Why does gender parity on Student Unions matter?
At Women for Election, we believe it is important to encourage women to run for office at a young age. Representation levels of women on Student Unions has been low, averaging out at 25% over the last 8 years. While there have been notable exceptions, with some student unions reaching 75% female representation, there hasn’t been consistent levels of gender parity.
Proportionate representation is an important element in democracy. Elected bodies should reflect those they represent. Descriptive representation – where elected officials mirror those they represent in terms of gender, race etc – allows for a diversity of voices, creating a decision-making process that is better informed*. Women, who make up roughly half of third-level students, must be politically involved so that their experiences can be heard.
Furthermore, the very presence of women, as both candidates and representatives, can increase the number of women increase women’s levels of political engagement. It demonstrates that leadership roles are attainable as woman**. Clearly, it is desirable that we instill this vision in the minds of our young women, and set the way for more female leaders in our society.
Finally, by fostering political leadership at third-level education, it is hoped that there will be a knock-on effect for politics in a broader sense. Evidence has shown that participation in Student Union politics leads to political participation post third-level education. The more women who get involved in student politics, the greater a pipeline of potential female candidates for local and national levels will be built.
What Women for Election do to help?
Since 2012, Women for Election have worked with Student Unions across Ireland to deliver our INFORM programme. The programme addresses the barriers female students face in a practical manner, and provides them with the skills needed to navigate student politics. As well as these training sessions, we created a Peer Mentor Network. Through this network, young women seeking to run for election can be put in contact with former Sabbatical Officers for advice and guidance.
Last year, Women for Election delivered training as part the Union of Students Ireland’s (USI) Women in Leadership programme, and we will continue that partnership on August 15th, when we will deliver a one-day training session for newly elected female officers.