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Daily humiliation for women MLAs in Northern Ireland Assembly

Political correspondent Noel McAdam takes a weekly look behind the scenes at Stormont

A female former politician has claimed that women MLAs were treated with disdain, demeaned and humiliated "incessantly".

But Womens Coalition founder Jane Morrice said her male counterparts did not see it as discrimination - because they continually did each other down as well.

"Daily I was reminded: 'This is politics, my dear'," she said.

And she added: "It is not just in politics, but in any place. I do not like to generalise, but I have to: it is in any place that men got to first - big business, boardrooms, Parliament and even the golf course. The mentality that a woman's place is in the home still exists among men and women."

She was giving evidence to the Assembly and Executive review committee, which is examining the lack of participation in poliics by women.

Only one in five of the current Assembly Members is women - 22 out of the 108. Comparative figures show the Assembly has the lowest representation of women among all the legislatures on these islands, apart from Dail Eireann.

Ms Morrice spoke of both the psyschological and practical barriers facing women, and urged the Assembly and Executive review committee to draw up an action plan.

Looking back on her experience at Stormont, she reflected that she could not say she "enjoyed the job", and added: "The worst were the incessant attempts to demean, humiliate and treat with disdain.

"However, interestingly enough, we were often told that it was not discrimination at all - that all politicians treated each other that way.

"Informed sources say that it has changed," Ms Morrice added, "but I wonder if attitudes have actually changed in the body of the beast."

The former European Office head said many, particularly older women, lack confidence, self-esteem and self-respect and were not encouraged to challenge themselves or take risks.

"I believe that the two main problems here are that we live in a society where women are still not taken seriously and where too many women still do not take themselves seriously," she said.

"It is changing, but not fast enough."

Q&As: Claire Sugden, East Londonderry

The 28-year old, who replaced former Ulster Unionist MLA David McClarty, made her maiden speech in the Assembly last week.

Q: Why did you want to become an MLA ?

A: I grew up during the peace process. The politics in Northern Ireland is a natural part of my life. I studied politics and Irish politics at QUB and have since continued my studies at the University of Ulster in political lobbying. My becoming an MLA was unexpected, but a wonderful gift.

Q: Apart from work and family, what are your main interests in life ?

A: I recently bought my first (and hopefully last!) home in Castlerock with my partner Andy. It is an old building, so it's a labour of love and an opportunity to satisfy the DIYer inside me.

Q: What, if anything, is in most urgent need of change in the Stormont system?

A: I don't believe we are yet at the stage to fully embrace a system of opposition, but it is an aspiration we should keep moving towards. I think the Petition of Concern needs to be immediately removed as it gives a minority the opportunity to undermine any steps forward.

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