‘To the surprise of absolutely no one’: Gendered political leadership change in Northern Ireland

Neil Matthews, Sophie Whiting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (SciVal)


The office of political party leader remains one that women rarely occupy. In the largest comparative study of party leadership to date, only 10.8% were women. One region which has made significant advances in this area is Northern Ireland. Since 2015, the two largest parties, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, have experienced a rapid feminisation of their leadership. Such a development is particularly remarkable given Northern Ireland’s historically poor record on gender equality. This article explores the puzzle of gendered leadership change in Northern Ireland to reveal that the transition was primarily facilitated through the parties’ informal practices rather than embedded structural change. In doing so, it demonstrates the relative importance of party- and system-level factors on women’s political presence. As a power-sharing democracy, this case also provides comparative insights for those interested in addressing persistently low levels of female representation in post-conflict settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-242
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number2
Early online date9 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Dr Jennifer Thomson for her comments on a draft of this paper, and the anonymous reviewers who provided very helpful feedback. The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


  • consociationalism
  • Democratic Unionist Party
  • gender
  • gendered opportunity structures
  • intra-party democracy and organisation
  • nationalism
  • Northern Ireland
  • political party leadership
  • post-conflict
  • power sharing
  • Sinn Fein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of '‘To the surprise of absolutely no one’: Gendered political leadership change in Northern Ireland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this