How to get women into politics…

Interesting discussion on Hearts and Minds on the absence of women in political life. Is it, as Catriona Ruane argues, about using tools like affirmative action to bring about a critical mass, so that the political culture changes (though DUP councillor Deidre Nelson asks, “what happened to the ‘Blair babes’?). Or is it, as Naomi Long suggests, about confronting the roots of discrimnation within the party early on. Note: Although the UUP have one woman MP (100% of their Westminster representation), they have no female MLAs, which is presumably why they were not on the panel.PS: any suggestions how we might more women bloggers on Slugger, respectfully received…

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  • PS: any suggestions how we might more women bloggers on Slugger?
    Offer them some complimentary vouchers for a free hair-do in Belfast 😉

  • Pete Baker

    There are at least a couple of fallacies at work in the argument that affirmative action, whatever steps that may entail, is necessary to increase the number of women in politics.

    The first, implicit in the argument on Hearts and Minds, between women already in politics tonight, was that somehow that would improve the political discourse.

    And the evidence of that is where exactly?

    The other is that rather than individuals choosing not to take on political roles, political roles are being denied them beause of their gender.

    Again, the evidence is otherwise. If the public wanted to select on the basis of gender, and there wasn’t a shortage per se of female candidates, then they had the opportunity to do so.

    The public chose not to do so on that basis.

    The reality is much more complicated than a simple gender differential and the presentation of this supposed problem as anything otherwise is a deliberate simplification of society as a whole.

  • Pete Baker

    I’m probably doing a disservice to the Alliance’s Noami Long.. in that, as I seem to recall, there was an argument against the simplictic view.

  • franticantic

    The women’s coalition are sadly missed , and they didn’t get the credit that they should have got in the last assembly . Where the hell have the Ulster women gone to on voting day leaving the dope head men to pull this province even further down the road to extinction .

  • Pete Baker

    They may well be sadly missed by some.

    But at the heart of this argument is the other fallacy..

    If only the people elected someone other than those we have in front of us.

    They haven’t.

    And we* get the representatives we* deserve.

    * Note – conditions do apply.

  • The Dubliner

    “And we* get the representatives we* deserve.”

    But do women get the Nobel Prizes they deserve? There seems to be horrendous discrimination afoot since men have been awarded 97% of them. And even if women try to apply intellect to greatness without blackguard peer committees impeding their progress such as mathematics (where only a pen, paper, solitude, and a brilliant intellect is required) women have been woefully discriminated against there too (presumably a special tax is put on paper and pencils for women in-order to discourage independent displays of greatness), since all of the great mathematicians are men. And, oh dear, even decades of positive discrimination didn’t stop all of the dot com billionaires coming from the male gender. I guess women couldn’t afford a personal computer or just didn’t have the time to come up with a brilliant venture, or whatever. Yes, definitely, we need new quotas to bring more the female geniuses among us – wherever the proof of it actually is.

    And before the cries of “misogynist” begin. ‘Tis as well to remember that no man could possibly hate women as much as omen hate each other.

  • The Dubliner

    Whoops… I messed up that Mencken line, thereby giving an inspiring example of male superiority: …as much as [b]women[/b] hate each other…

  • Alan

    The problem is that parties choose candidates, not that the public choose politicians.

    A substantial number of our political parties are agressively male. They go out of their way to do nothing to temper the vision of the macho, backstabbing politician, because it serves those who are already in place and those that they choose to promote.

    Insincere nods to the ideal of gender equality flounder when some politicians hold their hands up and say ” . . . but we tell them it’s not a beauty contest . . .”

    On Nobel prizes, mathematicians and dot com billionaires – who ever voted for them ?

    One other point, we are rapidly seeing the development of a self-justifying and intolerant political discourse that suggests that because an election has been won by two conspicuously extreme parties the opinion of the centre can no longer be condoned. I have heard both SF and the DUP make such comments within the past few weeks.

    It’s important to remember that, whatever the political climate at any given time, the default setting for politics is firmly set for “change”.

  • nmc

    PS: any suggestions how we might more women bloggers on Slugger, respectfully received…

    More of the culture less of the politics. Women seem to love the culture/lifestyle type stuff. The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival’s coming up, that kind of stuff might be of more interest to the fairer sex, than say some of the football/GAA threads.

    I may leave myself open to criticism for syaing this but I perceive women as generally less interested in politics than men. This comes from countless conversations had with women where politics is not allowed.

  • T.Ruth

    Naomi Long is consistently very impressive and most parties would benefit from women like that. As for Sylvia Lady Hermon. she flits into N.Down for a few pre arranged photo opportunities courteously of a UUP biased North Down Spectator and off she goes again. I believe she is currently planning to follow David Trimble into the Tory party-her natural environment.Then the UUP will be a sort of Men’s Coalition party-completely unable to understand much less represent the Unionist position.

  • nmc

    Actually, allow me to change the first line of my response to “More of the culture, and the same amount of politics as usual”…

  • femalereader

    What about asking Kelly Andrews of the Green Party to contribute threads to slugger, that would fill two gaps on your coverage – female bloggers and environmental issues both of which are sadly missing from an otherwise excellent discussion blog.

    btw wheres missfitz? i always enjoyed her threads

  • Actualtruth


    Huh? Sylvia Hermon is well known as being far from Tory, she votes with Labour at every given opportunity, i would say she would rather quit politics than join the Tories.

    Secondly she works very hard and does much more than flit in and out of North Down

    Thirdly, do you even read the Spectator? They can’t bear Sylvia and much prefer the Alliance Party.

  • The Dubliner

    “On Nobel prizes, mathematicians and dot com billionaires – who ever voted for them ?” – Alan

    Precisely the point. They are impartial measures of exceptional ability in gender. You don’t receive a Nobel Prize because you were nominated to meet a gender quota, nor do you become a business billionaire or a great mathematician for that Politically Correct purpose.

    Genius always finds a way… let it find its way in politics, too. That way, the best will rise to the top by their own ability…

  • Alan

    Dubliner –

    Are you seriously comparing our existing male politicians to Nobel prize winners, mathematicians and dot com billionaires ?

  • There’s one simple change that would bring more women into politics. It was raised in the H&M report last night but not emphasised so much in the panel discussion.

    Men should LISTEN when women speak, and ACKNOWLEDGE their contribution to debate (maybe that’s 2 changes?). Not pretend we didn’t say anything and then make the same comment later, or (worse, I find) return to the point at issue and say ‘As X (male) pointed out earlier…’ when it was me me me!!!

    If this were done, there would be no need for positive discrimination as the contribution of women would be correctly valued.

    Having said this, everyone who takes part in political debate must be prepared to defend their position, and that can be tough, especially when you lose. Ball not woman remains an important principle.

  • interested

    “Men should LISTEN when women speak, and ACKNOWLEDGE their contribution to debate”

    Men do listen when women (or men) make a contribution which is worth listening to. Frankly if someone is talking rubbish then why should that not be pointed out – whether its a woman or a man.

    There is virtually universal agreement so far on this thread that someone like Naiomi Long is a very capable politician and I’ve never heard anyone attempt to put her down for views which are well expressed and argued. However, if someone is talking rubbish and happens to be a woman then why not ridicule her equally as any man – that’s equality!

    The Womens’ Coalition are not sadly missed by anyone that I know of – their absence has been barely noticed. What exactly did they contribute then that any other party with men in it could not have? Their ideals and principles were not specifically women related but for some reason they decided to make the party women only.

    Women aren’t represented to the level which they should be but simply slotting in a few female faces to fill seats, no matter what their ability does a disservice not just to the candidates themselves, the people they are supposed to represent but to the political process as a whole. (Blair ‘babes’ a case in point).

  • interested

    As a footnote to the last post – here’s one to think over.

    Did the Womens’ Coalition actually help the cause of women in politics? Or did their presence put forward the notion that women could/should only get involved in some kind of women only party?

  • Interested – I don’t mind anyone telling me that they disagree with my arguments and putting up a more convincing case. But the point I’m making is that this doesn’t always happen, the argument/ point is ignored. That’s different.

  • I thought all 4 of the female politicians were extremely articulate, in fact, much more so than many of their male counterparts. In particular Deirdre Nelson of The DUP whom i had not seen before.

    The other political high point of last night was the way in which John O’Dowd made absolute mincemeat of the smug and eminently unlikeable Jim Allister on Hearts and Minds. Allister now cuts a somewhat figure. One of the last remaining bastions of old-style Unionism. Blatantly anti power-sharing and elitist…

  • interested

    Fair point – I’m not sure if that happens more with women than with men – but then perception is equally important / more important than reality.

  • Philip

    Well the UUP had 2 MLAs that i recall: Nora Beare, Jeffrey Donaldson’s former secretary; and, Arlene Foster. The former was was deselected by the Lagan Valley DUP in favour of four WASP males. The latter is now a Minister designate. When in politics, principles rest on quick-sand it seems.

  • interested

    So are you saying that a woman should automatically be re-selected simply because she is a woman? That’s more patronising than any other suggestion i’ve ever read.

    Maybe Nora Beare wasn’t as capable a candidate as the male who replaced her. Its possible…. However, in a constituency where a Party is running 4 candidates its hard to see how there wasn’t at least one woman who could do the job.

  • StarHound

    ‘The former was was deselected by the Lagan Valley DUP in favour of four WASP males’

    How many non-WASP males are there in the DUP?

  • a man sick of our politicians

    I would really love to see more women involved in our political scene…we are in dire need of a complete overhaul, too many of our reps are annoying and mostly useless men who have been around too long and were never that able to begin with. If they need replaced it might as well be with gifted women if possible.

    Naomi Long is ok, a bit-very annoying at times in her presentation: just too harsh at times. But she has ability and shows promise.

    Ruan I cant shine to, seems too forced and is getting an undeserved push. I think Sinn Fein have others (men incidentally) who are more able.

    I think the female politician with the most promise at the minute is Dawn Purvis, I havent seen too much of her, but she seems very able and worth getting more exposure, sadly not likely to happen given the size of her party.

    Women’s Coalition were a decent platform, and McWilliams had quality, but women should be getting a fair hearing and push within all the parties without needed a seperate one.

  • Philip

    In your second paragraph, you answered my natural response to your first paragraph.
    All people should rise on merit and not be discriminated for belonging to a specific class within society.
    Society is far from perfect hence discrimination exists: be it direct, indirect, an action or omission, this discrimination can be a force for positive change or negative change. As with everything in life it’s a matter of compromise.

  • Dessertspoon

    I am woman, hear me roar
    In numbers too big to ignore
    And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
    ‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
    And I’ve been down there on the floor
    No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

    Oh yes, I am wise
    But it’s wisdom born of pain
    Yes, I’ve paid the price
    But look how much I gained
    If I have to
    I can do anything
    I am strong (strong)
    I am invincible (invincible)
    I am woman

  • Rory

    Perhaps the best way to avoid deterring women from participting on Slugger would be if so many of our male contributors would desist from snickering expressions of puerile misogony as witnessed in some of the comments above. It really doesn’t help to snigger about vouchers for hair=dos and – as for Nobel prizes – women should get a Nobel prize (and every other prize going) just for the glory of their existence. When some smart-arse wizard in mathematics and genetics devises a method of pro-creating human life without women he’ll (for it’s bound to be a “he”) will no doubt get a Nobel prize when he would really deserve burning at the stake.


  • Rory, that’s too serious. I welcome female bloggers, actually finding it easier to talk to than many male bloggers here;, and have good relations with wonderful characters like susan, roisin and missfitz who are of superior intelligence.
    Mick has only to ask them to blog for Sluggers.

  • “A man sick of our politicians”

    I am wondering what puts you in any position to judge the respective merits or otherwise of Catriona Ruane. Your sole comment that she “seems too forced” lacks both detail and substance. In fact, I have no idea what that comment actually means…

    Sinn Fein have a highly competent and progressive team at the moment. (John O’Dowds complete dismantling of Jim Allister on “Lets Talk” last night being a perfect example).

    I am quite confident that Ruane would have been allocated a ministerial position purely on merit and your total lack of evidence to support your opinion does you no credit…

  • A burd

    As you move in and up a party, when do most activities take place? Given that women still (though I know many of you put the bins out or bath the child once a week) have responsibility for the very vast majority domestic and caring duties, many do not have time to attend the night after night of branch / constituency / community meetings required to progress in politics. Forsake having a family and you’re some sort of freaky spinster.
    And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard comments about ‘minger’ women politicians, can count on one hand the number of similar comments about men….would you subject yourself to that?
    While I wouldn’t have been the biggest fan of the Women’s Coalition, it did force the larger parties to up their game in terms of women, if only paying lip service. Once the DUP had stopped moo-ing at the WC members that is.

  • a man sick of our politicians


    MMMMM! a smidgen of over reaction there. I was voicing an opinion on my own instincts as to the performance of the current crop of female politicians. For that reason I dont need evidence to support my opinion…but if it makes you feel better I will elaborate.

    For the record, my singling out Ruane for the most critcism was not a slight on Sinn Fein, as I pointed out they have many others who are very able (you selected O’Dowd..I completely agree).

    Seeing and hearing Ruane speak (I have done so many times) as well as many other Sinn Fein MLAs I would not rank her in the top sections of their assembly team..that is my opinion…and I am entitled to it without judgment on me ‘does you no credit’ – by what body do you hand out credit to me, and why should I seek it?

    Political performance especially in the public relations and media element of it is a largely unquantifiable area…for example Naomi Long has clearly had media training and has improved drastically, however there is still something very harse and un-endearing that you just cant put your finger on.

    My comments were not to say that Ruane is a bad politician, she is certainly alot better than some that the other parties have to offer – however she is in my opinion not close to being the best of what sinn fein has to offer, there are many others within her party that I believe would be more capable of a ministerial post.

  • a man sick of our politicians

    I would just like to add that voters make such judgements and do not have to account for it…it is our job to critique our politicians and pass judgment at the ballot box…we are not forced to fill in a ‘why’ and ‘why not’ section on the ballot paper.

  • Resolve

    Everyone wants to force things to happen. Positive discrimination here, affirmative action there. Well, some imbalances may need that type of correction, but I don’t think that is the case with women in politics. Here are my reasons.

    People forget, in their apocalyptic moanings, that it was less than a century ago that woman were prevented from voting, nevermind membership of political parties. People forget that things take time. The percentage of women in British and Irish Politics has been on the increase for some time, and who’s to say that it won’t increase further given a little more? I think it most certainly will, given how fashionable it now is to promite this particular cause. Granted, this [i]inevitability[/i] only came about because of media pressure. Yet this pressure is hardly going to dissipate… not given the female representation in the media…. not until parity (or something close to it) is achieved. We need not fret. Trust me, if a [i]woman of ability[/i] is noticed in any of the UK’s political parties, she will be foisted proudly and swiftly into the limelight, if for no other reason but the vainglory attempts of the leader to put his “equality” feathers on display. On this note, if the woman [i]is not[/i] a woman of ability, then she doesn’t deserve to be there, full stop. Gender has little to do with it.

    I don’t think forcing the issue is going to do the cause any good; it may quite possibly do it damage.

    And it is a cause which I believe in. Moving to the issue of whether or not such a shift would be beneficial, I have a strong conviction that the political arena is one area that would greatly benefit from active female participation. More women like Naomi Long are certainly to be welcomed, that is, women who are actual women rather than women who adopt male characteristics in order to succeed. Modern evolutionary psychology has put beyond question the assertion that there are significant different between the average male psyche and the average female psyche (see David Buss, Simon Baron-Cohen, Doreen Kimura, Helen Fisher, to name but a few). One can’t help but wonder, would there be a lot less warmongering on the international stage if more women were prominent in politics? I, for one, imagine there would . . .

    p.s. Women [i]by nature[/i] are repelled away from choosing to study politics in the first inastance because of its traditionally adversarial nature in the UK. It is hard to imagine what the solution could be rather than drastically changing the operation of British politics. The introduction of S.T.V elections perhaps? Some more conciliatory system may be needed, if politics are to appeal to the [i]second sex[/i].

  • Resolve

    Note:~ I worder that postscript badly, and, as it stands it seems to run contrary to some of my arguments in the main part of the post. Whether such a radical systematic overhaul would need to be a pre-cursor to more women becoming involved in politics, or whether it would be the inevitable [i]outcome[/i] of such a shift, i’ll leave up to each one of you to decide. . .

  • Mustapha Mond

    “women should get a Nobel prize (and every other prize going) just for the glory of their existence.”

    are you that desperate for a shag?
    What would the point in me, a man, striving for any prize, if some gab like you, hands it out to a woman “Cuz you might be in with a chance”?
    And how would a woman feel, if the only reason she got an award, was due to your lechery rather than her ability?.

    “When some smart-arse wizard in mathematics and genetics devises a method of pro-creating human life without women he’ll (for it’s bound to be a “he”) will no doubt get a Nobel prize when he would really deserve burning at the stake.”

    Then you can go back to believing in wizards and soothsayers, and have someone trepan your skull to let the tummy sickness demons out.

  • Jocky

    surely the question should be “Why do we need more woman in politics?”

    The may not be equality in outcome but there is, AFAIK, equality of opportunity. (and if anyone can point a an example of sexual discrimination in politics, fair play, report them to the equality comission)

    you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink. Every party in the UK is falling over itself to get woman candidates but cant find enough good woman that are interested. what more can you do? would woman MP’s get maternity leave, how does the employer line up the temporary replacement?

    Could it be that most women dont fancy the lifestyle, long hours and constant working away from home? Face it, there are some jobs men do and there is some jobs women do regardless of equality of oppertunity. If the equality brigade doesnt face up to this reality they will only marginalise themselves, and woman.

    If women want to be politicans, binwomen or whatever they can and will do. Likewise if men want to become politicians they can and will do. There you go EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY

    How come there’s never any threads titled, How can we get more woman binmen? How can we get more women working offshore on the rigs? ah it’s only trendy fashionable job equality applies to.

    The whole equality bandwagon has missed the point and headed of in a tangent and is doing more harm than good. Since when has anyone had a right to have a job? I thought you had to be capable. The last Equality Commission report admitted as much but failed to join the dots (mainly due to the fact it’s staff by proffessional report writers who haven’t got a clue how business functions)

  • Resolve

    FAO Jocky

    I agree with you on drawing the line at [i]equality of opportunity[/i]. As I have said, I certainly don’t endorse any sort of affirmative action. Yet, you must recognise the difference between working as, say, a builder, and working in politics. In relation to the latter (which is in point on this thread) there is nothing inherent in the job description that would preclude women from taking as active a role as men currently do.

    Unlike jobs such as builders, plumbers, gas-rig workers, etc.. (where there are valid reasons why the average woman would prefer not to work there) woman don’t become politicians for the simple reason that the culture which has developed in politics is one which exalts male virtues over and above those which may fairly be ascribed the description “feminine”.

    My POINT was that the injection of those feminine virtues (e.g. honesty, compromise, dialogue, understanding, patience, etc) into the political arena may do much to bring politics back into equilibrium and diffuse many of the reasons why the electorate are becoming more and more apatheic with every new election. In time (and spread internationally) it may even make the international stage less volatile than is currently the case.

    P.S~ Note that I mention “feminine virtues”, not simply female persons – The [i]Iron Lady[/i] demonstrates that the one does not necesarily follow the other.

  • Jocky

    Resolve, I’m with you up to a point, I’m thinking Prescott and his French ocunterpart at the failed EU summit being a prime example.

    but no amount of injection of feminine virtues will get round the fact some jobs, and policitian is one of them, require long hours and long times away from home. And these jobs tend to be less appealling for woman.

    My point is woman can still become a politican if they choose and the ones that choose so recognising the sacrifices they made.

    But in terms of feminine virtues, if we wanted them surely we’d vote for them? If policitical parties thought all they had to do was field a woman to win men would never get a look in at the selection.

    Re making the political process more condusive to these feminine virtues, i’d be all for it, but your wokring against x hundred years of inertia and a lot of vested interests, no one is offering it.

  • Resolve

    Hence my initial warning against both false hope and “apocalyptic moaning”!

    It’ll happen in time if that is what the people want. No point in forcing it, one way or the other. Thanks for your comments, Jocky. You’ve given me much to think about. It is true that a job involving long hours and long periods away from home should be inherently unappealing to a woman (at least of the home-making kind)… yet your point, if I am to accept it, needs to be reconciled with one unconvenient fact. There are proportionately more women in high-slaried positions in the private sector than there are in government. Are you suggesting that such positions carry a less-demanding workload?

  • Penelope

    “by nature”!?!?! “second sex”!?!?!

    and you wonder why women are under-represented?? oh please!!!!

  • “A man sick of our politicians”

    I’m not quite sure that you have clarified your position. You state that;

    ” Political performance especially in the public relations and media element of it is a largely unquantifiable area”. Yet you felt ready to proclaim that (in your opinion) Ruane is not fit for Ministerial Office.

    The potential embarrassment to a large party such as Sinn Fein in appointing an incapable Minister would be absolutely enormous. It would result in a high profile disaster, handing major political capital to its opponents and possibly resulting in electoral meltdown.

    My whole point was that Ruane should be judged during and after her term is complete. I find it difficult to conceive how she can be deemed incapable prior to her even taking office! Certainly, she is held in very high regard within Sinn Fein generally and I would be surprised if she did not perform competently once she assumes her Ministerial responsibilities.

  • Resolve


    I was hardly being serious. It was a playful and sarcastic reference to Simone de Beauvoire’s famous book title. I hardly meant to imply any sort of second-class status. I wrongly gave you the credit for being able to see that.

    In reference to nature, what is so controversial about that? Modern neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have both demonstrated time and time again that the average female nature differs greatly from the average masculine nature – why do you resist such scientific findings, especially when they are confirmed by daily experience? What are you so defensive about, and why do you take offense so readily?

  • a man sick of our politicians


    We seem to be talking at cross purposes, I wasnt saying that Ruane is incapable, simply that I dont think she is the best that Sinn Fein has to offer.

    I did elaborate on my point, I said and maintain that political performance is largely unquantifiable, what I mean by this is that we all make judgments on people’s ability and therefore vote or do not vote for them on that basis…politics is about deliver and outcomes…but this should only be possible as part of a package…Sinn fein and the other parties will deliver their own agends regardless of who is minister…a minister/spokepersons/assembly leader’s job is to present the decisions…so it is Ruane’s media performance/voice/presentation/delivery/perosonality /credibility…that is unquantifiable…you either have it or you dont – I just dont think she has it, and that comes down solely to opinion which is why it is unquantifiable but politics comes down to this.

  • willowfield

    The problem is that parties choose candidates, not that the public choose politicians.

    No. The problem is that women generally are less interested in politics than men, and are therefore less likely to get involved.

  • Diluted Orange

    Well why don’t the women get off their arse and do what most of the men in NI politics have done to get where they are?

    How about bombing a few places, killing some folk, spouting sectarian hatred at every turn and/or ranting non-coherent vitriol as loud as possible to stoke up tribal sentiments within your own community to new levels. Seems to work for most of the men who get elected here …

  • kate

    women and nobels!?!?! Do you really want me to list women who contributed to ground breaking research but were the only member of the team not to be recognised by the committee? the woman who did the work on pulsars, who then work part-time to raise her family and the committee thought, well, she can’t have been that involved, she hasn’t published bunches since? the researches in back rooms?

    Nobel is not a great example of being gender-blind and only awarding the worthy. They can’t seem to always take female researchers seriously.