More must be done in Northern Ireland to make society open for women and for minorities, argues Alexandra De La Torre, the co-ordinator for NICVA of the Next Chapter, which has the objective of strengthening women’s engagement in civic society and participation in society. Alexandra is interviewed in the latest Forward Together podcast.
“I think it is fundamental for civil society to create spaces where there is room for everyone,” she says. “Spaces that are inclusive for women, inclusive for minorities, inclusive for people with disabilities or sexual orientation. But it is also fundamental to put away the resources to access these opportunities. Civil society in Northern Ireland played a fundamental role in peace-building. I see at the moment the challenges that Brexit is bringing to Northern Ireland, which are going to be huge and civil society will have its own fundamental role to play in this.”
Alexandra adds: “The objectives of the Next Chapter include getting more women onto boards, to get them into more senior positions across society, and in the business sector as well, and in politics.”
While women were central to the peace-building role, the fear is that women’s role may now be less central. Alexandra explains: “What the Next Chapter is doing as a project is to try to empower women and bring these voices back to public life and [create] genuine spaces for women to participate in public life.”
Although many people would say that women hold very strong positions as leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland, Alexandra argues that far too many women are marginalised and there are too few women MLAs. “Thirty years on from the Good Friday Agreement we still don’t see how women are getting the benefit of that agreement, even though [their involvement] in civil society has been great. At this stage, women need more recognition…. Yes we have two women on the top of politics, but the question is, are these two women representative – are they representing all women? Or are they representing their male-orientated politics of their political parties? These are two very different things.”
Alexandra points out that many of the things most important for women are not delivered in Northern Ireland today. “We don’t have a child care strategy policy…. So it’s not enough. [We need] structural changes to our society that can assist women to have a stronger role in civic society, but can also actually strengthen civil society itself.
If you look at the statistics, basically wherever you go to the senior leadership positions in civil society organizations, the majority are held by women which is great. We also need women in all spaces of decision-making.”
The latest podcast interview is available here. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.
- Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
Paul Gosling is editor of ‘Lessons from the Troubles and an Unsettled Peace’, author of ‘A New Ireland’ and ‘The Fall of the Ethical Bank’ and co-author of ‘Abuse of Trust’, the story of a child abuse scandal in Leicestershire. He is engaged by the Holywell Trust charity on peace and reconciliation projects and is Parliamentary Assistant to Sinead McLaughlin MLA, the SDLP’s economy spokesperson.