SDLP deputy leader calls time on barriers for women to public life
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has written to Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey, urging him to consider bringing forward proposals for maternity leave for female politicians.
The SDLP deputy leader is calling for the barriers for women to public life to be removed and for an end to gender inequalities across the board.
Ms Mallon’s letter comes on the back of a vote in Westminster to extend maternity provision for female Ministers and MPs, which was supported by SDLP MPs.
Ms Mallon, who is a working mum-of-three and a North Belfast MLA, said while this is a positive move, she expressed disappointment that it "appears motivated by the personal circumstances of a top Tory Minister, as opposed to a genuine desire to level the playing field".
She added: "For too long politics has been a cold house for women, while the tide is changing, the system isn’t changing fast enough. No one should have to choose between raising a family and work – whether that’s in the public sphere or private. If we want politicians to truly represent society, then public life has to truly represent society."
Ms Mallon says the steps in Westminster have exposed that the Northern Ireland Assembly falls far behind in terms of maternity provision for female members.
She has now written to the Assembly Speaker to urge him to reflect on the legislation passed and consider how we could bring forward similar provision locally.
Ms Mallon added: "No matter what job a woman is in, maternity leave is not a perk to be negotiated or achieved with seniority. It’s not a pay rise – it’s a right.
"As a mother of three children, I know the challenges facing women. I want to see more women in public life, our politics will be better for it, and I have to speak up and call for the change our society deserves. Small changes will not just help break-down barriers but they will send a clear signal that our society, our politics, our place is changing. I want my children’s and my constituents’ futures to be built on equality and equal access to equal opportunities.
"While a lack of maternity provision is not the only barrier to women entering public life, it is a significant one and could be addressed if the political will is there."
Ms Mallon says with the next Assembly election just over a year away, while the gender balance at Stormont is improving, it is still far from impressive.
She added: "We cannot sit and wonder why so many capable women do not step up and run for election when this significant barrier still remains in place. Gender inequalities need smashed – right across the board and it’s time that we as female leaders call time on them – not for ourselves but for the many talented women across society that deserve equal opportunities to shape our island and help us shape the future.
"This step is not a silver bullet but a key step forward in our journey to make public life more accessible for women."