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Gender quotas needed for local elections in Northern Ireland

Published: Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Women represent half of the electorate in the north but make up only 32% of candidates across all local authorities

The National Women’s Council is calling for the implementation of gender quotas for future local government elections in Northern Ireland, citing the alarmingly low number of women candidates standing for election on this Thursday's ballot. Despite women representing half of the electorate in Northern Ireland, they account for only 32% of candidates across all local authorities. This figure represents a marginal increase from the 2019 elections, where only 28% of candidates were women. At the current rate, it would take another five electoral cycles, or 20 years, to achieve gender parity at the polls.

Speaking on the eve of the election, Head of Campaigns and Mobilisation Rachel Coyle said:

“The low number of women candidates is particularly frustrating in this historic year celebrating 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement. All parties to the Agreement committed to the right of women to full and equal political participation. We are clearly many more decades away from making this a reality. 50:50 NI highlight that electoral wards such as Ballymena, Downshire East and Knockagh don’t offer voters a single woman candidate on the ballot, which is simply unacceptable.

With its proximity to women’s lives, local government is uniquely positioned to strengthen women’s participation in decision making. Research shows a clear link between low levels of women’s representation in local government and poor outcomes for women’s interests overall. While some parties have made great efforts to increase the number of women on the ballot paper this year, we know that whatever the results of tomorrow’s election, there continues to be a democratic deficit when it comes to the representation of women in local authorities.”

NWC Director Orla O’Connor said:

“The barriers to women’s participation – including sexist attitudes, online abuse, and the ongoing lack of support for those with caring responsibilities - have been well documented. What is urgently needed now is the political will to address them.

Political parties are best placed to create pathways for women into elected politics and must commit to supporting women. This doesn’t just mean building individual women’s confidence and capacity, it requires reviewing and potentially overhaling internal party processes and cultures. A critical mass of 40% is needed to have impact and change outcomes for women. But we won’t stop there. Women make up over 50% of the population, and this level of parity must be reflected at the tables of power where important decisions affecting our lives are being made”.

The National Women’s Council calls on all political parties and stakeholders to take decisive action to address the deficit in gender representation in local government elections. NWC wants the implementation of gender quotas at local authority level in Northern Ireland and for political parties to create inclusive environments, ensuring that women's voices are heard and their perspectives are represented in decision-making processes.


For comment: NWC Director Orla O’Connor and NWC Head of Campaigns and Mobilisation Rachel Coyle

For more information, please contact Catherine Hearn, NWC Communications Officer, 087 1965300 or catherineh@nwci.ie

About NWC

The National Women’s Council is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland, founded in 1973. We have over 190 member groups and a large and growing community of individual supporters.

This year we celebrate 50 years since our foundation with a special calendar of events and campaigns.

The ambition of the National Women’s Council is an Ireland where every woman enjoys true equality and no woman is left behind. This ambition shapes and informs our work, and, with our living values, how we work.

We are a movement-building organisation rooted in our membership, working on the whole island of Ireland. We are also part of the international movement to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights. Our purpose is to lead action for the achievement of women’s and girls’ equality through mobilising, influencing, and building solidarity. Find out more on www.nwci.ie