Belfast Telegraph

Why it's time for women to stand up and be counted as equals

By Nuala McKeever

Don'tcha just get sick of those whingeing black people going on and on about rights and respect? If they want it so much, why don't they get up off their lazy backsides and work hard and maybe then they'll earn their rights and respect instead of sitting back complaining and expecting the world to give them everything? I'm a white and I didn't get where I am today by sitting whinging."

Shocking and offensive? Of course. But substitute the word "women" for "black people" and "man" for "white" and you've got the approach of much of our society here.

The Women's Sector is launching the Women's Manifesto tomorrow at the Mac in Belfast at 2.30pm. All are invited.

I wish it wasn't necessary. I wish our society had already realised that women, who make up more than half the population, actually have to be involved in government, economic policy-making, business and education policy-making and all areas of decision-making that affect lives.

Because, going by the statistics, we have not realised this. We still think it's appropriate to have only 22.6% of our elected representatives female; to have far fewer women appointed to positions of chairing political committees; to do little or nothing to promote, actively, the participation of women as candidates for election.

I watched a programme on TV last week, marking the 20th anniversary of Hillary Clinton's famous speech in Beijing, where she concluded: "Women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights." The documentary looked at how, if at all, women's position in the world has improved since 1995.

Some of it was inspirational - the mass movement of women in Liberia who successfully ousted President Charles Taylor and ended more than a decade of brutal civil war. The brave, brave women in Afghanistan who stand up for what is right in the face of constant death-threats from the Taliban. These are people who see that for a peaceful, happy life, everyone must be respected.

Relatively speaking, we have a peaceful happy life here. We're not being bombed daily by religious fanatics. Nobody is dying on the street of hunger. We have clean water and free healthcare. We're doing pretty well by world standards.

And, yet, we have a situation where more than half of our population is hardly represented in government. We have old-fashioned, non-inclusive politics, which make it difficult for anyone who's not white, male and Christian to get into power. We have a political conversation that doesn't serve the majority of the population.

The most exciting, life-enhancing work in Northern Ireland is often carried out at community level, by women. Sadly, it seems as if we've settled into a pattern where community work is seen as women's work and "real" politics is for the men, or for the few women who are prepared to fit into the men's modus operandi.

It doesn't have to be this way. And it's the responsibility of those in power to make sure it isn't. And it's our responsibility to hold them to account for what they're actively doing to right the imbalance in representation.

Over and over again, women think they're not up to the job when actually they are well qualified. Men, often, are not put off by being underqualified; they go ahead and stand up and put themselves forward for positions, even when they don't have what it takes.

Women are enough. You are enough. I am enough. Political life is our life, not just "theirs". Imagine a society where your daughters felt happy to go into politics. It's up to us to make that happen.

How to deal with a kick in the arts

Nearly a million people signed a petition supporting Jeremy Clarkson. So, nearly a million people think it's okay to punch a colleague if you're annoyed about something?

Imagine that approach being rolled out in workplaces across the country. "Oi! You bunked the queue for chips!" Biff! "I don't like the way you're typing so loudly!" Whack! "You've just cut our budgets to zero and put lots of people out of work!"

Eh, well, that's okay then, we'll just have to take it cos we're in the arts and we don't get on like Neanderthals. Sigh. (Walks away.)

I don't care about Zayn's direction

So, seemingly, there isn't just One Direction. News has reached Old Fogey Towers (or my house, as it's better known) that one of the boy band, Zayn Malik, is striking out in a different direction, desperate to lead a normal life, away from the spotlight.

His plan? To launch a solo career. Hmm ... not sure how a solo career will guarantee him the anonymity he clearly craves, but maybe he knows something about his talent that we don't.

I'm trying to feel like a teenager and get upset about it, but I just can't manage it. Isn't it great being old?

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