Belfast Telegraph

'It's time for women to step up to the mark. Too many still lack self-belief which is fatal in politics'

By Suzanne Breen

Grey men in grey suits obsessing about 1690 and 1916 - no wonder women steer clear of involvement in politics. Squabbling over the same old sectarian issues holds no appeal for the female of the species.

That's the usual explanation for why there are so few women in political office here. But it's not good enough. Sniping from the sidelines changes nothing.

If women want political power in Northern Ireland, they have to take it.

Nobody is going to give it to them. If women don't like the tired, old traditional agenda which dominates debate, they have to get in there and change it.

Women here have given up too easily. The spirit of the suffragettes is badly needed.

The Equality Commission has highlighted the huge gender imbalance in the corridors of power at Stormont, with only a fifth of our MLAs women, the lowest representation in any UK legislature.

Time and time again, we've seen that women have no problem winning elections in Northern Ireland. In my experience, political parties now bend over backwards to encourage female candidates to come forward.

The SDLP and Sinn Fein have long been progressive but unionist parties, particularly the DUP, are catching up.

Of course, parties must keep scrutinising their internal mechanisms and culture, but women themselves must step up to the mark.

Too many still lack self-belief, which is fatal in politics.

Of all careers, it's the one which most requires bolshiness and a brass neck.

Men will shout 'pick me' even if they're not up to the job. Women, who are great grassroots workers and have far more ability, will be full of self-doubt.

Gender quotas aren't the answer. They're only a quick fix for the cameras. Instilling confidence and ambition in the next generation of women is the only way forward.

The Equality Commission says there aren't enough women role models in politics. That's not true. Arlene Foster is the Executive's most high-profile minister.

The SDLP was previously led by a woman and currently has a female deputy leader. Mary Lou McDonald and Naomi Long are widely tipped to be the next leaders of their parties.

Women can, and are, doing it. We just need more of them to want it. Not because they'll make politics a nicer place. Women politicians aren't fashioned on the factory floor. They come in all shades.

They have every right to be as confrontational or as conciliatory as men.

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