Women running for election are more likely to be the victims of personalised, misogynistic abuse - online and at the doorstep - than their male counterparts.

That is according to new research published today which also shows that female representation at council level across the country - while still very low - has almost doubled in 30 years to 24%.

The study, commissioned by Cork City Council's Women's Caucus, was undertaken by UCC's Centre for Local and Regional Governance.

It also noted that Ireland currently ranks 98th in the world for women's representation in national parliaments, falling behind countries such as China and Iraq.

While data from the last six local elections in Ireland suggests that there is no electoral bias against women - the problem it says is that not enough women are appearing on the election ballot papers.

How these findings can be overcome was the subject of a conference today called 'Pathways to Participation - Attracting and Sustaining Women as Leaders in Communities, Politics and Business'. It was organised by the Women's Caucus of Cork City Council.

The Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Deirdre Forde, said the under-representation of women at all levels of governance and decision-making weakens democracy.

"How can we have government 'by the people for the people' if women, who make up half the population, are not at the decision-making table in sufficient numbers?" she asked those attending the conference.

She added: "Our Council Chamber should reflect our people: their interests, their values and their desires for their city."

Specifically, the research found that Cork City Council is below the national average of 24% for the representation of women and ranks 17th out of the 31 local authorities.

It also found that the experience and motivation of women running for election to Cork City Council varied considerably, from being politically aware from a young age, to wanting to raise awareness that as a migrant one can vote and run in local elections.

But the study also found some women candidates suffered significant abuse and threats on the doorstep, often linked to gender and family circumstances, with a number of female candidates citing the bullying they received online.

Co-author of the study, Dr Aodh Quinlivan of UCC, said research indicates that women face up to eight times the level of abuse online compared to their male counterparts.

"One of the issues (highlighted) is the nature of the abuse, it tends to be very personalised, relating maybe to husbands, partners and children, and to the way female candidates look, which of course is not what we want in politics."

Dr Quinlivan said researchers also found that interactions in the Council chamber can also be misogynistic.

"I think unbeknownst to some of the male councillors, some of the language used is quite gendered - we need to remove that barrier as well - obviously we can try to encourage more women to get involved through educational programmes.

"There is a lack of knowledge about what local government is, so we would really encourage Cork City Council to engage in educational and mentoring programmes for female councillors."

The research was welcomed by chairperson of the Women's Caucus, Councillor Mary Rose Desmond, who said gender equality has to be prioritised at local level.

"Irish men, she said are "making decisions for Irish women as insufficient numbers of women are present at the decision-making table".

Among a number of recommendations outlined in the report to improve gender equality is the implementation of a 40% gender quota for local elections similar to that introduced for national elections.