JUST over a month ago we, the Irish electorate, elected new representatives for our local communities. While women are just over half of our population, we’re less than a quarter of our elected representatives (whether we look at local or national politics). That needs to change.
On May 24, 225 women were elected to their local council. To look at it another way, 24% of council seats were taken by women. A historic high, which we need to celebrate. But it’s not high enough. After 120 years of local democracy, we’re still on a very long slow road to equal representation. If we keep on the same pace of change, it will take longer than my lifetime to see a balanced political system. That’s where Women for Election comes in.
Women for Election, the organisation I head up, works with women from right across the political spectrum to help them get elected. We provide training and support to women, of all political hues, with the sole aim of seeing more women elected. Our training works – Women for Election worked with more than half of the women elected to our councils. We are a non- partisan, independent, not for profit organisation working towards a balanced political system.
We have spent the past year working with brilliant women, from up and down the country, who are ready for politics. They have spent time building the networks, confidence and skills that are all part of running for election. But they also need a level playing field. Ireland has brilliant women from all walks of life who are ready to lead. Often, the biggest barrier is getting their name on the ballot paper. Which is where political parties come in.
Gender quotas were introduced for parties ahead of the 2016 General Election — which means political parties will lose half of their state funding unless at least 30% of their candidates are women, and at least 30% are men (this will rise to 40% after the next Dáil election). All the main parties met that quota and there is no doubt it contributed to the all time high of 22% women TDs we now have.
But despite the quotas at a national level, and parties committing to a target of 30% women candidates, not all parties reached that 30% threshold in the recent local elections. In fact, the two biggest parties were the ones who fell short of it. Fine Gael almost achieved the target with 29% of candidates being women, while Fianna Fail achieved only 22%. The proportion of women amongst independent candidates (19%) was even lower. The fact that the larger parties did not have more equal representation amongst their candidates was hugely disappointing. Yes, the 24% of women elected to councils across the country represents progress. But the local election was a missed opportunity for a greater leap forward for women in Irish politics.
The parties who ran proportionately more women candidates (for example the Green Party 44%, Labour 41%, Social Democrats 55%) saw proportionately more women elected (Green Party 41%, Labour 42%, Social Democrats 53%). So we know that when women are on the ballot paper, they have roughly the same chances of being elected as men. That’s why quotas are important. A key barrier for women entering politics come before the ballot paper.
Which is why we’re calling for gender quotas to be introduced for candidates in local elections as well as those already in place at the national level. We know that when parties put more women on the ticket, more women get elected.
For quotas to work, you also need women who are ready to run for election. Which is why Women for Election has been delivering training to women since we were established in 2012.
We want to see women from all walks of life and political philosophies running for election. Our training gives women the skills and confidence they need to succeed. It also fosters important political networks for women to mentor and support each other in their political journey. So far, we’ve trained over 1000 women. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved. But given the slow progress for women in Irish politics we need to do more. That’s why we launched a new crowdfunding campaign this week.
We’re hoping to raise €35,000 so that we can train 300 more women ahead of the next general election (whenever that might be). The more women who are inspired and supported to run for election, the more women will be represented in Irish politics.
Ireland is closer than it’s ever been to full representation of women in politics, we can’t stop now.
Ciairín de Buis is the CEO of Women for Election. You can support them by donating to their crowdfunding campaign through their website www.womenforelection.ie or at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/morewomen-2019#/