Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Women voters: Using your vote can change the boys club

It's hardly surprising that so few women in Northern Ireland bother voting. The Belfast Telegraph poll showed that nearly six out of 10 don't intend to vote for any of the main parties in the next general election.

Men are much keener – more than two thirds plan to exercise their democratic right on election day. That's because politics, particularly in Northern Ireland, is still largely a man's game.

Of course, there are a few female politicians at Stormont, some of whom are smart, effective and hard-working representatives.

But there are nowhere near enough: following the last election, only 20 out of 108 MLAs are women.

Now, it would be crass and simplistic to assume that women vote for women politicians, purely by virtue of their gender. In fact, some female voters are actually turned off by female candidates.

But the overwhelming maleness of the Assembly is bound to have an alienating effect on the female voting public.

It would take a critical mass of at least 30% of female representatives to start having an impact on the political culture and the way Stormont is run.

One woman politician told me that, for all the emollient talk of equal rights and boosting female candidates, much of the business of government is still carried out in informal boys' clubs, behind closed doors, to which women simply aren't invited.

Despite the inadequacies of the political system, I believe women have a civic duty to cast their ballot.

Campaigners suffered and died for our right to vote. We shouldn’t take it for granted.

Fionola Meredith is a Belfast Telegraph columnist

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