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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Politics has been the most challenging thing I have done because of my gender’

Senator Pippa Hackett has said that she does not want her four children to “grow up believing that women and girls have continually to prove themselves and keep challenging those glass ceilings and walls that restrict them”.

The Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity made the statement on Monday, March 8th, 2021 to mark International Women’s Day, which carried the theme: to challenge.

She said has not particularly felt challenged because of her gender during “many of the different things” she has undertaken, from studying, working in various jobs or even life in academia.

“I could easily say, however, that politics has been the most challenging thing I have done because of my gender. Entering Government seems to have opened up a whole new level of challenge.”

Nastiness towards politicians

She admitted that it is not just the demands of the job, the public-facing aspect of it and managing the expectations; that, she added, is “all doable”.

“The most challenging element is probably learning to deal with the nastiness that now seems endemic among some in our society.”

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“While all of this applies to both male and female politicians, the personalisation towards females, in particular, is concerning. My government colleague, Senator Lisa Chambers, has spoken eloquently about this in the past.”

“In some respects, we have to become less human as we grow that thick skin deemed necessary to be a politician.”

She said people become desensitised to the spite and, essentially, normalise this malevolent behaviour towards politicians.

“To me, that is a really sad state of affairs because of all the traits we should have in our politicians, humanity should be right up there.”

“Someone said to me once that it goes with the territory and no one forced me to enter politics, which basically means we all have to put with it and politicians are fair game. Should that be acceptable? Should anyone have to put up with such abuse as part of their job? I think not.”

However, Hackett said she feels strong enough to “put with it but the same cannot be said for others”. She revealed there are ramifications, for example, for her children and for her elderly parents, who “get upset when they see abuse aimed at their daughter”.

“What perhaps is most damaging of all is that it can be so off-putting for women, in particular, to consider entering politics in the first place. This is besides all the other barriers we all know exist to female participation in politics.” Senator Pippa Hackett added.

Agricultural sector 

She believes the importance of female leadership contributions cannot be overstated and said that every parliament and organisation will “fail to reap the benefits” of not having a gender-balanced membership.

Senator Hackett then referred to the agricultural sector, which is “still heavily dominated by men”. The senator stated that of the 3,800 or so people working in the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, close to 1,800 are female.

“More to the point, they are excellent colleagues working, as I have discovered, at all levels from senior management to clerical and across all areas such as administrative, inspectorate, veterinary, laboratory and professional services. These people are really talented women.”

Despite this, the Mayo native highlighted that the membership of the executive committees of some farm organisations have gender imbalances.

“When I think about the many wonderful female farmers I know, they are innovative, have made changes to their farms, have taken risks and have diversified.”

“They have challenged the status quo, and those are exactly the characteristics we need in the farmers of the future.”

Life as a mother, politician, and farmer

Hackett said the most challenging aspect of being a politician for her, and for other women she knows, is being a mother.

“My decision to enter politics five years ago has taken a toll on my family life. Of that, there is no doubt.”

“There are sacrifices to be made and precious moments must be missed. But, for me, the support of my husband, Mark, and my mother, Jeannie, has allowed me to pursue this path. It simply could not have happened without their help.”

“Yes, sisters are doing it for themselves but, behind every great woman lies what is perhaps the single greatest ingredient for success: a great man, a great partner, a great family or great friends.”

“I want to thank those who make it possible for women to be the best they can be because that best can simply be better than all the rest,” Senator Pippa Hackett concluded.

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