N. Ireland has it's First Female First Minister - 5 Reasons Why This Won't Advance Feminism


December saw the promotion of Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA, Arlene Foster to the position of DUP leader and the North of Ireland’s First Minister.

Foster is a woman who was once described to have “learned a lot from the likes of Thatcher when it comes to dealing with men in politics."

It is not coming as much of a surprise that some middle-class, career-focused feminists have made claims of this being some sort of an advance of feminism. Many are claiming that this represents a great change in northern Irish society, as a move away from the male dominated arena that we understands politics here to be (the same could be said throughout the World of course).

Those hailing Foster’s promotion as a feminist advancement will generally take the approach that having more women in politics is always a positive thing – regardless of their politics. Those who hold these opinions are usually those who can afford to hold them, or who are so privileged in every other avenue of their life that they don’t need to consider anything but the gender of those who implement policies.

Others believe that the politics of the women elected does in fact matter, that their politics must be more progressive. Those of a socialist persuasion are generally feminist (on paper at least) and many feminists are socialists (again, on paper at least). This group of people broadly believe that through the electoral route, through electing feminists and socialists, through the use of the governing institutions that we can affect positive change and a new society.

Anarchist feminists look at it a bit differently. We don’t believe that the tools of our oppression can be used for our liberation. We believe that the means determine the ends. Women in politics means nothing if we’re still poor, or can’t make a decision over our own body or if we continue to face oppression in many other ways.

With this in mind, here's 5 reasons why Foster's promotion is not good for feminism, and why it is excellent for the status quo.

(1) Foster is still fostering homophobic tendencies.

It's no secret that the DUP are rampant homophobes. Last year they proposed a bill that would have effectively excluded Queer and LGBT+ people from everyday life through a so-called Conscience Clause.

Foster voted in favour of the bill. By voting in favour of the bill she revealed that she believes that businesses should be able to refuse service on the basis of the customer's sexuality. The idea behind this was if someone’s sexuality falls into the criteria of “religious persecution” then the religious should be allowed to persecute the queers.

Foster even opposes marriage equality, a very liberal measure in terms of queer acceptance in a straight society. She was part of the minority of MLAs who voted against the latest bill to introduce marriage equality into the north, legislation that was blocked by her party of homophobes of course.

(2) Foster does not believe that women and other pregnant people should have a right to choice in regards to their own bodies.

When the Marie Stopes clinic opened in Belfast in 2012 Diane Dodds (the DUP's only MEP) released a statement claiming that "As a party we make no apology for wishing to see as few abortions as possible take place in Northern Ireland and we do not support any change to current laws." and that she "cannot consider abortion simply to be just another medical procedure.”

When Foster’s opinion was requested a DUP spokesperson repsonded claiming that "Diane Dodds’ statement on the Marie Stopes clinic was representative of all female members, including Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster".

(3) Foster loves Capitalism.

Foster has acted as both Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister as well as Finance Minister.

She is a huge advocate of lowering the Corporation Tax in the North down to 12.5%. This will leave corporations paying less tax and increasing their profits.

A lower Corporation Tax - so that businesses get a break while the rest of us toil - as well as money being pumped into the pockets of rich voters is her priority.

What is not her priority, is an increase in wages, better working conditions, flexible work hours, not to mention childcare for working mothers and fathers.

She doesn’t care about the effect of the Public Sector cuts on workers. She showed no support or sympathy with those who went out on strike last March in an effort to reverse the devastating cuts.

It doesn’t concern her that women comprise two-thirds of Public Sector workers and will therefore be disproportionately affected by the cuts – cuts that she is very comfortable implementing.

She wants more investment, more money in the hands of the 1% and for us to be grateful for whatever crumbs are thrown our way.

(4) Unionism is in very safe hands.

As a member of the Democratic Unionist Party it's a given that Foster is an ardent unionist. She believes that a government nearly 500 miles away is where decisions should be made over our local areas and over our lives.

Sectarianism is not an issue of concern to her - why would it be when Stormont and the whole system are built on it?

(5) Foster is no Feminist - Not that Women's Liberation can be achieved through Stormont anyway

I'm going to beginning proving this point by recapping what we have read so far.

Foster doesn't believe that a woman should have the right to choose what happens to her own body and therefore agrees with forced pregnancy.

She is a homophobe - homophobia is incompatible with feminism. The feminist theory of intersectionality puts forward the idea that all of our struggles and oppressions are connected and intersect with one and other to reinforce them.

She loves capitalism, an economic system that globally leaves women disproportionately poorer than men - it also doesn't help if you have to travel to England for an abortion because your Female First Minister doesn't believe you should be able to avail of one here.

She is a Unionist, a system that opposes autonomy. This is at odds with the basic feminist idea of female autonomy, an idea which many feminists extend to ideologies of governance or autonomous organising of society.

As First Minister she will continue to uphold and pursue these views and policies. Swapping Robinson for Foster is merely the swapping of one master for another. It gives the facade of change while reinforcing the same system.

Even if Foster were a feminist Stormont has not been built for the purpose of women's liberation. It has not been built for any kind of liberation.

Female participation in our old, tired and patriarchal systems will not eradicate them of sexism; it will only ensure further continuance and participation in our old, tired and patriarchal systems.

The State is built on the foundations of the idea of privilege. The idea that some in society are entitled to more than others by their very nature. This idea of privilege and domination of one group over another comes from the idea that the male sex was meant to biologically dominate over the female sex; this is what paved the way for systems of privilege, such as sexism, the class system, racism, etc.

Stormont has been used as a tool to oppress and to enslave; it cannot be used for our liberation.

The solution is not to take Stormont and fill it to the brim with women - no matter how feminist. The solution lies in the destruction of our current patriarchal oppressive structure while simultaneously building a brand new society, free from systemic oppression, based on co-operation, not competition.

A society in which people get to make decisions over their own lives - not some politicians who they have never met; politicians who have no intention of meeting them and working in their best interests.

A society in which all are free from domination.

This type of society doesn’t come from a ballot box.

Words: Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird