This September graduate student Danielle Brady visited the NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network office as part of her master’s thesis project research gathering. We chatted about the local realities for women running for election, breaking into politics and discussed the recent 2019 local elections and our post-election commentary were we asked Why so few Women in Donegal Politics? In October Danielle was awarded a first class Masters honours degree from Queens University for her project research. We are delighted to see a young woman such as Danielle achieve such an award, it was clear from meeting her that she has so much passion and knowledge in this area and we wish her all the best in her budding and bright future.
In this months Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Danielle Brady shares her research on the impact of national gender quotas on candidate selection at the local level.
In July 2012 the government introduced gender quotas for general elections. The introduced legislation referred to as ‘The 2012 Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act’ stipulated that state funding for political parties would be reduced by 50% “unless at least 30 per cent of the candidates whose candidatures were authenticated by the qualified party at the preceding general election were women and at least 30 per cent were men” increasing to 40% seven years thereafter. The quotas were first used in the 2016 general election. It is difficult to conclude the full extent of their success, given that only one election has been held since their introduction. However, there are some positive signifiers, as the 2016 election saw the highest number of women both running for and elected to Dáil Eireann. But, what about local government? Have the quotas had any impact on female representation at the local level?
Although not legislated for at the local level it may be expected that the quotas at national level would result in a contagion or diffusion effect at the local level, given the fact the local government acts a “springboard” “into national politics. Research conducted by political scientists has found that those who have served in local government are better positioned to secure a seat in the national legislature. In fact, 90% of female TD’s elected in 2016 had at some stage in their careers served in local government. Given this link, it might be expected that political parties would seek to increase the number of women on local election tickets so as create a pool of candidates to select from for future general elections.
Looking at the recent local elections held in May 2019, we see an overall increase in the percentage of female candidates. In total 1,975 individuals contested the elections, 561 of which were female meaning that 28.4% of candidates contesting the elections were women, increasing from 21.6% in the previous election in 2014. Although an overall increase was recorded the extent of this varied between the political parties. As evidenced in the graph below, the four main parties Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour all recorded varying levels of female candidacy, increasing the proportion of women candidates at various rates.
Despite the variation in female candidacy between parties, each party cited did increase the proportion of female candidates selected to contest the local elections in 2019. But what has contributed to this increase and can a link be drawn between this increase and the introduced national gender quotas?
Interviews with representatives from the four main parties, deduced that the quotas did indeed have an indirect impact on candidate selection for local elections. Those interviewed acknowledged an awareness within parties for a need to increase the number of women candidates at local level so as to create a pool of candidates for national election to meet the gender quota. They furthermore pointed to the role quotas played in instilling a change in culture within parties with regard to gender, whereby gender is now considered by party recruiters in a manner in which it had not previously been. However, while the quotas played an indirect role in increasing the number of female candidates, they were not the sole contributing factor. Instead further factors emerged including political mobilisation surrounding the recent referendums, whereby women who had been involved in campaigns surrounding the referendum on equal marriage and the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, had approached political parties to put themselves forward as candidates. A third yet smaller factor also emerged; the government incentive which saw parties receive €100 per female candidate if they increased their female representation when compared to the last local elections in 2014.
While each of these three factors including the quotas resulted in the four main parties increasing their female candidacy, variations were recorded within each of the parties in term of geography as evidenced in the table below:
In trying to understand why such discrepancies exist within parties two factors emerge. The issue of incumbents was cited by political party representatives and representatives from the National Women’s Council, Women for Election and NCCWN Donegal’s Women Network as a barrier to increasing female representation whereby a high number of (male) incumbents in an area creates difficulties in adding women to the ticket. Furthermore resistance from party branches at the local level was cited as barrier to increasing the number of women candidates. Such resistance is not exclusive to gender promotion but rather tends to exist towards directives given from national level or HQ to constituency branches.
Although the quotas do appear to have had a positive indirect impact on candidate selection at local level, the extent of this impact differs both between and within the four main political parties. Furthermore the quotas were not the sole contributor to the increase in proportion of female candidates with political mobilisation surrounding the recent referendums and the government incentive also playing a role. Despite the positive influence of these factors women continue to be underrepresented both in terms of candidacy and elected officials with women accounting for just 24% of councillors. Thus, measures must be taken to ensure greater female representation in local government.
About the author: Danielle Brady has recently completed a Master of Arts in Politics in Queen’s University Belfast, having graduated from Maynooth University in 2018 with a degree in Philosophy Politics and Economics. The above piece is based on research carried out for her Masters dissertation with the same title.