Suzanne Collins is the Director of Campaigns and Operations for the organisation Women for Election.
As candidate selections continue apace for the Assembly elections in May, potential members of the 32nd Dáil are already out of the traps.
As TDs hightailed it out of Leinster House on Wednesday morning, RTÉ correspondents caught up with some of the now no-longer-technically-TDs. Seven (former) TDs were interviewed and they were all men. Finally, a woman got in front of a microphone. The next morning the Directors of Elections from the four larger parties, Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin were in studio in RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. All male. Every one of them.
Where both of these incidents might not have inspired much comment in times past, Twitter was aflame on both occasions pointing out the lack of female voices. Of course, RTÉ trying to do a live broadcast at Leinster House as everyone speeds back to their constituencies must have been a logistical nightmare and the state broadcaster certainly cannot be held responsible for who the parties appoint as their Directors of Elections. It did, however, show very clearly that women and their absence from our parliament and as a result our airwaves is on the minds of potential voters.
Recent research from Trinity College’s Emeritus Professor, Michael Marsh, backs this up. The 2011 version of the Irish National Election Study, carried out after the last general election indicated that two-thirds of voters want to see more women in the Dáil.
Now those voters have the opportunity to create that reality.
With nominations due to close on Thursday the 11th of February, there are currently 156 women declared to contest general election. This constitutes 31% of overall candidates and over double the percentage of female candidates in the last general election in 2011.
All of the parties have met or exceeded the gender quota for selection, but interestingly the percentage of women running as independents or as part of smaller groupings has also doubled despite having no gender quota to content with. The mere fact of more women running has encouraged even more women to step forward. It is notable how qualified this pool of women are. Over 85% of the women running for the four larger parties (Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin) and 75% of those women running as independents or in smaller parties and groupings are either elected at local or national level or have run before. They are experienced campaigners, proven vote getters and in many cases, seat winners.
While it’s really heartening to see so many women running, the face of the last Dáil where 84% of the TDs were men can only change if women are elected. That’s why Women for Election are calling on everyone who wants to see this change to pick the female candidate who best represents their politics, views and values and help get them elected. Mounting an election campaign is a huge undertaking and women need practical support. There is a job for anyone who wants it from canvassing, leafleting, fundraising, volunteer co-ordination, giving lifts, taking calls, replying to emails and letters, providing IT support. Every little bit helps. Women for Election want to encourage as many men and women as possible out on the campaign trail to support and elect women. We are highlighting all of their good work with the #electwomen hashtag on social media to celebrate all their great efforts.
Voters have an unprecedented level of voice in GE16, but it is up to them if they take the opportunity to make history.