Belfast Telegraph

Bring down all barriers for women

By Naomi Long

In the week of International Women's Day, we have a chance to reflect on how far women's rights have progressed globally, but also on the work which remains to be done if we are to see women treated as equals.

Whether in the shocking comments of the perpetrators and defence lawyers in the horrific gang rape of Jyoti Singh in India, the struggle of women to get equal access to education, the abuse that is female genital mutilation, or the marrying of prepubescent girls as child brides, it's clear that to be born a girl is to have one's life prospects and rights severely curtailed.

Women here enjoy a level of protection and equality under the law enviable to many, yet full equality remains a work-in-progress.

Having always worked in predominantly male environments, whether engineering or politics, I know just how rewarding careers in "non-traditional" sectors can be. Sadly, we still have a significant under-representation of women in such fields.

Though there is agreement that we need to address the imbalance, there is less about what action we should take.

Many advocate quotas, or all-female candidate lists, to speed up change. However, I believe such positive discrimination is not the answer.

It is still discrimination and means someone is being disadvantaged. It's also demeaning to women to suggest they cannot win on merit and undermines the credibility of women appointed to the role.

I prefer affirmative action. Providing training, support and guidance for women, political parties and institutions to ensure selection processes and how business is conducted doesn't create barriers to women's participation.

That, matched with active encouragement of women to step forward, can make a real difference.

While the focus is often on elected representatives, we also need women in senior management roles in politics if the culture of organisations is to change.

It is no accident that Alliance has a positive record both in management and elected representation, or that it has been achieved without the use of quotas.

However, we won't be resting on our laurels.

  • Naomi Long is Alliance MP for East Belfast

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