Fianna Fáil describes itself as representing middle Ireland, but it must represent middle Ireland women, "not just men", a workshop at the party's ardfheis has heard.
Nora Fahy, a local election candidate in Tuam, Co Galway, described politics as very male-dominated and said it was "no wonder women feel great trepidation" in getting involved.
Politics needed to be more inclusive and she suggested it should be the goal of every Fianna Fáil member to recruit one woman to the party.
Ms Fahy added: “Fianna Fáil says it will represent middle Ireland, but we’ve got to represent middle Ireland women, not just men.”
For her to become a candidate, “I had to be asked”. She challenged the party’s leadership and grassroots to consider what could be done to buck the trend of low female participation. “Women need to be asked. Men say ‘I think I can do that’ and apply but women take a different perspective.”
She said the challenge on the doorstep “is often ‘you’re all the same, you’re all this or you’re all that’, but actually 85 per cent are men”.
Ms Fahy was speaking at a workshop attended by about 20 delegates entitled: “Soapbox – Gender Equality in the Workplace: What Needs to be Done?”
Killiney-Shankill candidate Jennifer Cuffe criticised the location and said Fianna Fáil women should not have to be meeting in a small room on the fifth floor, away from the main arena of the ardfheis venue, the Gleneagle Hotel.
Ms Cuffe said there was a need for quotas to increase the number of women in politics but they would not always be necessary.
She looked forward to a time when women represented more than 50 per cent of the party and “when we have groups like this in 40 years time and it’s men sitting in this room and going ‘how are we going to get back in?’ ‘and we’re the minority and the women are taking us over’. I want to go to the ardfheis in 2050 . . . when women are in the majority and in the senior positions.”
Rathfarnham Dublin candidate Emer Murphy highlighted the lack of political female role models. Involved in development education and dealing with young people studying CPSE (civil, social and political education), she recalled speaking to 90 girls in south Dublin, aged 13, none of whom could name even one woman involved in politics.
Ms Murphy spoke about asking different groups of students to describe various categories of people including politicians. In five years of teaching, she said, not one group of students had ever described a politician being a woman. They were always male.
Imelda Goldsboro, a candidate in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, said Fianna Fáil had two women running for the first time in her electoral area. She pointed to difficulties for women getting involved in the workforce, including paying for childcare.
The Government had cut maternity benefit and she claimed it was also talking about taxing grandparents who looked after their grandchildren.