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.