To mark International Women's Day, Belfast Telegraph political editor Suzanne Breen talks to five of our up-and-coming female politicians.
Kathryn Owen (43) is a DUP member of Newry, Mourne & Down Council. She is a likely candidate in next year's Assembly election.
Unionism has a lack of women politicians, and it's a problem. Look at DUP and UUP benches in Stormont. They have very few female faces compared to the other side of the chamber. We need to change that.
The personal abuse that females in politics suffer means it doesn't appeal to many as a career. Arlene Foster and Carla Lockhart receive a barrage of insults over their appearance. Jeffrey Donaldson and Ian Paisley will be criticised for what they say, but they could wear two odd socks and nobody would notice.
Politics and military service runs in our family. My grandfather William Biggerstaff was a former council chairman. He was fierce but fair. He was an Ulster Unionist but left the party over the Good Friday Agreement, and died voting DUP. Both my grandfather and my father served in the UDR.
I never thought of politics. I left boarding school at 16 with one GCSE much to my parents' disappointment, and started working as a hairdresser. I then joined the RAF where I worked as a medic, and met my husband who is English.
I went back to education as a mature student to do a degree in human biology. I'm now doing a PhD in cardiovascular medicine. It was tough going with two children, but I've persevered.
I live, eat and breathe everything Covid. I volunteered to returning to my nursing roots to help out in the pandemic last April. I've worked in Belfast's Nightingale Hospital, and I'm currently in a vaccine centre.
At the start of the pandemic, I borrowed a caravan from my aunt and lived in it as my husband and son have had breathing problems, and I didn't want to put them at risk.
I became a councillor in 2019. I hope to help make politics more attractive to women - that they could see it's not all suits, ties and briefcases, and that politicians stand in the queue at Tesco, make the dinner, help the kids with their homework, and muck out horse stables.
I am a feminist, and take inspiration from an eclectic mix of heroines. Audrey Hepburn - a strong, beautiful woman in trousers and flat shoes, not stilettos and a skirt. Margaret Thatcher, who certainly didn't get everything right, but made it in a man's world. And Rosalind Franklin, the female scientist who discovered the structure of DNA yet never got the credit for it.
Connie Egan (26) is an Alliance member of Ards and North Down Council. She is a potential Assembly candidate next year.
Sexism is still very much alive and kicking for women in local politics. At my first meeting of Ards and North Down Council, I was standing with two female colleagues, and a councillor from another party said: "You're just like the Beverley Sisters."
When it was clear I didn't even know who they were, he said: "Well, I mean The Spice Girls."
Women make up just a quarter of our council, and it very much feels like an old boys' club. You deal with even more unconscious bias when you're young. At one meeting, everyone else who spoke was addressed by their titles as 'councillor' or 'alderman', I was just called 'Connie'.
I've had strange requests from some constituents too. They'll report a broken street light or a pothole, and be really insistent on meeting up when it can be sorted with an email or phone call.
I never thought I'd end up in politics. Lady Sylvia Hermon (former independent unionist MP for North Down) came to talk to my class when I was a 16-year old pupil at Glenola Collegiate. She said "You all can do what I'm doing", but I'd no interest.
My views changed at Queen's University. I took a fantastic Women in Politics course, and came out a feminist.
Northern Ireland lagging behind the rest of the UK on abortion law and equal marriage had a big impact on me. I found the story of Sarah Ewart, who had to travel to England for an abortion despite a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, very moving.
After graduation, I joined Alliance. I chose the party because of its progressive views on equality issues and integrated education. Stephen Farry and Anna Lo impressed me when the Assembly debated abortion, and Naomi Long is an absolute inspiration.
New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is someone I admire massively. To have a baby while in office, and then to handle a pandemic like she has done, is amazing.
Emma Sheerin (29) is a Sinn Fein MLA in Mid-Ulster.
I'm not from an overtly political family. My mother is from a Donegal Gaeltacht so she was shielded from what was going on in the North. My father is a farmer in the Sperrins. I'd a strong Irish identity, but I didn't grow up attending protests.
I got really interested in Irish history when I was about 14. It was the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. I found the leaders fascinating. Patrick Pearse and Constance Markievicz were part of the Dublin elite and had lives of privilege - very different to mine as a teenager in rural South Derry - but they were committed to republican ideals and chose to act for the greater good.
Learning about 1916 led me on to read about the civil rights' campaign, internment and the hunger-strikes. I found Bobby Sands' diary very moving. It was hard to believe that men, and women like Mairead Farrell, went through so much in jails here when just a decade older than me.
I joined Sinn Fein at 17 because I believed in Irish unity. I did Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Queen's. I always loved reading and writing, and considered journalism, but I knew that my strong affiliation to Sinn Fein ruled that out.
After graduating, I worked in retail and for Citibank but neither job fulfilled me creatively. I went to work in the office of Sinn Fein Mid-Ulster MP, Francie Molloy, in 2017, and learnt so much. He's been a great mentor.
I was co-opted into the Assembly in December 2018. That night, somebody tweeted a GIF of a pig with the words 'Another pig in a skirt'. I cracked up laughing. The online abuse doesn't bother me, but it enrages my wee sister - she's a lot feistier than me.
As a female MLA in Sinn Fein, my experience is probably different to that of women in other parties because there are so many of us. You never feel like the token woman. Men from other parties have spoken down to us in the chamber, and I've called them out.
Michelle O'Neill and Linda Dillon are the two other Sinn Fein MLAs in my constituency. It's great to have that support, strength and sisterhood.
My grannies are my role models. My Granny Doherty in West Donegal used to spend summers potato picking in Scotland.
My Granny Sheerin had to leave school when her daddy died because the family couldn't afford it. I am lucky to have enjoyed opportunities denied to other women for so long.
Laura Devlin (39) is an SDLP member of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
My daughter Polly was born a few weeks before the 2019 council election. I could hardly sit at home so I just put her in the buggy, filled it up with election literature, and hit the road.
When I'd taken my oldest son Tom to council meetings three years earlier, I'd leave to breast feed him in a side room. By the time Polly came along I'd the confidence to not care. I just fed her in the chamber.
My daddy was a milkman, and my mummy had a shoe shop, so I grew up in Castlewellan with a strong work ethic. John Hume was a hero in our house, and my parents voted SDLP, but weren't involved with the party.
I got a job with SDLP MLA Eamonn O'Neill as a receptionist, answering the phones, and progressed from there. I was happy to stay in the background and had to be encouraged to become a councillor.
I'm the chair of the council now, but I sometimes still doubt myself. I'll chair a five-hour meeting, and it will go brilliantly, but I'll worry that maybe for five seconds I did something wrong.
Covid has meant that councils have worked virtually, and that shouldn't be abandoned. It makes night meetings a lot easier for many women.
Offering maternity leave to female politicians would also help. Plans are being drawn up for British Government ministers to have maternity leave. They should be extended to all women elected representatives.
It would help encourage and keep more women in politics, and not just those with no kids or whose families are older. Maternity rights for all are important.
It can be hard to juggle everything. At the outbreak of the pandemic, creches closed. I had the kids at home and my constituents needed me more than ever.
Demand rocketed with people needing information about services and business. A CrossFit Zoom class at 7am every morning keeps me sane.
I enjoy council hugely and wouldn't rule out running for the Assembly, but not while my kids are so young.
I'm in awe of Claire Hanna and Nichola Mallon who have led the way for women in politics. Nothing fazes them. In terms of role models, I love Hillary Clinton's 'fightability', and Serena Williams is a powerhouse who has changed society's ideal body image for women.
Jill Macauley (41) is a UUP member of Armagh City, Banbridge, and Craigavon Council, and a possible Assembly candidate next year.
When I joined Newry, Mourne and Down Council five years ago, I was completely ignored by two other councillors during a meeting with statutory agencies. I came out, cried the whole way home, and swore never to let anyone make me feel small and inferior like that again.
I was the only unionist woman on that council then. Now, I'm on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, and there's a trio of UUP female councillors - Julie Flaherty, Louise McKinstry, and myself.
We support each other and we're always trying to reach out and bring in younger women. We organised a Zoom meeting the other night for 20 girls aged from 18-30. We had a laugh, a chat, and talked a bit of politics. We plan to do it regularly.
I joined the UUP when I was 18 with my sister. My parents were members. I was a Business Studies student at Ulster University, but left to work for Direct Wine Shipment, and then Botanic Inns.
I later worked for John McCallister, whom I knew from the Young Farmers, when he became an MLA. I feel it's important to have a modern, positive unionism. As a councillor, a wife of a dairy farmer with my own holiday let business, and a mother of four children, life is hectic.
I was the UUP's only female Westminster candidate in 2019. Some, who had previously criticised my party's lack of prominent women, mocked me. "Why wheel out the secretary?" they asked.
After receiving sexually explicit phone calls, I told my husband: "Is it any wonder so many women want nothing to do with politics?" As women, we've almost come to accept this treatment as normal, to brush it aside and move on.
The woman I most admire is the Queen. She leads with dignity and respect. Her role has altered since she came to the throne. She has changed and adapted to modern-day life. She brings a calmness to the nation when she speaks.