A new initiative aimed at getting more women involved in local politics is focusing on counties where less than 20 per cent of the elected representatives are women.
Dr Michelle Maher, programme manager with the group See Her Elected (SHE), pointed out that there are only three women county councillors out of the 18 members on both Sligo and Leitrim county councils, while the ratio is even lower in Donegal where four of the 37 councillors are female.
“In the past 100 years only nine women have been elected to Sligo County Council, while the figure for Leitrim is just six,” she said.
Dr Maher said it was “those kind of statistics” which spurred the group to recently launch a guide for women who were considering running in the 2024 local elections or who would like to be involved in political campaigns. A series of free online interactive monthly workshops to accompany the SHE guide started this week.
The SHE team said it had been anxious to have the “user-friendly guide” published during 2021 because it believed it was important to have women interested in a particular political party focussed in plenty of time for selection conventions.
“Given also that some political parties have a rule that you must be a paid up member for at least a year to be entitled to vote at selection conferences, it is important for women to have joined a party on time,” said Dr Maher.
Asked whether there was a target in terms of getting a proportion of women elected on to county councils, Dr Maher said she was not going to sit back until “40-50 per cent” of county council members were women. “But I am a realist and I know that will not happen in one electoral cycle”.
Some of the work being done now was laying the groundwork for the 2029 local elections, she added.
Dr Maher said she was “four square behind quotas for women in local elections” . Those who argued that candidates should get elected on merit and not with the help of a quota system, did not consider the advantages many male candidates enjoyed , such as name recognition where fathers and grandfathers had served on local authorities, she added.
Dr Maher, who co-wrote the guide with former senator and public affairs consultant Kathleen O’Meara and communications consultant Mairead O’Shea, said she believed there was a complex set of factors behind the low participation of women in local government in the northwest and midlands.
Research showed women had a tendency to “wait to be asked” while men were more likely to put themselves forward, she said.
“And when women are asked it tends to be close to elections so they are not at the races. They are also often asked to contest unwinable seats,” she added.
SHE is a collaboration between Longford Women's Link and 5050North West, and is funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Its guide can be found at www.seeherelected.ie