Minister Phil Hogan has unveiled a plan to impose a quota on the number of female general election candidates that parties must stand. Starting at 30% this will increase to 40% over time. Failure to reach the quota will result in cuts to state funding to the “offending” political party.
Such a measure is designed to increase the “Mary Harney” school of female TDs in parliament – women who support and will implement vicious austerity – policies disastrous for working class women who are both workers in and consumers of the public service. The Socialist Party believes what’s needed is more women fighters akin to Clare Daly TD and Joan Collins TD, both of whom have been working class and trade union activists for decades.
Gender quotas for female candidates will not increase the participation of working class women in politics. Even in 21st century Ireland, women generally speaking are still mainly responsible child-rearing and caring duties, as well as on average spending more weekly hours on household chores. State run, quality, free childcare, both pre-primary and after-school provision, is absolutely essential to easing this burden. If Phil Hogan, the “Minister for Water Charges” really cared about women’s rights, he’d implement huge state investment in public services, a significant increase in the minimum wage, the right to a living wage, paid maternity and paternity leave, not gender quotas.
Sexism is also a barrier to women in politics. Even right-wing career politicians whom working class women and men feel little sympathy for can suffer from the prevailing ideology of the day that the capitalist political parties and their system perpetuate, and that ideology is sexist. Witness the sexist undertones in the treatment of Hillary Clinton (a distinctly vile and war-mongering capitalist politician but no more or less so than her male counterparts) in the media during primaries against Obama. Or Kevin Myers’s despicable attack on Mary Lou McDonald that made derogatory remarks about her weight and appearance after childbirth.
The left must actively campaign on issues that affect women like low pay, as well as the class issues like water charges that will attract the best female working class fighters. The left must also actively oppose and tackle sexism. However, in terms of fundamentally addressing issues of women and equality, it must be pointed out that the oppression of women, whereby women are used as a source of free and cheap labour, and whereby the ruling elite fosters sexism, inequality and division between men and women in order to cut across class struggle and solidarity that threatens their rule, is an integral part of capitalism.
Therefore it’s vital to maximise the size, influence and power of the socialist left to fight capitalism, in the interests of women’s rights. Furthermore, in the context of the ULA’s role in building a new working class party, the crucial questions are orientation and political programme. How orientated to thestruggles of the working class is the candidate and how much does she/he embody and advocate the left and socialist alternative to the capitalist crisis, are more important considerations for candidacy than his or her gender.