Ben Lowry: Women politicians are more vulnerable to abusive remarks but at the top they are not at a disadvantage

One of many British political leaders, Theresa May. Nine of 12 parties represented at the House of Commons since 2010 have elected female leaders
One of many British political leaders, Theresa May. Nine of 12 parties represented at the House of Commons since 2010 have elected female leaders

A letter by an Alliance Party Assembly election candidate, Kellie Armstrong, (on page 20 print edition, web version click here) raises a point that other critics raised in response to an article of mine on this page two weeks ago.

In that article (January 28) I talked about the huge strides that women had made in British politics in an extraordinary short period of time, and said that they no longer faced discrimination.

Ms Armstrong talks about the sexism and misogyny that women still face in public life.

Just after my article, a female politician contacted me to point out some vile abuse that she had received on Facebook.

I do concede that my article did not address that barrier to women entering politics. I am not a woman and cannot know first-hand the prevalence of such abuse.

But I do not need to be female to know that women are clearly more vulnerable to such appalling behaviour than men. I do not doubt that would be a barrier to some girls who might want to enter public life.

So in that respect my article only told one part of the story.

Ms Armstrong says that people ask of women, and not men, “what is she wearing?”

That too is true. But is that not a question that women are more likely to ask of other women?

After my article I engaged in some debate with women who furiously denied that there was any reason other than discrimination for the fact that there are fewer women politicians than men.

So are they saying that the problems that are being experienced in medicine for example, of many women going into the profession and then voluntarily leaving to have a family, have no relevance to politics at all? That every setback is due to discrimination?

After my article I began to run through in my head all the parties that have been represented at Westminster since 2010.

Of 12 such parties, nine have elected a woman as leader: In descending order of number of MPs they are Conservative, SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Plaid Cymru, Ukip, Alliance and the Greens.

Some have been outstanding. Others have struggled.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Ulster Unionists have not had a female leader.

That fact – 9 out of 12 going for female leaders – cannot be of no relevance at all. It suggests that being female at that level is not a hindrance and might even be an advantage.

And note the huge range of ideologies in the parties that I have just listed.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

Ben Lowry: It is clear that women no longer face discrimination in NI politics

Kellie Armstrong: Ben Lowry should first talk to women before claiming sexism is mute