Month: January 2015

Sister Solidarity for Fair Representation

carolynCarolyn Leckie writes about her support for the campaign and why the Women for Independence movement support Women 5050

Many of us in Women for Independence have struggled for 50/50 representation for years. But, as a young, grassroots, organic movement that has inspired thousands of women to get involved in politics for the first time – it was important to ensure the widest possible democratic discussion before endorsing this latest Scottish Women 50:50 campaign. But we are glad to announce that we do. Women’s voices became incredibly influential in the referendum campaign – but that should just be normal politics. After all, we are more than half of the population.

The second part of our name is Independence for Women. So, it wasn’t a surprise that we decided to support 50/50. And I’m not alone in being a supporter of 50/50 for as long as I can remember. But what seems like obvious common sense to me can be a hugely divisive issue. When I and others in the Scottish Socialist Party proposed it – nearly 15 years ago – we had no idea how difficult it would be. There’s nothing like a positive anti discrimination measure to flush out vested interests and, in a substantial minority, downright hostility. The SSP did introduce a democratic 50/50 mechanism – but resentment lingered and had an impact on the character of the SSP for years to come. Sexism is one major reason why I am no longer involved in party politics – despite 50/50.

Our experience demonstrated the limitations of 50/50 – the most energetic resistance to it is borne of ingrained sexism and misogyny. And that culture is a harder, more long term thing to address. But that is all the more reason to implement 50/50. These questions are best brought out in the open and where people, and men in particular, really want to understand structural sexism and privilege, it can be a hugely educational process.

50/50 isn’t a panacea in the struggle for women’s equality. Whilst very welcome, the appointment of a 50/50 cabinet by the Scottish Government is unlikely to mean that gender equality will trickle down any more than wealth trickles down. But it’s action at the top. Where power is. It demonstrates that male domination is not the natural order of things. And with political will, women can become participants and influencers in the world – representative of our number. It signposts a direction of travel. It sends a message to those who complacently assert that the ‘cream rises to the top’. My pal, Rosie Kane, famously quipped in the SSP 50/50 conference debate that, “It’s fine to say the cream rises to the top, but that’s no use if the cream can’t break out of the fridge!”

Unfortunately, too often these issues arise in the immediate context of candidate selection for impending elections. This is when incumbency, vested interests, strategic goals of party leaders etc. are likely to impinge on a genuinely open discussion. 50/50 needs to go in hand with democracy. It’s no use trying to parachute preferred women into seats when it becomes apparent that so called ‘merit’ and existing processes deliver a group of the usual male, pale and stale candidates. The Trades Unions have done better at developing democratic mechanisms like reserved places etc. which are in place before particular individuals are thought to be ‘in the frame’ and before selection and election takes place.

The democratic revival sparked by the referendum, and the rising of the women, should mean there is no hiding place for parties if they revert to business as usual. It became glaringly obvious during it that Scotland, literally, has thousands of talented, capable women – any one of whom would make excellent elected representatives. It will be a sad sight, if, after the 2015 Westminster election, the busload of MPs, of whichever party, that end up in Westminster, looks the same as every other busload that has gone down since time immemorial.

So, Women for Independence is pleased to support Scottish Women 50:50. We regret such campaigns continue to be necessary. Let’s hope the political parties – leaders, activists and members – listen. Women’s equality should, surely, in 2015, be boring mainstream.

The message from Women for Independence is: women aren’t just for referenda.

Why I’m a Supporter

Monica Lennon, Councillor for South Lanarkshire, tell us about why equal representationmonica matters to her and the very real sexism that women candidates and elected representatives face even today. 

When I stood in the 2012 council elections I hadn’t fully appreciated how rare women are in local politics. It was little things at first. “You’re not like most councillors”, one officer remarked as I settled into my new role. “Well done you – a lady councillor,” was one verbal pat on the back from a well-meaning constituent. 

Slightly more awkward moments followed – that time when a local clergyman only acknowledged me at an event when a male colleague signaled I was a councillor too. He’d ignored me when he thought I was the bag-carrier.

The brutal fact is that over three-quarters of council seats are occupied by men.  I am one of the 24 per cent. The gender imbalance in local politics is staggering. 

During the referendum it bothered me a great deal. The persistent gender gap in voting intentions kept ‘women’ in the spotlight.  And thanks to the impressive grassroots campaigning by women on both sides of the referendum divide, the under-representation of women in Scottish politics has climbed its way up the political agenda.

Placing an even number of men and women around her Cabinet table, Nicola Sturgeon is earning a reputation as a First Minister committed to gender equality.  Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale are leading a gender-balanced Scottish Labour top team. Both the SNP and Scottish Labour are committed to quotas for public boards.

But we continue to hear very little about the exclusion of women from town halls and city chambers across Scotland. It wasn’t hugely difficult for Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Murphy to ensure the top jobs in their teams were shared evenly between men and women. In contrast, smashing down the barriers that keep women out of the corridors of power in their own communities requires serious intervention. 

Gender equality is a cornerstone of our democracy at every tier. Politics is too important to be left in the homogenous hands of a few. That’s why I support Women 5050, quotas and all.

In the aftermath of the referendum, Women 5050 was born and warring politicos were reminded there are many issues on which we agree.  As general election swords prepare to clash, Women 5050 is the perfect place to take refuge and acknowledge that your opponents are mere mortals too.  If a fairer Scotland is your goal, where women and men in a community near you have the same opportunities to contribute to public life, sign up and get involved. 

Monica Lennon is a Councillor in South Lanarkshire and is Vice Chair of Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse Constituency Labour Party 

Why I’m A Supporter

Sarah Beattie-Smith, Scottish Green Party activist, tells us why she supports Women 5050 and why a more gender equal Scotland matters:kZN89nQN

A week after the referendum, I found myself back campaigning in the same spot on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk where I’d spent the fortnight before the vote, persuading folk to vote Yes. Only this time, I was bridging the Yes/No divide with Talat Yaqoob, no campaigner and fabulous feminist behind the Women 50:50 campaign, talking to passers by and signing them up to the 50:50 petition.

Standing in the chilly sunshine that day we had a mixed response – twitter informed us that we were traitors to our causes whilst passers by looked at us blankly when we asked if they’d like to sign our petition for gender equality. But thankfully, we had plenty of people stop and chat, sign up and thank us for campaigning on such an important issue.

And of course it is vitally important. In Scotland today, women make up just 35% of our MSPs and a measly 22% of our councillors. We are second class citizens in politics and even more so in the board room where less than 21% of FTSE 100 company board members are women. So why is this a problem? Simple – if we cannot achieve equality in leadership and representation, how can women ever hope to achieve it in the workplace and in our domestic lives? Structural change is badly needed, alongside the policies, practices and attitudes to make it inevitable.

The Scottish Green Party has long had gender equality at the heart of our policy and practice, opting for gender balanced selection processes and co-conveners instead of leaders. Our policies, favouring universal, funded childcare and a well funded public sector are also made with women and tackling inequality in mind so it was a no brainer for us to join the Women 50:50 campaign. However we’re not immune to structural inequality and embedded cultural practice. In party meetings you’ll often still find that women will make the tea and the men speak first – such engrained gendered behaviour is evidently tough to break out of.

Yet, we all have a responsibility to try, in order to make Women 50:50’s goals a reality. To get more women into politics and into leadership, men must be willing to stand aside once in a while and women must be willing to take their place. Without these attitudinal changes, structural change is miles away.

Throughout the referendum campaign many hundreds of thousands of us – on both sides – campaigned for a fairer, more equal Scotland. But that fairer Scotland won’t just emerge from one vote, regardless of the outcome. Nor will it happen overnight. That responsibility now rests with all of us.

Sarah is on Twitter: @SarahBS_27