15 March 2019
Young Women Bring ‘Balance for Better’ Message to the Assembly
To celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday 8 March 2019, the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, hosted a special debate in the Assembly Chamber which brought together 70 young women representing 28 schools and youth organisations from across Northern Ireland.
The event which was organised by the Assembly’s Education Service and supported by the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus and the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, was an opportunity for the young women to take centre stage and to highlight the issues that are important to them.
The day began with a networking event where the young women met with the Speaker, Women’s Caucus members and other political representatives to discuss a range of political and social issues. It was also a chance for them to learn more about the procedural side of the Assembly, how motions are selected and debated and why participation in the overall democratic process can be a very real driver for progress and change.
It was then on to the Assembly Chamber for the debate which was chaired by the Speaker with support from the Clerk/Chief Executive and a Senior Assembly Clerk. The Speaker opened the session by welcoming the young women to the chamber. He noted that he was delighted to permit the use of the chamber, as it underlined how important it is for the Assembly to listen to upcoming generations, particularly young women, and to encourage them to engage in the democratic process.
Megan Fearon, Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus, said how amazing it was to see the Chamber so full of such enthusiastic young women. She told the young women that the Good Friday Agreement recognises the right of woman to full and equal participation and encourages the pursuit of advancement in public life. She added that while there has been an increase in the representation of women in politics across the world in recent years, much more needs to be done to encourage young woman to enter political life.
The debate got underway with statements to the house, 21 of the young women elected to speak for one minute each on topics selected and written by them, and ranging from issues around women’s health and education to the need to increase and better support female participation in politics, the workplace and society as a whole. The debate was then opened to the floor and others gave their views and opinions on the statements. As with all political debates, not everyone agreed with each other, but countering arguments were well thought out, articulate and respectful of differing view points.
Speaking after the event, the Speaker said: “With greater female representation and participation, the Assembly can better reflect our local communities, and effectively influence decision making and the provision of our public services. This means not only seeking to increase the number of female MLAs, but also encouraging young women to see politics as a very real and tangible opportunity for them to make a difference. This event demonstrated that there are many young women who are keen to get involved in the political process and to make their voices heard on the issues that are important to them.” You can find out more about the work of the Assembly’s Education Service here and further information about the Northern Ireland Women’s Caucus here