Spotlight on: Women For Election - Girls run the world?
Women For Election is an Irish non-partisan organisation that aims to "inspire and equip women to succeed in politics".
Co-founder Niamh Gallagher explains the intent of the group is to support equality saying "Our vision is of an Ireland with a balanced participation of women and men in political life."
The not-for-profit is primarily funded by grants – Social Entrepreneurs Ireland awarded the group their first grant, which has been followed by awards from the Joseph Roundtree Foundation in the UK, The Community Foundation for Ireland and the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund from the US State Department.
The group aims to "provide training, support and mentoring to give women the skills and the confidence needed to put themselves forward for election."
Women For Election have trained 600 women to date, 560 in Ireland and 40 across Europe. Of those 600, 140 are running in the current General and European Election races, representing 24% of the overall candidate pool. This figure shows a 7% increase on 2009's figures of 17%. Niamh says the group are "delighted with these figures, which represent the biggest increase in history in proportion of female candidates running for election".
Along with mentoring support, W4E holds courses and master classes, the most recent of which featured Jennifer O'Malley Dillon – the deputy manager of Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and one of TIME Magazine's '40 under 40'. During the one-day master class, which was open to all female Irish candidates and campaign managers, Dillon spoke to election hopefuls on how to utilise social media as part of a campaign and how to best mobilise the vote.
On the 29th May, Phil Hogan will speak at a master class for the recently elected women of the local and European elections.
"All newly-elected women will be invited to attend for an intensive training day. We want to help them be fully prepared, in terms of what to expect, for their first day in office. Hopefully it will also be a celebration of the largest amount of women elected to local government ... we hope around 22% of the women running will be elected, which would be a 25% increase."
One thing Women For Election aim to focus on in their next round of courses are the issues facing rural candidates. Currently there are no women on the ballot in Ballinasloe, Athlone, Newcastle West and Muine Beag in Co Cork.
"One stat of interest is that in urban areas, women represent 28% of the candidates, whereas in rural areas that figure drops to 19%."
"We intend, between now and the next General Election, to focus very clearly on rural women, as the barriers and challenges are greater in relation to canvassing and the culture in those areas."
"To engage rural women it's very important to go where they are. It's not enough to ask interested women to come to cities like Limerick, Cork or Galway – we run programs all over the country."
Niamh notes that the group aims to start women on the right path from an early age.
"Our learning was that we have to target women from the very earliest stage of political involvement. Colleges and Universities are an ideal place to do this, by getting female students interested and engaging in Student Union politics."
Women For Election's pilot scheme ran through St Patrick's College in Drumcondra and UCD, and reaped "fantastic" results.
"St Pat's elected their fourth ever female President and in UCD, half of their sabbaticals are female for the first time in the college's history."
100 young women took part in the scheme, and it was so successful that the group hopes to expand the scheme to four new Universities next year. "It was a real shift. It showed that when they are encouraged to run, they do – and when they run, they win."
"Engaging with women at this stage is critical. We need to increase the numbers of women putting themselves forward – filling the pipeline with engaged, motivated young women who will become our future leaders."
Women For Election run two programs for women interested in running in or getting involved with election campaigns. Inspire, a one-day course, is open to any women interested in taking the next step in their journey.
Equip is a three-day course aimed at women who intend to contest an election. The next course will be tailored to the women elected in the local elections who are positioning themselves for the General Election in 2016. The course will run in November and provides practical learning, including simulated TV interviews with constructive feedback.
Inspire runs 4-6 times a year while Equip runs annually, and scholarships for both courses are available for women who can show they've played an active role in their local community.
For more information, interested parties can follow Women For Election on Facebook, Twitter or head to www.WomenForElection.ie.
Inspire is a one-day course that is open to any woman who is interested in taking the next step in their political journey whether joining a party or putting themselves forward as a candidate.