Diversity of Women Coming Into Politics

20 December 2021

There is no doubt that we need more diversity in the States of Jersey Assembly. Currently there are fifteen women  as opposed to thirty-four men.  This  is not a diverse Assembly. Data from the OECD shows that girls are outperforming boys in all levels of education. There is no intellectual barrier preventing women being actively part of the cut and thrust of everyday politics.

According to the OECD The women in politics indicator includes data on: Women parliamentarians: the share of women in the national lower or single houses of parliament. Measured as a percentage of total parliamentarians. Women ministers: the share of women ministers, including deputy prime ministers and ministers. Prime ministers/heads of government were also included when they held ministerial portfolios. Vice-presidents and heads of governmental or public agencies have not been included in the total. Measured as a percentage of total ministers, where: 0: There are legal quotas to promote women’s political participation both at the national and sub-national levels. 0.5: There are legal quotas to promote women’s political participation either at the national or at the sub-national level. 1: There are no legal quotas to promote women’s political participation. Jersey is no exception we should be doing more to encouraging women into politics. This demonstrates inequality and it is not good enough.

It made me think, what’s holding women back from standing and what are the barriers preventing the Assembly being more diverse. More importantly what can we do to fix these issues?

Is part of the answer political parties? I believe that it is.

Being part of a party is very different from being an independent politician.

As an independent you are a one-person band, doing everything yourself. How do you know where to start in the first instance? How to start your research, how to run your campaign, learning what to expect once you declare you are a candidate and how to start the daunting task of speaking in public and knocking on doors. All this on top of finding out what matters to your constituents and finding policies that suit your constituency and the island.

Being part of a party, a large amount of this work is taken off your shoulders. Some parties have mentoring schemes. New candidates are assigned a mentor to help you get to grips on everything from public speaking to writing a proposition.

Many new members to the Assembly start in back benches as they begin their political career but as they grow in confidence and take opportunities in areas that may arise in areas for which they have an affinity and a passion.

I asked a parishioner recently would she be interested in standing and her response was typical of others I spoke to.

Tricia comments:

I would have loved a career in politics but in Jersey if you want to support yourself, have children and buy a house both of you need to work whilst balancing childcare and household responsibilities. The barrier for me was I couldn’t afford to give up a career in finance where I had a decent salary, pension, private healthcare, etc to warrant moving into a fulltime political role. On top of that the other factor for me is that you are just one person fighting on your own in the States for something you believe in and getting nowhere as there are too many people with too many different agendas.

 Which brought me on to another question.  Are we missing a whole section of society in our States Assembly – the hard-working islanders?

You either must be wealthy enough in your own right to stand or poor enough that the salary will look attractive.

We would be far better with fewer States members and a decent salary to encourage all sectors in society. The arrangements for setting the remuneration of States Assembly members are unsatisfactory, in particular through a requirement that all members are paid equally, regardless of the responsibilities they have. The Privileges and Procedures Committee has lodged a proposition (2021 P.40) which would address this, remuneration being set by an independent reviewer with States Members having no say on the level or structure.  This will need to be implemented.

The job description is wide and varied and no two days are the same. Many parish Deputies take on a lot of case work with their constituents. Others who hold Ministerial positions or lead Scrutiny panels only a fraction of the work is seen by the public it is the research and reading and strategic planning that takes up the bulk of the time.

I would encourage women to think about standing and not to be daunted.

If you are passionate about the island and your parish, give it a go. Being part of a political party, members are well supported and for young mothers you will find that most work can be done around school hours. There is a flexibility which was not there before. Since COVID one of the good things that has arisen is hybrid working where people can work partly in the office and partly at home and this is happening in the Assembly.

If you have that feeling in your heart that tells you go and make a difference and helping bring about change, I would say, give it a go.

Mary O’Keeffe has a Masters in European cultural studies and a diploma in Political Science, she is a Non-executive Director and businesswoman.