Cochrane: I know so many brilliant women who hold back in their careers for fear of being cut down. It’s time to put those fears behind us and create a more progressive society for us all.

Continuing on with our series, Alliance party MLA, Judith Cochrane writes for us about her experiences in the Assembly

Northern Ireland has seen momentous change since the 1970s. Politically, socially and culturally, we have made huge strides over the past few decades, and have become a more progressive and inclusive society.

Women have certainly come a long way. I feel fortunate to have been raised and educated in an age where girls were encouraged to explore their potential, to be ambitious and to pursue their passions. I grew up with the confidence that I could do anything I put my mind toward, and throughout my life I have been inspired by powerful female role models. It was due to the example and encouragement of my colleague, Naomi Long MP, that I was willing to step forward and run for public office.

Having served as a local Councillor from 2005, I was elected to the Assembly in 2011. From my previous experience in the private sector, I knew that women often faced barriers to progression in the workplace and over the past ten years, I have seen firsthand how underrepresented women are in both politics and the public sector as a whole. Though women comprise half of our population, the vast majority of leadership positions — in businesses, universities, and government — are occupied by men. The numbers are certainly skewed in the Northern Ireland Assembly, where I serve with only 20 other women out of 108 members.

There are various reasons why women shy away from politics; I know, because I used to think the same way. Who wants to spend their time in petty arguments, trying to get one up on another party and making empty promises? All hot air and little actual work – we all could name a few politicians like this – many of whom are men. However, some female politicians also give the job a bad name by focusing on appearances and photo opportunities, and having little of substance to offer. Who would want to be tarred with that same old brush? 

Any politician worth their salt knows that it is about what you do, not what you promise to do. When I deliver results for my constituents, it transforms their perception of politicians.

I believe, therefore, that the media has a key role to play in encouraging more women into politics. Rather than choosing to run stories on female politicians whose photos will look good in print, we need to hear more stories about those women who are working hard for their communities. I, for one, try to do positive work every day – working with businesses, schools, community groups and older people to deliver real meaningful change in their day to day lives – but how much coverage is this given? Instead, the public is continually bombarded with negative news about politicians and it’s therefore no surprise that women are not keen on entering the public forum.

I haven’t given up though, and I am hopeful that we can divert our focus away from the negative and superficial aspects of politics, and as a result we will see more female candidates in the next elections. We deserve a more diverse, representative government — not through quotas, but through attracting the very best and brightest Northern Ireland has to offer. I know so many brilliant women who hold back in their careers for fear of being cut down. It’s time to put those fears behind us and create a more progressive society for us all.

 

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  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst I can see that the way politics works here is a serious chill factor for some women and men in NI , I think the key reasons women do not tend to rise in the ranks of political parties are structural and cultural. That and denial in most analysis of the problem (as above).

  • Brian O’Neill

    Can you expand? The Sdlp had a female leader. 40% of sdlp councillors are female. Arlene foster is tipped to be the next DUP leader. Mary lou is tipped as a future leader of sinn fein.

  • chrisjones2

    The Sdlp had a female leader.

    Who?

  • chrisjones2

    Mary lou is tipped as a future leader of sinn fein………by Mary Lou and her supporters. That means nothing

  • Granni Trixie

    Can you clarify Brian – are you suggesting that there is generally an even playing field for women in political parties or even that there is not a glass ceiling? Even visually you can see at a glance on websites the absence of women MLAs.

    You could also drill down to list the roles of men and women in parties (chairs etc) to see the distribution of power. Would also be interesting to know the gender impact on politics of professionalisation process of last decade or so. I seem to remember that In the mid 90s Rick Wilford researched and wrote about women and politics where he concluded that if you defined ‘politics’ broadly (ie including in voluntary/community sector ) then women are highly active – but which did not translate into power in political parties.

    I do conceed there has been improvements for women’s position in politics since then but I surmise that to quite an extent this is due to the lasting impact of awareness raising and competition from the Women’s Coalition.

  • mickfealty

    Now now, so ‘cynical’ for one so young?

  • Brian O’Neill

    I am just interested in your views as to why there is not more females in politics. Do you fancy writing a post on it for us? If yes can you email it to me at brian@sluggerotoole.com

  • chrisjones2

    Its more the word ‘leader’ than ‘female’.

  • chrisjones2

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-31763729

    A prime example. Though Jenny Palmer is not being persecuted because shes female – it is because shes female and honest while some others are anything but