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Ballot boxes opened during the recent local and European Parliamentary elections at the RDS in Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo
national women's council

Gender-quotas ‘only part of solution’ to low levels of women and minorities at local government level

Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael failed to select at least 30% women candidates in the recent local elections.

THE NATIONAL WOMEN’S Council (NWC) has said gender-quotas are “only part of the solution” to addressing the “grossly” low levels of women and minorities represented in local politics.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael both failed to select at least 30% women candidates in the recent Local Elections and the NWC said these parties “did not run enough women candidates to effect any substantive change in the over-representation of men in local government”.

And while a record 677 women (31% of candidates) ran for local office this month, the outcome is largely similar post-election with the number of seats held by women only increasing by one, from 246 to 247.

The NWC today published a report examining the motivations and deterrent factors for women who served in local government between 2019-2024.

In the report, titled ‘Women Beyond the Dáil: Access, Representation, and Retention in Irish Local Government’, women who have served in local government since the 2019 local election were surveyed on their personal experiences and perspectives.

All women councillors holding office as of April were invited to participate in the study, but only 38 women councillors responded to the survey, a response rate of 16%.

The NWC said the low response rate was due to the survey coinciding with “an intense period of political campaigning for those seeking re-election” in the recent Local Elections, with three councillors telling researchers they could not complete the survey at such a busy time.

The second main reason was dubbed “survey fatigue” – at the end of the survey, one participant described the process as “time-consuming” and expressed concern that such surveys may not benefit women entering politics because the “headlines and reports are always about how bad it is”.

Despite this, the NWC said the survey “provides valuable insights into the dynamics of women’s political representation in local government”.

Close to a quarter (24%) of participants described themselves as being part of an “under-represented or disadvantaged group”, while 97% described themselves as “White Irish”.

Around six in ten (58%) have children in their care, and excluding childcare, 27% have other caring responsibilities such as caring for an older adult or someone with a disability.

Some 29% were also in full-time employment in addition to being a councillor.

Co-author of the report Claire McGing described this as the “triple shift” of “juggling care responsibilities and paid employment with their political work”.

She added: “The low remuneration associated with the role also disproportionately affects women and minority communities, as they are more likely to be economically disadvantaged in the first place”.

Meanwhile, 66% of participants said they experienced online threats and harassment due to their role as a councillor, with 65% subjected to similar face-to-face interactions.

More than four in ten (42%) had considered leaving elected office as a result of this abuse.

McGing remarked that “one of the main reasons women do not stay in politics once they have been elected is the online and offline abuse they face and the safety concerns this raises”.

She added that there can “often be a lack of support around this”.

However, 87% of participants said they “enjoy being a councillor for the most part”.

In order to advance women’s representation in local politics, 74% backed a statutory 40% gender quota to be implemented for local elections, as is currently the case for general elections.

The NWC noted that the adoption of a gender quota should be done with consideration of diversity targets for ethnic minority women.

The NWC has also recommended women-only shortlists for co-option in order to “immediately address the gender imbalance at local level”, as well as including vouched care costs as eligible election expenses.

Minister of State for Local Government Alan Dillon, said the Government is committed to addressing the imbalance that exists and added that he will “carefully consider the findings of this research” to ensure “we can have representation at local Government level which reflects the society that we are”.

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