Time for women's voices to be heard in Government

The Taoiseach claims there is a lack of female TDs, hence so few at his Cabinet table. The Women for Election group is looking to ensure the only way is up for female representation, writes Niamh Hennessy.

 

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar hasn’t been in office long but already he has come under fire for not appointing enough female ministers to his Cabinet. Female relations didn’t get off to a very good start with Mary Mitchell O’Connor demoted to his junior ministerial team. 

When the dust settled, just one fifth of the Taoiseach’s Cabinet are women. The reason for so few women, he said, was due to a lack of female TDs.

“What I need to do as party leader in particular is to make sure we have many more women in our next parliamentary party so that I can promote many more women,” he said.

Step up to the stage Women for Election — now is your time to shine.

Women for Election is an organisation established to help females run for election. It recently launched a crowdfunding campaign which aims to raise €50,000 to subsidise training 300 women to put themselves before the electorate.

Many people believe Ireland needs more female representation in its corridors of power. In fact there have been more people called ‘Sean’ and ‘John’ elected to Dáil Éireann since 1918 than women. To be specific, there were 99 Johns and 31 Seáns elected over the last century compared with just 114 women.

Of all the people ever elected to the Dáil, only 9% were women, while 91% were men. That is according to Caroline Kirrane, adjunct lecturer at Trinity College Business School, who is spearheading the crowdfunding campaign.

The not-for-profit Women for Election is five years in existence and has already trained 1,000 women.

Of the 194 women who secured seats in the 2014 local elections, 50% were trained on Women for Election programmes. In the 2016 general election, 40% of the newly elected women TDs had been through the programmes.

One of the Women for Election founders, Niamh Gallagher, says: “We have come a long way in the five years since we established Women for Election. But building lasting equality in Irish politics will take time. We are now taking the next steps by laying the groundwork for the next phase of our work.

“Our experience is that people really want to see more gender equality in Irish politics. This crowdfunding campaign gives everyone the opportunity to help achieve that by contributing to the work Women for Election does inspiring and supporting women to take the first step and make a difference in politics.”

The programme aims to tackle the five Cs that hold women back from participating in public life: Confidence, cash, childcare, candidate selection, and culture.

Women for Election chairwoman Michelle O’Donnell Keating says: “Thirty-five women were elected as members of the 32nd Dáil, an all-time high. 

“Yet, women account for just 22% of TDs and 30% of senators. We are taking early steps to put in place the funding to train women considering entering political life so that they are ready to run in the next local and general elections.”

Ireland South MEP Liadh Ní Riada (SF) took part in a Women for Election training programme and says the organisation has a strong track record of providing practical support to inspire, equip, and inform women entering politics.

“While great advances have been made in recent years to increase the number of women in public life, much more work needs to be done. 

“We must look at removing the obstacles that make it difficult for women to play a full role in public life, such as affordable childcare and a more manageable work/life balance,” says Ní Riada.

“Women for Election was my first port of call when it came to running for the European Parliament in 2014. They were fantastic in providing support and skillsets that I still find invaluable to this day. Women for Election is about empowering women and putting them on an equal footing with men.

“There is a need for real proactive steps to support women to enter and advance in political and public life. This means making real changes and Women for Election has been instrumental in helping make the advances we saw at the last election. They intend to build on that good work in the future and both I and Sinn Féin fully support them.”

Dublin Rathdown TD Catherine Martin (Green Party) also took part in a Women for Election training programme ahead of the 2016 general election.

“It is never too early to prepare for the next election,” she says.

“Women need to get ready to run in the local elections in 2019 and in the next general election. With the help of the training provided by Women for Election, I look forward to seeing even more women represented politically at local and national level.

“My advice for women going into Irish politics would be to do it. Believe in yourself, have faith, and seek support from friends and family — that’s all you need. Have the ambition and the drive to visualise yourself being elected. Have that vision in mind and be prepared to put the hours in and then you can achieve it.”

The organisation is using crowdfunding to raise the funds needed to train women interested in entering politics. Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount, typically via the internet.

There are a number of online platforms where such funding can be launched such as Indiegogo, GoFundMe, mycharity.ie, and KickStarter. A crowdfunding campaign generally has a goal or a target amount of money to raise which is set before launching the campaign.

Limerick City East councillor Elena Secas (Lab) says she benefited from the Women for Election training and commends the founders, Niamh Gallagher and Michelle O’Donnell Keating, on their programmes as she says training is not just a one-off activity.

“It is a way of creating a culture of learning and is a necessary and valuable investment in this case in equipping more women with necessary skills to run and succeed in election,” says Secas.

The campaign is operated on a voluntary basis and organisers rely on the generosity of business such as the Red Dog Creative Agency.

Its managing director, Mary Doherty, says: “We reckoned Women for Election needed to engage a younger audience who would appreciate quality creative and enjoy the good karma of helping get more women elected.”

Red Dog donated its services free of charge to the campaign. The campaign has also enjoyed support from leading poets, writers, historians, and photographers.

The progress of the campaign can be monitored here.

Follow Women for Election on — Twitter: @women4election; Facebook: ‘women for election’; Instagram: women4electionire; Hashtag: #MoreWomen



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