Political Angst – Where are all the women?

An interesting feature regarding female election candidates is that in Ireland one sees clustering of female candidates.  Adrian Kavanagh mentions this in the new Irish General Election 2010 facts and figures blog. This clustering breaks right down into local constituency level.  The higher the percentage of female candidates in poll position, the higher the number of female candidates will be run by all parties in that particular constituency.   When there is a strong threat to a seat by a female the opposing party will ensure they run an equally strong campaign, with female candidate.  The same dynamic occurred in the presidential election following Mary Robinson’s term of office.  Which proves that political parties can and will find female candidates for winnable seats when they need to!  All the usual hand wringing and excuses fly out the window.

Also few women stand as true independents, and independent FF and community candidates are usually male.  Independent female candidates such as Maureen O’Sullivan TD (Dublin Central) are rare; however Maureen was part of the Tony Gregory team for many years.  The exception is the European Parliament elections, where we have many strong successful independent female candidates not aligned to any party at any time.  But there again, Europe is one area where Ireland’s record on gender balance in elections has not been too bad, compared to the appalling Dáil record that is.

There is a link between the number of women members a political party has, and the percentage that go on to run and get elected.  The Labour Party, ULA and Green Party have corresponding statistics between membership and activism.  These groups have one thing in common, they are at their roots political movements, which is attractive to women who see the point of getting involved.  Which brings me to role modelling, the more women that are involved the more women will see politics as a worthwhile occupation.  The term ‘worthwhile’ is the key here, as in my experience many women just don’t believe it is a useful way to apply their energies.

Another fact is that it’s just not an issue on the ground.  In over twenty years knocking on doors, I rarely hear the issue of gender in politics raised by voters – until that situation is reversed political parties just don’t have to worry about it.  And finally we have to normalise our expectations of the role of women in politics, and stop claiming that if more women were elected all the ills of the world would be sorted out over night.  What a burden for the average intelligent women, who takes a realistic view of the task in hand when she is considering standing for election.

7 thoughts on “Political Angst – Where are all the women?

  1. Daniel Sullivan

    “There is a link between the number of women members a political party has, and the percentage that go on to run and get elected. The Labour Party, ULA and Green Party have corresponding statistics between membership and activism”

    Do you have some numbers for this assertion or is it based on anecdotal evidence? Cos I’m not convinced that Labour or the Greens would necessarily have significantly more female members than FG, FF or the PDs would have had.

  2. Editor Post author

    Hi Dan, I think the difference between FF/FG and the others is that at this point in their development FF and FG could be described as more a ‘cultural’ rather than as a political movement. People will be members for family and social reasons, rather than joining the party for entirely political reasons. Do you have the percentage female membership for FG? I remember reading somewhere that FF female membership is lower than both Labour and the Greens.

    I also believe the PDs had higher number of female members than both Labour and the Greens, and correspondingly higher numbers of activists. The PDs in their ascendancy were definitely a movement. But back to my point, membership does seem to be crucial to representation, at least in parties that are still seen as ‘movements’ by their members.

    Someday, when I have time on my hands, I will do some work on this!

  3. Daniel Sullivan

    I don’t have the % of female members of FG but as you’re making the assertion about relative participation rates surely the onus is on you to provide the data to back up the claim being made.

  4. Editor Post author

    Dan, I just know first hand about Labour and Green party. But I saw stats on membership somewhere, and it would be interesting to look at this again, but some day soon, not today. However, back to the other point I made – is the difference in representation (candidates running for election) due to the motivation behind membership. Joining because of social and cultural reasons or joining because of political activism, and link between this motivation and eventual candidacy. Also why are there so few female independents? Not expecting you to answer of course!

  5. Daniel Sullivan

    I don’t think it is down to motivation for involvement, could it be a factor perhaps but a very minor compared to some much larger ones. I do think overall it is down to a mixture of factors and not necessarily predominately down to the ones that get the most play in the media reporting of the issue of the lack of female candidates. I did a post for political reform in which I actually outline one of the core factors as to why all parties tend to be more conservative in their candidates slates then they could by, that’s because their No.1 aim is to win seats in order to gain power.

    The Redux version is here. http://politicalreform.ie/2010/12/30/alternatives-to-lists-and-quotas-to-reduce-clientelism-and-offer-the-electorate-more-diverse-voting-options-2/

    In the longer original version linked below I go into more detail on that point.

    I think the factors of incumbency and the slow generational cycle of politics due to that is something people miss, it’s not that parties are nominating middle aged men over younger female candidates it’s that they’re nominating sitting TDs who because they were first elected 20/30 ago will tend to be middle aged men. We’re not starting from a blank slate at each election.

  6. Tom Farrell

    I think a greater effort needs to be made by women’s organisations to get groups of young women to join political parties where they can influence selection of candidates. They don’t have to be political activists or have political ambitions, just vote for the selection of women candidates. I don’t know what percentage of each party’s membership is female, or what percentage of young women vote, but I think that the campaign to get these young women involved should start now so that they are in a position to influence the next election.

    1. Editor Post author

      Tom, completely agree. There is another task too and that is to encourage political ambition in women. It has to be seen as a viable endeavour, we need lots of women who are demanding to be selected and challenging the local branches.


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