Women in politics face 'horrendous' online abuse and the problem is only getting worse, according to Senator Regina Doherty.
The former social protection minister was speaking as a new report highlights the challenges women face when trying to get involved in politics.
The Women for Election group is launching its report today, highlighting that a lack of maternity leave and the risk of online abuse can reduce women's chances of success in elections.
It says women are left out of 40% of critical government decision-making tables in Ireland, including the COVID-19 national response.
The report also highlights the lack of access to maternity leave for politicians, as well as some political parties remaining 'resistant' to new candidates.
Catriona Gleeson of Women for Election is encouraging women to run for office, as there's an 'urgent' need for more women from a diversity of backgrounds in Irish politics.
She said that while women women they spoke to did not regret running, some of the women in political parties met 'huge resistance' and sometimes weren't being put in 'winnable' seats.
Senator Doherty told Newstalk Breakfast that not only do the barriers that existed 10-20 years ago still exist, but women entering politics now face even more challenges.
She said: “I think the first issue is putting women on the ticket, and putting them in winnable seats - that does cause a problem for political parties, particularly ones that have had men in constituencies for many, many years.
“It’s far easier for a party that’s smaller and growing to organically put women on the ticket, because you’re not displacing anyone.”
With parties facing increasing gender quotas for candidates in general elections, Senator Doherty said some men will have to stand aside to facilitate that.
In terms of online abuse, the Fine Gael politician observed: “It is horrendous and it is getting worse. Maybe that’s testament to the growing anger and frustration among people.
“Women have the extra bit of abuse because of our female form. It’s bad for men, but there’s that extra element for women.
“You need to be around for many years to be thick-skinned enough to say ‘it’s water off a duck’s back’. But when things are so personal… it’s not water off a duck’s back."
She said when the abuse amounts to violence and threats the gardaí need to be contacted, and it's particularly complicated when a woman has her children to worry about as well.
The last year has seen growing calls for maternity leave for politicians, particularly in the wake of Justice Minister Helen McEntee's pregnancy.
Senator Doherty said maternity leave is something that needs to be allowed for all women, regardless of profession.
When it comes to politics, she said: “The public expect you to do the work - they expect you to drop the leaflets, knock on the doors, to do all the constituency reps… that’s the bread and butter of local and national politics.
"If you’re not there, then you go out of their mind’s eye and someone else might take the opportunity to come into it.
“[We need] to make sure the office continues to work around the politician, and in local politicians - where you don’t have an office - to make sure the party supports the lady while she takes the time off."
She said it's also vital to recognise the importance of women being involved in decision and policy-making at every level, from a local level to Cabinet and European politics.
The Taoiseach has previously said the Government is looking into providing maternity leave and paternity leave for politicians.