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

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  • murdockp

    I agree but not in NI. the above statements are true if politicians are elected for election on merit sadly they are elected for election on following the party. carol Cullen (to give he her name on her birth certificate) is the most incompetent minister in stormont. if she was a man she would have been sacked by now.

    women deserve equality, but faux equality, making up the numbers is condescending

    personally I vote for who is the best at the job, Arlene is competent, Margaret Ritchie is too but beyond that I am struggling.

  • Carlota martinez

    What is the name on Arlene’s birth certificate?

  • Chingford Man

    Feminist tosh. The reason why there are more men in politics than women is that many capable women prefer to raise a family than grub around in Stormont or the Dail.

    But for social justice warriors, a mediocre woman is preferable to a good man if it makes the numbers equal.

  • chrisjones2

    Isnt it Foster?

  • chrisjones2

    Mind you you could apply this to several of the men. I know another female where Civil servants were in despair at her total inability to understand a basic brief – but there are men who are the same

  • Carlota martinez


  • Nevin
  • chrisjones2


  • chrisjones2

    And your point was?

  • Nevin

    Answering your query.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’m not sure that her political survival rests entirely on her gender despite SF being at the um … vanguard for gender quotas/positive discrimination/redressing the imbalances of the past etc.
    Name all incompetent and/or corrupt male SF ministers (erstwhile or present) and then check to see if any of them have ever been sacked.
    Sinn Fein’s only like Caesar’s wife because she lives by her own rules. She knows her reputation was so sullied in the first place any more opprobrium can only be a mere trifle. So divorce might give acknowledgement to any wrongdoing as well as to ‘maintaining standards in public office’ which was never part of the plan. Better to brazen it out and delude yourself you’re gloriously re-enacting Custer’s last stand. It wins votes and you live to fight them pesky injuns another day.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    That limits women’s capabilities somewhat. Does Career Guidance now list capable chatelaine as a career option?
    I’m reminded of what a wonderful achievement Iris made while at Castlereagh Borough Council. And she waited until she’d successfully raised the new generation of her political dynasty before triple jobbing. Go girl! And like a true feminist she knew to take all outrageous misfortune on the um … chin.
    An outstanding example of how family life and public life needn’t clash. As for embarassing her husband in such a way only God can forgive her.

  • Chingford Man

    If only you’d spent as much time reading my post as you did composing your own stupid one.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    How much time did you spend composing yours? How much time do you consider your readership should spend consuming it?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think this comment needs greater explaination …
    “In the 2014 local government elections, 22% of women ran and 21% of women got elected.”

    Obviously it’s not 22% of the female population or even membership of political parties, does this mean 22% of the candidates were female? And 21% this percentage of a percentage, how does that stack up against male and overall elections, I mean this statistic could be utterly meaningless. For example you could have 10% election of male candidates when there’s 10 males to a seat, and 50% female election by having two females to a seat. In this circumstance you could still have 6 males to every women, simply because the poll is filled with no hopper independents and small party candidates who just happen to be male.

    It’s a poor metric to judge the accessibility of female political candidates getting their chance in parties against men who set up their political machine. Who’s fault is that? Who’s responsibility is that?

    Would women choosing to lose deposits from the system and filling in an application something that is undermined by male competition or interests.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Maybe it’s that you are so afraid of Irish names you probably call Alasdair McDonnell, either Allister McDonnell or even Allister McDonald.

    There are people who can help with that … Probably.

  • barnshee

    “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.”

    As noted some 50% of voters are women

    If they were prepared to endure the same drudgery of joining parties – standing for office -trudging out to party meetings – shuffling around in the rain delivering pamphlets— in short being an ” activist” -They could fill the party with women and Hey Presto– no problem getting candidates and party support

    Getting elected? that`s a different matter- mind you– some 50% of voters are women.

    However They don`t appear to put in the “hard yards “