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.


Lesley Laird; Time is overdue for bold action on women’s real equality

unnamedLesley Laird is a Scottish Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. Lesley is a supporter of the Women 5050 campaign to achieve gender-balanced representation in Parliament, Local Councils and on Public Boards. Twitter: @LesleyLaird 

With the shocking Harvey Weinstein revelations in the latter part of 2017, you would have thought that whoever was organising the Presidents Club event last month might just have had a light bulb moment before pressing ahead with one of the most disgusting and tasteless events likely to grace any social calendar. Just when you think it can’t get any worse – it does.

I could never be described as a ‘rampant’ feminist but, as friends and colleagues down the years would say, I don’t stand for any nonsense. Here’s the thing. Despite strong and capable women over generations standing up for their sisters, we are still fundamentally fighting the same battle. It goes beyond equality of work and pay. At its heart is respect – or as these two sorry episodes show, a distinct lack of.

Recent events show that successful and very senior male decision-makers still think the rules of respect do not apply to them. This is why something radical needs to be done. If we want a society that truly respects women, the lawmakers and decision-takers need to stop the warm words and apply some real heat to making it happen.

Let’s start with pay. We have had equal pay legislation since 1970, but we still do not have parity between genders when it comes to pay. We need a Government that will take bolder steps to make it so.

I believe that a number of actions need to be taken.

The current equal pay and equality law is not fit for purpose.  It needs to be reviewed, updated and should incorporate specific targets and timescales for organisations to achieve equal pay and equality measures. My Dad, a trade unionist, often told me: “There is never a good time to ask for a pay rise”. In this instance, it’s not a rise – it’s the rate for the job. Organisations have been getting a cheap wage deal out of women for years. It’s time to pay up or pay the consequences.

Which brings me to my second point. I believe, 48 years after equal pay legislation, that if companies have “not yet got with the programme” they should be prosecuted and fined. Just like obligations on health and safety, directors and senior leaders should be held liable for ensuring that their organisation is not simply paying lip service to the law. It’s way past the time to do the right thing.

Thirdly, the UK should set legal quotas for women’s representation on boards – both public and private – with regulatory consequences for non-compliance. The status quo of self-regulation shows there is no motivation for change. If we want something to change then we need to set out a compelling reason for changing, and if that requires legislation, then so be it. Quite simply, increasing female representation on boards is good for business. If you only ever fish in the same pond you will only ever catch the same type of fish – and continue the contaminated culture of Harvey Weinstein and All the President’s Men! Let’s widen the talent pool.

It’s not only at work that women are discriminated against. With rising levels of inequality in our society, it is women and children who are being disproportionately affected.

Nowhere is this so starkly seen than in the impact of austerity measures.  A recent House of Commons Briefing Paper, Estimating the gender impact of tax and benefits changes (December 2017), considered a range of studies looking at the gender impact of tax and benefits changes. Analysis of the 2016 Autumn Budget Statement by The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) showed that “individuals in the poorest households stand to lose most from tax and benefit changes, but in every income group women lose more of their individual income than men and BME women will lose the greatest amount”.   The Group also highlighted that:

  • Lone mothers (91% of lone parents) are set to lose 18% of their household living standards on average – a real terms cut of £9,000 per annum.
  • Single female pensioners (71% of single pensioners) are set to lose 11% of their living standards – the majority due to cuts in social care spending.

A further, and the most glaring, flaw in today’s system is that the current 2010 Equalities Act does not require formal Equality Impact Assessments to be carried out.  By failing to do so, the burden is again being disproportionately carried by women and the poorest in our society without the impact being fully understood and with no targeted mitigation measure even considered.

It is clear that there is a pervasive and unhealthy culture both within the work place and in wider society that continues to serve the few, while the many – and predominantly women – are picking up the tab.

So, let’s keep the pressure on for substantive reform, not just in the work place but in every aspect of our daily lives.

One Win Out of Three

Yesterday, the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of having at least 50% women on all public boards (88 in favour, 28 against). Public bodies need to work towards meeting that target by 2022. At Women 50:50 we have been campaigning for this, along with women’s representation in politics, since 2014. Here is a summary of a few of our thoughts on this and what need to happen next:

Why does having women on public boards matter?

It might not seem like that big a deal, but there is a bigger picture here. Firstly, public boards make key decisions about public services which are disproportionately used by women. This bill will impact the boards of the key agencies such as health boards, enterprise agencies, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. These are agencies which make decisions about critical aspects of our lives; our access to health care and our justice system, it is right that these decisions are equally influenced by women. Secondly, despite what you might think, having a woman who is First Minister does not automatically mean women are more likely to be in leadership positions, nor does it fully tackle the idea of leadership being a male characteristic. That can never and should never rest on one woman’s shoulders. This bill will increase the number of women in these roles and, we hope, help tackle leadership gender bias.

But this is not a silver bullet, there is no such thing for women’s social, cultural and economic inequality. To tackle this, we need multiple interventions, we need to tackle the pay gap, we need to challenge and change the justice system for victims of sexual violence, we need to take on media sexism, we need to advocate for the disproportionate number of women who are unpaid carers and we need a labour market that values the sectors where women are over-represented, undervalued and underpaid. But this is a progressive step, illustrating that steps to create parity can and must be achieved.

This is also the first step of three for Women 50:50, it is important because it is the first time the Scottish Parliament has used this power to balance decision makers and gives us the foundations to fight for, and win, the same outcome to have political parties field at least 50% women candidates. Making the ballot paper, the choice of decision makers, reflective of the society they seek to represent.

But the ratio of men to women isn’t so bad on public boards, do you really need legislation?

Yes, because progress in not linear. In 2007 we had 40% women MSPs, today we have 35%. The purpose of legislating for this change is to ensure we do slip behind. The number of women we have on public boards is due to this issue being in the spotlight, we can’t afford for this to drop of the agenda and therefore, for fair representation to drop off the agenda. This legislation prevents that. This legislation is also about boards as individual entities, not simply a 50% target as a collective. This matters because many boards are still male dominated, despite the overall number of women board members increasing.

What next: We, along with other equalities organisations (Engender, Close the Gap, Scottish Trans and the Equality Network) wrote to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee last week to recommend ways in which the implementation of this bill. Here’s what we think needs to happen now:

  1. Accountability : whilst there are no sanctions attached to the bill, there are reporting duties which would require boards to report progress to the Scottish Parliament. The bill only works if there is accountability involved in the 2022 target.
  2. Good Guidance: We need guidance to be clear and unambiguous, we need public boards to be knowledgeable in how to not only attract women to be board members, but ensure that cultures on these boards are inclusive and that there is an understanding of this bill and gender inequality by board members.
  3. Representation of BME, Disabled, working class, LGBT women: This bill is not about making thing even easier for those who would have always had access to these positions. Women in Scotland are BME, working class, LGBT, disabled – we will be focused on ensuring public bodies are truly being represented of the diversity of Scotland’s women. Without this, we cannot call this progress for women. We have advocated strongly for this to be included in guidance and for intersectional data on board membership to be provided in reporting, allowing us to review and better hold boards to account.


This blog was written by Talat Yaqoob, Chair and Co-Founder of Women 50:50.

Meet Rachel – our new blog editor!

Rachel is 18, is taking a year out before university to potentially study politics, she’s using this time to get lots of experience and is working with Women 5050 to support this. Rachel is our new volunteer blog editor and will be coordinating our ask for supporters, campaigners and equalities champions to write for us. Interested? Get in touch below:

Hello! My name is Rachel Fergusson and I am excited to join Women 5050 as Volunteer Blog Editor in 2018. I first heard about Women 5050 during a work experience placement at the Scottish Parliament, where I was lucky enough to listen to Women 5050 give evidence at a committee meeting on the Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill. As a young feminist, frustrated by stalling progress on equal representation, I was inspired to contact the chair of Women 5050 and become involved in the campaign.

As 2017 draws to a close, we can reflect on year in which three of Scotland’s largest parties were led by women – a surreal and extraordinary moment in Scottish politics which cemented the normalisation of women in executive positions of power. While this visibility is to be celebrated, it has created an illusion of progress that remains absent at lower levels of politics and across public life. Amongst the headlines of 2017 was the conspicuous failure of the local council elections to turn out more than 30% female Councillors, making the need for action more critical than ever. Too often, rhetorical commitment to gender equality is undermined by reluctant support for material measures that address structural inequality at its core. Women 5050 is absolutely necessary in turning these words into deeds.

Though legal quotas are the only basis on which we can uproot structural inequality, and on which a non-discriminatory meritocracy can exist, the concept is subjected to a host of myths that persistently frustrate progress. In a recent poll, only 23% of the public supported quotas, largely because legislated action is so deeply entangled with the notion that quotas promote ‘positive discrimination’ and inevitably lead to mediocracy. I aim to use this blog to demystify the concept of gender quotas, which, when understood clearly and in context, are neither radical or controversial, and are simply the fairest way to draw the most talent from our parliament and public bodies. As Editor, I am looking forward to promoting voices that are conducive to this change. For legitimate progress to be made, the conversation about the need for legislative solutions must be dynamic and inclusive, and should not be generated by those in the political sphere alone. I hope that this blog can be a platform that reaches beyond that narrow domain, and unites voices from political, public and grassroots levels in support of action on equal representation.

If you have any ideas or would like to contribute by writing a guest blog, please e-mail me at rsfergusson1@hotmail.com (any questions about the specifics of the campaign go to scottishwomen5050@gmail.com)
See you soon!

“Just ignore it”

Talat Yaqoob  is Chair and Co-founder of Women 5050. download (3)



Over the course of the weekend, the Women 5050 campaign was, as ever, given advice from a number of men who in their own words were, “doing us a favour”. The favour they were doing us was a helpful reminder of how women should respond to online misogyny (Yes, the irony was lost). The advice neatly fitted into one of two categories and I would like to take some time to explain why neither of these provide any helpful advice and detract from the importance of the issue:

Category 1. Ignore it – because the person being a misogynist isn’t worth it or our time is more valuable . 

Has ignoring something, ever really made it go away? Women online could ignore misogyny all they like, but it will still come in droves and it will still attempt to silence them. If your first reaction to a woman online being abused is to recommend she ignores it, you either have no appreciation of the impact such abuse has or do not care. Whilst it may seem helpful to suggest we do not give the abuse oxygen, the reality is, covering our eyes and ears only makes the abuse silent to us individually, it does not overcome the problem.

Category 2: There’s bigger fish to fry – because there are real issues to deal with and we should know better. 

We get told that online misogyny is nothing compared to FGM, domestic abuse and rape, those are real issues that we should be fighting. Well, firstly, violence exists on a spectrum and it is incredibly ill informed to think misogyny online is not linked to misogyny and abuse in “real life”. Secondly, we have the capacity and intelligence to fight against and care about online misogyny and all of the things you deem “more important”.

Here’s some examples of what our women parliamentarians have to deal with, which took me no more than 3 clicks to find. Please be aware, there is misogynistic and abusive language used here


Yes, I doubt there is an MSP or MP today who has not experienced some abuse online, but women MSPs and MPs experience a gendered or sexualised version of it. Study after study has confirmed it. For instance here, where a survey focused on men, still illustrated that women suffered more: “The survey of men found that women were twice as likely to be attacked purely because of their gender. One in four serious and violent threats directed at women were related to their gender, compared with one in 16 for men.”. If we look at MPs specifically the abuse is again, gendered, more likely to be experienced by women and often includes sexual violence. 

Why does this matter to the Women 5050 campaign? Because sexist abuse online and the disproportionate abuse of our women leaders prevents other women from aspiring to these roles. Last year, GirlGuiding UK released a report stating that “49% of girls aged 11–21 say fear of abuse online makes them feel less free to share their views”. Earlier this year, Unison Wales told us that online abuse was putting women off politics.

Finally, the Inter-Parliamentary Union published a report in 2016 with 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries stated that “This study shows that social media have become the number one place in which psychological violence – particularly in the form of sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats – is perpetrated against women parliamentarians.” 

If we want to see a more diverse Scottish Parliament, if we truly want to eradicate the gendered barriers preventing women from entering politics, then it is all of our responsibility to call out sexism in every place we find it; whether online or in our debate chambers.

If you see us tweeting to condemn online abuse of women, our supporters and our MSPs/MPs, why not considering joining us rather than talking down our efforts? Why not be part of a movement which stands up to sexism and be part of the fightback to make our politics a hate-free space? Hopefully, what is written here, gives you an insight into the damage of online misogyny and the consequence of staying silent about it.


Parliamentary Reform – what’s in it for women?

By Talat Yaqoob, Chair and Co-Founder of Women 5050

Today, the Scottish Parliament debated the report by the Commission on Parliamentary Reform (read here). This reform process was critical for women, not only to ensure that we push for gender balance, but to make way for more inclusive practice throughout our parliament. After the revelation in 2016, that the Scottish Parliament Bureau and Scottish Parliament Corporate body was all male, it was clear reform was desperately needed.

But the reality is, this reform report does not go far enough and leaves much to be desired on gender equality.

Here are the recommendations on gender which have been made and what we think of them:

  1. A systematic review of Standing Orders should be undertaken to ensure that it is diversity sensitive and inclusive to facilitate equal and effective participation by MSPs in all business. We agree and it should be stated that any group convened to take this forward must be gender balanced.
  2. As a first step, committee membership should reflect the gender balance of MSPs in the Parliament. This approach should then be expanded to other protected characteristics once better diversity in representatives is achieved. We agree, however this would mean that committees have at least 35% women, but without accountability for parties, how will this be achieved?
  3. Parliament should report on key aspects of parliamentary business and MSPs by protected characteristic. Subsequently the Parliament,
    political parties and others should work together to agree benchmarks for what is desirable in terms of diversity in candidates for Scottish
    Parliamentary elections and set a realistic timetable for achieving this. Political parties leading on bench marking does not work. This should be led by equalities organisations expressing what these benchmarks should be and how we hold political parties to account. Most importantly, we’ve already told you what the benchmark is; 50%!
  4. The Parliament should report on the diversity of all those who have special access to the Parliament through the provision of parliamentary
    passes. This we are excited by – this could and should mean diversity in special passes which includes media representation – more women journalists please!

In regards to quotas and women’s representation, this is the extent of it:

The diversity of elected members is dependent, to some extent, upon the
candidate selection policies of individual parties and the candidates’ subsequent success at the ballot box. We are aware that other parliaments have taken a more proactive approach to addressing a lack of diversity amongst their members, with some using statutory quotas for female members. Others have gone further, linking funding for political parties to gender balance, such as the Dáil Éireann where parties can lose 50% of their state funding if they don’t achieve a certain level of female candidates (30% at the election in 2016 rising to 40% in seven years).

This was an opportunity to state unequivocal support for measures to address gender balance of candidates, this simply, doesn’t go far enough.

The words creche, childcare, maternity, flexible working come up in the report a total of zero times. Given that women take on the majority of caring responsibilities and it is repeatedly cited as a reason for not taking up a larger involvement in politics, it is disappointing this does not come up as an issue in the report. This is particularly important, when the Scottish Parliament was set up to be a “family friendly parliament”.

We were looking for the following from the commission:

  1. 50/50 committees – there was no recommendation on this.
  2. Flexible working and better access to childcare – there was no recommendation on this.
  3. Equality and Diversity training for MSPs/Staff – This was stated in the recommendations and we are encouraged by this.
  4. An outreach strategy on equality and diversity – This was described vaguely in the report and there was reference to doing more to get diversity into the parliament, we would like to see this defined further and include a strategy on how equalities organisations and campaigns can get involved in this.

Long story short – we had hoped gender was front and centre in this report, but unfortunately it seems more like a footnote. This was an opportunity to be forceful about a 50/50 parliament but the opportunity was lost. The commission report reflects, rightly, that more needs to done on diversity, but stops short on any specifics on what this entails. Critically, there are no targets, no methods of accountability and no consequences for lack of compliance. We’re left thinking; “how will this really make any change?”

Finally, we had hoped this report would have taken inspiration from work on parliamentary reform and gender which has taken place in Westminster such as the recent Women and Equalities committee report and the Good Parliament report by Professor Sarah Childs. Both of which went further than the recommendations here with targets and accountability. The particular inspiration we had hoped would have been sparked, was on quotas for women which both reports advocate.

We hope the Scottish Parliament will take this report as a starting point only and commit to going much further. Otherwise real change is far away.