A YOUNG FEMALE staffer in Leinster House told me a story recently that showed the stark effects of gender imbalance in our national parliament. Her TD was in the Dáil chamber and needed some notes. As she made her way down from her office in LH2000 (adjacent to the main building) the bell rang for a vote. She related how all of the men streamed out of their offices, men came down the stairs, men came out of the lifts, men funnelled through the doors. She was on the steps leading up to the Dáil chamber five minutes later before she saw a female TD. She said for the first time she really realised how few women are in the Dáil.
Here at Women for Election we are hopeful that a similar story will be unthinkable after the next general election, particularly if early positive trends are anything to go by.
This week, the number of female candidates currently declared for the upcoming general election exceeded the number of women who ran in 2011. While this is good news, what is even better is the proportion of female candidates. In 2011, 86 women made up 15% of all those who ran. However, this time with 89 women declared, according to NUIM’s Adrian Kavanagh, this equals just over 30% of all candidates being female.
While this number will change as the parties and groupings continue to finalise their tickets and more independents make the decision to run, such a strong start for women is really encouraging.
The gender quota for selection legislation is changing the rules for political parties who now must select 30% of women, but when all of the candidates are finally selected, it will be interesting to see how much of a trickle-down effect there has been. Potentially independents and other groupings could also be reflective of the changing face of Irish political life with higher than ever numbers of women running from the so called ‘others’ designation if current trends continue.
Most importantly, the electorate will be given a real choice this time. Following the 2011 general election, 10 constituencies have no female TDs, but given that four constituencies did not have any women on the ticket in 2011 and a further 14 only had one woman running, voters didn’t have much an option in many places.
And who are these women who are stepping forward? Over 90% of the women selected by the larger political parties are either currently elected at local or national level or have run for election before making them qualified, competent and experienced campaigners. These are women who have secured votes and 87% of them have already won seats, albeit mostly at local level. It is evident that the gender quota for selection has compelled the parties to look harder at the talented women within their own ranks and urged and encouraged them to take that vital step forward and, in some cases, the parties have created the conditions to ensure their selection.
With more selection conventions and declarations to come, Women for Election is keen to support female candidates and their campaign managers to ensure that they can maximise every opportunity and meet the unique challenges of a national campaign. We also want to ensure that women who are thinking of running do not see a lack of ‘political’ experience as an impediment. With the right training and support political novices have the potential to learn how to translate their skills, talents, experience and networks into an election campaign.
Winning seats a must
That’s why Women for Election are running a three-day residential political campaign school EQUIP from the 7-9 of September to train, mentor and support women to run winning campaigns and play their part in making history.
EQUIP 2015 brings together national and international experts to cover every facet of a campaign from building a team, campaign strategy, media training, social media strategy, advice on how to read polls, pitching stories to local and national media, good campaign governance, and fundraising among other vital skills. Planning and preparation is key for a winning campaign and after the three days candidates will not only have a campaign plan, but they will know how to execute it effectively while fully utilising their available resources.
Women will run for a diverse set of reasons and they will have a wide range of views and values but it is essential they are equipped to fight the best campaign they can. Women must maximise their vote and win seats for their party, grouping or cause if real change is to come about in Irish politics. Getting on the ticket is a signal of intent and a sign of the potential change to come. But winning seats is a must.
Suzanne Collins is the director of operations and campaigns with Women for Election. You can find her on Twitter @suz_collins.