Collins: “The bottom line is you either support the idea of gender balance in our national parliament or you don’t.”

Suzanne Collins is the Director of Operations and Campaigns for Women for Election the non-partisan, not-for-profit organisation that works to inspire and equip more women to succeed in politics. Responding to John McGuirk, she writes about why his central thesis on women in politics is wrong…

What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So true of our political system. Over and over women failed to be selected or encouraged to stand for election and over and over again our national parliament failed to be reflective of 52% of the population it represents. At 16% Dáil Éireann female representation is at an all-time high. Our neighbours to the north in the NI Assembly fare slightly better with 19% – but only just.

So when the (male dominated) Government voted for gender quotas for selection it was evident that a new proactive approach was being taken, and one that for the first time would garner some different results. Because despite what John McGuirk thinks – the evidence is clear. When women run, women get elected. The electorate do freely chose women. Fifteen percent of women ran in the 2011 general election. Fifteen percent got elected (and two more women won subsequent by elections). In the 2014 local government elections, 22% of women ran and 21% of women got elected. This week, we reached a milestone when the number of women declared as candidates in the upcoming election exceeded the number who ran in 2011. While it is really encouraging to see 90 women on the ticket – what is even better is the proportions of candidates. According to NUIM’s Adrian Kavanagh, women now comprise of 30% of declared candidates. And with a possible 200 or more candidates yet to declare (based on 2011 and 2007 figures) and even more women getting on the ticket, the next Dáil could be a very different place.

John McGuirk is right about one thing. The point of feminism is that men and women should be treated equally – but sometimes conditions need to be created for the equal treatment to happen. The best national and international research shows that it is the five ‘c’s (culture, candidate selection, confidence, cash and childcare) that result in fewer women standing for election. The gender quotas for selection deal proactively with candidate selection, confidence (as more women are encouraged and persuaded to put themselves forward) and culture (because while parties are compelled by legislation, independents and groups are not. Yet they are still comprising of 30% of female candidates so far). UNFEM has shown that countries who have reached over 30% of women elected to national parliaments overwhelming have utilised some form of gender quota. So what we are doing is following best international practice. What this form of quota does is create the choice for the electorate. It has compelled the parties to look harder and closer at the talented women in their own ranks. Overall, over 90% of the women who have been selected by the main parties are either incumbents, are elected at local level or have run for election before. These are qualified, experienced and competent women. When we look at the profile of women running for smaller parties or as independents, over 85% either hold seats at local or national level or have run before.

Here’s the thing – we know that getting women on the ticket is only half the battle. A higher than ever number of female candidates is encouraging but it is only an indication of the potential for change. Women increasing votes and winning seats will be the real sign of change. That’s why Women for Election focus on training, supporting and mentoring women to ensure that they run their best campaign and maximise every available resource and opportunity. From the 7-9 of September we will be in Athlone for our three-day residential campaign school, EQUIP 2015. Candidates and their campaign managers will hear from the best national and international trainers and speakers on every aspect of campaigning and how to meet the unique challenges of a national campaign.

Johnny Fallon is right. When men want something they are big enough and bold enough to stand up for themselves. This is evident given that 70% of currently declared candidates are men. The bottom line is you either support the idea of gender balance in our national parliament or you don’t. If you do – why not support the proven method that will help us get there? The time for insanity is over – the time to do things differently is here.

For more information on EQUIP 2015 go to or email [email protected]

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