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So, what does it really mean to be a woman in 2016?

Ahead of International Women's Day tomorrow, Kerry McKittrick talks to ladies here in politics, business, modelling and the media about life now

Tomorrow women all over the world will come together to celebrate their achievements in politics, culture, economics and society for the 2016 International Women's Day.

This year the campaign's theme is one of parity - #pledgeforparity - a campaign for equality which aims to empower women and girls no matter where they live to achieve their ambitions in all areas of life and society.

But the campaign organisers have pointed out there is much to do following the World Economic Forum's predictions back in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. A year later, the same organisation estimated that a slowdown in the already snail's pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133.

The pledge for parity is calling on men and women to help speed up this rate of change calling for gender balanced leadership among other things.

Other goals include developing inclusive cultures, to respect and value differences and to root out workplace bias.

Events will take place all over Northern Ireland to Celebrate International Women's Day in line with the worldwide effort which has won the backing of big businesses.

We talk to local women from all walks of life about what it means to be female in 2016.

Lynda Bryans (51) is a TV presenter and lecturer. She lives in Belfast with her husband Mike Nesbitt, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and their two sons, PJ (19) and Christopher (17). She says:

"When I was a teenager I went to secretarial school as it was one of my three options - become a secretary, a nurse or I could go to work in a factory.

These days I lecture young women in journalism and there has certainly been an attitude shift - they know that equality matters and they are entitled to have as much as anybody else has. Confidence is still a big issue for young women - they limit themselves and we need to work harder at encouraging them to do more and be more."

Laura Lacole (26) is a glamour model and lives in Belfast. She says:

"It's very easy to take for granted that society has always been this way and I certainly did when I was younger. When you're taught about what women had to go through before it's unbelievable and you realise just how good we have it now, while acknowledging how much work there is left to be done especially in different parts of the world.

Now you don't need to be married to be respectable and you can leave a marriage if you're not happy. It's okay for a woman to have child on her own now, too. I would say to any woman that she doesn't have to compromise on having a family or a career."

Claire Ferry (40), is a director of Maitri Yoga Studio. She lives in Belfast with her husband Geoffrey. She says:

"I feel enormously privileged to have been born now and to my parents in this time. There's no way I would have been able to open my own business in the past. My mum's parents didn't want her to do anything if she wasn't going to be a teacher and my grandmother had to give up work the moment she got pregnant.

We definitely have a long way to go, though. While we mustn't put down how far we've come, when it comes to issues such as gender equality, pay gaps and different gender mixes we still have a lot to do."

Anna Lo (64) is the Alliance Party MLA for south Belfast and a mum to two grown up sons, Conall and Owen. She says:

"We really haven't come that far in terms of politics and women's rights in Northern Ireland. Women make up 50% of the population but only 20% of Assembly members at Stormont are female - we should be working to make that number at least 35%.

I think women's reproductive rights in Northern Ireland are still way behind the rest of the world, too."

Pamela Ballantine (57) is currently presenting chat show UTV Life each Friday night. She says:

"We've certainly got a lot more freedom. Women are studying courses like engineering or mechanics now much more than they used to and people don't even bat an eyelid at that. There aren't male and female jobs now the way there used to be. It's all about acceptability and accessibility."

Pat Jordan is the founder and owner of Jourdan, the luxury women's fashion boutique in Belfast. She says:

"My mother started a business in the Fifties, and back then she had to get a man to sign the lease. Bank managers required a male signature on loans or any kind of business transaction.

That wasn't the case for me, but almost everyone I dealt with as part of my business in the Sixties or Seventies was a man.

Things still aren't equal - they are up to a certain level but you still don't find many women on boards. I think discrimination has virtually disappeared - there are older men who will always favour men over women but we're getting there. It's an exciting time for women and there are so many opportunities around for us now."

Petra Wolsey (41) is marketing director for the Beannchor Group. She lives near Holywood with her husband, hotelier Bill and daughter Caoilinn (5). She says:

"The timing of International Women's Day is interesting in terms of the candidates in the American Presidential race. On one hand there is a very modern woman, Hillary Clinton who is against someone like Donald Trump who thinks it's acceptable to be so overtly misogynistic.

Meanwhile, there are incredibly strong, young feminists who have a new spin on things such as Emma Watson who has made important speeches at the United Nations.

In my mind being a modern feminist is about equality for both genders and I think Emma has a wonderfully positive message."

Jo-Anne Dobson (47) is the Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann. She lives in Waringstown with her husband, John and their children Elliot (23) and Mark (21). She says:

"I think women are doing better. We're getting more top jobs and advancing quicker and taking up the challenge of putting ourselves forward. We're not leaving everything to men any more. I'm always particularly encouraged by young women showing an interest in politics. I think it's important that those of us who are in what were previously predominantly male roles, are mentoring and bringing forward young women to take their place in future political arenas."

Belfast fashion designer Larissa Watson (47) has four children, Clare (19), Natalie (16), Callum (12) and Charlie (5). She says:

"I think women now have very pressured lifestyles. They are the nurturers and the breadwinners and they put themselves under a lot of pressure.

As I get older it seems to me that many of these pressures are self-imposed and it's really important to nurture yourself. If you run yourself into the ground then there's nothing left for the other areas in your life. That's why it is important to take time out for yourself and regroup -meditate, eat well and look after your body and mind."

Clare Allen (38) is a novelist and lives in Londonderry with her husband, Neill, and their children, Joseph (11) and Cara (6). She says:

"We've come an awful long way but there is still a long way to go. I think a big issue for women now isn't gender inequality but competition between women. There's also a new wave of feminism that is anti-men instead of pro-equality and I don't think that does women's cause any favours. Women should be supporting each other."

Jane McClenaghan (43) is a nutritional therapist and lives in Belfast with her partner Nev. She says:

"Women now are doing really well compared to my mum's generation. We have a lot more freedom but unfortunately it can leave us juggling too many things at once. We haven't quite worked out the work-life balance just yet. It's a really good and exciting time to be a woman, though and if things go well in America we might even have our first female President."

Hilary Maguire (59) is clinical services manager of the Northern Ireland Hospice. She lives in Belfast with her husband Gerry and they have two sons, Conor (36) and Gerard (32). She says:

"I've been in nursing since 1975 and although it was predominantly a woman's occupation, I have seen men rise through the ranks faster than women. I've been with the hospice now since 1997 and I can see how things have changed. I'm a manager of a service that I've been able to develop and now my voice is heard just as much as any man's."

Paula McIntyre (49) is a food writer and broadcaster. She lives in Portstewart. She says:

"This International Women's Day I will be cooking alongside five internationally recognised female chefs and food writers at a fundraising event in London for the Frankwater charity in Bristol (which supports and funds clean water projects in Italy). I feel respected and appreciated in the place where I come from and it's nice to have that recognition extended beyond my home turf. It is a blessing to live in a part of the world where I have freedom and rights as a woman."

Beth Robinson (58) is a partner in Templeton Robinson Estate Agents. She lives in Belfast with her husband David. She says:

"I think we're very fortunate and I feel life is very positive. My life compared to my mother's is much easier. We still have to fight battles but things that were major issues for my mother are now very manageable. There are now lots of processes in place now to ensure that women are not sidelined."

Belfast Telegraph


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