Alliance Party MLA calls for quotas to get women into politics

Anna Lo also wants to see more representatives from ethnic minorities, people with a disability and people from the LGBT community

Anna Lo MLA: “measures such as quotas do not have to be forever, they can be temporary until such times as a critical mass of women elected as been achieved.”  Photograph: Frank Miller

Anna Lo MLA: “measures such as quotas do not have to be forever, they can be temporary until such times as a critical mass of women elected as been achieved.” Photograph: Frank Miller

Sun, Jun 29, 2014, 21:15

Gender quotas have worked to increase the number of women getting elected in politics and should be looked at along with other measures to encourage women to become candidates, Northern Ireland MLA, Anna Lo of the Alliance Party told a Sinn Féin summer school at the weekend.

Ms Lo, who was the first China-born person elected to a legislature in Europe when she was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007, said quotas or other affirmative action steps were not popular and were often dismissed as unfair or demeaning to women.

“There is much we can learn from international examples of where the use of quotas and other measures has been successful,” she said. “We should learn from the examples of others, see what has worked, what has not and what alternative options are available.”

She added: “It is important to remember that measures such as quotas do not have to be forever, they can be temporary until such times as a critical mass of women elected as been achieved.” Ms Lo said parties needed to look at their stance on gender issues.

One of 18 women elected out of 108 MLAs in 2007 and one of 22 women elected out of 108 MLAs in 2011, Ms Lo said only 17 per cent of candidates in 2011 were women. “It’s clear we not only have a problem getting women elected, we also have a problem getting women selected as candidates.”

During a debate on Women in Politics – Towards Equal Representation at the Sinn Féin summer school in Ballyvourney, Co Cork, chaired by Mary Lou McDonald, Ms Lo said parties should be more proactive in encouraging women to join and then to support them to become candidates.

“Where women are given the opportunity to stand, this must be done in a meaningful way and not be tokenistic, they should be given the chance to stand in areas where they have a fair chance of being elected,” she said. “It would be easy for parties to stand more women and place them in constituencies where there is little or no chance of success but this will do nothing to increase the under-representation of women in elected office.”

Ms Lo said the politics in Northern Ireland also needed to focus on practical issues to attract a wider pool of candidates as the tribalism and adversarial nature of politics turned off many women from becoming involved or engaged in politics.

When the next Assembly elections came in 2016, she would like to see not only more women elected but also more representatives from ethnic minorities, people with a disability and people from the LGBT community, to have a more representative government.

Michelle O’Donnell Keating, the co-founder of Women for Election, said research showed women politicians passed more bills, generated more income for their constituencies and on average, behaved more transparently than their male counterparts, putting more information on their websites.

Brigid Quilligan, the director of the Irish Traveller Movement, said there were 40,000 members of the Travelling Community but, bar one or two local public representatives and one person of Traveller heritage in the Dáil, there were very few involved in politics.

“Quotas is another dirty word that’s used by people who are privileged, people who object to quotas,” she said. “Travellers in Ireland don’t have that privilege to be so dismissive of quotas. We need quotas because if we don’t have quotas, there is very little chance of us getting into politics.”