Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Women in politics get my vote

Megan Fearon
Megan Fearon

The Assembly's unanimous support for a motion calling for more women to be involved in politics was encouraging. Dealing with this issue was well overdue.

The Assembly has 21 women out of 108 MLAs (19.4%). While this might look better than female representation in the south (only 15% of TDs are women), very few EU countries have fewer women elected to their parliaments than Northern Ireland and the Republic (the exceptions are Malta, Cyprus, Romania and Hungary).

Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon, who proposed the motion, pointed out how sexist comments and jokes are common at Stormont. DUP MLA Paula Bradley nodded her head in agreement.

It is not often that DUP and Sinn Fein politicians agree on something, which should highlight the seriousness of institutionalised sexism in government.

Old traditions, sexism and seeing politics as a world for men who fail to deliver on their promises are barriers to female involvement in politics in almost every society.

What might be unique to Northern Ireland is sectarianism, which makes a lot of women feel that politics is about men who argue and squabble over the tribal politics of green and orange, parades and flags. Not exactly the dream career for many women.

Sectarianism is also the main obstacle for ethnic minority involvement in local politics. For those of us who come from an ethnic minority background, it is difficult to get involved in a politics that mostly deals with sectarian issues.

Being seen to take sides by joining one political party, or another, can also lead to individuals being shunned and victimised.

However, more women and ethnic minorities in politics will not necessarily mean better politics. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were the first male and female African-American US secretaries of state. Both served under George W Bush and both played a significant role in justifying the illegal war on Iraq.

But involving more women in politics is surely the way forward. Stormont has talked the talk; now it is time to walk the walk.

* Mohammed Samaana is a freelance journalist based in Belfast

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