independent

Wednesday 13 November 2019

No gender balance achieved as just six women are elected in Wexford

Just six of the 34 councillors elected in Co. Wexford last week were women. Nationally, the picture is not much better, with women winning fewer than a quarter of the seats. Cathy Lee reports

Just six of the 34 councillors elected in Wexford last week were women, a ratio of fewer than one in five. Nationally, of the 949 councillors elected, just 22% were women.

563 women contested the local elections, out of a total of 1,977 candidates across the country, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown made history after it became the first ever council with an equal gender split. No other council managed this feat, with some falling far short.

The Gorey District was the only district in Wexford to elect no women councillors, but outgoing Gorey councillor Independent Mary Farrell was reelected in the new Kilmuckridge District having polled 1,223 first preference votes.

Not too far away, Fine Gael's Kathleen Codd Nolan topped the poll in Enniscorthy achieving the most first preference votes (1,419) on the first count and being elected on the fourth count with a total of 1,539 votes.

Enniscorthy now has more women councillors than any other Wexford district, as Barbara-Anne Murphy of Fianna Fáil was elected after the sixth count without reaching the quota, on 1,530 votes.

Further down the county, Labour's Maura Bell was the only woman elected in the seven-seat Wexford electoral area, Fianna Fáil's Lisa McDonald was the only female to take a seat in Rosslare, and Bridín Murphy of Fine Gael was the only woman elected in New Ross.

Cinnamon Blackmore, who had the most votes for a female candidate in the Gorey District before being eliminated, said that the idea of women in positions of power both in work and in politics, needs to be more normalised.

'Due to our gender and cultural norms, women generally find it hard to get a voice in society, although that is improving. Then to try and get a foothold into the political arena, generally dominated by men, is hard. Quotas and ratios are good as an introduction as it allows women more space but different approaches in the education system are needed for women to use their voices and opinions,' she said.

'Hopefully in the near future we can work to this so that it is much less of a big deal that there are women running, we're getting there in local government. All you can do is present the women, normalise it and then it's up to the people. Change is going to have to come from the top down and the bottom up, women have to fight more to be given space to talk and be taken seriously,' she said.

In terms of political parties, the Social Democrats were the only party in Ireland to have more women elected than men, with 10 of its 19 elected councillors being female. No candidates ran for that party in Wexford.

Between them, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael secured the most seats across Co Wexford, with 21 out of 34, but neither party reached the 30% gender quota that applies to general elections.

Across the country, Fianna Fáil, had a 21% portion of women candidates, while Fine Gael had 29%.

Nationally, smaller parties tended to have a higher percentage of women candidates: Solidarity - People Before Profit had 59% women, The Green Party had 44% and the Labour Party 41%, but of these parties only one woman was elected in Wexford, Labour's Maura Bell.

The National Women's Council of Ireland has congratulated all women from diverse backgrounds on being elected, describing this as positive, but has also expressed disappointment over the outcome in Wexford and elsewhere.

'It is very disappointing that in 2019, we still have not broken the critical mark of 30% women's representation at local level. At this pace of change, it will take over a decade to achieve. In rural areas, women made up just over 22% of candidates as opposed to 35% in urban areas. Addressing the deficit in rural areas requires concrete actions and measures,' said Director of the NWCI Orla O'Connor.

'The local elections are a critical pipeline for elections at national level. It is very clear that the incentive approach from the government is not working, as both major parties failed to run 30% women as candidates. A gender quota for local elections is a necessity if we are serious about achieving gender equality,' she said.

Speaking to Wexford's female councillors, they say that support is the key issue when it comes to running for elections, and that they are unsure about the positives of gender quotas at a local level.

'Women need to support one another and have men support us too. Politics is tough, it's a 24 hour job and it's particularly hard for young mothers especially. Childcare and confidence are the big blockers, but we're missing out as a society because we haven't a balance,' said Kathleen Codd Nolan.

'A lot of work needs to be done to encourage women, and put supports in place. From talking to women, factors like the cost of childcare and family life, all come into it. Gender quotas in principal could be a first step on the ladder, but that's it. We need to make sure things will improve for women in a practical way, that there are supports in place to give them an opportunity,' said the Enniscorthy councillor.

Cllr Mary Farrell also spoke about the factors women must consider, from election costs to childcare.

'Parties shouldn't come in to this, it should be women supporting women as we are often the voice of reason. We often take a practical point of view, coming from the home maker perspective. If a woman wants to go into politics, her partner needs to be supported as well.

'I've seen great interest from women across the county but the amount of time to be committed, from meetings on during the day and having a young family, those factors will really make your decision for you,' said Mary.

'More women ran this year, there wasn't a shortage but the electorate didn't vote for them. The question needs to be asked, why that happened. When you look at Gorey and Kilmuckridge together, I'm going to be one female councillor in ten, that is no gender balance,' she said.

Colette Nolan of Sinn Féin also ran in the Kilmuckridge area, and said that the idea of the 'token woman' cannot come into party politics as this is degrading to women.

'I believe that there should be more women, but they have to be the right women for the job. There was an outcry for women from the people, but when you look at the turnout, they didn't come out and vote. It's so heartbreaking and it has compounded the sheer male domination for the next five years, as Mary is the only woman now in the area,' said Colette.

'Wexford seems to be left on the back foot the whole time. Unless they get a little more progressive and more open, then nothing is going to change. It's the same-old grey haired stale politics that has been there for decades and it'll stay that way,' she said.

Fianna Fáil's Lisa McDonald pointed out that she is one of the youngest woman to be elected, at age 44, despite women younger than her having ran for election.

'I'm totally disappointed by the result, the progress is slow and it's frustrating. Until more women break through, we're not going to see change. It makes you think what is it that's wrong with politics and why aren't we supporting women as much as we could to get elected,' she said.

Lisa McDonald, who is a former member of Seanad Éireann, said that she had been involved with the justice committee around introducing gender quotas on national level.

'The quota has done an awful lot of good, it's not perfect but it's about how it's applied. This 'token woman' idea leaves women undermined, as men think she's only there for that reason but actually, they're only there themselves because they're a man,' said Lisa.

'Culture is the biggest barrier for women. But when you're in a minority, you're surrounded by men, you have to keep fighting and flying the flag for women. In politics, women tend to be good role models. We're different but the electorate tends to buy the bull. It'll take a lot of time for the culture to gravitate beyond that but it's what we need if we really want to get equality,' she said.

Speaking about a rural/urban divide, all female councillors agreed that it is an issue.

'Some rural people are a little bit more conservative, you have work really hard to prove yourself. Some people think that the Council chamber is no place for a woman, it's a cultural attitude that's been handed down for generations and it's hard to break. I hope it'll improve as the years go on,' said Kathleen Codd Nolan.

'The urban woman, she's more out there, she has greater profile. In Wexford it's getting better, and in politics in general but it's moving at a snails pace. An attitude change is needed, but it has to be from the top down. Women themselves have to be prepared to stand and put themselves forward. It's a male orientated arena, but if I can do it, anybody can. I'm very proud to be the first elected councillor in a new area that's rural, and be a woman,' said Mary Farrell.

'I've no doubt that in urban areas, it's easier for women to get on the Council than a rural area. I hadn't been on a ballot paper for 12 years, I was expecting to see a huge change as change is what I had heard about. But this change is not there in rural Ireland,' said Lisa McDonald.

Looking from an international perspective, Wexford was behind the curve compared to other counties as both Direct Democracy Ireland's Jan Van De Ven from the USA and Renua Ireland's Dorota Kulesza from Poland failed to make it past the first and second counts in their districts Kilmuckridge and New Ross.

Over in Meath, Yemi Adenuga, a first-time female candidate for Fine Gael, was elected and made history being the first black woman elected to a local authority in Ireland.

Yemi Adenuga, is originally from Nigeria and starred in the popular Virgin Media One TV show, Gogglebox Ireland.

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