#MoreWomen Changing the Face of Politics
Women’s Experience of Running for Election
You can watch back on the launch of MoreWomen Changing the Face of Politics here
You can also access the presentation slides used by Dr Fiona Buckley used during her presentation here
“Go for it and run for election” is the overwhelming message from women who have contested, won and lost local, national and European elections in Ireland over the past two years. However, despite the endorsement, critical barriers still exist that inhibit women’s chances of election success, according to a new report called More Women – Changing the Face of Politics, launched by Women for Election.
One of the key findings of the report, which is based on interviews with women who contested local, European and general elections over 2019 and 2020, is that political parties continue to be resistant to new candidates, particularly women candidates, and particularly if there is a male incumbent in a “winnable seat.”
Other big barriers for women include the lack of access to maternity leave for elected officials at all levels, a lack of access to campaign financing to recognise care responsibilities and the increasing risk of sexist, racist and misogynistic on-line abuse.
Ireland ranks 101st in the world for the percentage of women elected in national parliament, behind countries like Afghanistan or China. Currently only one in every five TDs and 25% of elected councillors are women. Only four of 15 Ministers at the Cabinet table are women. In total, women are currently completely absent from 40% of critical government decision making tables, including health and the Covid-19 national response.
Speaking about the report, Caitríona Gleeson, the new CEO of Women for Election, said that the Government could move swiftly to address many of the structural barriers that block women from running for election. While acknowledging the complexities with regard to the constitution, she said that paid maternity leave for elected local politicians could be introduced quickly. One option would be to amend the Local Government Act 2001, which currently states that a councillor cannot miss more than six monthly meetings.
She also said that quotas for Dáil Eireann (40% for 2024) need to be seen as a minimum standard not an end point, and that the Government should legislate for gender quotas for local and Seanad elections.
“Currently, when decisions are made about our lives, our homes, our communities, our businesses, the diversity and value of women’s contribution is missing,” she said. “A 50/50 gender balance in government is key to Ireland becoming a thriving vibrant society. But we have a long way to go to get there, based on current figures.”
“There are a variety of barriers that make it more difficult for women to access the resources of time, money, and candidate selection in the first place – the basic ingredients necessary to run for office successfully,” Gleeson continued. “In addition, women face specific barriers with regard to self-confidence and indeed safety. The risk of on and off-line abuse is a growing consideration for many women stepping forward for public office. The extra care responsibilities that women disproportionately have responsibility for can also be a barrier. But, all of these issues can be addressed and overcome.”
Noting the Programme for Government commitment that local councillors’ pay should increase, Women for Election agreed that local representatives should be remunerated appropriately for the hours they realistically work. It also called for a reform of financing rules to facilitate allowances for candidates with care responsibilities and on political parties to recruit women from outside the party, particularly women from under represented and marginalised communities.
Finally, the organisation said that there should be better funding for groups working to support and train women to go forward for election.
The research report sets out to understand what motivates a woman to run for office, tracking the electoral experience, from party selection to the campaign trail to count day and afterwards. Written by Drs Fiona Buckley and Lisa Keenan, it is based on interviews with 15 women who contested, successfully and unsuccessfully, the 2019 local elections, 2019 European parliament elections and the 2020 general election.
Women for Election is a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit organisation providing inspiration, training and supports for women considering election at all levels, from student to European politics.
Making A Mark for Women in Elections – Key Recommendations
- Introduce paid maternity leave for elected politicians.
- Legislate for gender quotas at local and Seanad elections.
- Remunerate local councillors at an appropriate level.
- Reform campaign financing rules to facilitate allowances for candidates with care responsibilities.
- Enable prosecutions for online and other forms of abuse including sexism and misogyny against women running for election.
- SIPO should conduct gender audits of all political parties, including party officials.
- SIPO should report on party funding of all candidates with a breakdown by gender.
- Review and expand candidate recruitment processes to engage women from outside parties particularly those from migrant and marginalised communities.