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.


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.