively new phenomenon to party members aside from those in Labour. Despite the propositions of the literature, there is little evidence of a ‘contagion effect’ - whereby one party out of electoral calculation follows another in selecting more women - the Labour Party had gendered conversations and strategies almost two decades before their competitors decided to act. While actions did not fully live up to the rhetoric, the fact Labour possesses the best record of all with regard to women’s representation is testament to this long history. Indeed, the quota legislation enacted by the Irish government in 2012 first emerged within the Labour Party. The key ingredient, it seems, lies with party women’s insistence on equality guarantees, something that was missing in the stories of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and, despite its left ideology, even in Sinn Féin.
Overall, the picture is one of male-dominance but is very slowly changing for the better, particularly in parties internally. Quotas should ‘shake up’ the status quo of selections as parties who fail to comply will be hit financially. Although the legislation does not apply to local government, it is crucial parties seek out talented women to take council seats in the 2014 local elections who can then go on to contest Dáil elections. Locally, all parties have work to do in ensuring female members are better represented at a branch and constituency level. Meanwhile, though women are increasingly attaining positions in party youth structures, men continued to be overrepresented here, whether as members or elected officers. Better emphasis must be placed on ensuring young women and young men in parties are equal, as they constitute potential candidates of the future.
Keywords: Women's representation, second wave feminism, political parties
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