1. Electoral system and party system and their impact on women
2. History of Women's suffrage
3. Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and
women in political decision-making
a. Infrastructure responsible for EO
b. Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy
c. Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics
Report from Ireland by our transnational partner
*sources: Employment in Europe 1999 and Schlüsselzahlen zum Bildungswesen
in der Europäischen Union, Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der
Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1997, Luxemburg; European Database - Women
in Decision-Making and data by transnational experts.
|Women in Politics:
|Women's suffrage active:
|| 1918 with restrictions,
1928 restrictions lifted
|Women's suffrage passive:
|| 1918 with restrictions,
1928 restrictions lifted
|1st Women in parliament:
|| 1922, 4 women (3%)
|1st Women in government:
|| 1919 Countess Markievicz, Minister for Labour;
1979 Marie Geoghehan-Quinn,
Ministry of Gaeltacht (Irish speaking parts of the country)
|1st Ministry on women's issues:
|| 1993 Ministry of Equal Opportunities
and Reform of Law
|% women in national Parliament:
|% women in national Government:
||House of Representatives:
166 members elected by single-transferable vote from 41 multi-seat constituencies.
||No quota regulation legislation.
|| Democratic Left 40%, Green Party 1/3, Labour 20%
|% women with secondary degree:
|% women with degree in higher education:
|% women in senior management:
|Women's employment rates:
1. Electoral system and party system
and their impact on women|
The Constitution of 1937 provides that the Oireachtas (National Parliament)
shall consist of a President and two houses: Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives)
and Seanad Éireann (Senate). The people directly elect the 166 Members of Dáil Éireann.
The 60 Members of Seanad Éireann are either nominated or elected.
purposes the country is divided into constituencies, each of which elects either three,
four or five, members. For Dáil elections voting is by secret ballot and members are
elected on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable
Although women's participation and membership levels in party politics
has increased over the last two decades this is not reflected in the number of women
holding decision making positions in Irish political parties. In Ireland candidate
selection is decentralised with national and regional party leaders playing a secondary
role in candidate selection to that of the grass roots party organisation. Practically
all of the elected representatives live in the constituency they represent and no
candidate can expect to be elected unless they have an extensive network of local
contacts and a strong local base. First women have to convince the party of their
suitability as candidates for election before contesting in the election campaign
and until recently women candidates were seen as being less attractive to the voters
While the STV electoral system gives voters a high degree of choice
over the candidates selected some argue that the list system prevalent in other EU
countries better promotes women.
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The history of women in Irish political life does not make encouraging reading.
From 1919 to the late 70's participation diminished in numbers and effectiveness.
In the 1960's women in trade unions, professions, business, social organisations and
community groups became more evident in politics and throughout the 1970's and the 1980's
the women's movement were active on issues such as sale of contraception, protection from
male violence, equal pay and reform of family law.
In 1971 the Women's Political
Association was established. This has played an important role in encouraging women
to become involved in politics however as mentioned later resources has caused problems.
In 1973 the Council for the Status of Women (later to become the National Women's Council
of Ireland) was established largely to monitor progress on the Commission for the Status
of women which included a banner on women in decision-making and political life. Women
Elect was founded in 1975 to support election expenses however this group was shortlived.
With the vote open to all over 18 years of age introduced in 1972 but not implemented until
the 1977 elections we began to see the first proof of a shift of any kind. This would
also have been enhanced by campaign groups such as the WPA launching slogans such as
Why not a woman? and Who is your woman?
1979 European and local elections women won 11.3% of the total valid poll and in the
1981 elections positive action measures at selection level were used by the leader of
Fine Gael with a return of 6% of the seats going to women.
In the elections between
1977 and 1992 women have comprised on average 11.3% of the total number of the candidates.
There has been an institutionally focused gender equality agenda throughout the 80's and
the 90's with an emphasis on family law, violence, human rights, access etc. The political
environs have not been tackled aside from research focused approaches or activities of
women's groups within political parties. Over this period we have seen the figures fluctuate
from below 10 to the mid teens. We are a far stretch from 50:50!
As recently as 1997
four of the five presidential election candidates were women. There were suggestions,
through the media in particular, that women's political involvement is vibrant and extensive.
And the successive election of two women presidents has been interpreted as a triumph for
women's participation in political life. Yet in that same year in the general elections
women candidates lost there seats.
Highlighted below are some key points in the lives
of women in politics in Ireland.
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- Year Active and passive suffrage
- 1898: the local government vote was granted to women.
- 1900: October 1st the Daughters of Ireland (Inghindhe na hEireann) held their first meeting.
- 1908: May 5th Irish Women's Franchise League founded.
- 1909: National University of Ireland founded, fully open to women.
- 1910: Society of United Irishwomen founded later becoming the Irish Countrywomen's Association
in 1935. This group is strictly apolitical.
- 1911: September 5th, Irish Women Workers Union established.
- 1912: November, 71 members of the Irish Parliamentary Party by their vote defeat the Women's
Suffrage Bill as well as Women's Suffrage Amendments to the Home Rule Bill.
- 1914: April 5th, Cumann na Ban the women's branch of the Irish Volunteers were founded.
They were involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and the War of Independence.
- 1918: Irishwomen over 30 years of age are granted the vote under the Representation of the
People Act1st Dail, Countess Markievicz the first woman elected to Dáil Éireann.
- 1919: April 1st Countess Markievicz appointed Minister for Labour in the first Republican
- 1921: 2nd Dáil, 6 women elected.
- 1922: Suffrage for all adults over 21 introduced under the Free State Constitution.
3rd Dáil, 2 women elected; 4 women to Seanad Éireann.
- 1923: 4th Dáil, 5 women deputes elected to Dáil Éireann.
- 1925: 4 women elected to Seanad Éireann.
- 1927: 5th Dáil 4 women elected; 6th Dáil 1 woman elected.
- 1928: 5 women elected to Seanad Éireann.
- 1930: Women's Social and Progressive League founded.
- 1931: July 31st, Louie Bennet became the first woman President of the Irish Congress of
Trade Unions (ICTU).
- 1932: 7th Dáil, 2 women elected.
- 1933: 8th Dáil, 3 women elected.
- 1935: The Joint Committee of Women's Societies and Social Workers campaigned on important
issues affecting women.
- 1937 Constitution article 41.2 defines role of women. 9th Dáil, 2 women elected.
- 1938: Soroptimists International - Dublin club founded. 10th Dáil, 2 women elected as
deputies and 3 as senators.
- 1942: Irish Housewives Association founded.
- 1943: 11th Dáil, 3 women elected as deputies and 3 as senators.
- 1944: 12th Dáil, 4 women elected as deputies and 3 as senators.
- 1948: 13th Dáil, 4 women elected as deputies and 4 as senators.
- 1951: 14th Dáil, 5 women elected as deputies and 3 as senators.
- 1954: 15th Dáil, 6 women elected as deputies and 3 as senators.
- 1957: 16th Dáil, 5women elected as deputies and 4 as senators. The Married Women's Status
Act passed giving married women control of their property.
- 1959: ICTU Women's Advisory Committee established.
- 1961: 17th Dáil, 4 women elected to the Dáil and 3 to the Seanad.
- 1965: 18th Dáil, 5 women elected to the Dáil and 4 to the Seanad. Irish Federation of
Women's Clubs founded.
- 1967: National Association of Widows formed.
- 1968: Call by an Ad Hoc Committee representing women's groups to the Taoiseach for
establishment of a National Commission on the Status of Women.
- 1969: 19th Dáil, 3 women elected to the Dáil and 5 to the Seanad.
- 1970: Irish Women's Liberation Movement (IWLM)- first meeting. March 31st Establishment
of the Commission on the Status of Women chaired by Dr.Thekla Beere. June 19th,
Minister for Finance requested the Commission to prepare a report on equal pay,
focusing on the public sector.
- 1971: IWLM published CHAINS OR CHANGE detailing major discriminations against women.
IWLM active throughout this year on issues such as contraception. Women's Political
Association held it's inaugural meeting then known as the Women's Progressive Association.
October 27th Commission on the Status of Women presented its interim report on equal pay.
- 1972: Report of the Commission on the Status of Women which widely became the charter for
women in the modern Irish state. All over 18 years of age were entitled to vote.
The first opportunity to exercise this vote was in the 1997 elections.
- 1973: Formation of the Council for the Status of Women to be the main co-ordinating body
for women's organisations. Known as the National women's Council of Ireland since 1995.
The Civil Service (Employment of Married Women) Act 1973 removed the ban on the
recruitment or employment of married women in the Civil Service, local authorities and
health boards. 20th Dáil, 4 women elected to the Dáil and 4 to the Seanad. First woman
Chairperson elected to the General Council of County Councils - Senator Mary Walsh. First
woman ambassador appointed to Sweden and Finland - Mary Catherine Tinney.
- 1974: Women's Representative Committee set up by Minister for Labour to implement the
recommendations contained in the Commission on the Status of women report. Women's Aid
opened its first women's refuge for battered wives.
- 1975: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S YEAR. January 9th, Exhibition of the Irishwomen's Suffrage
Movement Trinity College June 8th, Irishwomen United hold their first meetingICTU
adopts the Working Women's Charter.
- 1977: 21st Dáil, 6 women elected to the Dáil and 6 to the Seanad. Máire Geoghan-Quinn
appointed Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce. Employment
Equality Act passed and the EEA set up.
- 1979: Two women elected to the European Parliament Máire Geoghan-Quinn appointed Minister
for the Gaeltacht (first woman to be appointed to cabinet since Countess Markievicz in 1919).
- 1981: 22nd Dáil, 11 women elected to the Dáil and 9 to the Seanad Gemma Hussey appointed
Fine Gael leader in Seanad Éireann, two women ministers (Eileen Desmond to Health
and Mary Flaherty to Poverty and Family).
- 1982: 23rd Dáil, 8 women elected to the Dáil and 8 to the Seanad Máire Geoghan-Quinn
appointed Minister for State at the Dept of Education Tras Honan appointed
Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann 24th Dáil, 14 women elected to the Dáil and 6 to
the Seanad Gemma Hussey appointed Minister for Education Nuala Fennell Minister of
State for Women's Affairs.
- 1983: Nuala Fennel appointed Minister of State for Family Law Reform. Joint Oireachtas
Committee on Women's Rights set up.
- 1984: Two women elected to European Parliament Government Positive Action policy with EO
Officers appointed into Semi-state organisations.
- 1985: UN Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi - CSW organised the Irish Women's Forum to
assess the conclusions.
- 1986: onward Equal Opportunities Policy within the Civil Service UNCEDAW Ireland removed
three of the reservations lodged EEC directives on equal treatment.
3. Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political
There is no provision in the Constitution relating to the gender balance in political
decision making, however, the Constitution does identify the role of women in Irish
society as nurturer and carer of the family. Provision for the promotion of gender
balance in this area is through legislative enactment alone.
initiative in this area concerns the introduction of equal status legislation.
The Equal Status Bill has been debated for many years. Initially introduced in 1997,
it was found to be unconstitutional and was replaced and amended in 1999 to meet the
Supreme Court's requirements. The measure will give protection against discrimination
on nine grounds, including gender discrimination, in non-workplace areas.
The bill is now before the Oireachtas and it is expected that it will be enacted by
The Equal Status Bill complements existing equal opportunities
legislation prohibiting discrimination in access to and participation in employment
on the same nine grounds, including gender discrimination.
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a. Infrastructure responsible for EO
Historically gender equality was the responsibility of the office of the
Prime Minister and for a short period (1995-1997) equality was assigned to a Ministry
of Equality and Law Reform. Historically the budget for equality has been extremely limited.
In 1997 the government established an Equality Section within the Department of
Justice Equality and Law Reform. Minister John O'Donoghue TD heads this Department,
with the remit for equality given to a Minister for State Ms Mary Wallace TD.
Through this lead department equality (across nine counts of which gender is one)
receives a higher level of priority and more recently this has been matched with resources.
This priority has shifted largely due to lobbying from specific interest groups,
and in 1996 the introduction of a Community and Voluntary Sector Pillar into Ireland's
Social Partnership structures and pending legislative changes.
We have seen a clear
emphasis on gender mainstreaming and in late 1999 a significant budget has been
assigned towards Gender Equality Positive Action measures as well as introducing
equality into Ireland's National Development Plan (2000-2007) which in turn is
closely monitored at Social Partner level.
Since 1998 a new infrastructure has
been put in place to underpin employment equality and equal status law.
This consists of two new bodies, the Equality Authority and the Office of the Director
of Equality Investigations. They have been established under the Employment Equality
Act 1998. The remit of the bodies will be broadened beyond the employment equality
area after the enactment of the Equal Status Bill 1999.
The Equality Authority
replaced the Employment Equality Agency and has a statutory role in support and
monitoring under the Employment Equality legislation which became law in 1998.
The Office of the Director of Equality Investigations was established in 1999.
This provides the main locus for redress of first instance for equality cases.
addition to these state structures the government also resources Non-Governmental
Organisations to offer information, support to specific groups. These organisations
have a key role in social partnership, policy influencing and development and lobbying
on behalf of those they represent. One such organisation is the National Women's Council
of Ireland, Comhairle Naisiunta na mBan in Eirinn, a non-governmental organisation (NGO),
which is the national representative organisation for women and women's groups in Ireland.
The National Women's Council of Ireland was founded in 1973 as the Council for the
Status of Women. Its foundation was preceded by the formation of an ad hoc network
of women's organisations who had successfully lobbied for the establishment of a national
Commission of the Status of Women in 1970.
The Commission, appointed by the Government,
reviewed the position of women in Ireland and made recommendations on action needed to
achieve women's rights. Following publication of the Commission's report in 1972, the
Council for the Status of Women was set up, by the members of the ad hoc network, to
monitor the implementation of the report, and to act as a co-ordinating body for women's
organisations in Ireland.
Over these twenty seven years, the role of the Council
has expanded and changed. Maintaining its role as a non-governmental organisation, it
has addressed many complex and often controversial issues affecting women. Today the
National Women's Council of Ireland, a company limited by guarantee, works to achieve
change through a range of action and activity, maintaining its independent voice and a
commitment to inclusiveness reflecting its broad membership. This organisation plays a
significant role in monitoring progress on areas such as the Beijing Platform for Action
(current process of review for Beijing +5), commitments to the UN CEDAW, gender in the
The NWCI has also influenced the introduction of a strategy for
gender mainstreaming and a mechanism for the gender proofing of all national policies
The NWCI is also a key member of the Community and Voluntary
Pillar alongside interest groups representing youth, religion, disadvantaged, disabled,
unemployed, etc. The social conscience of the partnership structure!
share a common vision, working together to transform society into a just and equitable
community, a community in which all women and men can participate with equal effectiveness
as full citizens, in which the independence of women is determined by right.
collective voice of Irish women's organisations our work is aimed at:
· Shaping society so that all women can achieve their true potential;
· Ensuring that the law advances equality and places no barriers in its way;
· Changing attitudes to ensure the recognition of the individual dignity of each woman;
· Removing all threats of violence to women and children both inside and outside the home;
· Monitoring to ensure that the effects of poverty on women and children is highlighted
· Achieving access to appropriate, affordable and quality health care for all women
and protecting and promoting reproductive health rights;
· Creating an education system in which women and young girls can participate fully
and which fosters quality and respect.
Membership: The National Women's Council of Ireland has always been committed to bringing
together women and women's organisations which reflect the rich and diverse life
experience of women in Ireland today. Through its 152 affiliate organisations, urban
and rural, local, regional and national, the NWCI represents an estimated 300,000 women.
The membership includes major national organisations, community-based groups, service
and support providers, professional bodies and women in business, trade unions, politics
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b. Women's participation in politics as a
governmental objective and strategy
Participation of women in politics as an objective of Government
was manifested in the introduction of a policy of attaining a minimum target
of 40% gender balance in relation to Government appointments to State boards.
This policy initiative was introduced in 1991. The success of implementing
and achieving this target level of representation has been varied, some government
departments have shown an increase in the number of female members as a result but
others have failed to increase the level of female membership. This confirms the
assertion of organisations such as the NWCI that targets without an overarching
strategy for change and specific actions rarely have a significant impact.
addition the Government has asked nominating bodies to comply with the its target
of a minimum representation of 40% men and women on State boards. In many cases
compliance has not been achieved, particularly where the nominating bodies are
already largely male.
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c. Actions initiated to promote women's
participation in politics
Statistical data is not easily accessible for example following the June
1999 Local and European elections official statistics were not available
until late Autumn 1999 and would not be disaggregated on the basis of gender.
However through a recent 4th Action project the NWCI gathered some relevant data.
From the table below for example it can be seen why statistics are not necessarily
||Total of Members
||Total of female Members
||Women as a % of membership|
The European Commission DGV in co-operation with the Women's Rights Committee
produced a booklet titled "European Elections 1999 - Europe for Women, Women
for Europe". This booklet outlined briefly the position of women in the European
Parliament and in National Parliaments, and urged people to vote for women in this
year's election. They also provided a campaign kit that contained the "vote for
balance between men and women logo, tee-shirts, posters etc. Other than that,
they provided little assistance.
Support is not specifically given to NGOs
with regard to addressing participation gaps etc. In many instances targeted
actions have been resourced through the EU under programmes such as NOW or 4th
Action. The NWCI has taken the initiative to conduct specific research with the
strong message going to government that a Positive Action programme is required.
Under the National Development Plan a budget has been assigned to Gender Equality
Positive Actions and the NWCI will inform the development of these measures to
ensure inclusion of awareness raising, comprehensive information, political will,
and positive action initiatives.
In the past a number of actions have supported
women in politics as listed below:
The Women's Political Association (WPA)
has not been actively supporting candidates etc. This is largely due to lack of
resourcing. The WPA has focused on increasing its membership.
The National Women's
Council of Ireland provided information briefings to EU and Local candidates on the
childcare issue. Under the 4th Action Programme the NWCI also conduct a research
project to identify what supports (be they information days, or practical administration)
women candidates need in order to get elected. The key messages are attached in appendix 1.
Political parties and the women's groups within again are largely unresourced. One
example of Labour's group organised a fundraising event to fund their female candidates
however the money raised quite small and possibly ineffective.
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Portrait: Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson was elected President of Ireland on the 3rd of December 1990.
She was the first woman to hold the highest office in the land and the youngest.
Her Presidency was not only active and hard working but was also distinguished by
imagination, compassion, vision and commitment. She was as she promised - a president
for all. Many remember her ground breaking trip to the Sudan in the height of the
famine, and the effect it had on her personally as well as putting the Sudan on
the agenda for world action.
In the years as Irish head of State, Mary Robinson has redefined this primarily ceremonial
role. A prominent liberal feminist and high achiever academically (at the age of 25
she became the youngest ever professor of law at Trinity College Dublin), she came
to office promising Irish women that "the hand that rocks the cradle can rock the
system". She embodies many of the contradictions and concerns of modern Ireland -
a Catholic married to a Protestant, she has visited the Queen at Buckingham Palace
and shaken hands with Gerry Adams. Her "Woman of the People" approach has won her a
staggering 93 per cent approval rating with the Irish electorate.
Prior to her election as President, Mary Robinson had a distinguished academic career
as well as being an international advocate/activist on human rights. She was involved
in many social campaigns in Ireland - developments at the archaeological site at Woodquay.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement, Cherish - as well as many historic court cases which secured
rights for excluded sections of the Irish Community. This work has been recognised by her
numerous awards, including the International League of Human Rights Award, United Nations
Association Global leadership Award, UNIFEM Award, and her many honourary degrees from
Universities such as Harvard, Yale and Cambridge.
Mary Robinson's current position as U.N. High Commissioner for Human rights is a
challenging role on the world stage. She is indeed an inspiration to Mná na hEireann.
Mary believes that all politics are local, the truth of this phrase was brought home to her on
one of her visits to Kerry during the 1990 presidential election campaign. A reporter
commenting on the unexpected level of support she was getting in what were considered
unlikely places said, "things have changed and I began to realise that inn Lyrecrompane -
where the get it in the milk. The "it" he referred to was political belief. Mary still
believes all politics are local and we all live in one locality, a global village, and
we all have responsibilities in that village.
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