What Women Want: removing barriers to full participation in politics

Labour Party NI are holding a women’s policy conference on 22 March in The Pavilion at Stormont.

Labour Party in Northern IrelandThe all-day event – the same day as the Alliance Party conference – is free to attend and open to non-party members and men. Under the title of What Women Want? the organisers want to discuss “real solutions to barriers to full participation in politics”.

In Bronagh Hinds’ chapter of Everyday Life After the Irish Conflict: The Impact of Devolution and Cross-Border Cooperation she suggests:

… at the current rate of progress it would take sixteen election cycles, about sixty-five years, for women to become 50 per cent of MLAs, and thirteen elections, spanning fifty-two years, to reach gender balance in councils.

I recall Alex Kane explaining recently that ironically one of the barriers to more female candidates at elections are women on party selection committees who often select males ahead of females due to misplaced worries over childcare and other caring responsibilities.

Of course, full participation in politics goes beyond the gender of candidates. As well as workshops, debate and discussion, a number of invited speakers will share their opinion:

  • Baroness May Blood of Blackwater
  • Roberta Blackman-Woods (MP for Durham City and
  • Shadow Communities and Local Government Minister)
  • Cath Speight, Lisa Johnson, Hilary Perrin (GMB)
  • Breedagh Hughes (Royal College of Midwives)
  • Bev Craig (National Co-chair of Labour LGBT)
  • Laura Lee (International Union of Sex Workers)

No charge to attend the event, but registration is required. Tea and coffee provided; lunch available “at a reasonable” charge in The Pavillion. And there’s free childcare available on request.

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  • What do women want? Labour women might like the opportunity to stand as a Labour Party candidate in Northern Ireland. Might be something a Labour Party might like to announce at a Labour Party meeting. That is a big barrier to getting engaged in politics – being a member of a Party that you are not able to represent in any elected chamber.

  • FuturePhysicist

    We speak about barriers to politics completely negative, but does the female entrepreneur who is making a difference to our economy really need to give it up for the gender ratio problem. Since men are more likely to be politicians, simple probability theory suggests the ratio is more likely to be equal with lower numbers of politicians.

    So under a basic law of averages you either need to change the probability (logically by having more female party members) or change the expectation value (reducing the number of seats).

    The problem with the latter is paradoxical, you are more likely to have an equal number of male and female elected with a fewer number of female candidates elected, this might not be practical but explains why we have 4/18 female MPs and something like 20/108 female MLAs. If we had 8 MLAs instead of 108 we could reach gender equality without changing the probability.

    This effectively increases the risk that none at all do. It’s called Simpson’s Paradox.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Under the title of What Women Want? the organisers want to discuss “real solutions to barriers to full participation in politics”.”

    There’s an old saying, if you want something in life hard enough you can usually achieve it.

    So the organisers look at the over-representation of men in politics and naturally assume that this is the result of “barriers” to women.

    It couldn’t possibly be that actually women aren’t interested in joining political parties and running for office could it?

    Women today are over-represented in the teaching and medical profession, two professions once denied to them through, you know, actual barriers. Women who wished to become doctors and teachers over-came those barriers (real legal barriers in many cases) and achieved what they wanted.

    Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Margaret Thatcher all sought political office in hugely misogyinist societies, they became leaders of their countries.

    But apparently the only reason more women aren’t represented in politics in Northern Ireland today is the “barriers” erected to keep them out.

    Nah, sorry, ain’t buying it.

  • FuturePhysicist

    You make a valid point, other than I am skeptical that women doctors do outnumber men. It’s more a case that Female nurses probably outnumber Male doctors, and Female doctors outnumber Male nurses, yet Male doctors will outnumber Female doctors and Female nurses will outnumber Male nurses. The vast majority of people probably don’t care if they have a female doctor and a male nurse, a similar contempt may exist for the female politician.

    Rather than barriers, we have deterrants … what is it about politics that puts women off. If we look at women in non-life science STEM professions, how can we tell if the problem is the perception of science as being male, or rather the perception of science and engineering as being mundane, boring or too difficult.

    Would more women come into engineering and the physical sciences with a greater profile of female scientists and engineers on the television, or would we have a more normal uptake that is gender blind if we dismiss a lot of stereotypes about the personality of the scientist and the engineer.

    Does it encourage women in Britian to take up engineering, when public perception says that engineering is only a trades level perception, that you don’t need a knowledge of physics or enginering to make a computer or a bridge or a pharmaceutical product. Does it encourage women in the US to take up mathematics, when US public perception says that mathematicans are only confined to relatively stress-free academic jobs and not for example being the power behind financial engineering? Does it encourage young women to go into science proffessions when there is an equally unenthusiastic attitude towards science as being difficult among young students, who struggle to link detail to discovery and vice versa? Or that medicine is benelovant and technology professions isn’t somehow?

    Only the women who really love STEM subjects suceed in them, and only the women who really love Politics will suceed in that. If we remove that organic reality from the arguement by artificially imposing quotas rather than ensuring awareness.

    And here’s another thing in Iran there is a greater than average ratio of female STEM proffessionals than male, but a very low number of female politicians, in Rwanda there is a greater than average ratio of female politicians than male ones, but a very low number of female STEM proffessionals. It might not be possible to balance everything.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Would more women come into engineering and the physical sciences with a greater profile of female scientists and engineers on the television”

    That would be a valid point but for the fact that every time a boffin or scientist of some description is portrayed on modern TV dramas they are invariably an attractive young female or almost as frequently a hip young black dude, anything rather than what most scientists actually are; somewhat untrendy white or Asian men.

    I recall the outrage among female scientists last year in Ireland when an advertising campaign aimed at getting women interested in science portrayed female scientists as hip and swinging gals in bubblegum pink and to-die-for stilettos. Not unnaturally actual Irish female scientists rather objected to this gratuitous nonsense wishing to maintain the rather high-brow nature of their profession of which they were naturally proud.

    If women want to get involved in something they will do so, hence the popularity of women’s sports or other fields in which a large number of women do actually have an interest.

    Politics in Northern Ireland must be one of the most pointless and utterly tedious occupations imaginable on the planet and any sensible woman observing it would much rather opt for a more productive job like dentistry or driving buses, professions whose barriers they knocked down with ease generations ago.

  • Harry Flashman

    I just noticed the representative of the International Union of Sex Workers taking part, a bit ironic given that Northern Ireland politicians in conjunction with feminists are currently engaged in creating barriers to that particular line of work for women.

  • Other

    The comments acknowledge that men are more likely to be politicians than women but without real consideration as to why that is. In the recent past political and public life was like the hair dye, just for men. Whilst progress has been made politics is still a predominately male environment. Female participation in some Norn Iron parties starts and ends with making the tea and sandwiches.

    I think the real problem is the longevity of politicial careers here. There are no party shake ups. The same male faces have been on election posters and the telly for decades. As people in all parties want to stay elected and earn the big bucks there is no room for new folk, a good number of women, to come through, except for a few token ones to attract the yoof.