Naomi Long MP said: “I welcome the Environment Minister’s interest in doing something to correct the current gender imbalance in politics, but introducing a quota on the number of female council candidates is not the way to address this problem.
“Setting candidate quotas sends out the wrong message: that women cannot get selected and elected by themselves and require help to do so. The whole notion for me is an anathema and I find it quite patronising.
“Whilst undoubtedly well intentioned, it risks demeaning the women who actually get elected under such a quota system in the eyes of their colleagues, the public and media as “token women”, when many of them would have been capable of getting there on merit regardless of their gender.
“I have worked in predominantly male environments throughout my life, both in civil engineering and in politics, and have had very positive experiences. What we need to do is firstly to encourage more women to see themselves in those roles and secondly to promote the opportunities that exist in non-traditional sectors, such as policing, politics, engineering, and so on. Thirdly, we need to give them the encouragement, confidence and the support to actually get involved. By increasing the number of women in those sectors we can start to change the culture, making the organisations more ‘female friendly’ which is crucially important to retention.
“In political parties, we need to see coherent action in word and deed to make the political environment more accessible to women and, for that matter, other under-represented groups.
“Quotas don’t change attitudes – it’s an act of will that is required. Those of us in positions of leadership within our parties have a responsibility to encourage as many women as possible get involved in politics and run for election. In Alliance, where equality and fairness goes to the core of what we do, we already have over 43% of Councillors who are female, and in some areas, they make up well over half if not all of the local team. They also frequently hold positions of significant responsibility within their council group, as should be the case. This is without quotas, but instead reflects a positive attitude to diversity amongst our membership.
“Until parties are willing to challenge sexist attitudes in their own organisation, the situation will not improve for women, quotas or no quotas. We’ll simply see, as we have when parties have tried this voluntarily, women selected to run in weaker areas to make up the numbers, rather than in areas where they are likely to gain seats, and no real culture change worth talking about in those organisations.”