What have gender quotas for local elections got to do with all that is happening in the world right now? Plenty, argues SHE.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) summarises why gender matters in the impact and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic[i]. They remind us that frontline health professionals and workers such as nurses, nurse’s aides, care workers, and cleaners are all most likely to be women. Women dominated sectors are among those required to close or curtail business, such as hair dressers, beauty and spa workers, hospitality and catering. Unpaid work (overwhelmingly performed by women) is increasing, and physical distancing is not an option for carers of the disabled and the elderly. We are being told to stay in our homes, but not all homes are safe. Many women in abusive relationships, and their children, are at risk in this enforced period of isolation and reduced public transport and lockdowns make leaving much more dangerous.

Even when we can move freely again, we know from recent experience that decisions made in recovery austerity budgets disproportionally impacted women[ii], and without attention to gender proofing[iii]  and sex-disaggregated data, may well do so again.

SHE argues that decisions that do not recognise the gendered nature of the impact of, and recovery from, the coronavirus crisis are flawed. Women are less represented than men in government and so have less decision-making power. This is a problem, not because women necessarily have different qualities and values to men, but because gender proofing of decisions can only become the norm when the people in the room start to think about the different needs and outcomes for men and women. For that to happen we require people in the room who experience policy decisions in different ways. This argument is also why there is a need for more diversity in politics overall.

Gender quotas tackle deep rooted institutional obstacles to women’s participation in politics (see SHE Speaks about gendered political institutions for more on this). Quotas alone are not the answer, but they are a necessary jumpstart. Bringing them in for local elections is essential for two main reasons. One, they have the capacity to bring about gender equality in our councils and it will be these council members that will populate local committees dealing with the crisis and its aftermath. Two, being a councillor is a recognised pipeline for election into the Dáil and decision-making power at the national level. To quote EIGE:

[Men] are the ones who hold most of the positions of power in our society. In this crisis, it is usually men who are making all the important decisions which affect the everyday lives of citizens. This imbalance of decision-making power means that women are left out from shaping the decisions that affect their own lives.

To make sure that women are part of decision-making about matters that affect their lives, SHE calls for gender quotas for the 2024 local elections to be part of the Programme for Government.

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[i] https://eige.europa.eu/news/coronavirus-puts-women-frontline.

[ii] Murphy, M. (2015) Gendering the Narrative of the Irish Crisis. Irish Political Studies 30(2):220-237.

[iii] Gender proofing is defined by the EU as a check carried out on any policy proposal to ensure that any gender discriminatory effects have been avoided and equality promoted (https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1202).