Belfast Telegraph

NI leads the way for female politicians, in an Assembly that doesn't sit

By Noel McAdam

Women now make up a higher proportion of the Assembly than they do in the House of Commons or the Dail, it has been revealed.

Women comprise a total of 30% of the 90-Member Stormont chamber - although it is in political limbo - slightly up from the 28% they reached in the previous 108-Member Assembly.

The 30% proportion beats both the 29% of female MPs in the Commons and the 22% of female TDs in the Dail in Dublin, according to research by Democratic Audit.

The biggest leap in female representation here came in the 2016 election, which saw the share of women MLAs dramatically increase by 9% from 19% in 2011.

Overall, it means the percentage of women MLAs has more than doubled in less than 20 years - growing from just 13% in the first Assembly after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Yet in other areas women's electoral representation remains low - only 11% of MPs and 25% of local councillors here are women.

"What is particularly notable about the performance of women in this election is that the percentage of women went up while the number of seats went down," said researcher Danielle Roberts.

"In the context of the removal of one seat per constituency, even the small 2% increase in the number of women is a bigger achievement than the raw numbers may suggest."

Several years ago a report characterised the barriers women faced in participating in politics as the 5 Cs - cash, confidence, candidate selection, culture, and caring responsibilities.

Research carried out by the Assembly two years ago added logistical barriers such as long hours, the portrayal of female political representatives in the media, party-level candidate selection, and the adversarial nature of Northern Ireland's politics.

Nonetheless, three of the five main party leaders are women - Arlene Foster of the DUP, Michelle O'Neill in Sinn Fein (in the north) and Naomi Long for Alliance.

Ms Roberts said: "We may yet see both the First and Deputy First Minister positions being held by women, although that is in no way certain, and talks are ongoing at the time of writing."

And she added: "While 30% female representation verges on critical mass - typically, when a third of an institution is made up of women we can expect to see some change in its operation - it still is not enough for Stormont to be considered gender-balanced."

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