It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that last week’s election was monumental for many reasons. In fact, it may even look like progress. And to some extent it was; with a Nationalist First Minister, from a party with over half of its elected candidates being female. But, as it usually seems to, misogyny reared its ugly head. But this time, it seemed uglier than usual.
Misogyny has always made its mark on politics. Across the Irish Sea, the British media seemed more concerned with making a mockery of Theresa May’s dancing, fashion, or legs than her policies. Boris Johnson, on the other hand, seems to be a Conservative hero, a man who apparently says what everyone is thinking, with his ridiculous hair and shoddily assembled outfits left uncommented about.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, we had to fight harder than anywhere else in the UK and Ireland for our right to abortion – and we’re still sending people on flights to England to get them. The laws on revenge porn are essentially useless. There is no strategy in place to act against violence toward women and girls.
Our latest feminist victory has been the SDLP’s Pat Catney’s wonderful bill to introduce free period products in all public buildings. But just over one month later, he lost his seat in the assembly. He lost his seat in the same constituency where Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who cares so much about the people of Northern Ireland that he won’t take his party into government, retained his.
What does that tell us about how we value women?
Most troubling, throughout the election campaign, fake pornographic videos of candidates were circulated. Victims included the DUPs Diane Forsythe and the SDLP’s Cara Hunter. I cannot even imagine how horrific that must have been for them. To reduce intelligent, hard-working candidates to sex objects is a disgrace. What happened to Cara Hunter and Diane Forsythe would, quite simply, not happen to a male candidate.
Is this really who we are as a society?
I was not raised this way. And I hope to God you weren’t either.
Ms. Hunter is just 4 years older than me. We are both part of the generation defined by peace. But not for us women. Cara Hunter should have been safe to wager a political campaign, without also having to wager a war on sexism.
Thanks so much to everyone for the kind messages.
Women belong in politics. We won’t be lied about, intimidated or harassed out of it.
It is an honour and a privilege to return to Stormont to represent the people of East Derry as an @SDLPlive MLA.
Time to get to work. 💪🏽🕊 pic.twitter.com/sdea2Jl1Gt
— Cara Hunter MLA (@CaraHunterSDLP) May 9, 2022
Thankfully, both Cara Hunter and Diane Forsythe were elected despite such poor treatment at the hands of the electorate.
So pleased to see @dianejforsythe elected in South Down.
Such an intelligent, capable, young female candidate who deserves this seat for the hard work she put in on the ground and who I know will put in the hard work for the people of South Down.
Congratulations Diane! 👏🏻👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/RQeyZiYONH
— Sarah Bunting (@sbunting_) May 7, 2022
In a state so often governed by the politics of green and orange, we so often miss the bigger picture. I don’t care about the Protocol. I don’t care about the border. I don’t care about flags or parades or what language is on the road signs.
What I care about is the safety and the rights of women. And the next time you step foot in a polling station, I urge you to do the same. Especially to all the men who may be reading this. Do it not because we are your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, aunties, nieces, or friends.
But because we are human beings.
Women now hold 35.6% of the seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This is an increase from 30% in the Assembly Election in 2017.
We are happy to see this increase albeit small & will continue to work on this until we reach 50:50 in our political institutions pic.twitter.com/QT0v7UpeoS
— 50:50 NI (@5050Ni) May 8, 2022
Katy Haskins is a post-graduate student from County Down interested in social issues and history.