Gender and cabinet government in Ireland: revealing the gender culture and power dynamics that insulate against institutional change

Stream: Panel 72 - Gender Politics: Gender and Representation: Women in Power 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


This paper assesses the influence of gender power arrangements on the potential for generating or resisting institutional change in cabinet government. Taking Ireland as the case-study, an analytical framework is devised to explore the gendered nature of cabinet government, the gender performance of women ministers and the impact of women’s presence in the male-gendered arena of cabinet government. In particular, attention is paid to the gendered nature of informal norms that guide cabinet government recruitment, appointment and involvement to assess the impact of male gender power advantages in the institutional processes of cabinet government. In doing so the study draws attention to what Kenny (2007) describes as asymmetrical institutional power relations, raising questions about how and what resources are being distributed and who gets what and why (Htun, 2005: 162; Chappell and Waylen, 2013: 602). To investigate these questions and propositions, semi-structured interviews are conducted with former cabinet ministers in Ireland, women and men. While this study is primarily concerned with the experiences of women, in contrasting male and female experience, the gender dynamics and patterns of gender power at play in the institution of cabinet government are revealed. The study finds that the male-gender power arrangements of cabinet government have thus far insulated the institution against transformation as a result of women’s presence. Furthermore the study contributes to opening up the inner world or “hidden life” (Chappell and Waylen, 2013) of cabinet government illustrating the combined impact of gender and informal norms on facilitating or inhibiting institutional change.


Fiona Buckkey (Presenter), University College Cork