Women in election

Women perform above average in GE2020 for Dublin South Central

General Election 2020 marked a turning point for women in politics. For the first time ever, there was a female candidate contesting in every constituency. 

09/06/2018 (L to R) Former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh from Shrule Mayo & Claire Tighe from Ballina Mayo During the women for election Dublin INSPIRE conference in the radison Blu Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Currently, 23% of TDs are women. This equates to 36 women out of 160 TDs. In Dublin South Central a majority of women ran and won half the seats – though this was a reduction from three-out-of-four women in Dublin South Central in the last Dáil. 

The 2016 general election was the first time gender quotas were introduced. Currently, at least 30% of a party’s candidates must be women. This is due to rise to 40% in 2023. If parties do not comply with these quotas they are at risk of losing up to half of their state funding. 

Notably, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil delivered the worst outcomes for women by barely pushing past the 30% quota. The parties that performed best for women included Solidarity People before Profit, Social Democrats, and Greens. 

Women for Election is a non-profit organisation that coaches and supports women entering politics. CEO Ciairín de Buis said, “the number of women who ran in the 2016 general election was almost double the number of women who ran in the previous general election.”

De Buis goes on to say, “unfortunately, the larger and more established political parties seem to regard the gender quota requirements as a target rather than the bare minimum they are required to do.” 

Thirteen candidates ran in Dublin South Central with seven being women. People before Profit’s Bríd Smith and Joan Collins of Independents 4 Change won two out of the four available seats. 

Commenting on the relevant success of female candidates in her constituency, Bríd Smith says, “I think the strong role we played in Repeal was important. I find that many women respect the stance we have taken on this and on issues related to women’s health.”

Smith recognizes the importance of her work in the community as a factor for many voters. She discusses how the presence of her team and councillors have earned them “a great deal of respect” from voters. 

Similar to Smith, Joan Collins also accredits her success to hard work in the local community. Collins examines how particular constituencies favour women more due to their long established roots in the area.  

“Constituencies where there are more women serving on their local council tend to be the constituencies where more women run for the Dáil and in turn where more women represent in the Dáil, de Buis says. 

However, a common consensus visible among all females in politics is the challenges facing them. Inequality in female politics can be measured by the Bacik report. In 2009, Senator Ivana Bacik produced a report about the obstacles to women’s equal participation in politics. The findings of the report showed the ‘five Cs’ as the main barriers for women. These are cash, childcare, confidence, culture and candidate-selection procedures. 

These hurdles are commonplace for female candidates. De Buis describes how “confidence can be a huge barrier” for women while Collins says these barriers affect women in working class areas the worst. 

Smith points to “the lack of childcare facilities or properly paid maternity leave. The persistence of sexist attitudes in many institutions remains a reality.

“I am struck by how a male politician can be described as passionate or strong while a female politician making the same points will be described as emotional or irrational!” 

While the number of Dáil seats won by female candidates only increased from 35 to 36, General Election 2020 marked the highest number of votes ever cast for women candidates at a general election contest, exceeding the previous record (2016) by over forty thousand votes, according to Maynooth academic Adrian Kavanagh. 

Mary Lou McDonald could yet become Taoiseach. “The sheer visibility of having a woman as Taoiseach would allow young kids across the country to realise that they too can be a politician, that they too can represent their local community,” says de Buis. 

However, both Smith and Collins argue that female prime minister Margaret Thatcher did nothing for most ordinary working class women in Britain. 

Yet they remain optimistic, “Mary Lou McDonald is obviously very different and it would be a huge step forward if she became Taoiseach as a part of a left Government,” Collins says.

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