By Aóife McManus

With International Women’s Day today, the Impartial Reporter asks the question: is the female gender treated equally and fairly in the world of politics?

The importance of women in politics is echoed by Fermanagh Omagh and District Council member Bernice Swift. Bernice was the first independent woman to be elected to the Super council in 2015 and is the only woman representing the Erne West District Electoral Area in over 13 years.

Bernice spoke to The Impartial Reporter about how important it is for women to be involved in politics.

“It is fundamentally important for women to be both involved and engaged in politics particularly as every single aspect and policy decision taken about our lives is political of which impacts women and not always positively therefore we must be in a position to foster change and shape decision-making ensuring our rights as women are enshrined," she said.

Something that continues to be an issue for women is the gender pay gap. Bernice said she has made the call for a living wage for Council workers and the topic of equal pay is something that is very important to her. 

She told The Impartial Reporter: “The gender pay gap is a blatantly intolerable issue as the difference between male and female earnings is expressed as a percentage of male earnings. The gender pay gap actually reduces women’s lifetime earnings which also affects their pensions," she said.

Reflecting on her career as a woman in politics Bernice said: “I was very empowered to be the only Independent Woman elected in the Super Council in 2015."

"That has held significant and historical meaning for me, all that said, when I think of the International Women’s Day Celebration being a woman means making and taking a strong stand on positions of fundamental importance to protect and enshrine human rights for all.

"By making a strong independent voice heard in recognising International Women's Day as a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender balance I am always willing to play my part. Realising the story of women's struggle for equality does not belong to any one organisation or any single feminist it is most definitely a responsibility of the collective efforts of everyone who want to live in harmony and who care about human rights," she said.

If it wasn’t for the works of suffragette women such as Emmeline Pankhurst and others in 1903 women in the UK might not have the right vote or stand in elections. It was the frustration of these women at the lack of progress in government that founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. Their famous motto was ‘Deeds not words’.

After years of campaigning it took until November 1918 until women of the UK and Ireland were finally able to involve themselves in the world of politics. They were given the chance to be elected into parliament when the Parliament Qualification of women Act 1918 was passed despite being able to campaign to be elected women still couldn’t vote in elections. It took another 10 years for this basic human right to be given to females in 1928. The Representation of People Act 1928 saw women over the age of 21 receive the right to vote on the same terms as men.

The first woman to be elected to the House of Commons was Irish woman Constance Markievicz. The Irish woman was elected in the general election of 1918. However, as a member of Sinn Fein, she did not take her seat in the British parliament. The first woman to take her seat was Nancy Astor, after a by election in December 1919.

Caitlin Jones (20) studies journalism. She is a presenter and producer on Derry’s North West Regional College radio station alongside this student reporter. Caitlin believes that as a young woman in Northern Ireland that it is as important as ever that young women voice their opinions in the world of politics.

“It is so important that as young women we use our vote that many people fought hard for us to get. It is also so important that we voice our views in whatever way we can."

Cathy Devlin who lives in Donegal close to the Border. She believes it is vital that young women like her are given a voice through voting.

She said: “Issues such as Brexit affect all of us including young women like me. I think it is of huge importance that young women stand up and shout their opinions otherwise we won’t be heard.”