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The Northern Ireland Assembly Women's Caucas - Gender Sensitive Assembly Manifesto & Action Plan

INTRODUCTION

This document sets out a Gender-sensitive Assembly Manifesto and Action Plan for the Caucus to present to the Assembly in line with Recommendation 16 of the 2015 Assembly and Executive Review Committee report on Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly in relation to identifying the key barriers and challenges to inform a gender action plan.

 

BACKGROUND

The 2015 Assembly and Executive Review Committee report on Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly included the following recommendation on adopting a Gender Sensitive Assembly model:

Recommendation 12:

The Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider adopting measures from local, national and international best practice to create a Gender Sensitive Northern Ireland Assembly. idem

In 2019, at the request of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women's Caucus,  the Assembly Research and Information Services undertook research on best practice identified around the world on how to make parliaments gender sensitive and therefore more accessible to women.

The briefing paper put forward the following definition for a Gender Sensitive Parliament:

“A Gender Sensitive Parliament is one that responds to the needs and interests of both men and women in its structures, operations, methods and its work. A Gender Sensitive Parliament is founded on the principle of gender equality – that is, both men and women have an equal right to participate on its structures and processes, without discrimination and recrimination. A gender equality policy provides direction for the setting of priorities and strategic, well targeted interventions to achieve them.”

The RaISe briefing paper also identified three elements essential to a Gender Sensitive Parliament, namely:

  • an environment that is accessible to both women and men;
  • processes that facilitate the participation of both women and men; and
  • actions that promote equality and participation.

It was also noted that a Gender Sensitive Parliament is also associated with Gender Sensitive political parties and politicians, which, for the benefit of this paper, will be identified as the fourth essential element.

This discussion paper for the Caucus has been drafted using local, national and international best practice, as per the above Assembly Executive and Review Committee report Recommendation 12, to set out priorities and strategic, well targeted interventions. (All best practice sources used are listed in Appendix A.)

It will focus on the needs and interests of current and future women Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly in relation to the structures, operations and methods of the Assembly and addressing any problems of discrimination and recrimination internally.

 

MANIFESTO and ACTION PLAN

The Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus recently commissioned research into good practice relating to Gender Sensitive Parliaments. After analysing the key barriers and challenges experienced by women politicians, the Caucus has agreed to put forward the following calls for action to the Assembly.

The Caucus respectfully requests that in line with Recommendation 13 of the 2015 Assembly and Executive Review Committee report on Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Assembly leadership strongly supports these initiatives, included below, designed to increase and support women in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

For the purpose of this Manifesto, a Gender Sensitive Assembly is defined asone that:

Responds to the needs and interests of both men and women in its structures, operations, methods and its work.

It is founded on the principle of gender equality – that is, both men and women have an equal right to participate in its structures and processes, without discrimination and recrimination.

A Gender Sensitive Assembly has four elements, namely: processes, actions, environment and political parties.

 

Element 1 - Processes that Facilitate the Participation of both Women and Men

  •  Introduce a formal mechanism by which the Caucus can bring forward issues of concern to the Assembly, in relation to its special remit for policies, legislation and budgets from a gender perspective;
  • Support the Caucus in leading on a review of voting mechanisms – including proxy voting - used in other legislatures as a means of facilitating family friendly sittings as per Recommendation 17 of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee report[1];
  • Support the Caucus to bring forward for debate the use of gender quota for elections as used in the Republic of Ireland since 2012 (Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Act 2012)
  • Support the Caucus to engage with current efforts and processes relating to the renewal of a Gender Strategy for Northern Ireland, as called for in the New Decade New Approach (2020) agreement. 
  • Support the Caucus to work with the Assembly Communication Office to ensure gender-specific media representation for women MLAs.

 

Element 2 - Actions that Promote Equality and Participation

  • Provide gender equality awareness in political representation training as part of Member development, and with Assembly staff;
  • Continue to support the delivery of training, mentoring and professional coaching support specific to the needs of women MLAs as part of the Caucus’ work programme as per Recommendation 19 of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee report;[2]
  • Support the Caucus regarding initiatives related to aspiring individual women politicians in collaboration with civil society as per Recommendation 3 of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee report;[3]
  • Support the Caucus to provide a young women’s caucus structure to support young women and girls sitting on the Northern Ireland Youth Assembly; and
  • Support the Caucus and the Assembly’s Communication Office to develop targeted engagement with the media, civil society, schools and other relevant stakeholders to profile the work of women MLAs.

 

Element 3 - An Environment that is Accessible to both Women and Men

  • Provide financial support for a photographic portrait of all current and former women MLAs to then be displayed in a prominent position within Stormont Parliament Buildings;
  • Encourage the participation of all MLAs in parliamentary events relating to International Women’s Day, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and other days of awareness and/or celebration relating to gender equality.
  • Commit to a yearly short-term audit of the language and behaviours used in the Assembly Chambers to identify any issue which might be considered harmful in relation to gender equality in participation;
  • Provide family rooms and rooms for breastfeeding or expressing milk for MLAs and Assembly staff; and
  • Provide leave for all MLAs who recently have become parents.

 

Element 4 - Gender-sensitive Political Parties and Politicians

Support the Caucus to work with individual parties as per Recommendation 3 of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee report.[4]

  • Targeted membership strategies to encourage more women to get involved and become members of their parties;
  • Initiatives and measures designed to increase women candidacies which are publicly supported by the party leadership.
  • Diversity awareness training, advice and support available to party members involved in the candidate selection process.
  • Initiatives designed to ensure inclusion of positive women role models when making political appointments; and
  • Gender-proofing of party internal media strategies to ensure greater visibility of their women politicians.

 

APPENDIX A – BEST PRACTICE SOURCES

  • Assembly and Executive Review Committee, Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly – NI 224 11-16, Northern Ireland Assembly (9 March 2015)
  • European Institute for Gender Equality, Gender-sensitive Parliaments Tool Kit
  • International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, A Framework for Developing Gender Policies for Political Parties, IIDEA (2016)
  • Interparliamentary Union, UK Gender-sensitive Parliament Audit 2018, UK Parliament (2018)
  • Potter, M., Briefing Paper 107/14  – Training and Support Programmes for Women in Politics, Research and Information Service – Northern Ireland Assembly (2014)
  • Potter. M., Job Sharing, Twinning and Zipping: Applications to Northern Ireland, Research and Information Service – Northern Ireland Assembly (2014)
  • Potter, M., Gender Sensitive Parliaments, Research and Information Service – Northern Ireland Assembly (2019)
  • The Next Chapter Project, Research and Evaluation Report - The Next Chapter Project, Politics Plus (2020)
  • University of Ulster and Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, An Investigation of Gender Equality Issues at the Executive Level of the Northern Ireland Public Sector, University of Ulster (2016)


[1] “The Committee recommended that the Assembly should undertake a review of voting mechanisms used in other legislatures as a means of facilitating family friendly settings.”

[2] The Committee recommended that the Assembly should continue to develop and deliver training and capacity building programmes to assist female MLAs in carrying out their roles as elected public representatives.”

[3] The Committee recommended that political parties should strive to develop mentoring programmes for aspiring politicians both at local government and within the Assembly.”

[4] “The Committee recommended that political parties should strive to develop mentoring programmes for aspiring politicians both at local government and within the Assembly.”

 

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