Politics No Longer a Male Preserve; Starting Monday: A 10-Part Series on Women in a Man's World
Over the next two weeks, DEBORAH DUNDAS will be speaking to a diverse range of women in Northern Ireland politics- from loyalist to republican and everything in between. Their stories begin on Monday, when JANE MORRICE tells how the Women's Coalition came into being, and what it hopes to achieve.IT'S perhaps an obvious statement, but the face of Northern Irish politics has changed dramatically over the past few years.
There is now a government accountable to the people of Northern Ireland; more parties from which voters can choose; and issues important to individuals and communities such as health, unemployment and education can be dealt with on a national level.
Devolution has provided an opportunity to move formalised politics in Northern Ireland from the politics of crisis to the politics of the everyday.
The opportunity to create a system that reflects the values, issues and concerns of the Northern Irish people is one aspect of the current political situation which women find particularly exciting..
Fully 64% of women in Northern Ireland are involved in some sort of community work.
While that work is integral to community development, it has historically been vulnerable to the decisions of funding bodies.
Community workers like Baroness May Blood can cite examples of funding cuts in programmes that were working to deal with unemployment, for example.
Trades union leader Inez McCormack tells of one woman who managed to organize a cross-community festival in a community with 80% unemployment, only to have its funding cut.
These two women realised that, in order to make a difference, they had to be part of the decision-making process - they had to put themselves in positions where they could actively participate in systems that affect people's lives.
Their response was to join unions and while their work doesn't fall into what is traditionally considered politics, they regard themselves as political nonetheless, fighting for years for change within the system.
Women haven't traditionally played a leading part in formal politics in Northern Ireland.
They give many reasons for this - that the violence kept women away, that the traditional social roles of women didn't allow for it.
Some women, though, have been involved in more formal politics, although they didn't start out that way. …