Stats show Ireland has a long way to go to address under-representation of women in politics

Senator Alice Mary Higgins

As the Houses of the Oireachtas gear up for Vótáil 100, the official commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the parliamentary vote for women in Ireland this year, the 2016 CSO figures demonstrate the continuing under-representation of women at political level nationally and locally.

Less than a quarter (22.2%) of TDs were women in 2016, and they accounted for only 21.4% of members of local authorities. However, these figures were an improvement on 2013, when just over 15% of TDs and less than a fifth of local authority members were women.

This increase is largely down to the introduction of quotas in 2012, a move which initially met with some resistance but has since been acknowledged by many former opponents as a necessity.

Stats show Ireland has a long way to go to address under-representation of women in politics

According to senator Alice Mary Higgins, the rise shows the public grasped the chance to vote for women when it was presented. She adds that while the local elections were not under quota, there was more pressure to put women forward to have them in the pipeline.

“While we only had 23% of candidates who were women, 21% of those elected were women,” she said. “When the public was offered the chance to vote for women, many of them did so.”

Ms Higgins was also encouraged in the mix of women putting themselves forward as candidates.

“People want the opportunity to vote for women from across the political spectrum. It shows the diversity of women being encouraged to come forward is also important.

 “We’ve had such wonderful women in the community and voluntary sector for years, and they’re now deciding to step up. We are also seeing women scientists and environmentalists running as candidates — these are not sectors which politics would have drawn from traditionally, but they feel these issues are crucial.”

Ms Higgins also believes it is important to look at the participation of women in decision-making in the civil service.

“The figures are so stark there; two-thirds of civil servants are women but once you get to principal officer and above it all shifts,” she said. “Look at the Athena Swan charter [which aims to tackle gender inequality in third-level institutions] that has been so influential in universities; it doesn’t just look at the top level, it looks at the pipeline and places it all in proportion.

“If you have a tier which is balanced but that slips the next level up, then something is wrong. That kind of analysis is very important in the senior civil service as well as politics — as representatives we’re working with Ministers and Departments, and that’s also what’s shaping our politics. It’s important to see women promoted there as well.”

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