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7 May 2009 Edition

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Women in the news making the news

FEWER than one in five councillors elected in 2004 and 13 per cent of TDs elected in 2007 are women. Only three of Cowen’s 14 ministers are women and 100 per cent of them are called Mary. That’s not statistically relevant, by the way, it just creeps me out a little. I mean, could they not have found room for a Patricia or a Susan?
Anyway, at the rate female representation in the Oireachtas is increasing, the National Women’s Council of Ireland estimate it will take 370 years for the percentage of women in the Dáil to reach 50 per cent. Currently, we have the fourth lowest rate of equality of representation of women in the EU.
With figures like this you can be sure that there’s going to be a couple of pieces in the papers over the course of this election about the need to have more women involved in politics. Which is fair enough. The article about the lack of women in politics stands a good chance of being written by a man, though, because if our elected representatives are male-dominated, it’s worse when you look at the people who report on them.
RTÉ doesn’t have a single female journalist in its political team. Nor does the desperately politically-incorrect Daily Mail. The tediously politically-correct Irish Times has one, Marie O’Halloran. The Independent and the Examiner each also have one, Áine Kerr and Mary O’Regan, and while both are undoubtedly good journalists they’re also very much the junior members of their teams.
The political correspondents for Today FM, INN and Newstalk are all men. It’s not much better when you look at the Sundays. Off the top of my head, Níamh Connolly at the Business Post is the only political reporter or correspondent.

AS for columnists, the Times keeps a few about the place and Miriam Lord earns her big pay cheque for colour writing but one of the others is Breda O’Brien, a kind of lighter version of Alive for the south Dublin middle class. There’s a few at the Sunday Independent but I’m in two minds as to whether they’re newspaper columns or a weird kind of ironic performance art.
The heavy-hitting columnists, though, the ones who shape the news, do Questions & Answers are the likes of Fintan O’Toole, Terry McGeehan, David Quinn, Kevin Myers, and maybe John Waters.
Catherine Halloran of the Star and Ursula Halligan at TV3 are probably the two most senior female political correspondents we have in this state but the audience for the latter is very small and the Star (though in my opinion Ireland’s most under-rated paper) is hardly a political mover and shaker.

THERE is not a single media outlet in the 26 Counties with more than one female political reporter or correspondent and no political – or for that matter economic – editor.
And it’s not as if there are no women in journalism.
A glance at the graduate classes from the journalism courses in Ireland shows that, if anything, most are women. But male dominance of the political and economic branches of journalism remains fairly absolute. Where do the women go?
Well, oddly enough, every national daily’s features editor is a woman, as are most of the Sundays. The country’s top legal correspondents – Carol Coulter at the Times, Dearbháil McDonald at the Independent, and Orla O’Donnell at RTÉ – are all women.
The economic thinking that defines Irish society is shaped by the likes of David McWilliams, Moore McDowell, Alan Ahearne and Eddie Hobbs. Go on: name a single influential female economic commentator. Hell, there’s a €20 voucher for the Sinn Féin siopa if you can name one, influential or otherwise. Hardly surprising that just 8 per cent of directors sitting on the boards of Irish publicly-listed companies are women

SO does it really matter?
Well, in March, the EU Commission published a report, Equality Between Men and Women – 2009. It found that Irish women will, on average, earn €160,000 less than men over their lifetimes. The gender pay gap, the difference in the hourly rate of pay for men and women, was at 17.1 per cent in 2007. Thirty-one percent of women over 65 are at risk of poverty compared to 23 percent of men.
Women still work part-time more than men and dominate the less-valued sectors of the economy. From a media point of view (and with absolutely no disrespect to the women in them), features doesn’t rate as high as the political or business teams at any paper.
We need more women in politics, making the decisions, bringing their experience and attitudes to bear on the problems we face.
But we could do with a few more writing the news as well.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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