Women in the majority among student union presidents in Ireland

Most sabbatical officers positions in unions are also held by women

More women than men have been elected to the position of president in students’ unions in the Republic of Ireland, while a slight majority of women have been elected across all sabbatical officer roles within the unions.

Women now hold 14 of the 27 president positions within students’ unions around the country, while men hold the remaining 13. Women also make up 52% of all sabbatical officers working in student unions, holding 48 out of the 93 positions.   

Sabbatical officers are students who take a year out from their studies to work in a full-time, paid position within a student union.

The role of education officer within unions remained quite male-dominated this year, with over twice as many men holding the position than women, while the role of welfare officer was the mirror opposite with 14 women holding the position compared to just six men.

The positions of ents officer and communications and marketing officer as they exist within Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), or approximate equivalents, are less common among other unions. Of the seven events officers in Ireland, five are women, and all four communications officers are currently women. Some unions across the country include roles not contained within TCDSU, such as deputy president or societies officer. 

Speaking to Trinity News, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President Lorna Fitzpatrick stated: “It is great to see so many women in student representative roles around Ireland.”

Fitzpatrick outlined that she believes the increased representation for women has come “in no small part due to the recent social justice campaigns that women were very involved with but also shows the benefits of programmes and events such as WomenLead which is run by the Union of Students in Ireland on an annual basis”.

She added: “It is important that we don’t take our foot off the pedal now, we need to ensure we continue to support women and those who have been underrepresented in all elected positions to put themselves forward and run for election.” 

This year TCDSU has an all-women team of sabbatical officers, led by president Laura Beston. Speaking to Trinity News, Beston said it was “refreshing and encouraging” to see “so many women taking up positions of leadership across the country this year”. 

“Whilst Trinity had a momentous win for equality in achieving an all female sabbatical team, when we started to engage with other unions, seeing women in the role of president was incredibly encouraging and it has served as an excellent support network when dealing with the issues that women in leadership face,” Beston explained.

Beston’s analysis of what had led to this shift concurs with that of Fitzparick as she states that “a major factor in women running across the country was the repeal referendum”.

“The sheer number of women that were taking up leadership positions within the campaign itself showed us that we can be at the very front and succeed. Far too often women do the work behind the scenes, sometimes from a lack of confidence, time, or even role models within leadership, but a campaign that focused on women for the most part allowed many to tackle those issues.” 

Beson says that seeing women run for positions can be very influential, noting that “in Trinity in particular, seeing just two women run the previous year sparked an interest in many that would have been deterred by the roles previously. The phrase ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ comes to mind. I think many women want to take on these roles, not just for themselves but to inspire those coming after them to run.” 

Last year the division of sabbatical officers by gender across the country was roughly even, however men were in the slight majority holding 41 out of 80 positions. The more pronounced shift when compared to last year can be seen in the role of president, which has traditionally been male-dominated. 

While this year there are majority of women holding the position of president, last year men outnumbered women as student union presidents by a ratio of 1.4:1 

Up until this year TCDSU lagged behind the national average for representation of women in sabbatical officer positions. In the previous three years women accounted for only 33% of TCDSU sabbatical officers.  

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Studies student, and a former News Editor and Assistant News Editor.