The Irish Times view on mandatory gender quotas: the sooner the better

The local election results show that progress on gender parity has been too slow

European candidate Clare Daly TD at the Dublin count centre last weekend. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

European candidate Clare Daly TD at the Dublin count centre last weekend. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The modest scale of the increase in the number of women elected to serve on local authorities is disappointing and there is clearly still a long way to go before parity between the sexes is achieved. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has led the way by becoming the first local authority to have a 50:50 ratio between women and men elected to the council, but the national figure is not nearly as encouraging, with less than a quarter of the State’s 949 councillors being women.

The European election results present a more positive picture, with six of the country’s 13 MEPs elected to the Parliament being women. But given that the outcome last time around was six women out of 11, gender balance had already been achieved. There was better news in the North, where all three seats were won by women.

A record number of 566 women candidates contested the local elections, but just 226 were elected. Although this represents an improvement on the 197 women candidates elected five years ago, the rate of progress is too slow. In percentage terms it is a marginal increase from 21 per cent to 24 per cent and a far cry from the 30 per cent target.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has welcomed the increased number of women councillors but expressed disappointment at the failure to break the critical 30 per cent barrier. Its director, Orla O’Connor, said progress in rural areas was particularly slow and lagged the advances in more urban areas.

It appears that the Government’s approach of offering incentives to political parties to ensure women make up at least 30 per cent of nominated candidates has not worked as well as hoped and the NWCI is pressing for the introduction of a mandatory gender quota for candidates similar to that which applies for general elections.

One of the problems is that while political parties can be persuaded of the merits of running women candidates, or penalised for not running enough, it is difficult if not impossible to apply a similar approach to Independents who account for more than a quarter of those running for seats in local elections.

In party terms, the Social Democrats performed best, electing more women than men, as did Solidarity/People Before Profit, but the numbers involved in both cases were relatively small. Labour easily exceeded the 30 per cent target with 23 women and 32 men elected, as did the Greens, who had 20 women and 28 men.

There was a significant drop when it came to the big three parties, with Fine Gael doing best followed by Sinn Féin. Only 18 per cent of Fianna Fail councillors were women although it won more seats than anybody else. The worst-performing category were the Independents, with 17.7 per cent. The sooner a mandatory gender quota is introduced for local elections the better.

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