Women deserve a level playing field
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Women, West Belfast MLA Jennifer McCann has proposed the setting of an all-party working group in the Assembly to look at the under representation of women in public life.
Ms McCann expressed deep disappointment at the refusal of unionist politicians including Environment Minster Arlene Foster to support the initiative.
Ms McCann said:
"In Ireland today women are still not fully represented in either national politics or in local government decision-making structures. Men continue to dominate all our cultural, social, economic, legal and political institutions.
"It is deeply frustrating and deeply disappointing that unionist politicians, including the new Environment Minster Arlene, refused to support this initiative. All that was proposed was a working group to the under representation of women in public life and other issues that have a negative impact on women. Women deserve a level playing field. We need to recognise that there are very real barriers they face.
"In Ireland as a whole women make up 51% of the population yet in the North of Ireland only 16.7% of MLAs are women and 21.3 % of local councillors are women. In the South of Ireland only 13% of TD's are women and only 15% of elected councillors are women. In this chamber out of a 108 MLA's only 18 are women.
"Such under representation does not happen by accident but is caused by inequalities of power and are deepened by other factors such as poverty, educational disadvantage, and lack of access to housing and appropriate health care, violence and isolation. It takes political vision and will to change things, but it can be done.
"All political parties have a responsibility to ensure that more women are elected to the assembly and other political institutions. Political parties can and should adopt strategies to increase the number of successful women candidates by using positive action in their recruitment and selection processes. They can engage with women's organisations who work at encouraging and supporting women to enable them to become more involved in political life.
"I have no doubt that all of us can reflect on at least one woman in their lives that had a positive role in shaping or directing their future. It may be a mother, sister, wife, partner or daughter, but at some stage they have added to making us into the people we are yet extensive discrimination against women in all areas of life still exists.
"Women constitute a diverse group with many talents and life experiences and have many positive attributes to bring to the world of politics.
"We must continue to ensure that equality for women is a priority. An Ireland of equals can only be achieved in the context of full equality for women. Women MLA's can be positive role models for other women to become involved in politics but it is not only the responsibility of women MLA's, everyone has a responsibility to ensure that the barriers to women's participation in all aspects of political life are removed." ENDS