After recommendations from the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, with the Speaker’s Office, Politics Plus facilitated the establishment of the Speaker’s Reference Group on a Gender Sensitive Assembly in February 2016.
The five main parties: DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP and Alliance, as well as, the Green Party representing small parties and independents, were each represented with a Member on the Speaker’s Reference Group. Karen McKevitt, former SDLP MLA, was appointed as Chair, with Sandra Overend, UUP MLA, as Deputy Chair. Together, the group worked with Politics Plus and the Speaker’s Office, to lay the foundations for a Gender Sensitive Assembly.
Meeting on a weekly basis, the Speaker’s Reference Group and Politics Plus began developing a three-year action plan. However, one of the group’s main concerns, before dissolution, was the setting up of a Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus. With little time to the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, the pressure was on.
To set up the Women’s Caucus, Politics Plus hosted focus groups with a number of parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This allowed the Speaker’s Reference Group to launch the Women’s Caucus with a cross-party perspective.
Chaired by Caitríona Ruane, Sinn Fein MLA, and with Paula Bradley, DUP MLA, appointed as Deputy Chair; the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus was launched on the 8th March 2016 to mark International Women’s Day.
Politics Plus is proud to have been part of this turning point in the Assembly’s history. And, in terms of gender equality and sensitivity, changes can already be seen; with the number of women elected in the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly elections having increased by 50 per cent. This demonstrates a commitment from the parties ensure more female representation in politics. In addition, the Assembly will soon be welcoming its new female Clerk to the Assembly and Chief Executive, Lesley Hogg.
Building on these achievements, Politics Plus, along with the Speaker’s Reference Group and Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus, will continue to work towards a Gender Sensitive Assembly that encourages more women in to politics, leadership and public life.