Tackling Sexual Harassment in Politics

This blog is from Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Greens Lothian MSP and a representative on the Women 50:50 steering group:

cropped-AJ-smile

In June last year a report, produced by the Scottish Parliament’s Standard’s Committee, into sexual harassment at the Scottish Parliament, called for urgent action.  The report made several recommendations including mandatory training to encourage “positive culture change “ for all those responsible for staff at the Parliament, including MSPs.  There’s clearly some way to go until we have achieved that change but it’s clear that we can’t begin to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace without properly targeted action. Undoubtedly such action is required in every area of life in Scotland.  The Scottish Parliament’s survey on Sexual Harassment and Sexist Behaviour results showed that 30% of women had experienced harassing behaviour.  The Scottish Parliament has a central and crucial role to play here and should lead by example in addressing this cause and consequence of gender inequality.

The Presiding Officer of the Parliament, the Chief Executive and Party Leaders formalised their zero tolerance to sexual harassment and sexist behaviour in the Parliament in a statement and agreed measures to support culture and behaviour change through information and education.   ‘Culture of Respect’ training was organised and last autumn I enrolled for one of these workshops, a half-day session open to all MSPs, MSP staff, Scottish Parliament staff and contractors.  This training has now ended, though the slides and other materials remain available and further sessions are planned.

The aim of the session was to ensure a greater understanding of the law and definitions of what sexual harassment and sexist behaviour are, and to provide the skills and confidence to tackle it where it occurs.

On the afternoon I attended (by booking in advance online) there were about a dozen people on the course, all women apart from one man in this particular instance.  In the three hours or so the training lasted, we took part in discussion led by a professional and engaging external facilitator.  An early slide emphasised that all in the room are equal, no matter our day job, that we should give space for others to speak up, to be prepared to change how we might communicate, and to respect confidentiality.  I will respect that confidentiality here! We then broke up into smaller groups to consider our response to various scenarios. IMG_5193.jpg

We explored helpful techniques to encourage a change of behaviour when ‘banter’ we’re unhappy with is used.  In my opinion, however, more training explaining what is unacceptable and why it’s unacceptable is clearly required.   Homophobic and sexist comments are not banter and shouldn’t be described as such.  They are never acceptable, regardless of the spirit in which they were made.

The session was helpful in reinforcing the need to treat one another with respect and courtesy.  It was thought provoking.  Training is important, it’s essential.  But training alone won’t bring about the change we need.  There’s an understandable tendency to focus on what not to do.  We need to do more to prevent sexist behaviour and sexual harassment in the first instance.  Two well-evidenced ways to do so are by teaching bystanders to intervene and by promoting more women.  Research has continually shown that companies with more women in management have less sexual harassment.

It’s hugely concerning that research from expert organisations including Close the Gap tells us that under-reporting is a significant problem.  The Parliament’s own survey reported that 40% of those who experienced sexual harassment did not speak up about it.  We received training on how to challenge and seek to change sexist behaviour and sexual harassment.  I found this helpful, but would definitely benefit from future training opportunities to reinforce what I have learned.

The Scottish Parliament has set up a Joint Working Group on Sexual Harassment.  Posters and cards advising of a new Independent Support Service for confidential advice and support are on display across the Parliament estate.  These alone won’t change the culture and it’s devastating that in 2019 such a service is required, but by shining a light on this behaviour we can begin to bring about an end to sexism and sexual harassment.

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“Balance” needs political action

Talat Yaqoob is the Co-Founder and Chair of Women 50:50ty-002.jpg

It’s International Women’s Day 2019, and naturally we have lots of chatter going on about representation, but at Women 50:50 we’re here 365 days a year 24/7 working on fair representation (you’re welcome).

Apparently this year’s theme is “Balance for Better”; on the IWD website it states: Let’s build a gender-balanced world. Everyone has a part to play – all the time, everywhere. From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence. Balance drives a better working world. Let’s all help create a #BalanceforBetter.

Sure. Balance is indeed better, but it is more than that, balance is a necessity, and to reach balance, we need social justice. When we are talking about women’s equality in politics, balance is about making better decisions, about creating an inclusive politics and a more robust, representative democracy.

There is no decision taken in our councils or in our parliament, that doesn’t influence women’s lives, whether it is policy making on the economy, on transport, on health, on education or the environment. All of this has a profound impact on women’s lives and therefore women should have a fair share of the decision making stake. Decisions made with women are likely to work better for women – lived experience matters. But when Women 50:50 talks about women, we do not mean they are a homogenous group; we want to see women of colour, immigrant woman, disabled women, carers, LGBT women, working class women in decision making positions – only then can we claim any form of “balance”.

Here’s some stats you should know:

  1. 36% of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament are women
  2. This is a decrease from the highest make up in 2003 of almost 40%
  3. No women of colour have ever been elected to the Scottish Parliament
  4. Only 29% of councillors are women
  5. The Scottish Parliament ranks 16th on women’s representation across the Commonwealth
  6. The highest representation of women councillors is in Midlothian Council with 38.9%, the lowest is Na h-Eileanan Siar with zero women councillors

So what are we going to do about it?

We need quotas. Yes, they may not suit everyone’s rather delicate meritocracy mistaken appetites, but when you have such a systematic under-representation of women it is clear that we are not operating on meritocracy. The system needs to be re-set and to do that, we need bold intervention. Political parties have had the ability to implement measures such as all women shortlists to increase the number of women candidates for over 20 years. Labour, the SNP and the Greens have used these measures and with some success, but the reality is voluntary measures only get us so far, as Dr. Meryl Kenny and Prof. Fiona Mackay point out – we reach a plateau nowhere near 50%, to get us over the edge into the balance we want, we need legislated candidate quotas so every party has to do their part to reach out, find and support women candidates.

But the story doesn’t end with legislated candidate quotas. We need political cultures to change, we need respectful and sexism-free media commentary, we need to tackle online abuse, we need caring responsibilities to be taken seriously and resourced adequately, we need reporting mechanisms for sexism and harassment that women have faith in and we need women in genuinely winnable seats. Yes, this is a list of demands, but not one of these demands is extraordinary in any way, every single one is a basic need which should already be a reality.

Balance for better may be today’s theme, but it can’t be forgotten tomorrow – our campaign will be keeping the pressure up to make fair representation for women a legislated reality in Scotland.

Why an Intersectional Approach Matters

This blog is by Ashley Graczyk, an independent councillor for the Sighthill-Gorgie ward in Edinburgh. Ashley

Growing up, I didn’t see many people in positions of power who looked or sounded like me. As a deaf, mixed heritage woman, this remains the case in 2018. While progress has been made on gender equality in the public sphere by groups such as Women 50:50 and others, we need to take complementary action to ensure that the women (and men) who represent us in office represent the full diversity of our society. We do not currently have any female disabled representatives in the Scottish Parliament and, as my colleague Talat has highlighted, there has never been a woman of colour member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP).

Intersectional Feminism is something I am immensely passionate about, as it recognises the ways in which multiple factors and identities such as race, class, disability can combine to create social inequality and oppression. The reality is that the interaction, or ‘intersection’ of identities often intensifies inequalities already experienced by each of these groups in isolation. We therefore need to look seriously at the support needed to remove barriers to elected office for disabled and/or BAME women.

The Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) is an important tool in supporting disabled candidates. In the 2017 Scottish Local Authority elections, 39 disabled (19 female) candidates were supported by the Fund’s pilot scheme. Of these candidates, 15 (7 female) were elected, representing 4 different political parties in 12 different councils. While the Fund, facilitated by Inclusion Scotland, was successful, more needs to be done to make ensure our public institutions are representative of Scottish society which has one in five disabled people in our total population.

By contrast, the snap General Election in June 2017 created an unlevel playing field, and a clear disadvantage for disabled candidates. This is because the UK Government refused to make resources available to disabled candidates through the Access to Elected Office Fund (UK). The Access to Elected Office Fund UK is reserved; had it been devolved it is likely the Scottish candidates would have received funding from the Scottish Government.

I know disabled people throughout the UK, including Scottish candidates, who would have loved to stand as an MP, but were unable to do so as they could not afford the support needed. Some of the political parties did not have the sustainable budget nor had the time to fundraise for a snap election. Those that did manage, had to pay extra on top of the campaign itself.

As an intersectional feminist, I refuse to give up on our right to participate in work, politics and in society on an equal level playing field. The current UK Government that wants to remove or alter enabling policies and funding, capping our ambitions as disabled women. We need to change this structural discrimination for the sake of the next generation.

Part of my determination and inspiration comes from the awareness of the responsibility we have as elected representatives to support young women from all backgrounds and of all abilities today. We are fortunate to have a number of organisations here in Scotland working together for improved equality and more effective representation. The work of Inclusion Scotland, More United, Women 50:50, Parliament Project and many more is vital in overcoming barriers and supporting inclusion at all levels.

All elected bodies, at national, devolved, and local levels, must take the lead in making the practical changes needed to help disabled people, including women and BAME candidates, participate fully in political and public life.

We need more women, and more women who look like all of us, in elected office.

We cannot remove these barriers by ourselves. We need allies and supporters, we need those in power to hear women’s voices and work with us to push for political empowerment and to create substantive opportunities. That way, women – be they disabled, BAME, LGBT, or however they self- identify – will always receive the support needed to become the inspiring representatives of the people that I am sure many will turn out to be.

 

We Still Don’t Value Women in Public Life

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrats MSP for Edinburgh Western.

 

We’re getting a statue of the Great Auk in Edinburgh. Well that’s a relief. For those of you who don’t know, a Great Auk is a flightless bird which was hunted to extinction in the mid-19th century. Our dearly departed, feathered friend will join the many other animals that are memorialised in our nation’s capital: the giraffes of Leith Street, Wojtek, the Polish, gun-carriage-drawing bear on Princess Street and several others.

Why is this relevant to a 50/50 blog? Well, because all told, statues of animals outnumber statues of women in the city by about 5:1. Walking down the Royal Mile, you couldn’t swing a dead Great Auk around your head for fear of hitting the stone effigy of a bloke who was big during the enlightenment – but there is no sign of the women who built so much of this city and its legacy.

A number of city MSPs and I from all parties have recently taken up the campaign to see Elsie Inglis commemorated on the Royal Mile. Elsie was a leading Suffragist in the late 19th century and was close friends with Millicent Fawcett. As a doctor, she established the Women’s Hospitals Movement which took mobile field hospitals to the bloodiest battlefields of World War 1. She was one of the only women ever to receive a state funeral and there are statues to her in Serbia and in France. Her only recognition in the capital is a small plaque in St Giles Cathedral.

The commemoration of important and trail-blazing women matters. It matters because if we don’t do it then the subliminal impact of public art is to cement the patriarchal view that only men can ever achieve greatness. I want to be able to walk up the Royal Mile with my daughter, Darcy, from the palace to castle, and ignite her ambition by pointing out famous female lawyers, politicians and authors and walk her through the steps she’ll need to take if she wants to be like them. The same is true for TV; modern political dramas, whether it be House of Cards or Designated survivor, idealise the rise of men and show the lead character using his male resources to grasp the reins of power. I don’t know about you, but I would like to see a TV adaptation of the life and career of Mary Esslemont, Barbara Castle or Shirley Williams.

It may seem ephemeral but it all adds up. I know so many women who are strong, talented leaders yet still doubt their potential because the world around them is crowded with pictures and sculptures of successful men. I’m glad that we live in more enlightened times where young girls are no longer so readily funnelled towards caring professions and home-making while young boys are groomed for power, but that’s only half the battle. We need to level the playing field in every single aspect of life, whether that’s shared parental leave so an employer can’t infer that a qualified female candidate is a maternity flight risk, or all women shortlists for candidate selections within our political parties.

But all of these steps won’t make the difference we hope if the environment in which we conduct our lives is filled to the gunnels with stone carvings and film adaptations of great men. Our daughters need to be constantly reminded of what they can become to enable them to follow in the footsteps of mighty women who have gone before them.

My Journey to politics – Soryia Siddique

Dr Soryia Siddique was elected to Glasgow City Council in 2012 and re-elected in 2015. With a PhD in cancer research, Soryia is passionate about science, education and equality.Untitled

This year has seen several international women’s organisations launch campaigns to fight for women’s rights, equality and justice. The #MeToo, #TimesUp and #TimeisNow campaigns are just a few in a vast number of organisations doing incredible work.

My journey for equality has been multifaceted. I was born and brought up in Anderston, Glasgow, and was the first female in my family go to university. My dad was a champion of equality and education and encouraged my sister and I to attend university probably more than my brothers. Despite my modern studies teacher’s advice, I didn’t choose to study politics. I have no regrets – I love science and went on to achieve a PhD in drug delivery systems for cancer.
Standing for election was never part of my plan. When people ask me how I got into politics, I don’t fit the stereotype. As a child, my parents were active in the local community and strived to make a difference. I have fond memories of travelling on the bus to London, attending demonstrations, helping elderly neighbours and volunteering at community events. So I guess it was part of my everyday life.

As a female scientist in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry, where women earn a fifth less than their male colleagues in the UK and the gender pay gap increases with age and experience, I had already faced inequality. When I stood for election, I felt a mixture of wanting to change the world and naivety about what to expect.

The reality is that women in politics face barriers and abuse not just because they are speaking up but also because they are women. Muslim women in politics face even more discrimination, particularly if they choose to wear hijab. Standing for election, I fought expectations and perceptions from within the Asian, Muslim and indigenous community. Some wanted to fit me in a box, to be married, not have an opinion, wash dishes and walk a few steps behind my husband. Others said I wasn’t westernised enough.

I ended up topping the ballot in one of the most politicised wards in Scotland. Madeline Albright said: “there is a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women”. I don’t intend to stop any time soon and I am more determined than ever to champion the women around me and tackle the low representations of women in our councils.

 

Everyday Sexism, Pregnancy and being a Councillor.

Kelly Parry is a Councillor for Midlothian West and leader of the SNP Group. She is also the COSLA Spokesperson for Community Wellbeing covering Violence Against Women, Housing and Community Safety.

Over the last six months, I have not been surprised to see women in local government take to social media to share their #metoo stories. I was one of them.

Since being elected in 2015, I have witnessed sexism, misogyny and abuses of power far too often. It is easier to be outraged at the bigger incidents which are more obvious and tangible, but it is the subtler occurrences that wear the thinnest. Unfortunately, it is on these occasions that it can feel more difficult to speak out. My own experiences range from simply feeling patronised, being given a lingering pat on my leg to having reached the point, on more than one occasion, of feeling so vulnerable that I initiated police involvement.

As soon as I was elected, it was clear that there was work to be done to make local councils a female friendly environment. As it stood, for example, no council in Scotland offered formal support or provision for pregnant councillors. The previous lack of female councillors meant that this issue had not been adequately addressed. From the conversations that I had with others, this had led many women elected to local government to either postpone pregnancy or return to their duties much earlier than they would have wished.

While pregnant myself last year, I brought a motion to Midlothian Council proposing the introduction of official maternity and paternity leave provisions for its councillors. Though I was delighted to receive the unanimous support of the council in favour of my motion, some of the attitudes expressed to me during this time – for simply having the ‘audacity’ to be pregnant while being an elected councillor – were extraordinary and, at times, depressing.  I received questions about how I will manage to balance work with having a young child – a question that I suspect has never been asked of my male colleagues when becoming fathers – and ‘joke’ suggestions that I should return to work the day after giving birth or even be demoted. One particularly upsetting comment was “You might need to take longer off if there is something wrong with the baby”.

Of course, none of these attitudes are criminal and they don’t necessarily ‘break the rules’, but it doesn’t make it acceptable. It wouldn’t be acceptable in any other workplace, so why should it be in local government?

I, for one, fully intend to keep working hard to make sure that the next generation of women councillors find a less patriarchal system and a more accessible environment. It is the responsibility of us all – from councils to political parties and amazing organisations like Women 50:50 – to encourage women to stand for election and promote better representation in both parliament and local councils. And we need supportive, modern day policies which will accommodate them when they get here.

Jo Swinson – Why I changed my mind

Jo Swinson MP is Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats. A former Government Minister, she introduced shared parental leave and legislated to require gender pay gap reporting. Jo represented East Dunbartonshire for a decade until 2015 and regained her seat in 2017. While out of Parliament she wrote Equal Power, published this month.Jo railcard (2)

Seventeen years ago, I donned a bright pink t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I am not a token woman” and led the fight at Liberal Democrat conference against all-women shortlists.  Two years ago, I was on the opposite site of the debate, proposing this change for my party alongside Willie Rennie MSP.  What happened?

In short, fifteen years of working to increase the representation of women politics led me to the conclusion that I had under-estimated how deeply embedded gender inequality is in our society – and sadly also that I had over-estimated the political will of my party leadership over those years to allocate the resources, focus, energy and political capital to tackle it.

The centenary of votes for women has rightly been a warm and wonderful celebration of sisterhood.  When we look back and consider history, it’s easy to see how far we’ve come.  But if we benchmark ourselves against how dreadfully unequal things were in the past, we can become complacent and assume progress is inevitable.  It is not.

Instead, we need to look ahead to our goal of 50:50, and work towards that at all levels.  We need a better gender balance throughout: from membership to MPs, local committees to Council chambers, speakers at political events to staff at party HQ.

All-women shortlists are no panacea, and a wide range of action is needed to support more women into political life.  While party leaders at all levels bear the greatest responsibility, here are three things that you can do – both from within political parties and from outside them – to chip away at the male domination of our politics.

  1. Count & comment

Counting is a powerful tool.  From local Councillors to newspaper by-lines, TV studio guests to questioners at an event, just by counting and then commenting on the imbalance that exists, you can raise awareness of the problem, which is the first step. You can comment privately, by emailing a political representative or media outlet, or publicly, on social media or in person at an event.  Also note the context – is the economics discussion five men having a chat and then women are brought in to talk about health?  Challenging political parties, media outlets and event organisers encourages them to factor gender balance into their decisions.

  1. #AskHerToStand

Our politics is dominated by white men, so if you’re not a white man it seems like a less obvious choice to make.  An extra nudge can make the difference –  think about women you know who would make great Councillors, MSPs or MPs and encourage them to stand for election.  The principle of “Ask” applies at earlier levels too – proactively asking women to join local party committees or speak at events.  If you run a community organisation or are organising a public meeting think about the gender balance, and don’t aim for ‘not all men’– 50:50 is the goal.  If you want to see more women in public life, support them in practical ways – donating money to fund staff, offering time to help their campaigns, and supporting them in the face of online abuse.

  1. Get involved yourself

I’d encourage anyone to do this, but especially people who belong to a group that is under-represented in politics: women, LGBT+, BME, disabled, working class, scientists… there’s a wide range!  In the first instance this could be as simple as signing a petition or writing to your MP about an issue.  Then take the step of thinking through which party is the best home for your own political values and join it.  Currently men tend to do this more than women, so more women joining up is the first step to redressing the balance.  Then, depending on what time you are able to give, you can work within the party to make it inclusive and welcoming to people from all groups.