Belfast Telegraph

I declared I 'aspired to be a feminist'...I look forward to the day when I can do what David Cameron didn't

By Steven Agnew

When David Cameron refused to be photographed in a Fawcett Society t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’, it sparked a bit of a dispute.

Did he refuse because he does not believe feminism is worth supporting?  Did he not consider himself feminist enough to be worthy of the garment?  Or did he simply make the calculation that it would do him more harm than good?  To many Conservatives (and indeed conservatives with a small ‘c’) feminism appears to be something of an ‘f’ word, with some suggesting it is outdated and unnecessary.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The World Economic Forum released their Global Gender Gap Report for 2014 on October, 28.  It shows that, if on some measures the world has made progress on gender equality over the last few years, it is equally clear that there are still huge disparities between women and men, all across the globe, including in many of the more prosperous countries.

The Assembly released a research paper in June entitled ‘Who Runs Northern Ireland?’ - showing, among other things, that over two-thirds of mayors in Northern Ireland are men; that four-fifths of our MPs are men; and that three-quarters of our councillors are men.  The statistics show that, for whatever reason, though women make up just over half the adult population, they make up a far smaller proportion of those who reach senior levels in the economy, in the legal system, and in politics – everywhere that important decisions are being made.

The Green Party in Northern Ireland believes that affirmative action is necessary to redress the imbalance in our society, but also within our own party; because despite our feminist principles, we have not made as much progress as we would like.  It is true that our Party Chair and the Chair of the Young Greens are women.  And, with Noelle Robinson’s election in North Down, one of our five local councillors is a woman – which puts us, statistically, on a par with the other parties in Northern Ireland.  However equality is where we set the bar; as good as other parties is not good enough.

On Saturday, November 1 we took an important step in electing Clare Bailey as deputy leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland.  We chose to create the new role of deputy leader as, like the other Green parties on these islands, we are seeing a surge in membership and support, and the workload is growing as a consequence.

In selecting Clare Bailey the Party is making a bold statement. Clare, who narrowly missed out on becoming a Belfast city councillor in May, was the driving force behind GPNI becoming a pro-choice party.  Whilst individuals within our party had been pro-choice for some time this was a brave step, marking us out as the only pro-choice party within the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

Clare works for Nexus, the Northern Ireland charity which supports those who have experienced sexual abuse and violence, and volunteers for Marie Stopes.  She also organised the Alternative Ms Ulster event which I hosted in Stormont earlier this year.  In short, Clare is a card carrying feminist.

She was also part of the first intake of pupils at Lagan College, Northern Ireland’s first integrated school.  Like the Green Party, anti-sectarianism is something that Clare takes for granted.

In the Assembly I recently declared that I “aspired to be a feminist”; I look forward to the day when I can do what David Cameron didn’t, and wear, with pride, a (Fairtrade) t-shirt that declares ‘this is what a feminist (party) looks like’.  With Clare Bailey now in a leadership role, the time is nigh.

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