Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations (UN), the first woman to head up the Scouts in this country and the first Traveller woman to sit in the Oireachtas werejust some of the trailblazers who spoke at a webinar aimed at encouraging more women into politics, organised by Cork City Council in conjunction with its Women’s Caucus and supported by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Titled “Women in politics – Be the She Change”, the keynote address was given by Geraldine Byrne Nason, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, who drew global acclaim for her passionate speech on women’s rights in Afghanistan at the time of the US exit from the country.
Joining her were Jill Pitcher Farrell, the first female Chief Scout, Senator Eileen Flynn, the first Traveller woman to serve in the Oireachtas and Cllr Uruemu Adejinmi, the first African woman to be elected Cathaoirleach of an Irish local authority.
A panel discussion with the Caucus’s Chair, Cllr. Mary Rose Desmond, Cork City Council Chief Executive, Ann Doherty and former Lord Mayor of Cork, Catherine Clancy was moderated by Dr. Theresa Reidy (Department of Government & Politics UCC).
Cllr. John Sheehan discussed the everyday impact of period poverty with a student from St. Angela’s College, Cork City who has taken part in the Young Social Innovators - YSI Ireland project. Meanwhile, his Cork City Council colleague, Cllr. Garrett Kelleher took part in the second panel discussion moderated by Senator Flynn. Caroline O’Driscoll, partner at Deloitte Ireland and co-founder of iWish, the enormously successfully programme aimed at encouraging young girls into STEM careers, concluded the webinar.
The webinar was interpreted by two Irish Sign Language interpreters.
Pictured launching the webinar at Nano Nagle Place were (l to r) Cllr. Mary Rose Desmond, Chair of Cork City Council's Women's Caucus; Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr. Colm Kelleher; Dr. Naomi Masheti, Programme Director, Cork Migrant Centre; Caroline O'Driscoll, Partner, Deloitte Ireland; Cllr. Colette Finn; Cllr. Deirdre Forde.
Speaking before the webinar took place, Chair, Cllr. Mary Rose Desmond said: “We are making a real effort to encourage as many people as possible, women and men, as we can to join this webinar as the challenge of increasing the number of women in local politics isn’t going away. Put simply, women make up half of the population yet there aren’t anywhere enough of us at the tables where decisions are being made about our lives. The webinar will be enormously interesting as women from diverse backgrounds and from political & non-political forums will take a hard and honest look at the systemic barriers and fears that stop many women from seeing themselves get involved in local politics”.
On International Women’s Day last year, Cork City Council made history by launching its first cross-party women’s caucus.
It was established “to promote women in politics and enhance female participation in Local Government by exploring barriers and challenges to participation, in addition to appropriate interventions to form collective and targeted actions on issues, in areas of common interest.”
Women remain woefully underrepresented in Irish politics and there is a clear lack of wider diversity, despite some recent gains in local government. This may signal systemic obstacles that work to undermine women’s interest in political engagement or entering politics.
Nationally, 226 women took seats in the local elections in 2019, making up 24% of all Councillors across the country. In Cork City, 24 women, out of a total of 82 candidates, ran in these elections. Six were successful, meaning just 19% of the current elected members on Cork City Council are women.
Furthermore, Cork City has a growing diverse population. Over the five-year period since 2011, only eight counties in Ireland recorded an increase in their non-Irish national population. Cork City saw the largest increase with non-Irish nationals making up 14.1% of those living in the city. Cork saw a rise of 17.2 per cent in new communities between 2011 and 2016. The Cork City Profile 2018 also reveals that over 42% of the population living in Cork city centre are non-Irish nationals.
Some 53 candidates from outside Ireland put their names forward in the 2019 Local Elections with 8 elected. In Cork City there were 3 candidates who were non Irish nationals; one of whom was Dr.Lekha Menon Margassery, an academic from the Indian state of Kerala who ran as an Independent following her attendance at the Department of Justice and Equality seminar “Engaging Migrants in Politics” and engaging with the ‘Shape Your City initiative’.
A suite of photomontage-style videos were created by videographer and photographer, Clare Keogh to explore what inspired our female city councillors to enter politics, the challenges they face as female representatives and what changes they believe must be taken to ensure local democracy is more representative, inclusive and diverse.
The videos highlight the motivations and challenges facing women politicians so please watch and share so that awareness around these issues and our new Women’s Caucus is amplified at a local, national and international level.
Cork City Council’s Corporate Plan 2019-2024 is aligned closely with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and gender equality lies at the very heart of these.