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Editor's Viewpoint

Sexism at Stormont must be eradicated

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The Belfast Telegraph survey, which makes grim reading, reveals that over a quarter of female MLAs have been sexually harassed during their political life.

The Belfast Telegraph survey, which makes grim reading, reveals that over a quarter of female MLAs have been sexually harassed during their political life.

The Belfast Telegraph survey, which makes grim reading, reveals that over a quarter of female MLAs have been sexually harassed during their political life.

Our survey today, which makes grim reading, reveals that over a quarter of female MLAs have been sexually harassed during their political life. No fewer than 70 per cent have had sexual remarks made to their face by men, and three-quarters have experienced sexism on social media. Only four female MLAs said that they had experienced neither harassment nor sexism during their political life.

The current Assembly has 32 female members, in effect 36 per cent of the total, which is the highest number ever. A total of 27 female MLAs took part in the survey, and most of them thought that there was less sexism at Stormont than previously.

However, most of them had experienced sexual harassment in local government before they came to the Assembly.

Examples of this harassment included unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching or sexist remarks. One former female councillor had pig noises made to her by male colleagues and was told "to go away and make the tea". Another spoke of "toxic masculinity" in the council chamber.

For once, the male-dominated Assembly is apparently not the worst offender, though there appears to be a culture of impunity across the wider political class, namely that no-one is ever accountable for their behaviour. This applies to many other issues as well as sexual harassment.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, social media seems to lie at the heart of the problem, and 78 per cent of the female MLAs surveyed said that they had experienced sexism or harassment online. However, the fact is not new that social media is a toxic swamp, and female politicians are not the trolls' only target. Nevertheless a combination of a basic difference of political opinion combined with virulent misogyny leads to a grotesque outcome.

The only answer to this culture of impunity, whether among male politicians or keyboard warriors in their back bedrooms, is a zero-tolerant approach to sexism and sexual harassment.

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This means not only avoiding such behaviour ourselves but also calling them out in others.

So long as sexual harassment and misogyny are tolerated at any level, they will continue to proliferate.

The solution, therefore, is not to tolerate them. It has taken many long years of struggle for female politicians to achieve the level of representation they currently have.

It would be a tragedy if even one female would-be politician was dissuaded from making her contribution to society because of the knuckle-dragging attitudes of her male counterparts.


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