More local papers today. The Tyrone Constitution covered both West Tyrone and Fermanagh and South Tyrone, so Ciaran and I could smile at one another from adjacent pages. Here we are:
And the Fermanagh Herald noted that four out of five of the FST candidates are women, and asked us about it. The article ended with my little bit.
Here, by the way, are the full questions we were asked, and my responses:
It’s obviously a very positive thing to have four of our five candidates running in Fermanagh South Tyrone are women, and all but one of our MLSs are women. Do you think there is something in particular about FST that encourages women to engage with politics?
I’m not sure, but my experience as a woman candidate in FST has certainly been very positive, and the overwhelming response I’ve had from people has been both respectful and warm. I don’t know how much that is because I’m a woman and how much it’s because I represent the Green Party, but whichever it is, it makes this marathon series of elections a bit easier to cope with. I hope that the example of my experience as a candidate will help more of the many young women joining the Green Party to feel confident in standing themselves in future elections, in FST and elsewhere.
What challenges, in your experience, do women face in politics, compared to their male colleagues?
I think that the greatest barrier to women’s participation in politics is the false perception that there aren’t any barriers left. In this respect, having female party leaders can actually be a disadvantage to other women. Having one woman at the top of the pyramid doesn’t alter the status quo in the way that equal representation at every level would, and there’s also the danger of a Mrs-Thatcher-style drawbridge effect.
In the Green Party a few years ago we took the time to look in detail at the issue of women’s participation, listening to our members’ experiences and building a strategy to support and encourage women. It was that process which gave me the confidence finally to say yes to being a candidate. The strategy has been an enormous success, so much so that in the past two Assembly elections we have had equal gender balance, and in this Westminster election we are the only party to have more women candidates than we do men. That shows, I think, that the individual challenges, whether they are to do with practical matters, psychological barriers or limited perceptions, can be overcome with determination, respect and communication.
Finally, what advice would you have for young women and girls who would have political aspirations?
Firstly I’d say to anyone, whatever their gender, please don’t think of politics just as a career. That’s the attitude which lies behind so many of the problems we’ve seen coming out of both Stormont and Westminster. But if you care deeply about the wellbeing of your neighbours, if you want to put people first, if you want to protect the earth’s landscapes and inhabitants and make life better for the generations to come, then don’t worry about who you are, just do something about it. That something might be in party politics, if you find a party that shares your values and priorities, or it might be in campaign or action groups, large or small. Whoever you join up with, make sure that they show a genuine respect for all and a willingness to listen and to change. If a party or group doesn’t trust or understand its own women members, it’s unlikely to be able to work effectively for a better life for others. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you have to. And finally, value yourself, look after yourself, don’t be too hard on yourself, and you’ll be able to value, look after and forgive your friends and colleagues too.