Women for Election is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organisation whose vision is of an Ireland with balanced participation of women and men in political life. Our mission is to inspire and equip women to succeed in politics.
Women for Election offers a tailored training and support programme to women seeking to enter public life; and provides and facilitates a cross-party network of political women, committed to equal representation of women and men in Irish politics. We are driven by our belief that enriching the diversity of voices in our politics will lead to more robust decisions, and help create a fairer, more inclusive and dynamic society, better equipped to tackle future challenges.
Women for Election grew out of Women for Europe, an organisation established to provide a platform for women’s voices during the 2009 Lisbon treaty referendum. Women for Election is the response to demand from the women we met, across Ireland, for an organisation wholly focused on providing practical supports for women seeking to enter politics.
Evidence shows that to bring about real change a combination of hard measures (quotas) and additional supports, including mentoring and training programmes and women’s political networks, is required. Women for Election provide a number of programmes designed specifically to empower women and to help them overcome challenges the may face when considering a career in politics.
Through our tailored programme we aim to:
- INSPIRE women to consider a career in politics
- EQUIP women with the tools and techniques necessary to successfully get elected
- INFORM women of the benefits of becoming more politically active
Our programmes will provide high quality political training focused on supporting women to win. Delivered by a variety of experts our programmes cover all aspects of political campaigns, including building committed campaign teams, effective planning and administration, fundraising and budgeting, message development, presentation skills and managing the media.
THE FIGURES TELL THE STORY:
- In General Election 2011 just 86 of 566 candidates were women (15%)
- 25 of 166 of those elected were women (15%)
- This is the best representation women have ever had in Dáil Éireann
- It is an increase of just 5% in 35 years
Since the foundation of the State in 1918, just 91 women have been elected in the Republic of Ireland; our Dáil has never been less than 85% male.
Progress was made between 1977 and 1992, when the percentage of female TDs increased by 8%, from 4.1% to 12%; but since then progress has been static; only 5 more women were elected in 2011 than in 1992.
At local level the story is similar: women make up 16% of elected representatives, an increase of just 1% in ten years, despite comprising about one third of the membership of the main political parties. At this glacial pace of change it will be 2250 before we can claim balanced political representation. Ireland pales further when compared internationally; we are ranked 78th of 187 countries in the world classification table of women in politics, and 20th of the 27 EU member states for female political representation.
These figures show that Ireland is failing to use its most vital resource: its people. Women, 52% of the population, make up just 15% of elected representatives. Their talent, skills and experience remain on the outside as the country’s future is decided. Yet this is despite universal acknowledgement that balanced participation by women and men in political decision-making leads to more truly representative and effective democracies; and better and more inclusive societies.
RESEARCH CLASSIFIES THE REASONS FOR WOMEN’S UNDER-REPRESENTATION AS THE ‘5 CS’:
- CONFIDENCE: women are less likely to go forward for selection
- CASH: women have less access to resources than men
- CANDIDATE SELECTION PROCEDURES: the processes by which political parties select candidates poses a significant obstacle to women’s political participation
- CULTURE: a gendered culture is prevalent even within left-wing parties
- CHILDCARE: women are more likely to have this responsibility.
2009 research by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), found that women candidates had very negative experiences, and over 80% of those surveyed claimed that to overcome this, a critical mass of women in politics is imperative.
- Tailored programme of support to inspire, equip and inform women to run for political office
- Cross party network of political women committed to equal representation of women and men in Irish politics
- Advocacy and campaigning focused on increasing the number of women in Irish politics
Evidence shows that to bring about real change a combination of hard measures (quotas) and additional supports, including mentoring and training programmes and women’s political networks, is required. Women for Election will increase the number of women running for election by making sure political parties have competent, prepared female candidates putting themselves forward for selection. Our three-year plan outlines how we will work with political parties and groupings to identify potential candidates, and how we will extend our recruitment drive to include women in leadership roles beyond politics; from trade unions, business networks, community groups, NGOs and universities.
Our ‘Inspire, Equip, Inform’ core programme will provide high quality political training focused on supporting women to win. Our training will be delivered by a variety of experts and will cover all aspects of political campaigns, including building committed campaign teams, effective planning and administration, fundraising and budgeting, message development, presentation skills and managing the media.
NETWORK OF POLITICAL WOMEN
Each participant will have access to ongoing support, formal (webinars, alumni events) and informal (peer support, advice), to guide them in their decision to run for office and ultimately in organising their election campaign.
Women for Election will work in partnership with other groups in this space to promote the concept of gender balance in elections and ultimately in Councils, the Dáil and Europe. We will use data, gathered and shared by academics supportive of our mission, to monitor the candidacy and selection of women at convention stage.
OVERCOMING THE BARRIERS
To bring about real and lasting change the root problems holding women back from achieving equality in political life – the 5 Cs – must be addressed. How Women for Election will address each of these Cs is outlined below. By successfully overcoming these barriers, Women for Election will flood the system with capable, competent, supported women, ready and willing to run for political office.
Confidence: Women for Election will:
- Provide cross-party programmes focused on preparing female candidates for selection and election
- Increase the supply of capable, confident, prepared women; ready and supported to put their names on the ballot paper
- Provide access to a cross-party network of political women, committed to providing support, advice and resources to female candidates
Cash: Women for Election will:
- Support women to develop their fundraising abilities and unlock the value in their own networks
- Run a sustained campaign to encourage women to give to women for political campaigns
- Provide access to potential campaign donors through our cross-party network of political women
- Host a fundraising event in each election year for Women for Election alumni candidates
Candidate Selection: Women for Election will:
- Recruit high potential women participants for our programmes from political parties, county councils, trade unions, women’s network organisations (spanning NGO and business) and profile them as potential candidates
- Support the full implementation of quota legislation in partnership with other interest groups (NWCI, 50:50 group)
- Increase the supply of capable, confident, prepared women; ready to come forward and fill party level quotas
Culture: Women for Election will:
- Increase the number of women candidates, who will serve as role models for current and future generations of women
- Maintain a database of Women for Election alumni and encourage alumni to put themselves forward as candidates
- Apply learning from organisations in other jurisdictions that have successfully employed training and support programmes to increase the number of women running for office, including in Northern Ireland and the USA
Childcare: Women for Election will:
- Women for Election will indirectly address the childcare barrier: international evidence shows that increasing the number of women in elected positions leads to greater focus on legislative and policy issues that are considered ‘women’s rights’ issues, including childcare
OUR UNIQUE ROLE
Women for Election is the only non-political organisation that works solely on identifying and supporting women committed to public life. There is no other organisation offering the holistic package of support for candidates that we propose. Parties have commissioned training for women on an ad-hoc basis in the past, without significant long-term impact. Organisations, including the 50:50 group, lobby parties for increased female representation. The NWCI, the representative body for 160 women’s groups across Ireland, promotes women’s rights and women’s equality and focuses on a number of key policy areas. Women for Election supports but does not duplicate the work of these groups. US based organisations providing similar training and support for candidates, including the White House Project and EMILY’s List, are supportive of our venture and committed to share their expertise and experience with us.
Our timing is right. We are five years from a general election, and three years from the local and European elections. Measures taken in the past have failed – it is time for fresh, focused, practical action.
HOW DO WE KNOW OUR APPROACH WILL WORK?
Our approach is based on the best evidence and research from around the world; our personal experiences of navigating Ireland’s unique political landscape during the Women for Europe campaign; and market research with elected representatives and political operatives in Ireland. The 2003 Council of Europe Recommendation, supported by 47 European Governments, gives a comprehensive outline of supportive measures that are successful in increasing women’s representation in politics; including leadership training programmes, women’s political networks and a ‘data bank’ of potential women candidates. In the US, organisations including the White House Project and EMILY’s list have helped elect thousands of women at local level and hundreds at national level through tailored training and support programmes; and in Vietnam, Ethiopia and Malawi, training of female candidates is considered a key factor in increasing women’s political representation.
Women for Election will fundamentally rebalance political power in Ireland, so that women lead side by side with men, and women become better representatives, and better represented.