Wednesday 29 March 2017

Niamh Gallagher: We must seize chance to change the gender balance in parliament

Labour Leader and Tanaiste Joan Burton
Labour Leader and Tanaiste Joan Burton

Niamh Gallagher

On February 26 the 83,384 people of Limerick County will have a different experience to their fellow citizens nationwide. This time around - unless we have an inspired late entrant to the race - theirs will be the only ballot paper in the country without a female candidate on it. In previous elections this might not have made Limerick such an outlier, but this time it certainly does because if there's one thing that's different about this election it's the number of female candidates in the field.

This is all the more remarkable given where we've come from. In 2011 just 86 women contested the election. Of more than 500 candidates, they made up 15pc. This time there are 156 women selected and counting, that's just over 30pc and almost double the number that ran in 2011. This change is even more striking given the trend since 1997 of an ever-falling proportion of women contesting. In 1997 female candidates made up 20pc of those on the ballot, in 2002 it fell to 19pc, then to 17pc in 2007 and down to the doldrums of 2011 at 15pc.

This time, driven by the gender quota legislation introduced in 2012 and the energy and motivation around the issue of women's political participation, the figure has doubled, and doubled in style. We have leaders emerging, the three 'beacon' constituencies of Waterford, Dún Laoghaire and Dublin Rathdown, which boast more than 50pc female candidates apiece, closely tailed by another 25 constituencies with 30pc female candidates or higher. This is a sea-change from 2011, when 30 of the 43 constituencies had two or fewer women on the ballot, and 19 constituencies elected no women at all.

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