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Watchback Discourse Series | Why are there so few women political leaders?

Watch the recording of this panel discussion with Baroness Ruth Davidson, Professor Yvonne Galligan, Tarja Halonen and Professor Emerita Monica McWilliams, chaired by Áine Lawlor, that took place on 30 March 2023.

This panel discussion explored the challenges confronting women leaders and the advantages to society of having more women in leadership positions. The discussion was moderated by broadcaster Áine Lawlor.

Our speakers:

Baroness Ruth Davidson is a writer, broadcaster and politician. A former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, when first elected, Ruth was both the youngest and first openly LGBT- leader of a major UK political party. Under her stewardship, the party returned the largest number of Conservative MPs North of the Border in nearly 40 years and the greatest number of MSPs at Holyrood in the history of devolution. In 2018, She was named by Time Magazine as one of its 100 people of influence. Ruth was heavily involved in both referendum campaigns, arguing to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom and the UK in the European Union. She is a published author, a regular commentator and presents a weekly radio programme on Times Radio. She sits in the House of Lords as a Conservative peer.

Professor Yvonne Galligan is Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Comparative Politics in Technological University Dublin. She is also founding director of the Allied Irish Bank Research Centre on Inclusive and Equitable Cultures (RINCE) in TU Dublin. She was a founding board member of the European Journal of Gender and Politics, and past Vice President and Executive Member of the International Political Science Association (2000-2012), recent Honorary Treasurer of the Political Studies Association (2018-2022) and currently serves on the Ethical, Political, Legal and Philosophical Studies Committee of the Royal Irish Academy. She is also Chair of the Ireland Athena SWAN National Committee. She has a continuing interest in women’s political representation, written widely on the subject, and contributed her comparative expertise on the topic to governments, parties, international organisations and non-governmental bodies.

Tarja Halonen served as President of Finland from 2000 to 2012. Prior to her election, she held the office of Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Minister of Justice, and Minister for Foreign Affairs. She continues to work closely with the UN, and is currently a member of UN’s Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, UNCCD Drylands Ambassador, and a member of CTBTO Group of Eminent Persons. President Halonen continues working towards sustainable development in her other roles, such as a member of Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Leadership Council and the Chairperson of Lancet-SIGHT commission on Peaceful Societies through Health and Gender Equality.

Professor Emerita Monica McWilliams co-founded the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, a political party involved in the multi- party peace negotiations leading to the 1998 peace agreement. She was a member of the first Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly and as Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, she drafted the advice on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Monica is Emerita Professor at Ulster University and has recently published a memoir ‘Stand Up, Speak Out’ which charts her activism over the decades from the civil rights protests in the 1960s to the signing and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. She is a recipient of the JF Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award.

Áine Lawlor joined RTÉ in September 1984 as a trainee journalist, working on a number of radio and television programmes. She then became a reporter/presenter in January 1988, eventually leading to her becoming a presenter on Morning Ireland which she joined in 1995 and presented for over 17 years. She was awarded Best News Broadcaster of the Year at the prestigious PPI Radio Awards in October 2012 and went on to be inducted into the PPI Hall of Fame in 2014.

In August 2013, she joined RTÉ’s flagship lunchtime radio news programme News at One as alternating presenter and was also appointed as presenter of The Week in Politics on RTÉ One television. In November 2013, she presented a two-part documentary Facing Cancer which followed her as she re-traced the steps of her journey to overcome breast cancer. She is married to Ian Wilson, and they have four children.

Royal Irish Academy Discourse Series

Our discourses are the oldest and most renowned series of talks in Ireland. The first discourses were presented in 1786. Historically, Academy discourses were the occasion reserved for the most distinguished academics to first reveal and discuss their research in public. Continuing in this tradition, the Discourse Series brings international experts to the Academy to discuss important contemporary issues in front of a live audience.