Report on Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 09 March 2015

Committee: Assembly and Executive Review

Report-on-women-in-politics.pdf (12.41 mb)

Executive Summary

1. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly that was established to:

  • make a report to the Secretary of State, the Assembly and the Executive Committee, by no later than 1 May 2015, on the operation of Parts III and IV of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and
  • consider such other matters relating to the functioning of the Assembly or the Executive as may be referred to it by the Assembly.

2. On 24 June 2014, the Committee agreed the Terms of Reference for its Review of Women and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

3. As set out in the Terms of Reference, the Review considered evidence on Women and the Northern Ireland Assembly in order to:

  • Analyse the key challenges / barriers facing women in relation to entry into politics in Northern Ireland and in particular this Assembly;
  • Examine potential existing initiatives which would assist women in relation to entry into politics in this Assembly;
  • Examine what are the merits of ‘positive actions’ that have been successful within the United Kingdom and Ireland and within other jurisdictions, and to consider their potential impact in the context of Northern Ireland and in particular this Assembly; and
  • Provide recommendations / conclusions on i to iii above, including initiatives / mechanisms to enhance the role of women already active in the political arena in Northern Ireland and in particular this Assembly.

The Committee agreed that alternative electoral systems/models were outside the scope of this Review.

The Committee concluded that:

I. The under-representation of women in politics in Northern Ireland is a serious issue which must be addressed as matter of urgency.

II. The Assembly and political parties play a key role in encouraging women to seek and secure election to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

III. Civil society and the education sector have an important contribution to make in encouraging women to consider a career in politics.

IV. The Executive’s strategies and policies if designed, delivered and appropriately funded can enable women at all levels of society to balance their caring responsibilities with a career in politics.

V. The media plays an important role in informing society’s views about the work of female politicians and the contribution they make to political life in Northern Ireland.

The Committee considered, but could not agree on, the introduction of quotas and legislation in respect of financial penalties for political parties should they fail to meet an agreed gender quota.

Summary of Recommendations

Recommendations for Political Parties in Northern Ireland

1. The Committee recommended that political parties should consider developing targeted membership strategies to encourage more women to get involved and become members of their parties.

2. The Committee recognised that high profile female MLAs can act as positive role models and recommended that political parties should take this into account when making political appointments in the Assembly.

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 initiatives designed to increase female candidacies are widely known and extensively promoted within a party, are given strong positive and public support by the party leadership and are communicated to supporters.

5. The Committee recommended that political parties review their internal media strategy to ensure greater visibility of female politicians.

6. The Committee recommended that, if not already provided, political parties should consider the introduction of diversity awareness training, advice and support available to party members involved in the candidate selection process.

7. The Committee recommended that political parties may wish to consider the introduction of measures to increase the number of female candidates being put forward for election. However, the Committee recognised that the decision on which, if any, measures to introduce remained a decision for the political parties.

8. The Committee recommended that political parties may wish to consider collecting and publishing anonymised diversity data on candidates.

9. The Committee recommended that if not already in place, political parties should develop policies relating to maternity and paternity leave for politicians and party staff.

10. The Committee recommended that political parties should develop procedures for dealing sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying if these are not already in place.

Recommendations for the Northern Ireland Assembly

11. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should continue to engage with young women and school girls to discover why they are not engaging in political life and what positive initiatives could be brought forward as a result.

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.

13. The Committee recommended that all initiatives designed to increase and support women in the Northern Ireland Assembly should be given strong support from the Assembly leadership.

14. Furthermore the Committee recommended that, where possible, the Assembly should consider how it can support political parties in implementing the recommendations from this Review.

15. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should establish a working group on a gender sensitive parliament. The working group should have equal membership of male and female MLAs.

16. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should conduct a gender survey across all Members to identify the key barriers and challenges and, based on the feedback received, develop a gender action plan with specific measures to help Members balance family life with their political career.

17. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should undertake a review of voting mechanisms used in other legislatures as a means of facilitating family friendly sittings.

18. The Committee recommended that following the next Assembly elections, the Assembly should carry out an anonymous survey of all candidates to identify the barriers and challenges they encountered.

19. 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 role as elected public representatives.

20. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider targeted engagement with the media, civil society and schools to profile the work of female MLAs.

21. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider hosting at least one annual event to highlight the work of female politicians. This could coincide with either International Women’s Day or during Parliamentary Week.

22. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should ensure, where possible, gender representation be considered when agreeing official delegations from the Assembly.

23. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should facilitate the creation of a women’s parliamentary caucus.

24. The Committee recommended that the Assembly through Assembly Research and Information Services should assist Committees undertake gender based analysis of public policies and budgets.

Recommendations for the Northern Ireland Executive

25. The Committee recommended that the Executive should ensure that its future childcare and gender equality strategies are designed, delivered and appropriately funded to enable women at all levels of society to balance their caring responsibilities with a career in politics.

26. The Committee recommended that the Executive should ensure improved information sharing, monitoring and accountability in the implementation of the new gender equality strategy across all departments to ensure that all strategic objectives are met within the agreed timescales and that lessons are learned from the implementation of the existing Gender Equality Strategy (2006-2016).

27. The Committee recommended that Executive Ministers should state their commitment to addressing gender inequality in Northern Ireland.

28. The Committee recommended that consideration be given to the implementation of gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting in Executive policies and legislation development.

29. The Committee recommended that the Executive should take steps to increase the diversity of public bodies and in particular introduce measures to address the gender imbalance in public appointments in Northern Ireland.

Introduction

1. On 10 September 2013 the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC) reviewed a number of papers commissioned from the Assembly’s Research and Information Service. This included the paper on ‘Women in the Northern Ireland Assembly’ (NIAR 570-13) which provided the background to women’s representation in politics, outlined the legislative frameworks relevant to women’s representation in the Northern Ireland Assembly and reviewed some mechanisms for increasing female representation.

2. The paper identified that the Northern Ireland Assembly has one of the lowest levels of female representation of devolved and national legislatures in the UK and Ireland. Dáil Éireann has less but has recently introduced quotas for women candidates in the next elections. The paper described how in a European context, with the exceptions of Italian regional legislatures, the Northern Ireland Assembly has the lowest levels of female representation of comparable devolved institutions in Western Europe.

3. On the 10 March 2014 the Northern Ireland Assembly debated the following motion relating to women in politics: “That this Assembly recognises the lack of female representation in politics and public life; further recognises the positive outcomes that result in tackling this inequality, when support and training programmes are put in place to encourage more female candidates to stand in elections; and calls for the introduction of a training and support programme to encourage more female candidates to stand for election.” The Motion was carried without division.

4. In March 2014 the Assembly’s Research and Information Service provided an updated paper for the Assembly and Executive Review Committee in the context of the Committee’s consideration of topics for review. At its meeting of 8 April 2014 the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC) agreed the next topic for consideration would be ‘Women and Politics in the Northern Ireland Assembly’.

5. At the Committee meeting of 24 June 2014, the Assembly’s Research and Information Service presented a paper entitled ‘Who Runs Northern Ireland? A Summary of Statistics Relating to Gender and Power’ which provided statistics on gender representation in decision-making positions in Northern Ireland. At the same meeting Professor Yvonne Galligan, Director of the Centre of Advancement of Women into Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, gave evidence to the Committee on models of good practice in other legislatures and how these might be adopted in the Northern Ireland Assembly. A copy of the Minutes of Evidence for this evidence session can be found in Appendix 2.

6. On 24 June 2014, the Committee agreed the terms of reference for its ‘Review of Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly’. The terms of reference and the Committee’s approach to the Review are set out in the next section of this Report.

The Committee’s Approach to the Review

7. The Committee agreed the terms of reference of this Review on 24 June 2014 as follows:

i. Analyse the key challenges / barriers facing women in relation to entry into politics in Northern Ireland and in particular this Assembly

ii. Examine potential existing initiatives which would assist women in relation to entry into politics in this Assembly

iii. Examine what are the merits of ‘positive actions’ that have been successful within the United Kingdom and Ireland and within other jurisdictions, and to consider their potential impact in the context of Northern Ireland and in particular this Assembly

iv. Provide recommendations / conclusions on i to iii above, including initiatives / mechanisms to enhance the role of women already active in the political arena in Northern Ireland and in particular this Assembly

8. The Committee agreed that alternative electoral systems / models were outside of the scope of the Review.

9. In its approach to this Review the Committee agreed a number of methods in which to gather the evidence on this issue. This included Assembly Research and Information Service, expert witnesses, a call for evidence and exploration of the initiatives adopted by other legislatures to increase women’s participation in politics.

10. In response to its ‘Call for Evidence’ the Committee received twenty submissions from a variety of stakeholders ranging from the women’s and youth sector, equality organisations, academics, trade unions and political parties.

11. The Committee heard oral evidence from women’s groups, a senior academic from Queen’s University Belfast and the former Deputy Speaker to the Assembly. Copies of the Minutes of Evidence for these evidence sessions can be found in Appendix 2.

12. The Committee commissioned and considered a series of research papers from Assembly Research and Information Service on a number of issues including: women in the Assembly; women in local councils and in the 2014 local elections in NI; the use of political quotas; training and support programmes for women in politics; women and public appointments in Northern Ireland; the applicability of job sharing, twinning and zipping mechanisms in Northern Ireland; and legislation by Dáil Éireann which provides for the introduction of financial penalties should parties fail to meet an agreed gender quota. The Committee also commissioned research on the representation of women in politics in Sweden and the sittings and voting times in Sweden, Ireland, the UK and the NI Assembly. Copies of the seventeen research papers commissioned by the Committee can be found Appendix 5.

13. In June and September 2014, the Committee undertook two study visits to Wales and Iceland to explore models of good practice that aim to increase the number of women in politics. Copy of the blogs on the visits can be found here: http://blog.niassembly.gov.uk/2014/06/committee-visits-wales-to-explore.html A copy of both reports can be found at Appendix 4.

14. Finally the Committee held an Inquiry stakeholder event on 23 October 2014 in Parliament Buildings. Over sixty stakeholders attended the roundtable which was opened by the two Junior Ministers from OFMdFM. Each of the roundtables was chaired by Members of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee and the Chairperson of the OFMdFM Committee. The gender spokesperson from each of the five large political parties closed the event with their own personal perspective. A copy of the programme for this event can be found in Appendix 4 and the Minutes of Evidence can be found in Appendix 2.

Committee Scrutiny

Existing Initiatives by the Northern Ireland Assembly

15. Information was gathered on what the Assembly has being doing in order to address gender inequalities within the Assembly Secretariat. The Committee was advised that in June 2013, at the request of the Clerk/Chief Executive, a group of senior staff (male and female) met to discuss how the Secretariat might examine the existence of any barriers, whether perceived or actual, in relation to gender within the Northern Ireland Assembly Secretariat and to consider what actions might be necessary.

16. Following this meeting Directors were asked to nominate senior members of staff to form a Gender Action Plan Steering Group. The Gender Action Plan Steering Group is currently working on the development of a Gender Action Plan for the Assembly Secretariat.

17. The Committee also received correspondence from the then Speaker to the Assembly on 19 May 2014 in which he re-stated his desire to see a greater number of women elected to the Assembly in future. The former Speaker indicated that “this is an area where the Assembly needed to see improvement in future elections and I therefore think the Committee’s initiative on this subject could be very significant”. The former Speaker drew the Committee’s attention to his work in building links with the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Dame Rosemary Butler, who spearheaded the ‘Women in Public Life’ initiative in the Welsh Assembly. In a letter to the Committee dated 10 February 2015, the current Speaker expressed his commitment to continue to this work. Correspondence from the former and current Speakers of the Northern Ireland Assembly can be found in Appendix 4.

18. Information was gathered on the range of initiatives and programmes currently being undertaken by the Assembly which are focused on engaging with young women and supporting and promoting the female Members of the Assembly. These included initiatives provided through the Assembly’s Outreach and Engagement unit and Politics Plus. Details of these initiatives can be found in Appendix 4.

19. The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Engagement and Outreach Unit has focused on engaging with women through its business, community and parliamentary outreach initiatives. This work has involved facilitating the Assembly’s involvement in the Commonwealth Parliamentarians (CWP) Group.

20. The Engagement and Outreach Unit, through its business areas Assembly Community Connect (ACC) and the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust (NIABT), has hosted and attended a number of events specifically targeting women’s groups to inform them about how they can get involved with the Assembly, the political process and political life. Additionally, Assembly Community Connect has developed an active contact database of over 250 women’s groups from across Northern Ireland that it engages with regularly to promote training opportunities and events which encourage greater representation of women in politics.

21. The Assembly also provides funding to the organisation ‘Politics Plus’ to provide a range of programmes for members of the Assembly. One of the strategic aims of this organisation is to strengthen the role of women in political and public life. Politics Plus has previously facilitated a “Women in Politics” programme which attracted female Assembly Members across all political parties. The programme was delivered through workshops, one-to-one sessions, study trips (including a study visit to Westminster) and stakeholder engagement events. In addition to this, Politics Plus also facilitated a number of additional training events which are open to all Members.

22. The Assembly currently provides Members with a childcare allowance to help meet the costs of childcare while a qualifying Member is at work. The provision for support for Members’ childcare is contained in a Determination of the Assembly which cannot be altered or amended by the Assembly Commission. In addition, all aspects of financial support for Members now fall to the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP).

All Party Group on UN Security Resolution 1325 – Women, Peace and Security Briefing

23. The Committee took evidence from the All Party Group on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 – Women Peace and Security on 27 May 2014. Ms Paula Bradley MLA is the Chairperson of the Assembly’s All-Party Group on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325: Women, Peace and Security and agreed to provide a briefing to the Committee on its work. Ms Bradley MLA was accompanied by Dr Ann Marie Gray, a member of the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP), which provides the secretariat support to the All-Party Group. A copy of the Minutes of Evidence for this evidence session can be found in Appendix 2.

24. Ms Bradley MLA provided an overview of the All Party Group’s engagement in a recent Westminster Inquiry on the situation of women in Northern Ireland. Ms Bradley MLA indicated that evidence received as part of the Westminster Inquiry highlighted that there are problems in our local communities, and women’s voices are being suppressed. Ms Bradley described the role of women in our communities prior to the Belfast Agreement and stated that as a society we have taken a backward step on the role of women since then.

25. This view was echoed by Dr Gray who stated that the evidence received indicated how in the past women in local communities would have had greater control over projects and budgets but that this is no longer the case in some communities.

26. The All Party Group made a number of recommendations including:

  • The need for the youth and education sectors to educate young people on politics and its contribution to society;
  • The need to encourage more women to seek election at the local government level which could make a difference to representation at the Assembly;
  • Greater promotion of existing female politicians as role models and to ensure they are visible in the media;
  • Ensuring that women in rural areas have the support required to play their role in local government; and
  • The need to develop and implement fundamental social policies (on issues such as childcare and transport) that would help women into politics and into the labour market.

Committee Visit to Wales

27. In March 2014 the Committee considered an Assembly Research paper which advised that 42% of Members in the National Assembly for Wales were women. Furthermore, the Committee noted that the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly had instigated a specific in initiative to encourage more women into public life which included the establishment of a cross-party ‘Assembly Women in Democracy Caucus’.

28. From 4-5 June 2014, members of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee visited the National Assembly for Wales and took evidence from the Presiding Officer, women of the Assembly’s Cross Party Women’s Caucus, NGOs involved in the Initiatives and academics. Key issues discussed included:

  • The pathways into politics for women including through local councils, public appointments etc.;
  • Measures to increase awareness of politics among women and young girls;
  • The importance of networks such as the Assembly Women in Democracy Caucus;
  • The need for female role models in politics and senior management; and
  • Measures which the political parties could take to increase the number of women engaged in political life – including the use of quotas, twinning and zipping, additional financial resources and greater engagement with community activists.

Copy of the blog on the visits can be found here: http://blog.niassembly.gov.uk/2014/06/committee-visits-wales-to-explore.html

A copy of the report on the Committee’s visit can be found at Appendix 4.

Professor Yvonne Galligan – Centre for Advancement for Women in Politics, QUB

29. On 24 June 2014 Professor Yvonne Galligan from the Centre for Advancement for Women in Politics at Queen’s University Belfast provided a briefing on models of good practice in other legislatures and how these could be adopted into the Northern Ireland Assembly. A copy of the Minutes of Evidence for this evidence session can be found in Appendix 2.

30. Professor Galligan highlighted the marked gender imbalance in politics in Northern Ireland. Professor Galligan stressed how political parties and the Assembly are in a position to take creative steps to support and facilitate women’s access to and participation in the working of the Assembly, as well as in public and political life more generally. In response to a query from a Member, Professor Galligan agreed that “The quota strategy opens a space for the culture and the structural obstacles to be removed, and for the culture to open up, which means that women get the opportunity to run that they would not necessarily have had before”

31. Professor Galligan raised a number of questions and recommendations relating to the Assembly’s status as a gender sensitive institution. These included the need to:

  • Develop a gender action plan;
  • Conduct a gender audit to identify problems and issues about women’s participation in the Assembly;
  • Review the Assembly’s policies and procedures in relation to issues related to gender equality and if necessary develop policies to address gaps; and
  • Explore and facilitate gender-mainstreaming across all Committee business.

Committee Visit to Iceland

32. In June 2014 the Committee agreed to visit agreed to visit one of the four Nordic countries – Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden - who have consistently held the highest positions in the Global Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum. The Committee had originally intended to visit Sweden but due to the timing of the Swedish elections it was agreed that the Committee would visit Iceland.

33. In the Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum, Iceland was ranked first for the past 5 years with 40% of parliamentary seats held by women. The Icelandic Government has taken systematic steps to introduce and promote gender equality in all areas of society. Iceland has had special legislation introduced to ensure equality between women and men and their equality status in all respects since 1976.

34. Iceland has a strong record on women in ministerial level positions (one-third of current Ministers) and at a local level (40% of council members since the 2010 municipal elections).

35. Political parties in Iceland have voluntary party quotas and women elected in the 2013 elections hold 39.7% of parliamentary seats (42.9% in 2009). In order to promote gender equality, the Government has run a four year Gender Action Programme. The programme includes a detailed plan of action and an estimate of the funding needed for individual projects on equality issues.

36. The Committee visited Iceland from 24-26 September 2014. During the visit Members met with the Minister responsible for gender equality, the Chairperson and Members of the Committee with responsibility for overseeing the delivery of the gender equality programme. During the visit AERC Members also met with the women’s sector and academics. The following were the key lessons learned from the visit:

Positive external factors can lead to an increase in women becoming involved in politics such as:

  • gender budgeting can ensure resources are allocated to areas that would support an increase of women in decision making roles;
  • the availability of affordable, flexible and quality childcare; and
  • the introduction of flexible maternity / paternity leave. Parental leave in Iceland is 3 months for mothers, 3 months for fathers and a further 3 months to be taken up by either mother or father
  • Political parties need to recognise that they have an important role to play in supporting and sustaining women in political life;
  • Political parties and the legislative Assembly need to consider the workload and time required to complete the duties of a political representative and in particular recognise the challenges faced by women who live in rural areas;
  • Political parties need to build relationships with the women’s sector in order to attract women into politics;
  • The women’s sector should be provided with the necessary resources;
  • Political parties and the legislative assembly should encourage a woman’s network;
  • A gender action plan should be established at local government and within the national assembly;
  • Gender stereotyping should be addressed from early school age; and
  • Young people need to be encouraged to consider a career in politics.
  • The introduction of positive actions by political parties to increase female representation – Parties vary on the methods used – for example all women shortlists, voluntary quotas etc - but they all hold the same aims and vision in addressing gender equality in politics
  • Introduction of quotas in public appointments - Iceland passed a quota law in 2010 (40% from each sex by 2013) applicable to publicly owned and publicly limited companies with more than 50 employees

A Copy of the blog on this visit can be found here: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/committees/assembly-and-executive-review/reviews/women-in-politics-and-the-northern-ireland-assembly

A full copy of the Committee’s report on the visit to Iceland can be found at Appendix 4

Women’s Resource and Development Agency

37. On 16 September 2014 the Committee took evidence from Ms Anne McVicker, Director of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA). Ms McVicker was accompanied by the following members of WRDA Ms Lynn Carvill, Chief Executive of Women’sTEC, and Ms Annie Campbell, Director of Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland. A copy of the Minutes of Evidence for this evidence session can be found in Appendix 2.

38. WRDA provided evidence on the barriers and challenges faced by women in Northern Ireland. The following key barriers were highlighted:

  • The lack of affordable and accessible childcare in Northern Ireland;
  • Society’s perception of women as carers which leads to women putting their careers on hold to look after children;
  • The adversarial culture of politics in Northern Ireland;
  • A lack of confidence among women with a lack of female role models in political life; and
  • Continuing employment discrimination.

39. In its briefing to the Committee the WRDA made a number of recommendations including the need for:

  • A review of facilities, working conditions and hours of sittings including consideration of job sharing;
  • Provision of mentoring programmes, skills, training and funding for women candidates;
  • Reserved seats for women or the introduction of gender quotas;
  • More female role models in political life;
  • The Programme for Government to include a range of measurable actions; and
  • Men who champion women’s issues.

Ms. Jane Morrice – Former MLA and Deputy Speaker, Northern Ireland Assembly

40. Ms Jane Morrice is a former MLA (June 1998-April 2003) and Deputy Speaker (February 2000-April 2003) of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee invited Ms Morrice on 7 October 2014 to brief the Committee on her experience of the barriers and challenges facing female politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly. A copy of the Minutes of Evidence from this evidence session can be found in Appendix 2.

41. With regards to the psychological barriers Ms Morrice spoke of her own personal experience as an MLA and in particular of “the incessant attempts to demean, humiliate and treat with disdain. Lots of people remember it. Someone just mentioned to me on the way in how we were treated as female Assembly Members. However, interestingly enough, we were often told that it was not discrimination at all — that all politicians treated each other that way, so it was not discrimination. Daily, I was reminded, “This is politics, my dear”. I have to say that I did not like it.”

42. Ms Morrice highlighted the lack of confidence among women – and she particularly identified older women who do not believe their own self-worth.

43. Ms Morrice argued that the individual psychological barriers are harder to overcome compared to the institutional barriers which are simpler to explain and easier to address.

44. Ms Morrice also spoke about the subjective media coverage of female politicians which focused on their appearance the role of the media. Ms Morrice contended that “most of the men in the building would not be treated in the way that some of the media treat the women.”

45. Ms Morrice in her evidence argued that the Assembly and political parties should consider a number of actions which would lead to increasing women in politics which include:

  • the introduction of voluntary quotas;
  • an Assembly gender action plan; and
  • specific training for female MLAs, mentoring schemes for aspiring female politicians and capacity building.

Committee Call for Evidence

46. In July 2014 the Committee issued a Stakeholder ‘Call for Evidence’ paper as part of its Review on Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The paper contained 6 questions:

  • What challenges / barriers facing women in relation to entering politics?
  • What evidence could stakeholders provide on initiatives which demonstrate positive outcomes to encourage more women?
  • What policies should political parties have in place to increase women?
  • Political parties are asked to specify what policies and initiatives they have in place?
  • What ‘positive actions’ would you recommend?
  • What recommendations would you put forward to enhance the role of women already active in politics?

47. Information on the ‘Call for Evidence’ paper was issued through the local newspapers and letters were issued to key stakeholders who included academics, the women’s sector and political parties.

48. This action resulted in the Committee receiving twenty detailed responses from academics, women’s groups and organisations, political parties, trade unions, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Human Rights Commission for Northern Ireland. A copy of the submissions received can be found at Appendix 3.

49. A review of the ‘Call for Evidence’ responses identified a number of key issues including the need to:

  • Gender proof the institutional setting of the Assembly;
  • Increase the number of female MLAs to address the current gender imbalance;
  • Introduce measures which political parties could take to promote female politicians;
  • Address the bottleneck in the candidate selection process; and
  • Address the socio-cultural and psychological barriers which prevent women from entering into political life.

50. The Committee’s considerations of the key issues raised in the submissions are detailed in the ‘Committee Consideration of Key Barriers’ section below.

Committee Inquiry Roundtable Event

51. The Committee agreed to hold a roundtable event on 23 October 2014 in the Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings to engage AERC members and other politicians directly with key stakeholder organisations in Northern Ireland and beyond on the main issues arising from this Review.

52. The event was opened by the two Junior Ministers from OFMdFM Mr Jonathan Bell MLA and Ms Jennifer McCann MLA. In her speech, Minister McCann stated “Women now make up 52% of the population in the North. Therefore, it is only right and proper that women’s interests be represented in politics and all aspects of life.” Minister McCann spoke about the onus on political parties and women themselves to encourage and support more women in politics in Northern Ireland and stressed the need for “gender equality throughout all political parties, and that the barriers that prevent women from coming forward into political and civil life are removed.”

53. In his speech Minster Bell spoke about the importance of the AERC’s review of ‘Women in Politics and the Northern Ireland Assembly’. Minister Bell stated that “Institutional, systemic and individual barriers limit women’s influence in decision making structures in most walks of life, including economic and political institutions, trade unions, the media and religious bodies. It is incumbent on all of us to help remove those barriers and play our part in redressing the imbalance. We need to challenge the stereotyping that still exists. We need to create an environment in which women are empowered, enabled and, above all, valued for the important contribution that they make to public life in Northern Ireland.”

54. To set the context for the roundtable discussions four guest speakers were invited to present on the following themes noted below.

  • What kind of initiatives, including ‘positive actions’ should the NI Assembly consider? – Evelyn Collins CBE, Equality Commission for NI
  • What could Political Parties do to strengthen their policies on women and politics? - Fidelma Ashe, University of Ulster
  • What is the Government doing to encourage more women into politics and decision making? – Patricia Carey, OFMdFM
  • What did the Local Government Staff Commission for NI do for women in Local Councils? – Diana Stewart, Local Government Staff Commission NI.

55. After each presentation participants were invited to consider and prioritise the measures which the Assembly, political parties and the Executive should take to maintain and increase the number of women in politics in Northern Ireland.

56. The gender spokespersons from each of the five main political parties closed the event. The Members spoke about their own personal experience as women in the Northern Ireland Assembly, explained how they got into politics and some of the barriers they have had to overcome.

57. A summary of the key issues discussed at each of the roundtables was prepared for consideration by the Committee at its meeting of 4 November 2014. Below are a number of key recommendations highlighted at the event, these included:

  • The establishment of a statutory gender equality Committee within the Assembly;
  • The introduction of quotas and zipping measures by political parties;
  • The introduction of measures to increase the number of women candidates including the use of financial penalties;
  • The promotion of women in politics through events on International Women’s Day;
  • General agreement that the ‘Women in Local Councils: Making Difference’ initiative should be adopted by the Assembly;
  • A review of how the Assembly works to ensure a better work/life balance;
  • Political parties should be more proactive in making women more visible in the media on all issues; and
  • Greater monitoring and accountability for the implementation of the gender equality strategy across all departments.

58. A copy of the Minutes of Evidence from this event can be found in Appendix 2.

Committee Consideration of Key Barriers and Challenges

59. From the evidence received, written and oral, the key challenges/barriers faced by women seeking entry into political life could be mapped into four separate headings as illustrated below.

60. The following section of this Report reflects the Committee’s deliberations on the key barriers and challenges as noted in the submissions provided by key stakeholders under the ‘Call for Evidence’, including those provided by political parties.

Institutional Barriers

61. The adversarial environment of the Assembly was raised by numerous stakeholders as a key barrier which creates a negative perception of political life for many women.

62. As noted by the Women’s Forum NI in their submission “the behaviour of Assembly Members is frequently intimidating and creates a negative perception which makes women wary of putting their heads above the parapet.”

63. This view was echoed by the SDLP in their submission in which they noted that unlike other political systems “there are however additional challenges for women in Northern Ireland as it is set to an adversarial style of politics arranged along communal and conflict lines which can be intimidating and off putting.”

64. In its evidence to the Committee, the Women’s Resource and Development Agency stated “really the key issue is that the culture of politics is seen as problematic to many women. It is often male, often seen as aggressive and adversarial. Given the experience over the past years, it is felt that much of politics is about playing games. Many women simply do not like that and, consequently; they are more likely to get involved in community action and development rather than formal political life or related decision-making agencies.”

65. In its submission Sinn Féin noted that “at times the culture of the Assembly is very hostile to women and slow to deal with sexism and misogyny that women politicians have to endure on a regular basis.”

66. The anti-social hours of Assembly sittings, particularly when required to vote, was viewed by many stakeholders as an obstacle for aspiring female politicians – particularly those in rural areas who had to balance family life and/or caring responsibilities.

67. In its submission, the SDLP noted that “Northern Ireland currently has the lowest level of childcare provision in Britain. Political life often has inflexible, family unfriendly working hours and little or no access to affordable on-site childcare leads to a serious work/life imbalance.”

68. The submissions called on the Assembly to review its sitting times and meeting times to ensure they are family friendly. As Professor Galligan, QUB, noted in her submission “changes to parliamentary working times in order to accommodate the balancing of work and family responsibilities is a common reform in assemblies wishing to institute a more gender-sensitive approach.”

Political Barriers

69. All parties who provided evidence to the Committee were in agreement that more needed to be done by political parties to address the current gender imbalance in the Northern Ireland Assembly and to encourage more women into politics.

70. In its submission the UUP stated that the Party “has recognised the under representation of women within elected bodies and is actively supporting female members to increase their representation and encouraging more to put themselves forward for selection and election.”

71.Similarly the DUP in its written submission to the Committee recognised that “women are under-represented in all levels of government in proportion to demographics.”

72. The Alliance Party in its submission considered that the under-representation of women in politics is not down to the electorate “who appear to be as likely to elect female politicians as male ones. Therefore the issues lie with encouraging women to stand in the first instance.”

73. Sinn Féin in its submission stated that the party is “leading in terms of political parties but it has a way to go and the women in Sinn Féin and many of the men want to see continuous improvement in relation to the representation of women at all levels of the party.”

74. In its submission, the Training for Women Network (NI) noted “increasing the number of women representatives is key to advancing gender equality and makes women more visible. Seeing more women take up leadership roles can change voters perceptions about what is a ‘good candidate’ because they realise that women can be as effective as men in politics.”

75. In the written and oral evidence received by the Committee, it was overwhelmingly agreed that not enough women are being selected by their parties. There was also an acknowledgement, by witnesses and a number of Members of the Committee, that unlike their male counterparts most women wait until they are asked or approached, usually on several occasions, before making the decision to stand.

76. As noted by the Women’s Forum NI in its submission “political parties must be more pro-active in bringing women into the process. Although there has been some improvement, not enough women are being selected as candidates for their parties. Most women wait until they are asked or approached.”

77. The issue of candidate selection has been identified as one of the most important obstacles to women’s political participation. In its submission Women’sTec stated that “efforts by political parties to recruit and select women must be viewed as the single biggest barrier to women’s participation.”

78. Candidate selection was also considered a key barrier by a number of political parties. In its submission the Alliance Party stated that “the tendency to value a history of party political activity over other types of experience for selection is a problem.”

79. The SDLP in its submission highlighted that “the fact that few women are selected to run is borne out in research done by the Centre for the Advancement of Women in Politics who in their report ‘Gender and the Northern Ireland Local Elections 2014 found that of the 906 candidates, 222 (24.5%) were women.”

80. In its submission Sinn Féin considered that the “lack of quotas, or financial penalties for failing to elect a certain percentage of women to be one of the areas which mitigates against women entering politics.”

81. This view was echoed by NUS-USI in its submission when they noted “a potential lack of compulsory positive action by the state or by political parties to encourage more women to get involved in politics could also be a barrier.”

82. A number of submissions including that from Claire McGing, Maynooth University noted that women can also have less access to financial resources than men and can be deterred from entering politics due to the financial commitments required. A lack of financial resources can be a difficulty not alone with the cost of elections, but also with the financial burden of day to day campaigning.

83. As noted by the Equality Commission for NI in its submission “women can also have less access to financial resources than men and can be deterred from entering politics due to the financial commitments required.” This view was echoed in the SDLP submission which noted that “the financial strain of entering politics, a lack of resources and fundraising capabilities can be a big factor in deciding to run for election. The party considered that “political parties should provide dedicated campaign funds to assist candidates running.”

84. In her evidence to the Committee, Jane Morrice identified the need for “public pronunciation” by political leaders to ensure that all party members understood that the initiatives designed to increase the number of female representatives were supported from the top. This view was echoed by numerous stakeholders including the SDLP in its written submission which stated “ultimately parties need to ensure that all initiatives designed to increase women’s candidacies are widely known, extensively promoted and given strong support positive support from leaders and supporters.”

Socio-Economic Barriers

85. The DUP noted in its written submission the cultural and societal challenges facing women seeking to enter political life “politics is portrayed and often accepted by many in society as very much a male career choice with little or no encouragement given to women from an early age to participate in the political arena.”

86. This view was reflected in the submissions received by the Committee which indicated that women perceive themselves to have less support than men at grass-roots level as they don’t fit the profile of “white, middle-class male”.

87. The SDLP in its submission noted that “Northern Ireland political institutions and electoral functions impede women’s participation as it still retains a very traditional male dominated political culture.”

88. In his paper ‘Candidate Selection and the Representation of Women in Northern Ireland’, Neil Matthews, QUB, noted that “certainly in the context of the UK, Northern Ireland exhibits the most regressive attitudes to women’s formal political involvement and the substantial socio-cultural factors which exist in the region must not be understated.” Matthews noted that the findings from his evidence gathering process suggested that “women’s internalisation of certain gendered social norms, primarily their role as domestic carers, represents a hugely significant barrier to improving levels of female representation in Northern Ireland.”

89. The lack of affordable and flexible childcare in Northern Ireland was repeatedly raised as a significant barrier in the written and oral evidence received by the Committee. The Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform noted that the “lack of affordable, accessible and appropriate childcare restricts participation in public life. However these barriers can easily be overcome through appropriate positive actions which promote gender equality.”

90. The Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network which represents many women’s groups stated in its submission to the Committee “the lack of flexible, affordable childcare was stated by all as a barrier to participation in NI politics. Northern Irish culture our members felt dictates that women are the primary caregivers (so if there are two careers in a family, women tend to be the one to step back and pick up the family responsibilities).”

91. In their submissions Sinn Féin, Alliance Party, DUP and the Green Party also noted that many women are prevented from entering politics because of their caring responsibilities which means they do not even consider a career in public life. As the DUP noted in its submission “this in line with time commitments as an elected representative can be seen as overwhelming and in turn off putting for many women.”

92. Another key barrier identified in the evidence received was the lack of female role models and the poor profiling of female politicians by both parties and the Assembly. It was considered that much more work needed to be done to profile the work of existing female MLAs and thereby demystify the work of the Assembly for aspiring female politicians. As the Irish Congress of Trade Unions noted in its submission “if young women do not see women, and particularly young women, in Local Government and the Assembly in substantial numbers there is little to encourage them to enter political life.”

93. Professor Yvonne Galligan, QUB, in her submission to the Committee recommended “one way of stimulating women’s political ambitions is to profile female politicians as role models. This has found to be an effective stimulus to women’s greater interest in, and attachment to, politics. This strategy is particularly effective in the early stages of addressing the political gender imbalance.”

94. Sinn Féin also cited the lack of female role models, the under representation of women in the media, on boards and in public appointments as key barriers. The party indicated its support for a proactive approach to promoting women into positions of leadership including the use of “quotas for women on public boards.”

95. The Alliance Party in its submission considered that lessons could be learnt from other countries where women are more adequately represented not just in political life but where there is “greater representation for women in senior positions in a wider range of social and economic sectors.”

96. An Assembly Research paper commissioned by the Committee on ‘Women in Public Appointments in Northern Ireland’ (NIAR 570-13) highlighted the significant under-representation of females in public boards across Executive Departments. The paper noted that “a recent annual report (November 2014) on public appointments in Northern Ireland indicates that 34% of these are held by women. This is broken down as 35% of all public appointments and 22% of all chairs of public bodies.”

97. The need to address the significant under-representation of women in public appointments was highlighted by participants at the Committee Inquiry event who considered that “if women are more visible in public appointments this will filter into everything else.” Participants considered that the “public appointment process needs more public promotion and research in regards to encouraging women participation. Participants called for the criteria for public appointments to be reviewed to identify whether the process is biased against women.”

98. This view was supported by the Commissioner for Public Appointments NI in his report ‘Under-representation and lack of diversity in public appointments in Northern Ireland’ (January 2014) who noted that “even though more people might be encouraged to apply for board positions, the processes used to select them have been left unchanged and the same type of candidates as of old have [or at least in the public perception appear to have] an unfair advantage in competitions for board places. In either case [real or perceived disadvantage] the effect is negative, putting people off and creating scepticism about public appointments.” The Commissioner for Public Appointments NI regulates, monitors and reports on public appointments procedures.

99. In her evidence to the Committee, Jane Morrice also highlighted the need for political parties and the Assembly to do more to raise the profile of female politicians in the media. Ms Morrice noted that “we do not see as many female Assembly Members on the TV as we should. I do not know whether that is down to a party decision when it puts names forward or whether it is down to the women finding it difficult to offer themselves because of a fear that they will not toe the party line. I would be interested to know what parties do when it comes to putting women onto the TV as spokespeople.”

100. A number of submissions received by the Committee also pointed to the often subjective and inappropriate media coverage of female politicians. As noted by the Northern Ireland Women’s Forum in its submission “media coverage of women in politics is frequently biased. Inappropriate reference is made to their appearance, what they are wearing etc.”

101. This view was supported by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in its submission. It stated that “the media and the stereotypes it perpetrates can also constitute a challenge to those seeking election. Mainstream media is often prone to cultivating a negative stereotypical portrayal of women politicians, with a tendency to put them down and not focus on political achievement.”

Individual/Psychological Barriers

102. Professor Yvonne Galligan, QUB, in her submission to the Committee spoke about the “individual challenges’ facing women seeking to enter political life which ‘may have to do with personal sense of confidence in taking part in politics, with all of its attendant consequences for personal privacy, financial costs, time demands and family life.”

103. In its submission to the Committee, the Equality Commission NI drew on the conclusions of the recent Westminster Inquiry ‘Improving Parliament: Creating a Better and More Representative House’ by the All Party Parliamentary Group Women in Parliament (‘APPG Inquiry’) (2014).The Equality Commission noted that the “lack of confidence or low self-esteem has been shown to be major barriers to women putting themselves forward in political processes.”

104. In its submission the Training for Women Network (NI) suggested that steps should be taken to empower women. It considered that “in a supportive and positive learning environment women who take part in leadership programmes gain in self-confidence and in knowledge about their rights, which are necessary for them to decide to get involved in public life. Key to this is also the use of inspiring role models women can draw experience and confidence from.”

105. The UUP in its written submission considered that “some of the key challenges in increasing female representation include increasing the confidence and fine tuning the skill sets of potential candidates.”

106. The Belfast Feminist Network also called on the Assembly to address the lack of confidence in aspiring female politicians “to encourage more women to pursue a career in politics, the NI Assembly should participate in leadership development programmes from the community level and upwards to encourage women into community leadership positions and local councils, and consequently ensure there is a supply of women from all sectors of society represented in the NI Assembly.”

107. Numerous submissions to the Committee also called for the establishment of a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus as an example of good practice in supporting existing female politicians and encouraging aspiring female politicians to enter politics. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions highlighted the work of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament whose purpose is to increase the number of women parliamentarians in all parties and to encourage female candidates to get involved in public life and to discuss and highlight barriers to this.

Committee Consideration of Positive Actions

Creating a Gender Sensitive Parliament

108. A significant body of the written and oral evidence received by the Committee focused on how the Assembly should seek to learn and adopt from best practice in creating a gender sensitive parliament. Recommendations were made to consider adopting best practice from local, national and international models. Examples of good practice at a local and national level included the ‘Women in Local Councils: Making a Difference’ initiative and the Welsh Assembly’s ‘Women in Public Life’ initiative. The Committee also received evidence on a number of international models including the OSCE’s Six Step Action Plan, the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s comprehensive framework for creating Gender Sensitive Parliaments and the Swedish Riksdag’s 15-point Gender Action Plan. (Appendix 4)

109. During Committee deliberations on this matter at the Committee meeting of 25 November 2014 and 9 December 2014, a representative from Sinn Féin called for the establishment of a women’s caucus or an official gender committee to look at women’s issues and drive forward gender change within the Assembly. The Sinn Féin representative considered that this Caucus could promote the role of existing politicians through the organisation of an annual event such as International Women’s day and facilitate greater links with women’s caucuses in other jurisdictions.

110. This initiative was also supported by the SDLP in its submission who called on the Assembly “to develop a substantial cross party network of political women with membership made exclusive to women to focus on political and cultural difficulties facing women.”

111. The establishment of a cross party women’s caucus had been discussed during the Committee visit to the National Assembly of Wales which has already established an ‘Assembly Women in Democracy Caucus’.

112. Numerous submissions to the Committee also called for the establishment of a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus as an example of good practice in supporting existing female politicians and encouraging aspiring female politicians to enter politics. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions highlighted the work of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament whose purpose is to increase the number of women parliamentarians in all parties and to encourage female candidates to get involved in public life and to discuss and highlight barriers to this.

113. In their written submissions to the Committee Sinn Féin, Alliance Party and the UUP recommended that the Assembly listen to women politicians and those candidates who stood for election to the Assembly to identify what they considered the barriers and challenges to be.

114. Sinn Féin, SDLP and a number of other submissionsto the Committee also called for the development of a gender action plan to address the barriers and challenges identified.

115. Finally, it was considered by a number of stakeholders that as part of the commitment to create a gender sensitive parliament there could be scope for gender mainstreaming Committee business, so that outputs are gender sensitive. This view was supported by the SDLP in its written submission to the Committee which stated: “as a parliamentary institution the assembly needs to ensure the mainstreaming of gender equality through all parliamentary work.” Gender mainstreaming involves the incorporation of gender policies, programmes and practices and decision making so that at every stage of development and implementation, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, and appropriate action taken.

116. In its written submission and at the Committee meeting of 9 December 2014, Sinn Féin also supported the adoption of gender budgeting and indeed Professor Galligan in her submission to the Committee noted that there are lessons to be learned from the experience of gender budgeting in Scotland. Gender sensitive budgeting is an analysis of the expenditures specifically earmarked for women but also an analysis of the entire budget from a gender perspective to ensure they respond to the needs of both women and men.

Adversarial Environment

117. The Committee considered the significant number of submissions from stakeholders which recommended that the Assembly should take steps to address what they considered to be the adversarial culture prevalent in the Assembly.

118. At the Committee meeting of 25 November 2014, a representative from the DUP reminded the Committee that the Assembly was a political institution and that at some stage adversarial politics had to take place and “that the Chamber should not be stifled any more than it is.” The DUP representative stated that women were not inferior and were as capable as their male counterparts in dealing with this.

119. Sinn Féin considered that women may be able for the adversarial nature of politics in the Assembly but that they should not have to deal with it and that it is off-putting for many women. Sinn Féin accepted that although politics could be adversarial in nature they considered that when there was evidence of improper conduct this should be appropriately challenged by the Assembly and Speaker. As noted in its written submission, Sinn Féin “takes a very strong stand in challenging sexism and misogyny whether it is internal to the party or externally. Sinn Féin believe that there should be a zero tolerance approach to sexism in public life.”

120. The SDLP in their written submission considered that “gender equality should be included within the Assembly’s code of conduct and there should be zero tolerance of sexist comments/actions in the chamber or at committee meetings.”

121. This view was echoed by the Alliance Party who in its written submission stated that “Alliance believes that the conduct and procedures in the Assembly could be off-putting to women and could be reviewed.”

122. At the Committee meeting of 25 November 2014, representatives from the DUP and the Alliance Party also highlighted the problem of the media’s selective coverage of the work of the Assembly debates which focuses on the adversarial aspects as opposed to the good work which takes place in many debates and Committee meetings on a daily basis.

123. The Committee noted that the Assembly’s Committee on Standards and Privileges is currently undertaking a review of the Code of Conduct for Members of the NI Assembly. At the Committee meeting of 9 December 2014, the Committee agreed that it would write to the Committee on Standards and Privileges to seek information on whether gender was considered when defining the behaviour expected of Members in the new Code of Conduct.

124. The Committee noted the response from the Committee on Standards and Privileges at its meeting of 13 January 2015. In its response, the Committee on Standards and Privileges noted that it is currently reviewing the Assembly’s Code of Conduct. It noted that “the review is not yet complete but the Committee nonetheless expects the new Code to include aspirational principles of conduct in relation to Equality and Good Working Relations. The definition of these principles is likely to make specific reference to gender.”

Assembly Sitting Times

125. The Committee acknowledged that a number of stakeholders had called for the Assembly to review its sitting times to ensure a work-life balance for its members. The Committee considered a number of options for reviewing the sitting times and arrangements for voting at the Assembly during its meetings on 4 and 25 November 2014.

126. At its meeting of 4 November 2014, the Committee noted the sitting times of a number of other legislatures including the Swedish, Icelandic, Scottish and Irish national assemblies. The Committee also noted the work undertaken by the Assembly’s Committee on Procedures which had recommended no change to the existing sitting times in the Assembly.

127. The Committee also discussed the conclusions of an Inquiry by the Assembly’s Committee on Procedures into the ‘Introduction of Electronic Voting into the Northern Ireland Assembly Chamber’ (2007). The Report recommended that an electronic voting system should not be installed in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee on Procedures had reviewed its own report on the matter at its meeting of 24 June 2014 and concluded “Having considered information and cost options to introduce electronic voting in the Chamber, it was agreed not to propose any changes to the current system of voting. It was also agreed not to consider this issue again for the duration of the mandate.”

128. During deliberations at the Committee meeting of 25 November 2014, the representative of the UUP considered that there was merit in asking the Committee on Procedures to reconsider their decision and to reconsider the potential for implementing an electronic voting system in the Assembly.

129. During the meetings of 4 and 25 November 2014, family friendly provisions in relation to the arrangements for sitting times and voting times in the Swedish Riksdag and the Northern Ireland Assembly were discussed. The Committee heard that both Swedish and Scottish legislatures have allocated times for voting and considered that the introduction of a set time for voting particularly when there are multiple votes is an initiative that the Northern Ireland Assembly should consider.

130. During the meeting of 25 November 2014, the Committee also considered the deferred voting mechanism as used at Westminster as a possible initiative that the Assembly could introduce to facilitate family friendly sittings. A representative from the DUP who is also a sitting MP noted that the deferred voting mechanism is “useful device which is used regularly at Westminster.” Under the deferred voting mechanism, votes could be deferred until the next sitting day thereby eliminating the need for late sittings.

131. A representative from the Alliance Party also suggested that in the event of an opposition being established during the next mandate the Assembly should further explore whether the “pairing system” could adopted in the Assembly as it is currently used in Westminster. Pairing is a parliamentary practice whereby two members of parliament from opposing political parties may agree to abstain where one member is unable to vote, due to other commitments, illness, travel problems, etc.

Job Sharing

132. A number of submissions recommended that political parties and the Assembly should consider the introduction of job-sharing for MLAs. The Committee considered this concept at its meetings of 4 and 25 November 2014.

133. In its written submission to the Committee Sinn Féin indicated that it supports family friendly hours and would be open to looking at job sharing for elected representatives.

134. During Committee deliberations 25 November 2014, the Committee noted that job sharing is an excepted matter under Schedule 2 of the Northern Ireland Act and that previous attempts to introduce this in Scotland had not succeeded. A representative from Sinn Féin noted that job sharing is an attractive option for MLAs at all stages of their career and considered that the Committee should recommend that the Executive consider engaging with Westminster to allow legislation to be brought in.

135. The representative from the UUP expressed concern about how the concept of job-sharing would work in practice and expressed unease that it would be political parties and not the electorate who would be deciding who would represent them. The UUP representative indicated that further clarity would be required as to how this measure would work in practice in Northern Ireland.

Childcare Support

136. The Committee considered the recommendations from a number of stakeholders for on-site childcare facilities as a means of supporting members with childcare responsibilities. The Committee noted that the Assembly currently does provide some childcare support to its Members in the form of financial assistance. The UUP representative considered that this support should continue to be provided but considered that it would be worth reviewing the suitability of the current arrangements before recommending the introduction of onsite childcare facilities. Representatives from Sinn Féin and the DUP did highlight the need for suitable provisions including the provision of breastfeeding facilities for members who had to return to work early from their maternity leave. At its meeting of 17 February 2015 the Committee noted that, in September 2014, the Northern Ireland Assembly agreed to join the Public Health Agency’s ‘Breastfeeding welcome here’ scheme.

137. The SDLP in their submission stated that “the Assembly needs to develop member support systems in regards to adequate childcare provision, flexible working hours and skills training. Support systems are necessary to both male and female politicians and as such the assembly should implement such family friendly policies.”

Candidate Selection

138. A number of submissions encouraged political parties to make greater use of the provisions of the Sex Discrimination (Selection of Candidates) Act 2002 to ensure greater gender equality in the Northern Ireland Assembly. This Act amends the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976 to exempt the selection of election candidates from the provisions of the Order. This provision has been extended to 2030.

139. It was stressed that this piece of legislation would allow political parties to take special steps to ensure that more women are being put forward for election without resorting to the use of quotas by creating all women candidate shortlists. This could include using all women shortlists to fill vacant seats or at least guaranteeing a percentage of these seats for women. A number of stakeholders recommended that the Assembly also may have a role to play in encouraging parties to make use of those provisions.

140. In their written submissions to the Committee, the six political parties who responded to the Call for Evidence indicated their support and provided evidence of measures aimed at increasing the number of female candidates.

141. The DUP in its submission stated that “in the 2011 Assembly elections the DUP selected five constituencies that they believed had winnable seats and placed Women to run resulting in three extra Women being elected.”

142. Sinn Féin stated that it proactively approaches and encourages women to stand in local council, MLA, TD, MEP and for party positions. The party noted that its vice-president is a woman, its Chief Whip in the Assembly is a woman, its three Ministerial posts are held by women; and its Ard Rúnaí is a woman. The party further noted that 9 out of 29 MLAs are women; 1 out of 5 MPs are women; and that 3 out of the 4 MEP positions are held by women.

143. The UUP in its submission stated that they “have been actively supporting female members to increase their representation and encouraging more to put themselves forward for selection and election.”

144. In its written submission, the Alliance Party indicated that it has “made a proactive approach to encouraging women to stand.” The party has also established a women’s section to ensure that there is available support to women who wish to stand.

145. The SDLP in its submission stated that “The SDLP actively sought and targeted women to run for election in the 2014 local elections. Attention was particularly paid to areas where there were winnable seats. As a result 35% of the local election candidates were women and 40% of those elected for the SDLP are women.” Furthermore it was noted that the party’s constitution “encourages gender balance with Clause 19.8 directing each District Executive to take all practical steps to ensure a gender balance if there are two or more candidates.”

146. The Green Party (NI) in its submission to the Committee provided a copy of their new policy ‘The Women’s Involvement Strategy’ which aims to increase the involvement of women in the Green Party in Northern Ireland. The Strategy includes a range of measures including the provision of training and support and the adoption of a mixture of targets and quotas to support structural change.

147. During Committee deliberations at the meeting of 25 November 2014, a representative from the DUP recognised that unless steps are taken the Assembly will not succeed in increasing female representation.

148. The representative from the Alliance Party considered that if political parties cannot be persuaded to change their attitude and to accept some form of compulsion in respect of candidate selection then the Assembly will not succeed in increasing female representation, “there will still be male dominated parties largely choosing men”. The Alliance Party representative suggested that the Committee should look at cross-party recommendations to address the barriers facing women at candidate selection.

149. The UUP representative recognised that all political parties “must do more to ensure that the Assembly better reflects society but that the issue of mandatory candidate selection is a party decision.”

150. A representative from Sinn Féin indicated that decisive action was required and that voluntary quotas would not succeed in increasing the number of women in the short-term and as a result the party would support the introduction of mandatory quotas.

151. The SDLP in its written submission considered that the “adoption of quota systems and all women candidate lists needs to be further assessed and developed in conjunction with positive discrimination to initially develop the amount of women running in local elections.”

152. In its submission Sinn Féin also put forward a number of additional proposals aimed at increasing the percentage of women selected including the use of list. A Sinn Féin representative spoke about the positive impact of using all men and all women lists at the party Ard Fheis (annual party conference) and Ard Chomhairle (National Executive).

153. The Alliance Party representative also expressed support for the use of all women shortlists as used in Iceland on a voluntary as a possible option for increasing the female representation in the Assembly.

154. A representative from the DUP also recognised that the use of all women shortlists by the Labour party in previous Westminster elections had contributed to a significant rise in the number of female MPs. A representative from the DUP noted that, in his personal experience, the use of all women shortlists had led to some concerns within the Labour party.

155. The Committee also considered the recent legislation introduced in the Republic of Ireland. Section 42 of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 provides for the financial punishment of political parties that do not have 30% of either sex standing as candidates in the next election, and 40% of either sex in any election after seven years from the first election.

156. In its submission to the Committee, the SDLP recognised “the use of “twinning” constituencies in Wales and Scotland as a useful and successful way of increasing the amount of women being selected to run for election.” Twinning is the practice of parties selecting candidates in constituencies in tandem, one female and one male. It is contingent on an appropriate party mechanism, such as centralised candidate selection or agreements between local party offices to twin.

157. At its meeting of 4 November 2014, the Committee had requested additional research on the applicability of twinning as a possible mechanism for increasing women’s participation in politics. The paper produced by the Assembly Research and Information Services (NIAR 759-14) noted that “Elections using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system in Northern Ireland could use ‘twinning’ by arranging candidate selection agreements between constituencies to pair male and female candidates. However it further noted that the success of the twinning as a mechanism to increase the number of women elected to a legislature is dependent on the female candidate in the ‘twinning’ arrangement standing in a winnable seat.”

Incumbency and filling of co-opted seats

158. The representative from the Alliance Party highlighted research that has shown that in the past the vast majority of incumbents are male. In particular, it was noted that between 2007 and 2011 there were 14 co-options in the Assembly, including into 3 seats previously held by women. All 14 vacancies were filled by co-opting men.

159. The representative from the Alliance Party suggested that parties may wish to look at how they fill co-opted seats to ensure greater female representation – for example filling a co-opted seat with a Member from the opposite sex.

Promotion of Female MLAs

160. During Committee deliberations on 25 November 2014, representatives from the Alliance Party and Sinn Féin also spoke about the need for political parties to consider how in the future they could collectively ensure that gender is taken into account when filling high profile positions, including that of Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

161. In its submission, the SDLP recognised “the potential of gender quotas and believe quotas could be further used to address gender imbalance in regards ministerial, committee chairpersons and departmental spokesperson appointments.”

162. The Alliance Party in its submission noted that the party has had and continues to have several high profile women in the Assembly including the first (and so far only) female Speaker.

163. In its submission Sinn Féin noted that its three Ministerial positions in the Executive are women and that a woman also holds the party chief whip position in the Assembly.

Female Representation in Public Appointments

164. At the meetings of 4 and 25 November 2014 and 9 December 2014, the Committee considered the issue of female representation in public boards. A number of written submissions received by the Committee under the ‘Call for Evidence’ stressed the lack of women holding public appointments in Northern Ireland.

165. Representatives from Sinn Féin and the UUP expressed support for the introduction of quotas in public boards and in particular the principle of a run-in period to achieve a 40% gender target on public boards. A representative from Sinn Féin also considered whether companies tendering for public contracts should adhere to gender quotas.

166. The SDLP in their its submission also considered that “all parties should seek to increase recognition at all levels of society the importance of gender-balanced representation in political and public decision making to ensure that qualified women are nominated to membership in public bodies and offices.”

Support and profiling the work of existing MLAs

167. At the Committee meeting of 25 November 2014, a DUP representative indicated support for a number of initiatives aimed at promoting the role of existing female politicians and outlined the work undertaken by the All Party group on UN Security Resolution 1325 to mark International Women’s Day.

168. The SDLP in its written submission considered that “political parties need to show a significant commitment to ending gender discrimination and to enhancing the role of women already active in politics.”

Engagement and Outreach to Encourage More Women into Politics

169. The Committee also considered work of the Assembly Engagement and Outreach unit in engaging the public in the work of the Assembly. The Committee expressed support for greater engagement with young women particularly in disadvantaged areas. The Committee agreed with the recommendation that political parties in the Assembly should put an emphasis on recruiting more women as either activists or at local government level.

170. During deliberations at the Committee meeting of 25 November 2014, the representative from the UUP also expressed support for a pathway into political life. Representatives from the DUP and the UUP also stressed the need to encourage more people, particularly young people to engage in all levels of the politics, from community activism right through to political activism before deciding on a career in political life.

171. In its written submission, the DUP noted that the party is “actively working within communities through their engagement with the Voluntary and Community sector. Female and male representatives participate regularly in events to promote female participation at all levels of government.”

172. As noted by the SDLP in its submission “political parties and the Assembly need to develop successful women shadowing and mentoring initiatives in order to encourage young women into engaging with politics.”

173. This view was supported by the Alliance Party in its written submission to the Committee which stated that “a form of mentoring scheme, within political parties, would be appropriate. However this must include at a local government level as well, because there is a need to ensure women progress through the party.”

Challenging Gender Stereotypes

174. The Committee considered the need for the Assembly to more actively engage with the media to profile the work undertaken by female MLAs to help demystify the work of Assembly and encourage other women to consider a career in politics. In its written submission, the DUP stated: “We believe that some work could be undertaken by the Assembly along with the media to identify specific issues were they can work together to tackle the gender stereotypes of politics and also women in leadership roles in general. This would assist in profiling women within the Assembly and would encourage other Women to see Politics as a serious career choice.”

175. This view was echoed by the SDLP in its submission which stated that “parties need to challenge negative gender stereotyping and promote positive shifts in culture through raising awareness of the challenges faced by women in politics and the positive contribution full equality will have on politics.” It considered that in order “to make a significant and lasting change to Northern Ireland political parties need to set down initiatives aimed at changing our cultural views on women at a political and societal level.”

176. The UUP in its written submission to the Committee also considered that “the media should be encouraged to highlight positive female role models.”

Capacity Building Programmes

177. A strong theme which emerged in the written and oral evidence received by the Committee was the need to provide leadership development programmes to support existing and aspiring female politicians. It was considered that this initiative could be undertaken in conjunction with civil society organisations that already provide a range of these programmes.

178. The DUP its written submission and at the Committee meetings of 25 November 2014 and 9 December 2014, recognised the valuable contribution of external training providers in encouraging women to consider a career in politics and in promoting the advancement of women in politics.

179. The UUP in its written submission recommended “the provision of training and support programmes to encourage and increase the skills and confidence of prospective female candidates.”

180. The UUP provided details of the Party’s “Dame Dehra Parker Programme which has successfully developed the skills and increased the confidence of female members.” However, the party “recognise that further work needs to be done and are committed to building on the good work that has already been done.”

181. The SDLP in its written submission considered that “parties should continue to provide proper training and support programmes for women in order to enhance the skills and confidence of both newly elected and veteran politicians.”

Conclusions and Recommendations

182. Northern Ireland has one of the lowest levels of female representation of devolved and national legislatures in the UK and Ireland. If placed in international legislatures, the Northern Ireland Assembly would rank 70th out of 189 countries in the world. The Committee concluded that the under representation of women in politics in Northern Ireland is a serious issue which must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

183. The Committee considered the evidence presented to the Committee which highlighted that the institutional environment of the Assembly and political fparties’ candidate selection process need to be reviewed to make it easier for women to both seek election to and succeed as a member of the NI Assembly.

184. The Committee concluded that the Assembly and political parties play a key role in encouraging women to seek and secure election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee considered a number of positive measures which could be introduced by political parties to increase the number of women both seeking and securing election to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

185. The Committee considered the evidence regarding the lack of engagement by young women in politics in Northern Ireland. The Committee concluded that civil society and the education sector have an important contribution to make in encouraging women to consider a career in politics.

186. The Committee recognised the cross-cutting factors which the evidence suggests have contributed to society’s perception of women as the primary caregivers. The Committee concluded that the Executive strategies if designed, delivered and appropriately funded can enable women at all levels of society to balance their caring responsibilities with a career in politics.

187. The Committee considered the numerous submissions in relation to the media’s portrayal of female politicians. The Committee concluded that the media plays an important role in informing society’s views about the work of female politicians and the contribution they make to political life in Northern Ireland.

Addressing Gender Imbalance within Political Parties

188. The Committee recognised that there is a need to encourage more women to get involved in politics and to join political parties to increase the number of female members from which potential candidates can be selected for Assembly and local elections. The Committee recommended that political parties should consider developing targeted membership strategies to encourage more women to get involved and become members of their parties (Recommendation 1).

189. The Committee considered a number of initiatives and programmes which have proved successful in addressing the political gender imbalance. This included work to profile female politicians as role models which has been found to be an effective stimulus to foster women’s interest and attachment to politics. The Committee recognised that high profile female MLAs can act as positive role models and recommended that political parties should take this into account when making political appointments in the Assembly. (Recommendation 2).

190. The Committee heard about mentoring programmes in other legislatures which have been successful in mobilising women in wider civil society to consider political careers, to join political parties and to develop the skills required for campaigning. The Committee recommended that political parties should strive to develop mentoring programmes for aspiring politicians both at local government and within the Assembly (Recommendation 3).

191. The Committee agreed with the evidence received which stressed the importance of strong party leadership and support for gender equality measures and initiatives introduced by political parties. The Committee recommended that initiatives designed to increase female candidacies are widely known and extensively promoted within a party, are given strong positive and public support by the party leadership and are communicated to supporters (Recommendation 4).

192. The Committee acknowledged the evidence which stressed the need to promote female party members, particularly those in high profile or senior positions, in the media in order to challenge the existing gender stereotypes. The Committee recommended that political parties review their internal media strategy to ensure greater visibility of female politicians (Recommendation 5).

193. On the issue of candidate selection, the Committee recommended that if not already provided, political parties should consider the introduction of diversity awareness training, advice and support available to party members involved in the candidate selection process (Recommendation 6).

194. The Committee acknowledged the evidence which called on political parties to address the bottleneck that exists in the candidate selection process. Assembly Research paper (NIAR 570-013) provided to the Committee noted that “the representation of women in politics in Northern Ireland has a direct association with candidate selection. An examination of the 2011 Assembly elections indicates that female candidates generally fared better than their male counterparts in terms of votes won, but the lower numbers elected were more reflective of lower numbers of candidates.” The Committee recommended that political parties may wish to consider the introduction of measures to increase the number of female candidates being put forward for election. However, the Committee recognised that the decision on which, if any, measures to introduce remained a decision for the political parties (Recommendation 7).

195. As part of its discussion the Committee considered a range of measures which political parties may wish to consider introducing. This included the introduction of quotas as a temporary measure to increase the number of female candidates. The Committee considered, but there was no consensus, on the introduction of mandatory quotas. Sinn Fein expressed its strong support for the introduction of quotas and recommended that consideration be given to the introduction of legislation similar to that introduced by Dáil Éireann in 2012 whereby political parties face financial penalties if they do not meet the target quota in the agreed timescale. Some Members of the Committee considered that the financial penalties could only be introduced once political parties had all signed up to the introduction of quotas on which there was no agreement at present.

196. The Committee did agree however that political parties may wish to consider the introduction of all women shortlists and twinning in selected constituencies. The Committee did recognise that the practice of twinning was contingent on an appropriate party mechanism, such as centralised candidate selection or agreements between local party offices to win. Twinning is the practice of parties selecting candidates in constituencies in tandem – for example a male candidate in one constituency and a female candidate in the other constituency.

197. The Committee agreed that political parties may wish to consider reviewing their strategies for filling co-opted seats. The Committee considered a range of options which parties could consider introducing to fill co-opted seats in future. These included the use of all-women shortlists; filling vacant seats with a member of the opposite sex; seats for women candidates only; and the zipping system so that at least every other co-opted seat is filled by a female candidate.

198. In consideration of this matter, the Committee did recognise that elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are an excepted matter under Schedule 2 of the NI Act 1998 and that the Committee had agreed that electoral systems/models would be outside the scope of this review when it agreed the Terms of Reference on 24 June 2014.

199. The Committee considered provisions, not yet in force, aimed at requiring political parties to collect and publish anonymized diversity data on candidates. The Committee noted that the Electoral Commission currently does not provide a gender breakdown of candidates, nor is there a requirement for the Commission to do so. The Committee recommended that political parties may wish to consider collecting and publishing anonymized diversity data on candidates. (Recommendation 8).

200. The Committee did consider but could not agree on job sharing in political office. A number of members of the Committee expressed concern about how this work in practice and the lack of evidence on job-sharing in politics from other jurisdictions. Sinn Fein expressed its support for this measure as a means of supporting women, particularly those who have or are about to have children, but also as a gender friendly measure for all MLAs.

201. The Committee recommended that if not already in place, political parties should develop policies relating to maternity and paternity leave for politicians and party staff (Recommendation 9).

202. The Committee recommended that political parties should develop procedures for dealing sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying if these are not already in place (Recommendation 10).

Creating a Gender Sensitive Parliament

203. There is a consensus that the Assembly has a key role to play in encouraging women to seek and continue a career in politics in Northern Ireland. The Committee recognises that the Assembly is currently undertaking a lot of positive work to engage and educate more young people and in particular young women on the work of the Assembly. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should continue to engage with young women and school girls to discover why they are not engaging in political life and what positive initiatives could be brought forward as a result (Recommendation 11).

204. Following its review of the evidence and visits to other legislatures, the Committee considers that there are a number of important positive initiatives which the Assembly could introduce to both encourage and support female politicians. The Committee believes that the Assembly could learn from the experience of other legislatures on how to create a gender sensitive parliament.

205. In particular the Committee looked at the work of the Local Government Staff Commission NI in conjunction with the Equality Commission NI in developing the ‘Women in Local Councils’ initiative. In its visit to the Welsh Assembly, the Committee also heard about the ‘Women in Public Life’ campaign which was introduced in 2012 by the Presiding Officer for the National Assembly for Wales, Dame Rosemary Butler, to encourage more women into public life for the 2016 elections. The Committee also considered the 15 point action plan on creating a gender sensitive parliament which was developed by the Swedish Riksdag. In light of the success of these initiatives, 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 (Recommendation 12).

206. As with political parties, the Committee recommended that all initiatives designed to increase and support women in the Northern Ireland Assembly should be given strong support from the Assembly leadership (Recommendation 13). Furthermore the Committee recommended that where possible, the Assembly should consider how it can support political parties in implementing the recommendations from this Review (Recommendation 14).

207. To facilitate this work the Committee recommended that the Assembly should establish a working group on a gender sensitive parliament. The working group should have equal membership of male and female MLAs. (Recommendation 15) The Committee also recommended that the Assembly should conduct a gender survey across all members to identify the key barriers and challenges and, based on the feedback received, develop a specific gender action plan with specific measures to help members balance family life with their political career (Recommendation 16).

208. In particular, the Committee recommended that the Assembly should undertake a review of voting mechanisms used in other legislatures as a means of facilitating family friendly sittings (Recommendation 17). The Committee considered that the Assembly could consider introducing allocated voting times as currently used in Scotland or the deferred voting mechanism as it currently operates in Westminster. In light of the recent Stormont House Agreement on the introduction of an opposition, the Committee also considered that this review of voting mechanisms should also take into account the ‘pairing system’ which operates in Westminster.

209. The Committee recognised that it was important to capture the experience of aspiring female politicians and therefore the Committee recommended that following the next Assembly elections, the Assembly should carry out an anonymous survey of all candidates to identify the barriers and challenges they encountered (Recommendation 18).

210. The Committee recognised that numerous submissions referred to the adversarial nature of the Assembly as being a key barrier to women seeking election to the Assembly. The Committee noted that a new Assembly Code of Conduct is expected shortly and it is anticipated that this new Code will include aspirational principles of conduct in relation to Equality and Good Working Relations and that the definition of these principles is likely to include gender.

211. The Committee considered the evidence on the importance of dedicated training programmes for both aspiring and existing female politicians. The Committee recognised the work being undertaken by Politics Plus in developing the ‘Women in Politics’ programme which is designed to equip female MLAs with the necessary skills and confidence to succeed in the Northern Ireland Assembly. 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 role as elected public representatives (Recommendation 19).

212. The Committee considered evidence which stressed the importance of profiling female politicians as role models. The Committee concluded that civil society and the education sector have an important contribution to make in encouraging women to consider a career in politics. The Committee also recognised that political parties and female politicians had a key role to play in this regard but the Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider targeted engagement with the media, civil society and schools to profile the work of female MLAs (Recommendation 20).

213. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider hosting at least one annual event to highlight the work of female politicians this could coincide with either International Women’s Day or during Parliamentary Week (Recommendation 21).

214. The Committee recommended that the Assembly should ensure, where possible, gender representation be considered when agreeing official delegations from the Assembly (Recommendation 22).

215. Based on the evidence received on the success of women’s caucuses and networks in other legislatures, the Committee also recommended that the Assembly should facilitate the creation of a women’s parliamentary caucus (Recommendation 23). The establishment of this caucus could facilitate the development of cross parliamentary networks with female politicians in other legislatures.

216. Finally, the Committee considered a number of measures which the Assembly could undertake to gender proof its scrutiny of all Executive legislation and policy. The Committee considered but had reservations about the introduction of gender analysis of witnesses appearing before Assembly committees. Representatives from the DUP, UUP and Alliance Party expressed concern about how this measure would work in practice and recognised that Executive departments and external stakeholders retain the right to appoint witnesses as they see fit. Sinn Féin and the SDLP expressed their strong support for this measure. Sinn Féin further considered that the failure to carry out gender analysis of witnesses leaves a gap in identifying gender inequalities.

217. The Committee also recommended that the Assembly through its Research and Information Service should assist Committees to undertake gender based analysis of public policies and budgets (Recommendation 24).

Addressing Gender Imbalance in Government Policy and Strategy

218. During the course of this Review, the Committee heard from numerous stakeholders that society’s perception of women as the primary carers and the lack of affordable and flexible childcare have led to many women putting their careers on hold and not consider a career in politics. Stakeholders stressed the need for the Executive to develop and implement fundamental social policies that would help women into politics and into the labour market.

219. The publication and implementation of a new gender equality strategy and a childcare strategy for Northern Ireland were considered pivotal to achieving this. Through its engagement with key stakeholders at its Inquiry event on 23 October 2014, the Committee heard about the need for the Executive to develop and publish a revised gender equality strategy by 2016. The Committee recommended that the Executive should ensure that its future childcare and gender equality strategies are designed, delivered and appropriately funded to enable women at all levels of society to balance their caring responsibilities with a career in politics (Recommendation 25).

220. Furthermore, the Committee recommended that the Executive should ensure improved information sharing, monitoring and accountability in the implementation of the new gender equality strategy across all departments to ensure that all strategic objectives are met within the agreed timescales and that lessons are learned from the implementation of the existing Gender Equality Strategy (2006-2016) (Recommendation 26). The Committee agreed that this would require leadership and public commitment from all Executive Ministers. The Committee recommended that Executive Ministers should state their commitment to addressing gender inequality in Northern Ireland (Recommendation 27).

221. The Committee recognised the cross-cutting factors which the evidence suggests have contributed to society’s perception of women as the primary caregivers. The Committee recommended that consideration be given to the implementation of gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting in Executive policies and legislation development provided for in the current Gender Equality Strategy (2006-2016) (Recommendation 28). The Committee recognised that gender mainstreaming has already been provided for in the current Gender Equality Strategy (2006-2016) but has not been implemented.

222. On the under-representation of women in public life, the Committee considered calls from stakeholders to remove the barriers facing women not just in politics but also in public appointments. Although “representation in public life/decision-making” is one of the key actions in the current Gender Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland (2006-2016) research figures presented to the Committee indicated that the Executive has some way to go to meet its strategic objective to achieve gender balance on all government appointed committees, boards and other relevant official bodies. The Committee recommended that the Executive should take steps to increase the diversity of public bodies and in particular introduce measures to address the gender imbalance in public appointments in Northern Ireland (Recommendation 29).

Glossary of Terms

Gender Audit

A “gender audit” is one aspect of what is referred to as “mainstreaming”- analysing mainstream public policy, including legislation, regulations, allocations, taxation and social projects, from the point of view of their effect on the status of women in a given society. Gender audits analyse the income and expenditures of the government from a gender perspective. The basic assumption of gender audits is that public policy impacts differently on men and women. The variance stems from the different roles of women and men in the family and from the lower economic status of women. The purpose of gender audits is to lead to changes in public policy that contribute to an increase in gender equality.

Gender Budgeting

 

Gender budgeting is part of the gender mainstreaming strategy. Gender budgeting focuses on a gender-based analysis and an equality-oriented evaluation of the distribution of resources. These resources are mainly money, time as well as paid and/or unpaid work. Gender budgeting seeks to achieve a gender-equal distribution of resources.

Gender

Disaggregated

Statistics

Gender Disaggregated statistics and data gathered and analysed on the basis of sex.

Gender Mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities - policy development, research, advocacy/ dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects.

Gender Proofing

Gender Proofing (GP) is the means by which it is ensured that all policies and practices within organisations have equally beneficial effects on men and women. It recognises that differences exist in men’s and women’s lives and therefore our needs, experiences and priorities are different.

Gender Sensitive

Gender sensitivity is understanding the socio-cultural factors underlying sex-based discrimination. The term also applies to attitudes that socialise girls and boys into certain behaviours or opportunities. Gender-sensitive planning uses specific methods and tools to provide women and girls more opportunities for their participation in the development process and to measure the impact of planned activities on women and men.

Gender Social Norms

Gender social norms are rules that society attributes to a particular sex about behaviour that reflects prevailing cultural values and are backed by sanctions – either formal or informal. They are about what a group deems to be good, proper, acceptable or bad.

Positive Action

The term ‘positive action’ refers to a number of methods designed to counteract the effects of past discrimination and to help abolish stereotyping.

Positive Measures

Positive measures can be policy designed to redress past discrimination against women and minority groups through measures to improve their political, economic and educational opportunities.

Twinning System

Select two districts according to geography and ‘winnability’ and then select a woman as the candidate for one of the constituencies and a man as the candidate for the other.

Voluntary Quotas

This involve a party committing itself to nominating a

certain percentage of female candidates for electoral lists.

Zipping System

According to this system women and men are alternated on the electoral ballots.

 

Download the full report.

Find MLAs

tools-map.png

Locate MLAs

Search

News and Media Centre

tools-media.png

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

tools-social.png

Keep up-to-date with the Assembly

Find out more