“DemocraShe” was set up in 2000 by New York businesswoman Maureen Murray and Belfast-based women’s rights advocate Bronagh Hinds.
The program is part of the Northern Ireland’s Women’s Initiative, which Murray founded in 1998, the same year that the Good Friday agreement was signed.
Murray, who also founded New York based women’s political organization “EMILY’s List,” decided to focus her attentions on Northern Ireland when she saw “how badly women taking part were being treated by some of the men,” during the Good Friday agreement negotiations.
As leader the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, Northern Ireland’s only all-woman political party, Hinds experienced that treatment first hand.
“The reaction we received from the media and the other parties was dismissive and rude,” she said.
“The men actually told us to go back to the kitchen,” she recalled.
“DemocraShe,” provides comprehensive training for women who want to become involved in politics, focusing on areas like public speaking, policy and dealing with the media.
“Often women don’t become involved in politics because they have competing interests with families and community involvement,” said Murray.
“They don’t think they have a profile because of their commitments, whereas we try to show them that these things give them a perfect profile for political life.”
The program also facilitates cross-party networking between women politicians and encourages women to strengthen their collective and individual positions within their own parties.
Since its inception, “DemocraShe” has trained more than 200 women, including 50 percent of women candidates in the 2005 general election, 42 percent of women elected to local councils in 2005 and 50 percent of women elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2003.
Since 2000, female council membership in Northern Ireland has increased from 14 to 22 percent. In the general elections in 2005, many high-profile males lost their seats, but all three female MPs retained theirs.
However, Hinds will only be satisfied when there is complete gender balance in local and national government.
“We want to make sure that women are ready to get their fair share – 50 percent of party seats,” she said.
With endorsements from high-profile male politicians like Sinn F