50:50 NI Meets Bethany Ferris

This week our CEO meets another woman who is running the 2022 Assembly election. Bethany Ferris is a UUP candidate for North Antrim. Bethany has been involved in the UUP since she was a student. She is passionate about special needs education and has worked as an advocate for innocent victims and survivors of the Troubles.

Have you always been interested in politics?

I joined the Ulster Young Unionists during my final year of university.  I’ve always been a keen public speaker and served two years on the Student Council representing the school of Theology before focusing on my final year of study.  I was walking around the Fresher’s fair and spoke with a few different individuals at their stall but it was a combination of  my local MLA at the time Danny Kennedy and also the openness and welcome atmosphere of the political youth at the Ulster Young Unionists (UYU) stall that made me ultimately sign up with them.  

Since then I have been Secretary of the UYU, elections officer for Newry and Armagh for the last 4 years and also a serving party officer, chosen by the party membership currently in my 4th year.  I am thankful for the opportunities that have been available to me but I have had to work for them, I wasn’t handed any of my positions because I am a woman but through my hard work and determination to showcase the views and voices of young women.  

What has inspired you to run in the upcoming election?

I want to bring a positive, progressive change to the people of North Antrim and throughout Northern Ireland.  Currently as only one of the two women announced for North Antrim there is a need to strive for woman’s voices to be heard and recognised through representation at the assembly.  I want to bring inclusion for all members of society and I am passionate about making sure voices are heard instead of quietly sitting in the background.  

How did you become a candidate?

Robin and I were having a catch up in his office on a Friday afternoon and we were discussing how the selections were going for our candidates.  As a party officer I have had the advantage of sitting on the decision making panels and I was able to get an insight into the process.  Robin suggested that I put myself forward as a potential candidate and I settled on choosing the North Antrim constituency due to the clients and families I support through my previous and current vocations.  

I was interviewed by the elections team and then successful, I was also ratified by the association who have been extremely supportive.  

What do you do professionally now? Do you think this will help in your political career should you be elected?

I work as an advocate for innocent victims and survivors of the Troubles within a leading organisation in the sector which supports individuals whose lives were transformed by terrorism.  My work has enabled me to engage with future generations to enable them to grasp the impact that terrorism had on Northern Ireland during the Troubles and help them to understand the immense contributions of individuals during this time from our emergency services to our transport workers and everyone in between. 

I have worked for 5 years promoting special educational needs and supported adults with autism and mental ill health to live as independently as possible.  This meant during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was a domiciliary carer working in some of the most challenging times I had faced in my career so far. 

I am no stranger to hard work and getting stuck into the middle of the issues.  I work hands on with my clients and want to make sure they’re getting the best support possible.  

What has your experience been like since announcing your candidacy?

I have always enjoyed the backroom politics, seeing how the cogs turn and the processes behind the elections but I never thought it’d see myself on a poster.  It has certainly been a change putting myself out in the public sphere to promote myself but why shouldn’t I?  I am a confident woman, proud of my achievements and that’s what I want to celebrate along with my electorate.  The support has been fantastic from party colleagues and the residents of North Antrim.  It’s refreshing to know that they are keen to listen to a young woman who can be a voice for everyone and not feel dismissed due to my age or gender.

I have had some criticism as a young woman and have had my personal appearance commented on which has been strange because it’s my body but I am taking it in my stride.  Men don’t get commented on if they wear the same suit to 5 different appearances but I’ve been asked how many dresses I have in my wardrobe waiting to be worn.  

How do you think being a woman will help you in your political career, should you be elected?

I feel as a woman I can help bring a larger range of opinions and views to the assembly chambers and legislation brought forward.  It’s important that with meaningful representation and participation of women in the assembly we look at the whole picture when it comes to policy and ask our views rather than guess what women want.

Finally, What advice would you give a woman reading this who wants to, or is interested in, becoming a politician?

I would encourage any woman who reads this and considers even dipping their toe into the pool of politics to jump in and see what’s out there.  Read up on party manifestos, ask questions of the grassroots members and get a feel for the party that is the best fit for you.  We need more diverse voices making legislation in Stormont and I’d love to see you there with me. 

If you are interested in getting into politics or are even just curious about how it all work get in touch with 50:50 NI at info@5050ni.com 

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