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Calls for gender quotas as male-dominated election means women make up just one in every four candidates

By Noel McAdam

Women make up less than a quarter of the Northern Ireland candidates chasing your votes in the general election.

Of the total of 138 hopefuls across the region's 18 constituencies, just 34 are women - some 24.6%. Yet that is still a higher percentage than the Assembly, where women make up just a fifth of the 108 MLAs.

While far from a new problem, the lack of female participation in frontline politics does not appear to be improving.

The prospects have not been enhanced since a number of female MLAs have voiced concerns about their experiences.

But the Westminster race has brought back into sharp focus the fact that women are under-represented in political life.

In one constituency - West Belfast - there are no women running at all.

In fact, Fermanagh and South Tyrone is the only area where female candidates outnumber the men - three women against two males. One of those is Sinn Fein incumbent Michelle Gildernew.

Among the major parties, the DUP has no female candidates, while the Ulster Unionists have three and the SDLP five. The UUP is pinning its hopes on Jo-Anne Dobson MLA as among its best chances of winning a seat in Upper Bann. A number of small parties, including Ukip and Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol, which is contesting four seats, also have no women candidates.

Of the independent candidates, Lady Sylvia Hermon is the highest-profile woman. The former UUP figure is fighting to keep her seat in North Down.

At the other end of the scale, Alliance has the most female standard-bearers, with seven, including Naomi Long in East Belfast. Both Sinn Fein and the Conservatives are fielding six women.

Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon, who is also among the youngest MLAs in the Assembly, has argued that quotas are the only way forward.

"From the very outset of life, girls are conditioned to be mothers and homemakers. Later on in life, women are force-fed these images and girls are told that the most important thing that you will ever do in your life is be beautiful, and that being strong and smart and accomplished is not enough," the Newry and Armagh MLA said.

"I am sick of being the only woman in the room on so many occasions. The most effective solution is to introduce quotas."

But a senior Ulster Unionist has said she was not in favour of introducing quotas - legal targets for women which the parties would have to meet.

Mid Ulster MLA Sandra Overend said: "Conditions need to be set up so that women are given the same chance of success in politics, but I am not in favour of quotas.

"Back in 2009, as a party officer, I launched a women's development programme and it backfired on me. I had no ambition to become a politician, but my desire to improve the opportunities for women in my party meant people said; 'why do you not do it?'".

The Assembly has been urged to investigate how policies impact on women.

The demand came from the Equality Commission, which also urged MLAs to take steps to ensure a better work-life balance, with support for Assembly members who have children. Commission chief executive Evelyn Collins said that it was vital for the Assembly to exhibit zero tolerance of sexist bullying "and derogatory behaviour and that effective policies and procedures are in place to deal with it".

Women in politics... who the parties are fielding

Alliance Party 7

Sinn Fein 6

Conservative Party 6



Green Party 2

Workers Party 2

Independents 2




Ukip 0

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