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Let’s move past the politics of maternity leave

On the Edge

On the Edge
Áine Ryan

CLEARLY everything seems to pale into utter insignificance for the majority of us as we await the end of this coronavirus nightmare. Even the daffodils seem despondent.
So when I happened to read recently published statistics about our country’s rankings in the level of female representation in our political corridors of power, my limp response was: Plus ca change.
But, just to be certain, I double-checked the breakdown of gender on Mayo County Council. Our local government. Twenty eight men. Two women. Across all county councils women comprise just 25 percent of the number, even though we account for more than half the population.
Wouldn’t you love to know what Constance Markievicz would say?          
Apparently, this country has dropped even further in the global rankings of equal representation in politics. A survey in February places us 101st, behind such ‘beacons and bastions of democracy’ as Afghanistan, Iraq and China. (Forgive my sarcasm.) The good news is we are marginally ahead of Panama and the Ukraine. (My eyes rolled unprompted this time.)
According to Women for Election, only 23 percent of our TDs are women, and there are no women on 40 percent of the Cabinet sub-committees.
Why should we be surprised? All we have to do is ask the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee how much maternity leave she is entitled to? Or, Mayo’s Senator Lisa Chambers about how some of the constituents she canvassed during last year’s General Election wrote her off once they knew she was pregnant.   
Indeed, back in the early days of the pandemic, gender inequality was never clearer as an exclusively male dominated dominion of medical experts became household names. Thankfully, that has changed somewhat, but not until it was raised as an issue by various media outlets.     
Of course, Caitríona Gleeson, the Chief Executive of Women for Election is correct when she says: “Diversity in representation, leads to better decision-making. Ireland clearly needs more women in positions of leadership particularly in our local councils and in our Dáil to help improve our lives and communities across Ireland.”
As her organisation rolls out a series of training programmes over the spring, she argues that all political parties need to ‘scale-up their recruitment plans to prepare women candidates for the 2024 local elections’.
She makes an interesting point about the natural reluctance of women to put their names forward for election.
“Research shows us that women are more likely to run if they are asked many times, so I would encourage everyone to find at least one woman in their community who inspires them, ask her to run and then ask again and again while also signposting her to the training programmes that are currently available online.”
It is a vicious circles, isn’t it?
We need more women in power to ensure policies are put in place to make the job more conducive to their needs – personal and familial.
Isn’t it truly ironic that it is over 100 years since women were given the right to stand in general elections and we still haven’t instituted proper provisions for parental leave due to childbirth? Maybe we should be asking all those women who have already been in power in the past, why they didn’t ensure legislation was passed to facilitate better maternal conditions?     
The Danish Folketinget (parliament) allows 12 months leave for pregnancy, childbirth and, moreover, adoption.
Our young Minister for Justice has said she will take maternity leave despite the fact that there are no formal provisions for it. Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns has offered to pair with her for Dáil votes. Surely that shouldn’t cause a constitutional crisis?