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Frances Fitzgerald On The Only Way Equality Can Work

"I do believe that women in politics are viewed with a different lens, a sexist lens. We have to fight that."

"Women have to be twice as good to be on the same level as the average man."

Frances Fitzgerald knows how hard it is to be considered a phenomenal woman.

One of four Tánaistí to ever sit as second-in-command at the helm, the Fine Gael minister and former social worker was first elected at the 1992 general election. 

Before being elected, she had been a high-profile Chair of the Council for the Status of Women from 1988 to 1992.

She's spoken forcefully about the Catholic Church's role in covering up child abuse, oversaw the creation of Ireland's child and family agency Tusla, and participated in the creation of a referendum that bolstered provisions for the rights of the child in the Constitution.

She also manoeuvred gangland activity fluently in a time where escalating gun violence claimed a number of lives. 

In the 2016 assembly election – during which she was re-elected on count one – the number of women candidates increased by 100% (from 38 in 2011 to 76), this progress was consolidated in the snap 2017 election. Women’s candidacies rose to 31%, and their share of seats increased to 30% even as the number of seats in the assembly decreased from 108 to 90.

The number of elected female TDs surpassed the 30 mark for the first time.

Fitzgerald believes that this may be due to the falling of tradition. 

"Well, I guess it’s tradition. Traditionally, politics – much like the church – were completely and totally male-dominated and it’s moving away from that tradition and the way the business is done as well. It’s about a natural kind of order of things that had men running the show, but, over the past 100 years, that has been slowly unravelling.

"We've had two female presidents and four Tánaistí but the levels of female representation in Irish politics continues to be appalling, with some exceptions of course. 

"You're trying to get politics to reflect the country representationally, where females claim well over 50% but are represented politically by a mere fraction."

The former Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation even goes as far as to say that she believes politics is a profession that's well suited to women. 

"Women are often interested in social issues. However, there are a number of factors [why women wouldn't want to be involved] – I went into politics with three kids under 10 and when I went from being a TD to a minister, the hours were incredible; 18-hour-days. Certainly, as a TD I was well able to manage things but the higher up you go it’s very demanding."

READ: Let's Get Political: Why Do We Still Rank So Low for Women in Politics?

She also feels that women in politics really have to earn their stripes, when fighting for recognition against their male counterparts. 

"I do believe that women in politics are viewed with a different lens, a sexist lens. We have to fight that. The male gender identifies with the male gender, naturally, but we have to move beyond that. 

"Women have to be twice as good to be on the same level as the average man.

"I think women are put off by adversarial the style of Irish politics. Although, political parties are much better at opening the door now that more women are interested. But, for every woman to go in there’s one less man and that's very much considered. 

"Having said that there's an awful lot of positives, I would encourage women as I've had a wonderful career. I never would have thought, starting out as a social worker, that a number of years later I'd find the opportunities I have."

And when it comes to the possibility of a female Taoiseach any time soon, Fitzgerald says she "wouldn't rule it out".

"Any time soon is probably difficult to imagine, but a week is a long time in politics. As we get more equal and our attitudes become more equal I think more things are possible. I wouldn't rule it out, there is no reason why we shouldn't have a woman taoiseach. The women are ready and the women to come have all the attributes needed. 

"[It's just] A question of chance, timing and whether people are motivated to go for it."

Local elections are just around the corner and we now, finally, have ample support systems to get more women there. Consider running, consider voting and considering following in the footsteps of some of the most remarkable citizens Ireland has ever watched flourish. 

Women For Election can be contacted via their email address [email protected] or their website.

To nominate a woman to run for local elections, you can do so here

READ MORE: Ivana Bacik On Sexist Politics: "It's Not A Level Playing Field"