Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 May 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security: Discussion
I thank the witnesses for their presentation which was very informative as well as provoking a debate on the issue. If one considers the conflict resolution aspect, it is quite surprising the role of women has reduced since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. I take it this is primarily with regard to the Six Counties, and there are a number of reasons for it. During the conflict, more than 30,000 people on the republican side, predominantly men, were imprisoned. Women assumed a role and responsibility in the community and politically through political activism on the ground, raising awareness and bringing the issue to an international audience. When their husbands and sons returned to the community, and with the Good Friday Agreement and the end of the actual conflict, they willingly or otherwise went back to the so-called cultural role of what a mother and wife is supposed to be. This is one of the reasons for the reduction.
Women becoming involved in electoral politics and becoming elected representatives is mitigated against because there is a culture of unshared parental responsibility. The responsibility for children rests solely with the mother. We must change this culture, and to bring this about will be very thought-provoking for males. The essence of this is equality. If we have equality of parental responsibility and equality within the political and social systems, we will achieve 50:50 representation.
My daughter, who is a member of the party, is very critical of our policy.
She is also involved with politics. I disagree with her argument that when there is positive discrimination within a party in getting women involved, with a mandatory 30% or 35% figure, it is insulting to women. She believes that women should aspire to this in their own right rather than having a position manufactured. I disagree. If the playing field was level there would be no problem, but it is not. We must get to the bottom of the issue.
The kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria is terrible. The most grotesque performance I have ever seen on video was the leader of Boko Haram taunting the world about what he would do with these children. He stated he would sell them as slaves for predators, etc. The issue has struck a chord right across the developed world, but similar things happen in post-colonial areas which experience massive poverty and inequality, with absolute political corruption. This is in the parts of the world which are not fully developed. This matter must be resolved by all of us, as we have a role to play.
There is the matter of our responsibility regarding the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and there are aspects that have equality and parity of esteem at their core, as Deputy Crowe mentioned. We meet here every couple of weeks and we go to the Six Counties, etc., but some parties have never looked to participate in this committee. The two main Unionist parties have never taken part. In itself, that mitigates against the full implementation of the agreement from an all-party perspective. The Chairman has played an important role in facilitating us in going to communities that are not represented here in the likes of east and north Belfast. That involves meeting ordinary people and giving them a voice here. Political parties are failing in their responsibility to live up to the commitments made in an international agreement, which is disgraceful. It makes a mockery of the agreement to which they subscribed. We could invite parties to make a presentation on an individual basis, but I do not know if such an invitation would be accepted. There could be consideration of the role of women within the existing political frameworks.
Not just in the Six Counties but right across this island there is a prevailing culture mitigating against equal opportunities and rights for women in the political system as well as outside it. For example, 99% of the time a single parent is a woman, although two people are involved in the birth of a child. The woman usually has the responsibility of caring for the child. This debate is ongoing but we have not yet got where we want to go. As legislators and people involved in the political arena, we must be seen to lead this process and push it forward. My party is no different from others, and some people do not live up to what is expected of them within the party. Nevertheless, at a leadership level we are driving this forward to the best of our ability. Even as far back as the 1970s, the issue of women's rights in the party was driven by Deputy Gerry Adams. Anybody who has read his books will know his record on the role of women in society. The culture must be changed to afford women equality.