Northern Ireland has some of the lowest levels of female participation in politics of anywhere in Western Europe. Anyone who read a copy of this morning’s morning the Belfast Telegraph can be in no doubt as to why.
The newspaper has dedicated a double page spread to commenting on and rating the appearances of female election candidates in lurid detail. It reads more like the salivating sexism of a teenage boy ranking girls at school, than a piece of journalism by senior writer Malachi O’Doherty.
Of the UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson the paper writes, “see how the lip gloss catches the glow off her cheeks. She’s a girly- girl, but is she an MP?”.
Of the Green Party’s Claire Bailey, Malachi O’Doherty leers like a lecherous creep, “the plunging neckline is a great idea.”
Whilst of Workers’ Party Gemma Weir is labelled, a “poster girl” and “a stunning raven-haired temptress with a come-hither smile.”
Meanwhile, one of the most talented politicians of our generation, Naomi Long, is branded with the belittling word handed out to any out spoken woman, “feisty”. We’re told that her choice of accessories makes her look like she’s just come from a ball. Actually, Belfast Telegraph, since you’re speculating, it’s more likely she’d just come from parliament. Where she fights for social justice and equality day in, day out.
That such an article could be published in a serious newspaper in the year 2015 is jaw dropping. No wonder so few women enter politics if one of our major newspapers insists on treating these talented, articulate women as if they were competing for the Rose of Tralee, rather than parliament.
A few weeks ago I blogged for Slugger O’Toole about how political parties need to do more to promote and encourage female candidates. However, articles like this one show that, sadly, this is just half the battle.
No woman should have to accept such demeaning comments as part of a political career. We should be able to enter politics knowing the focus will be on our policies, not our necklines.
Newspapers like the Belfast Telegraph have an ethical duty to treat women with respect. Today’s article is a failure of that duty and an utter embarrassment to the paper and serious political discourse in this country.
Siobhan Fenton is an election reporter at The Independent. She tweets at @SiobhanFenton
Update: Here is the audio of Malachi debating with Siobhan on BBC evening extra: