Steven Agnew: Gender equality is our goal
It is obvious that, despite some progress in gender equality, women are still under-represented in our public and political structures.
While the debate continues as to whether quotas or targets are of value in creating better balance, the Green Party believes that improving equality and gender balance will only occur when proactive steps are taken.
We only need to look to the Republic of Ireland to see the positive effect of gender quotas, which were introduced in 2012. A record number of women were returned to the Dail in the recent election, which is to be welcomed.
The Green Party has worked from the membership upwards to create conditions in which everyone has the confidence to engage in politics. This has been borne out in the breadth of candidates standing for the Green Party.
I am delighted that, of the 18 candidates, there is a 50/50 gender balance. We also have LGBTQ representatives, including Northern Ireland's first transgender candidate, and a range of ages.
Make no mistake, these candidates have been selected due to the contribution they will make, but the fact that many under-represented groups are represented by the Green Party makes me proud.
It is no surprise that marginalised communities flock to the Green Party as the Executive has wasted every opportunity to improve their lives.
Green Party deputy leader Clare Bailey has been instrumental in bringing about these fundamental changes. As the co-founder of Alternative Ms Ulster, Clare has created an opportunity for women from all walks of life to describe exactly what needs to happen for Northern Ireland to become a better place to live.
Stormont itself was the venue to highlight the gender imbalance that women face in their daily lives, as 20 women spoke out about chronic illness, domestic violence, breastfeeding, the need to trust women, transgender issues and more.
I have listened and will do everything I can to bring about equality in our society.
It's time my political colleagues listened.
Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland