Empowering Loyalist Women- By Rosey Bell
Rosey Bell is a member of the Progressive Unionist Party and a community activist in the Rathcoole area.
Women’s empowerment can be defined as promoting women’s sense of self-worth, their ability to determine their own choices, and their right to influence social change- not only for themselves but collectively for the greater good of others.
Over the last centenary we have seen a huge change in different policies and legislation that have been implemented to enhance the quality of life for women not only at home or in the working world, but also in the political forum. A world which had previously been dominated by male figures and influences, now stands more openly diverse to allow any candidate with the correct attributes to complete the task at hand without restriction due to gender
You may ask what is the benefits to having a female in a lead role?
Empowering women is essential to the social development of families, communities and countries. When women are living in a safe environment, with productive lives and reachable career goals, they have the potential to reach their aspirations, share their skills and build a greater knowledge of information to make better decisions for themselves and influence others in a positive light.
My time within the Progressive Unionist Party (‘PUP’) has been thus far relatively short, However, I have been deeply interested in politics from a young age, but until recently had not engaged actively nor discovered the right support
I am now at home with a party that champions women both with policies but also with the members mannerisms alike. These behaviours come naturally and aren’t displayed for show or for self gain, rather it is reflective of a general ethos within the party as to how everyone should collectively conduct themselves.
From before my birth, the PUP has been calling for women’s issues to be addressed. It doesn’t take long to google search the many policies that have over the years been presented to the party conference, and been passed via motions.
Our late party leader David Ervine was a man that strongly advocated for the development of proactive initiatives that lead to the more representative participation of woman and ethnic minorities in public and private institutions. He was someone who gained respect worldwide, even amongst those of a different political and social outlooks. He was often described as a visionary of peace, although not a dreamy idealist, but crucially he actively fought the loyalist corner with truth and conviction, without the dated rhetoric of Old Unionism.
Dawn Purvis became the first female leader of the PUP following David’s untimely passing, and immediately continued along the path that the previous leaders had forged displaying characteristics such as , strong leadership, and displaying an openess to supporting others and addressing matters that effected people as a whole. This positive leadership was carried on with the succession of Brian Ervine and then to today’s current leader Councillor Billy Hutchinson.
One thing that drew my attention recently in an open conversation, was the statistics of our Executive when Dawn took over as leader in 2007. There were twelve members in the Executive team, of which only two were female. As it presently stands we have eleven members to which six are female. This is a proud progression, challenges of yesteryear such as the suggestion that women should be seen and not heard not be heard are firmly in the rear view mirror. The views and skills of women are greatly welcomed and progression is championed to help women reach senior positions within our party.
Empowerment has always been embedded within the party when fielding the best skilled candidates. The best person for the role is better than picking what is statistically the norm, which we seen in passed candidates nominated for Assembly for example when Dawn Purvis, Elaine Martin and Andrew Park were run together.
Over the years the party views and policies have transitioned to that of what the people in society have asked, and we see this more and more as other parties now start to adapt positions that have long since been PUP policy. Securing policies in any party is no mean fete, it takes a lot of work and dedication to have them developed, then comes the open dialogue and finally the vote on whether it will pass.
Many items have been addressed benefited women are:
- Equal pay for work of equal value
- Creche and nursery facilities to be made available in the workplace to help mothers retain their independence of a working ability but to also support them
- More benefits for working married mothers such as Childcare Allowance, Flexible working hours, reasonable emergency leave
- Full and complete health checks for women of child bearing age with particular reference to screening breasts and cervical cancer coupled with the right of that woman to request a woman doctor during these examinations
- A pro-choice stance in relation to abortion in order to prevent the dangers that arose due to illegal methods previously used causing either long term damage or death of the woman.
While other items addressed that benefit both male and females alike have also formed the bedrock of party policy:
- A more open and adequate sex education programme backed up by free comprehensive family planning services for all.
- Acknowledgement of a individual’s right to control one’s body irrespective of martial status.
- More adequate provisions of facilities and support for victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and incest, and a strengthening of the law in relation to rape and all forms of sexual assault
- More stringent endeavours to tackle and help eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace
Women are no longer merely home makers defined by their marital status; we are the doctors leading the way in the medical field, we are the soldiers defending the nation’s safety, we are the lawyers fighting for justice and we are the political representatives leading the way for changes to empower not just other women, but-through the nurture and mentoring skills passed down by generations- the collective community.
We all have different backgrounds and different views, which generates different standards. Not everyone will agree but if you can engage with active dialogue and include the wider community to find a collective decision that empowers and motivates others to accomplish that which was once deemed impossible, then unheard of and now the norm- it makes every little step forwards and sometimes backwards worthwhile.
As we head in 2022, I am proud to be a female from the loyalist community actively engaged in politics. I am equally proud to be a member of the PUP, a party which is thriving and energised with increasing numbers of young activists seeking political change, but most importantly who are dedicated to maintaining Northern Ireland’s cherished position as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
I would encourage any young activists within loyalism, but especially the traditionally unrepresented demographic of females, to join our party and help us build a positive, inclusive and constitutionally thriving Northern Ireland as we enter our next centenary.