All posts by Catherine Doyle

Reduction of numbers bill or reduction of women bill?

Stormont_Parliamentary_Building_01

It is one week before the assembly elections; candidates and their respective parties are making last minute moves to try and sway voters; that is one of the few things that they all have in common.

Well, there is one other thing that they have all agreed on, and that is the reduction of numbers bill. This has received cross community support.

In 2021 our MLAs will decrease in number from 108 to 90. This means that there will be five MLAs for each of the 18 constituencies instead of six.

It seems simple enough; my question is who is going to be the one unlucky person to be cut from each constituency.

Will the bill aggravate an existing problem?

In the devolved government of Northern Ireland only 23 out of the current 108 MLAs are women, so just under 21%.

In the assembly in five years from now (when eighteen politicians have to go) who is going to move aside or who is going to be pushed aside by their parties?

What is going to happen to the women in a government where there is already a gender-gap? Will they have space on a stage that is already taken up mostly by male players?

Caitriona Ruane (Sinn Féin) raised this question last year when the bill was being discussed.

She said: “What I would like to see is a much more representative House, with many more women in it. In bringing about the changes that we are bringing about, I am aware that reports have shown that there are potential dangers to women.

“We will come back here in 2021 worse than we are now, and where we are now is nothing short of disgraceful.”

If we are in a “disgraceful” state now, what will it be like when we have to find some politicians to cut?

Does the ‘M’ in MLA stand for man? Most of the parties are against applying quotas, so if this is not resolved by 2021 will Sinn Féin still think that the bill is a good idea?

Sinn Féin is one of the few parties that wants to implement quotas (along with the Greens).

Ms Ruane also said: “If we are really to change things, I argue that we need quotas. That is why I am going to argue here that I do not think that 2016 is the time to make the changes, because I do not want to see unrepresentativeness. It will only create even more difficulties down the line.”

Paula Bradley (DUP) told me that she had similar concerns. She said that she agrees that there needs to be a reduction of numbers, but had fears that women will be further under-represented in politics.

She said: “My greatest worry would be that it would penalise women, because we have found at election time it’s the women that lose out in the end.”

She acknowledged that there is already a small enough number of women in politics and the reduction of MLAs might “jeopardise” the gender further, but that it was “up to the parties” to “mitigate this” concern by “putting women in winnable seats.”

Not all women in politics share our concern. Baroness May Blood told me that she does not believe that this is: “a gender issue.”

Professor Monica McWilliams believes that the reduction of numbers does not have to impact women trying to get into politics: “if the parties adopted an affirmative action programme where they selected women to stand for safe seats.”

‘If’ being the operative word here.

Steven Agnew said that the Greens support the bill, but do share my “concerns about the impact on the number of female MLAs which is why [they] proposed there should be a minimum one third quota of female candidates for all political parties.”

Alliance wanted to see the bill in place for next week’s elections, instead of the next one.

Chris Lyttle (Alliance) personally proposed an amendment to the bill that would have seen the reduction in time for the upcoming elections, but the other parties blocked this proposal.

Mr Lyttle told me why he wanted to bring the change so early.

He said: “This would have saved approximately £11m over five years, which could have been reinvested in front-line public services in dire need of funding, for example health. The other parties blocked this proposal but I am still no clearer as to why it would be appropriate in 2021 but not 2016.”

He acknowledged that something has to be done to address the gender-gap, but does not believe that the bill will affect women.

He said: “I am proud to work with many talented women in the Alliance Party but I strongly agree that we need to do all we can to encourage more women to get involved in politics.”

He went on to say that “I don’t think the number of MLAs is a key factor in whether women decide to get involved in politics or are elected or not,” but said that he is not sure “what steps need to be taken to address the under-representation.”

I said at the beginning that the bill is something that our politicians have in common, because it received cross community support, but their opinions on whether the proposed change will affect women is another matter.

Everyone disagrees on whether the reduction will affect women, but what is clear is that there is a gender-gap in Northern Irish politics, and it will probably not change next week when the same old politicians are voted in as usual.

As for 2021, we will have to wait until five years’ time to see what parties will put women forward for winnable seats for an assembly made up of only 90 MLAs.

Stop the Traffik

Lord Morrow at the Stop the Traffik talk in Belfast.
Lord Morrow at the Stop the Traffik talk in Belfast.

Lord Maurice Morrow took part in a Stop the Traffik talk in the Great Hall at Queen’s University last night (23rd March 2016).

The free discussion was organised by Stop the Traffik Belfast. A Facebook message about the event said that their aim is to answer the question: how can we stop human trafficking?

However, Lord Morrow said that he does not think that this is actually possible.

He said: “I don’t believe that we can wipe it out.”

He went on to explain that what we can do is deal harshly with the traffickers.

“I genuinely don’t believe that any more than our forefathers who brought legislation to deal with murder, to deal with robberies; we still have those things, but now we have tougher legislation to deal with it,” he said.

Lord Morrow is part of the Assembly’s All Party Group on Human Trafficking.

He talked about his own surprise at hearing that trafficking actually occurs here.

He said: “To my shame, I would have been saying: (a few years ago) human trafficking in Northern Ireland, really?”

He went on to say that “Human trafficking does happen here in Northern Ireland, thankfully not in a scale as other countries, but unfortunately and sadly it does, but I believe that with better awareness around human trafficking we can curtail it.”

Lord Morrow also sponsored the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which makes Northern Ireland the only part of the UK where paying for sex is a criminal offence.

I asked him about the argument made by some sex workers that the bill drives sex work underground.

He said: “This is often used that we are driving it underground […] it is already underground as much as it can be and […] I don’t think we can drive it any further underground.”

Lord Morrow described trafficking as “modern day slavery” and said that it is up to those who are in politics who “have a duty and a responsibility” to try to stop the traffik.

Up Standing: Stories of courage from Northern Ireland

 

Up Standing tells the stories of ordinary people who stood up to violence, prejudice or sectarianism.

The film gives ten accounts of different acts of bravery from people living in Northern Ireland. It was produced as part of a Corrymeela community project and funded by the International Fund for Ireland.

Making films like this one creates an opportunity for untold stories to be voiced and acknowledges quiet peacemakers who have never been recognised for their own personal acts of bravery, kindness or peace-making.

The film is used by schools so it is appropriate that it begins by telling the story of a pupil travelling to school on a mixed bus.

A series of low-angled shots are shown in-between the aisles of a dark bus with a mixture of jump-cuts and hand-held camera movements.

Gillian (not her real name) witnessed an act of sexual violence against a boy as they travelled on the same bus.

The mise en scène creates a disconcerting effect with the framing exaggerating the narrowness of the aisles and lighting helps to warn viewers that they are going to hear something disturbing.

This contrasts hugely to the end of the story where softer lighting and longer shots are used to demonstrate how things on the bus got better after two schoolgirls stood up against sectarian bullying.

Gillian changes from a twelve year old who “knew [her] place” to someone who helped change the dynamics on the school bus forever. She describes her actions as “something that just bubbled up inside of me.”

Co-Director Paul Hutchinson said that they have made the film available for schools and some “show it,” but others are still “resisting” because of “a genuine fear.”

He said that some teachers believe that “this film is encouraging young people to take inappropriate risks.”

However, Gladys Ganiel (QUB) believes that part of what makes the stories so good is that these people did something when others failed to act.

She said: “After their examples work their way into the nooks and crannies of our consciousness, perhaps we will be reminded of what we have done and what we have failed to do.”

Mr Hutchinson is now working on another project that explores the trauma of not standing up and how people cope with that.

These stories are important ones to be shared in any post-conflict society, and a free copy of the DVD is available for educational purposes.

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