Women-For-Election from GEPLE on Vimeo.

In October 2015, a collaborative project was established with support from ERASMUS+. Its aims? To share resources and knowledge to develop best practices and increase female representation in political life.

Groups from across Europe, and one partner from the United States, came together to share their knowledge with each other and create a best practice for achieving the goal of gender parity in politics. The partners were:

• Active Women Association (Poland)
• BRAND-SOFI (Finland)
• Forum 50% (Czech Republic)
• Towarzystwo Edukacji Antydyskryminacyjnej (Poland)
• Vote Run Lead (USA)
• Women for Election (Ireland)

The GEPLE Online Platform

An online platform was developed by the project partners, and acts as a place to exchange information and foster cooperation between the partners. This hub also serves as place for the transfer of knowledge. The aim was to create a resource hub that would help all those seeking to promote equal representation of women and men in politic life across all nations.

The platform contains, amongst other elements, a research database, shared learning videos, interactive research development, blog posts on relevant issues, and discussion forums. Access the platform here!

The GEPLE Project Partners

BRAND-SOFI is a mission consulting service, based in Finland that was founded by Ann-Sofi Backgren. An experienced consultant and lecturer, Ann-Sofi has been actively involved in educational initiatives encouraging female political empowerment for many years.

Forum 50 % is a Czech non-profit organization supporting equal participation of women and men in politics and the decision making process. They strive for more balanced decision making process including not only men’s but also women’s views and life experience. They motivate women to become politically active, support active female politicians and women in leading positions, co-operate with political parties and other bodies on concrete measures.

Women for Election is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organisation whose vision is of an Ireland with balanced participation of women and men in political life. Their mission is to inspire and equip women to succeed in politics. The organisation offers tailored training and support programmes to women seeking to enter public life; and provides and facilitates a cross-party network of political women, committed to gender equality in Irish political representation.

Towarzystwo Edukacji Antydyskryminacyjnej (the Anti-Discrimination Education Association) was founded in 2009 by people involved in anti-discrimination education. The Association brings together those who specialize in this area, including, among others, women and men who are anti-discrimination trainers, initiators of equality and diversity projects, members of organizations supporting groups threatened with discrimination.

Vote Run Lead is a national, nonpartisan organization that unleashes the power of women leaders in democracy through training, technology and community. They aim for large-scale impact on women’s community and political leadership never before seen in the United States. By harnessing social networks as a new and powerful recruitment tool, creating an online platform to learn to run and lead, and conducting in-person trainings that build powerful networks, VoteRunLead will fuel women’s ambition for civic leadership and close the knowledge gap around politics for women from all classes, cultures and colors.

Active Women Association (Stowarzyszenie Aktywne Kobiety) is a non-governmental organization founded in Poland, which promotes gender equality, personal growth and empowerment. They act on local, national, European and transnational levels, running projects in Europe, Africa and Asia.

2016 meetings

In 2016 the partners have met twice, once in Prague in February and again in May in Dublin. During the course of the trips the group engaged in workshops and presentations to shared learnings on topics from creating media awareness to discussing the individual barriers to equal representation in each member’s country.

Alongside the workshops, the meetings brought together research gathered by the partners which was used in the creation of the above-mentioned online platform.

The project partners were also introduced to various aspects of the Irish political and representative system. On the first evening the group went on a tour of Leinster House, followed by a wonderful dinner hosted by Deputy Josepha Madigan, which was attended by Deputy Fiona O’Loughlin and Senator Alice Mary Higgins. The second evening the group attended a reception in Europe House, which the European Commission Representation to Ireland kindly hosted. We were joined by representatives of each partner organisation’s embassies. The Head of Representation in Ireland for the EU Commission, Barbara Nolan, addressed those in attendance, speaking on the necessity for balanced gender representation in public life.Over the course of three days in Dublin we worked on developing effective communications strategies to increase the reach of each group’s campaigns, learning to navigate the media landscape, and developing effective fundraising. Deirdre Mortell and Niamh Gallagher ran workshops with the participants on fundraising, finding what methods could be adapted to each country. Clare Duignan and Kay Sheehy (RTE) discussed how best to approach media outlets, engage in public debates, and develop a clear message. Suzanne Collins presented on Women for Election’s communication strategy; what targets we set, and how we achieved them.

US trip

The next leg of the tour took place in the United States in the September and was run by the fantastic Vote Run Lead organisation. Over the course of ten days in the USA, we met with NGOs, leaders in civic tech, and groups pushing for greater diversity of representation. With stops in New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC, it was brilliant to see the work being done across the three cities and drive of the people in these sectors to do good.

Our first stop was New York, where all the project partners met in Civic Hall to kick of the week of learning. During our day in Civic Hall we met with representatives from Microsoft New York, Hollaback, Democracy Works, and Civic Labs, all of whom are using new technologies for civic good. Democracy Works, for instance, uses online platforms and engages with companies across America to drive voter registration. It was great to learn new methods to create relationships, extend into communities, and help drive a civic cause through tech.

The GEPLE Project Partners outside Barnard College
The GEPLE Project Partners outside Barnard College

On our second day we visited Barnard College, a liberal arts college for women affiliated with Columbia University, where we met with Athena Center scholars, to learn about the center’s work to promote female leadership among its students. We also met with Marian Guerra, who told us of the work of the New American Leaders Project, which engages with people from immigrant backgrounds and supports them to run for political office. Like Women for Election, the New American Leaders Project uses training programmes to help demystify the running for election, and focuses on building a pipeline on immigrant candidates from a grassroots level.

Tech came to our aid when we watched a presentation by Kristin Hayden from California via LiveStream. Kristin works for IGNITE National, an organisation dedicated to encouraging political engagement amongst young women. They do this by training young women from high schools, colleges, and universities across the United States to realise their political potential. There was much to take away from this session for our own INFORM Training Programme for third-level students.

Following our morning in Barnard College, we headed south to the New York Women’s Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to providing funding and support to civil society organisation’s which have particular focus on women. What was particularly striking about the foundation was its board membership. The foundation strives to be inclusive, and brings together people from a myriad of backgrounds and viewpoints, creating a fuller discussion when it comes to decision making.

After a hectic few days in the Big Apple we took the train to Philadelphia, the original capital of thirteen colonies. There we met with Chris Bartlett of the William Way Community Centre. The centre has provided support for members of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ citizens since 1975, and has focused on building a strong sense of community for them,

Philadelphia is also home to a burgeoning civic tech community. We met with members of Technical.ly and Philadelphia 3.0 in Philly Pipeline, an incubation space for civic tech start-ups. Technical.ly is established in several US cities and grows local technology communities by connecting organizations and people through news, events and services. Philadelphia 3.0’s mission is to push political reform by modernising political and electoral structures, as well as encouraging new voices to run for political positions.

With a focus on civic tech throughout this programme, it was only right that we should visit Facebook Washington DC, where members of their Government and Politics team spoke to our group about online campaigning. They showed us how to make the most of the platform, and how, even with a limited budget, a cause could make a great impact.Fittingly, our last stop was Washington DC, a city currently buzzing with election season energy. On our first day there we met with members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, to see how they were working with latino communities to, among other projects, bring about a reflection of their population in political office. One of the programmes they have recently begun work on is Latina’s Represent, an initiative to address the lack of Latina leaders in public office and change this situation.

Our second day in DC saw us visit the New America offices. New America is “a think tank and civic enterprise committed to renewing American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age”. Learning about their work in informing policy and bridging the gap been existing structures and new technologies was fascinating.

The group with Michelle Whittaker and Emilie Aries
The group with Michelle Whittaker and Emilie Aries

In the afternoon we met with Jessica Grounds, founder of Running Start and longtime friend of Women for Election, Michelle Whittaker, communications director at FairVote, and Emilie Aries, founder of BossedUp. There was much to take away from each of these women. Grounds has long been worked to empower women to become politically engaged, and Running Start’s programme are excellent examples of training women at all levels. Whittaker introduced us to the problems of electoral system structures in the USA, and how FairVote was working to overcome them and create more diverse representation. Aries’ own experiences of post-university career led her to create BossedUp, which trains young women in self-advocacy for their careers and breaks their cycles of burnout.

That evening we attended an event hosted by the Irish Network Washington DC, where Irish Times correspondent Simon Carswell moderated a Q&A with Cody Keenan, Director of Speechwriting for President Barack Obama. It was great to hear Keenan’s insights into crafting political speeches, particularly in the growing digital age. We also enjoyed meeting so many politically engaged Irish, who live in the city, and were very happy to learn how many supporters Women for Election have there!

Crowds line the balconies to see Michelle Obama speak
Crowds line the balconies to see Michelle Obama speak

Before heading back to Ireland, we travelled to George Mason University, just outside DC, to watch Michelle Obama rally on behalf of Hillary Clinton. An incredible speaker, Michelle not only created a marvellous energy in the room, but also drove home key election messages. She emphasised the importance of voter turnout in securing a win for Hillary in the forthcoming election. The electric atmosphere of the hall in which the speech took place was incredible and we were delighted to experience it!

Throughout the trip the project had internal meetings about the project’s online platform.

If you would like to know more about the GEPLE project you can take a look at the project website. You can also follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.

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Excellent analysis ⁦@jenoconnell⁩. Diversity in public representation is critical to effective governance. Ireland ranks very poorly: Only 1 in 5 women & very minimal visible diversity in public office here. Put simply we need #MoreWomen elected. https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/jennifer-o-connell-biden-s-cabinet-looks-like-america-the-d%C3%A1il-doesn-t-look-much-like-ireland-1.4465371