Stop calling men MLAs ‘Mister’ and women ‘Madam’: Alliance MLA

Members of the NI Assembly should cease using the terms “mister” and “madam” when referring to each other, an MLA has argued.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 26th March 2021, 11:55 am
Kellie Armstrong

Alliance Strangford representative Kellie Armstrong made the comments as the whole Assembly voted to adopt an action plan to increase both the proportion of female politicians, and the publicity given to those already serving.

During her contribution to the debate at Stormont, Mrs Armstrong told fellow MLAs: “In this place, we use words like ‘madam’ and ‘mister’.

“Why do we not just use the terms that people are given for the jobs that they have?

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“There needs to be an audit of language in this place, which our [action plan] calls for, in order to make sure that it is inclusive.”

She continued: “Also, the House may congratulate itself on the provision of free sanitary products.

“But it ignores menopause... Some of us struggle in this place with the heat blowing out of those fans or with the freezing cold air. It is not easy.

“The problem is not in this room; it is getting to it. Social media, aggression, violence, attacks on offices and how the media treat us have a lot to do with that.”

At the conclusion of the debate, the chamber gave its backing to a “gender-sensitive Assembly manifesto and action plan” drawn up the Assembly Women’s Caucus.

The caucus is a cross-party group of 13 MLAs, led by the Green Party’s Clare Bailey.

The remaining members are four DUP MLAs, three from Sinn Fein, two SDLP, one Alliance MLA and one UUP MLA each, plus independent MLA Claire Sugden.

The caucus’ plan calls for:

~ A debate on the introduction of gender quotas for elections, as used in the Republic (where a 30% minimum quota of women candidates in general elections entered force in 2012);

~ A yearly audit of “the language and behaviours used in the Assembly chambers to identify any issue which might be considered harmful”;

~ Moves to ensure “positive women role models when making political appointments”;

~ The “gender-proofing of party internal media strategies to ensure greater visibility of their women politicians”;

~ And on-going “training, mentoring and professional coaching support specific to the needs of women MLAs”.

The Green MLA Clare Bailey moved the motion, stating it was needed to help address the fact women account for roughly a third of the Stormont Assembly.

She told the Assembly chamber:

“Women lead intersectional lives with different lived experiences that inform different priorities and needs. Political representation must reflect that.

“A gender-blind or gender-neutral approach does not work because society is neither gender-blind nor gender-neutral.”.

Meanwhile her party colleague Rachel Woods hit out at “the toxic masculinity of some areas of politics and the constant misogyny”, adding: “Is it acceptable for female politicians to be told that they, as the only women present in a room full of men, are there to make up the gender balance or to make cups of tea? Of course not.”

Sinn Fein’s Emma Sheerin spoke in favour of “affirmative action” (sometimes referred to as ‘positive discrimination’) and MLAs were told her party already operates its own quota system.

The motion backing all the above measures was passed without any dissent on Monday night, co-inciding with International Women’s Day.

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