On 17 February, in an airy, white lecture theatre in Dublin City University, eight politicians—six men and two women—debated issues ranging from abortion rights to student loans. Each was vying for a seat in Ireland’s parliament, the Dáil Éireann, to represent Dublin’s North-West constituency. One of the two women candidates was Cathleen Carney Boud, the 37-year-old councillor of the city’s North-West ward—a working-class residential area. Boud, a first-time general election contender, took questions confidently and spoke in a measured tone. I met her after the debate to ask about her experience standing in this election. “Once you are in politics,” she said, “you forget about the gender thing.” But that can only happen, she added, “with the support of your party.”
Boud was one of 163 women running to be a Teachtaí Dála, or TD—a member of the Dáil—out of 551 total candidates in the election, which was held on 26 February. The number of women candidates had doubled since the previous election, in 2011, when 86 women ran. The primary reason for this rise was a new law that encouraged political parties to nominate female candidates. But though the law had helped, many believed that a fundamental problem persisted. “Both men and women,” Boud told me, “need to change the mindset about what it means for women to step forward into politics.”
Among the groups working to change this mindset was the non-profit Women for Election, which was set up five years ago to address gender inequality in Irish politics by supporting women running for political office. Boud, who honed her debate skills through her experience with the organisation, is one of many WFE alumni who stood for the general election. WFE even claimed it played a key role in the results, in which women won 35 races, taking the percentage of women TDs up from 15 to 22.