Addressing a conference in Dublin today entitled ‘Politics Needs Women’ and held to mark 100 years to the day (December 14th), since Irishwomen first exercised their right to vote and to stand for national election, Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament posed the question, do women need politics?
She said historically many women got into politics on the death of a husband, the remarkable Mary Reynolds T.D. being one who represented Sligo-Leitrim between1932-1933 and 1937-1961 whose legacy was recently celebrated.
“We shouldn’t diminish those who arrive via that route,” she said.
“We shouldn’t focus on the route but celebrate the arrival of women by whatever path.”
She said there is a lot of discussion about how to encourage young women into politics.
“This is important but we should also seek to attract other women of all age groups and backgrounds, including those whose families may be reared.
“Politics would benefit from that wealth of life experience. Older women have a wealth of life experiences that amount to a valuable asset.
“I would suggest this is particularly relevant in politics where influence is brought to bear and decisions made about all citizens and at every stage in their lives.
“Politics needs diversity,” she said.
She said while gender quotas help and are critically important, more needs to be done.
“Above all else we need to see more clearly how few women there are in public life – sometimes we are blind to that reality, making events like today’s so important.
“We are making progress on issues, like childcare, which may inhibit women from continuing in careers, including politics.
“We need to ask why political meetings are still largely male dominated, is it that women don’t see these meetings as relevant to their lives or a valuable use of their time, or that they don’t belong there or find it hard to speak up for fear of being spoken down to?
“We need to understand why political structures continue to mitigate against women’s participation in political life.
“Respect for politicians and the work of politics is also necessary,” she said.
Today’s conference was hosted by Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD and the Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton TD.