Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

New push for more women in public life

Bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement are being urged to ensure equal representation for women.

This may include formal quotas and targets in candidate selection by political parties, as well as in public appointments.

Hanna’s House, a women’s advocacy group, will visit Stormont today to highlight the low representation of women in public bodies like the Assembly and the new Maze-Long Kesh Development Corporation, where only one of the 10 board members is female.

Co-ordinator Shirley Graham said: “It has become so normal to have fewer women on these bodies that a lot of people don’t notice it or question it anymore.

“There are only 21 women MLAs out of 108 at Stormont. If the situation was reversed and less than a fifth of MLAs were male I don’t think that men in Northern Ireland would feel that they were being fairly represented and men in Northern Ireland would campaign on the issue.”

She wants Northern Ireland parties to look at female quotas to help redress the imbalance. “Quotas are one answer but not the only answer,” she said, pointing to the need for help with childcare.

The number of women in publicly appointed bodies is also low. Stormont will be asked to try and redress this.

Ms Graham pointed out that when they appointed a board to run the new centre at the Maze they appointed 10 men but only one woman, Professor Terri Scott.

In Dublin a gender quota act was passed this year which states that no party will be allowed to contest the next election unless at least 30% of its candidates are women. After seven years the quota rises to 40%.

In Westminster parties have voluntary quota systems.

“Our message is that gender mainstreaming isn’t just good for women, it improves democracy for everyone,” said Ms Graham.

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