Joyce Fegan: The reason more women aren’t running for election

Women carry out 70% of the family care work in the houses in Ireland, while 70% of the candidates for the governing house of our country are men, writes Joyce Fegan

The Labour candidate for Cork South Central, Ciara Kennedy, represents a lone female face among a line of election posters at Skehard Road Roundabout, Cork. The constituency features four female and 10 male candidates, or 28.5% to 71.5%. Picture: Dan Linehan
The Labour candidate for Cork South Central, Ciara Kennedy, represents a lone female face among a line of election posters at Skehard Road Roundabout, Cork. The constituency features four female and 10 male candidates, or 28.5% to 71.5%. Picture: Dan Linehan

Where I live, the lampposts are littered with election literature. Poster after poster competes for my attention.

They have one obvious thing in common. Bar one woman, it’s all male faces staring out at me. There are two younger men, but the rest are all middle aged.

If I was a young child being ferried around by my mother day in day out, on school runs and what not, I would assume that politics is the preserve of men.

If I was a bit older, say a teenager, and took to Google to find out if my hunch was correct or not, I’d discover that the latest Dáil is made up of 22% women and 78% men.

Hunch confirmed by hard, cold data.

If I was getting curious at this stage and wanted to know if there was always a problem with the over-representation of men in my countries’ parliaments I’d learn that in 1992, the Dáil was made up of 12% women and 88% men, and in 1981, it was composed of 7% women and 93% men.

I’d then really be wondering where are all the women? What do they get up to?

This week, Oxfam launched a long report into wealth and poverty in the world. The report looked at billionaires and the ultra wealthy, of which we have 17 in Ireland, and it also looked at “unpaid work”.

And this is how I found out where all the women were.

They’re silently propping up the Irish economy to the tune of €24bn — that’s the equivalent of about one-eighth of the entire national economy, on an annual basis.

According to Oxfam, in Ireland, women put in 38m hours of unpaid care work every single week. If women received a living wage for this work, it would cost the State that €24bn figure.

That’s the cooking, the cleaning, the grocery shopping, the recipe planning, the remembering of the birthdays and the getting of the cards and the balloons, organising the recycling, making sure the TV licence is paid, driving the kids to school, collecting the kids from school, and dropping them off to their various activities, and everything else in between.

Also this week, we found out how many people had officially declared themselves as general election candidates for 2020, for our next Dáil. The figure is somewhere between 529 and 531. A total of 162 of these candidates are women (30.6%) and 367 of these candidates are men (69.4%).

So let’s say it’s a 30:70 ratio of female to male candidates. Remember that ratio.

A 2015 report from the McKinsey Global Institute, showed that family care work in Ireland is shared unequally between women — 70%, and men — 30%.

Those 30:70 (female to male Dáil candidates) or 70:30 (percentage of women and men doing family care work) ratios make for an interesting comparison. Women carry out 70% of the family care work in the houses in Ireland, while 70% of candidates for the governing house of our country are men.

While there is some good news there, in that it’s the highest number of women ever contesting a general election, (up to from the 160 women contested the 2016 election) and that there is now at least one woman running in all 39 of our constituencies, there is some room for improvement.

But how do we eke out that improvement if women are already extremely busy doing so much unpaid care work and already performing an essential role in the running of our economy and the functioning of our society?

And why does it matter?

In an ideal world, a government or parliament would be somewhat reflective of its population.

There would be all sorts of ages, genders, sexualities, abilities, and ethnicities in the chamber.

And, looking just at gender, in Ireland, according to the 2016 Census, our country is not made up of 30% women and 70% men. There are actually more women in Ireland than men. We have 2.3m men living here and 2.4m women.

So why doesn’t the Dáil or indeed, the field of candidates, reflect that?

If we look at the Oxfam report or the one from the McKinsey Institute, it appears that women are busy carrying out unpaid care work.

There are plenty of women who enjoy and cherish being at home with their children, finding it immeasurably rewarding, but it’s a situation that should occur by choice.

When children come along and the childcare costs are looked at, is it the woman’s job that must go, because of our long-standing gender pay gap? Or does the woman get to consciously choose to step out of paid work so her children can have the best care possible?

Conversely, would more men like to stay at home? Or would it just not make financial sense to pack in the higher earning job?

Either way, it’s clear in Ireland that we value and reward some types of work and not others.

We pay our TDs a basic salary of €96,189. And we pay the people who are busy rearing our next generation €0, despite researchers working out its total economic value at €24bn, annually. But worth doesn’t always result in pay.

Oxfam’s Joanne O’Connor used their online calculator to figure out how much her unpaid work would be worth. She estimated it at €57,000 for about 5,700 hours’ work.

When Canadian author Margaret Atwood came to Dublin in November, she was asked about this very issue, the value of unpaid work carried out by women across the world.

She wondered what happened if women went on strike. Something to think about.

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