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Opinion: 'I want to invite every woman in this country to run for election'

Our local elections next year are a great opportunity for progress and change. Think about running, writes Ciairín de Buis.

Ciairín de Buis CEO, Women for Election

PENNSYLVANIA IN THE United States is often cited as the cradle of American country’s democracy, with its city Philadelphia hosting the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

However, despite such a progressive history, the state has no women at congress.

There is hope that’s about to change, after the primary elections – essentially their version of selection conventions – seven women, six Democrat women and one Republican, are running.

Women are on the move

After Trump’s election in November 2016, women on both sides of their bipartisan divide got mobilised. Women are on the move, and the direction they’re aiming for is increasingly political.

Record amounts of women are running for state governor roles and in the mid-terms. Pundits estimate that by the year’s end, we’ll be talking thousands. Not every woman running in America will win, but every woman running is helping to rewrite a narrative which is long due a change.

This surge of women’s political activism in the states is something we in Ireland should watch and learn from. When women are not listened to, they learn how to shout. And the chorus isn’t going to stop anytime soon. We should harness this energy.

Where women’s voices are not at the table

Pennsylvania is one of many examples of locations around the world where women’s voices are not at the table when political decisions are made. But while it’s easy discuss and dissect US politics, Ireland needs to first look at our ourselves.

We have no female TDs in Clare, Cork East, Cork North Central, Cork North West, Cork South Central, Donegal, Kerry, Laois, Limerick County, Longford-Westmeath, Meath West, Roscommon-Galway, Sligo-Leitrim, Tipperary, Wexford, and Wicklow. Does anyone really think there is not one woman across those counties ready, interested and able for the Dáil?

I’m the CEO of Women for Election, a not-for-profit that trains and encourages women in Ireland to run for election, and I want to invite every woman in this country to run for election. Or to at least consider it.

Women for Election

Women for Election work towards balancing the participation of women and men in politics in this country. We’re non-partisan, meaning we’re open to women of all political leanings. Our main means of equipping women to run and win races is through training courses where women gather to learn about confidence, communications and campaigning from proven political experts and elected female politicians.

We’ve got four planned this year, starting in Dublin on 9 June, and are also planning other events such as masterclasses and summer schools. We’ve got Cork and Galway pencilled in for courses and hope to add more to our roster.

Of the 194 women who secured seats in the 2014 local elections, 50% were trained on Women for Election programmes. In the 2016 General Election, 40% of the newly elected women TDs had been through the programmes.

2019 local elections

Working with women across the country in the run-up to the 2019 local elections is our top-priority this year. 2018 is also the year of Vótáil100, the 100-year anniversary of some Irish women getting the right to vote and stand in parliamentary elections. We owe it to the suffragettes to continue their work.

Local elections are critically important for women in politics. Local elections are a great training ground. You build your support base through community engagement and become a local government expert. You are the voice of your community at council level.

If we have women elected at local level, we have politically engaged and effective female politicians who may decide they want to get on to the ballot paper for the general election. Equally, they may decide the council is where they want to be. Both are important and women need to be at both.

In terms of local representation right now, 20.6% of Irish councillors are women. We should improve that. Being barely above 1 in 5 is not good enough. Scotland increased their female representation in local government in their local elections last year, going from 24.3% in 2012 to 29% in 2017. We need to do that, and more.

Our local elections next year are a great opportunity for progress and change. Think about running.

Ciairín de Buis is CEO of Women for Election. To learn more about Women for Election, visit womenforelection.ie.

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About the author:

Ciairín de Buis  / CEO, Women for Election

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