Month: October 2015

How women leaders shaped policy for women

Anni Donaldson is a, journalist, blogger, violence against women researcher and oral historian. Anni won the award for Best Article in the first Write to End VAW Awards in 2013. 

 The Women 5050 campaign stands full-square on the shoulders of the women who pushed the equality agenda in the lead up to Scottish devolution and beyond. To everyone’s frustration, while the gender power gap seems to quiver at times on the verge of contraction, it still seems to have settled below the bar. However to keep spirits up, it might be worth reflecting that after over fifteen years of devolution we can look back to a real and fine example of how one corner of the gender power gap closed and achieved lasting change. The campaign for the elimination of violence against women, rebooted during the resurgence of feminist activism during the 1970s has been a long haul. However, looking back on the time since those dim and distant disco days, I think it is safe to say that through consistent activism and nifty political manoeuvring, women successfully breached Scotland’s dominant power structures to bring about substantial changes in attitudes and responses to issues which had previously been largely hidden from public view.

The run up to devolution saw an explosion in women’s leadership across all spheres of civic and public life. As the political landscape changed, the opportunity for bringing women’s equality to the centre of the policy agenda was grasped after the long Thatcher years. Organisations like 5050 (Women 5050’s foremother), the Women’s Joint Action Forum, Scottish Women’s Consultative Forum, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and many others brought together trades unionists, civil servants, local government councillors and officials, public services and feminists to focus on VAW. The 1999 elections have been described as a gender coup that transformed Scottish politics. Women thus created a critical mass during the dying years of the old century to extract, in 2000, a clear commitment from the new Scottish Government to tackle VAW women’s inequality and to end discrimination and social exclusion. Women from all sides of the political spectrum and none, grabbed the issue with all hands and jumped into the political and policy space opening up. Since then, they have determinedly set about addressing what has always been the key social issue affecting Scottish women down the centuries and which has defied all efforts made towards its elimination.

They were up against it. Scotland’s deeply patriarchal society initially manned the barricades but gradually women built creative alliances, gathered shed loads of empirical evidence, challenged attitudes and made sure the Government put its money where its mouth was. The momentum continues and to date what was formerly considered a women’s issue is now recognised as everyone’s issue. Violence against women affects every Scottish citizen and some big beasts have joined the activists – the justice system, politicians, local authorities, front-line workers, academics – the only way is forward. Closing the gender power gap in tackling violence against women is working. It was a long time coming, there is a long way to go but there is no going back.  


The next stage

The Women 5050 campaign has gone from strength to strength over the last year. With our conference coming up and already selling out, we have amassed a huge amount of interest across Scotland.

But between the excitement, there is also some hard lobbying that needs to happen. We need to make sure the ability to implement quotas is devolved in the Scotland Bill. Without this, our campaign will take longer and fair representation for women will be an even tougher fight.

On the 10th of September 2015, we sent an email to all Scottish MPs. We asked them to support our campaign and submit amendments to the next reading of the Scotland Bill to include the devolution of quotas.

Since then, Ian Murray MP has submitted the following amendment:


Clause 32, page 34, line 13, at end insert “including the imposition of minimum quotas for women and other persons with protected characteristics across all levels of public and political representation in Scotland.”

Member’s explanatory statement This Amendment is intended to make explicit that, among the exceptions to reserved matters on equal opportunities, the power is being devolved to the Scottish Parliament to set gender quotas.

We have now written to all MPs to ask them to support this amendment or to submit complimentary amendments to support this. We hope that in the same spirit as Women 5050, they work in a cross party way to make fair representation a reality.

The debate will be taking place within the next couple of weeks and over this time, we need to push our MPs to vote in favour and encourage others to do the same.

You can find out who your MP is here and you can visit our website for inspiration on what to like. Remember to ask them to support amendment 26 in the Scotland Bill at the report stage.

We have had positive responses from David Mundell MP who suggested in a letter to the Scottish Parliament Devolution Committee that quotas would be fully devolved, but it is only a win when it is clearly in the Scotland Bill. A letter of warm words and expectations is not enough.

Will you help us win?

We won’t turn back the clock

A special blog from Jersusalem Barnabas from Shakti Women’s Aid:


A lot has changed since 19th century yet not significantly in terms of women’s voice and concerns being heard.  Also in terms of recognition of women’s talents and skills ambitions and contributions.

While democracy (we are told), was ‘born in Europe’ (Greece), Women in Europe find themselves underrepresented in democratic platforms.

Despite the fact women have been eligible to vote for almost hundred years, since 1918, UK had only one female prime minster and the USA had none. Women’s number in UK parliament is increasing at every election nevertheless, only 191 women were elected as member of parliaments and this is the highest it has reached. It wasn’t even until the 1997 election, the number went to three digits; until 1992, there were only 60 women in parliament.  Within the judiciary system, UK has only 21 percent of judges while Romania has 72 percent.

Not having any constitutional and legislative balance in our parliamentary and judiciary system is responsible for the lack of women in higher political and public domain.

If we see the European parliament, women’s representation has gone up from 16 percent in 1979, when there were only 9 member of states, to 37% in 2014 with 28 member of states. In comparison though, women hold 50 percent of African Union Parliamentary seats.   Rwanda is said to have the world highest ratio of women in political domain 64 percent, followed by Bolivia, Cuba and the Seychelles. South Africa has 40 percent, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda 35 percent women in parliament whereas, in UK is 25 percent and United States 18 to 20 percent.

This shows that there is no correlation between democracy and economic prosperity.   Even then, there is no visible reflection of those women who are from black and ethnic minority in UK Parliament. Women from minority ethnic community are underrepresented in all political parties in the UK.

It would bring a radical result to have more women in parliamentary, judiciary and other public institutions by using a quota system and positive action to tackle gender inequality.

That is why many African countries that have just emerged out of violence and war managed to have more women representation in such a short period because they use a quota system. For example, out of the five judges in the international Criminal Court (ICC) for Africa, four of them are female judges.

While in UK, Lord Sumpton, Supreme Court justice, said the reason why UK doesn’t have more female judges is because ‘women are unwilling to tolerate long hours and poor working conditions’. He also thinks gender balance will destroy the judiciary system.  This is the kind of thinking women have to put up with while they are the one trapped in poor condition, long working hours and low paid jobs.

Women in Australia, North America and Europe are economically better off and are educated but there is no reflection of that education in political platforms. There is no constitutional or legislative mandate to break the patriarchal and male centred democratic setup to enable women to have a political or judiciary representation in public domain.

While the world moved in technological and industrial advancement. The thinking of women’s and racial equality are far behind from catching up with that advancement. It is about time something radical is done. The world has to come to terms that women are not going to turn backwards to centuries gone of being considered less than. Enough is enough!

Less Rhetoric, More Action

Miriam Brett, feminist activist and policy analyst at The Common Weal writes for Women 5050:miriam

Our government seeks to be a genuinely representative body of our wider society, reflecting our diversity, mirroring our hopes.

In Scotland, we have witnessed immense progress; with the introduction of all women shortlists and a gender balanced cabinet, and our first woman First Minister in the short space of a year. But we, as a society, need to do more to ensure that equal representation is achieved.

Despite chronic underrepresentation being symptomatic of a wider, embedded societal problem, when discussed, it is often spoken about in passive terms: the indifferent combination of oversimplified but seemingly impassioned language, teamed with vague solutions.

‘More needs to be done to get women into government’, ‘we need to encourage women to be involved’ and ‘being a woman shouldn’t be a barrier in politics’.

Two aspects about this narrative scream out as ineffective. Firstly, all avoidance of any practical solutions to generational underrepresentation reveals an empty rhetoric, devoid of hope, reflecting rather than challenging the status quo. Secondly, it addresses the problem as if equal representation is needed simply for the sake of equal representation, as opposed to the means of obtaining societal, cultural and economic transformation.

The reality of women’s under-representation in politics is systemic.

So long as women are inadequately represented in our spheres of politics, they cannot implement the majority of our laws. The unique ways that men and women experience our society is subsequently lost, as is a vital analytical depth.

An additional barrier is that when women do gain roles in politics, they are all too often low-ranking jobs, habitually buried under a more senior, influential guise. We must ask ourselves, what is the point in having women in politics when too many of them are resided to low skill, low wage, and low influence work?

My Great-Granny, an ammunition factory worker, grew up witnessing the struggle and persecution of those who fought for a woman’s right to vote, and never failed to use hers. My granny, who was fervently passionate about equality, endured low pay all of her life, despite enforced legislation. My Mum at my age (24) believed that women would no longer be discriminated against and an equal society was just round the corner.

How much has really changed for women? Yes we can vote, but our voices, experiences, talents are not equally included, listened to or respected. And our society is lessened as a result.

Equal representation would ensure that policies predominantly impacting women are implemented effectively. The idealism of, say, the 1970s laws to promote equal pay are probably symptomatic of the lack of women involved in framing successful policy and ensuring the impact of legislation.

Having women at the centre of government places equal pay, equal opportunities, the fight against poverty and domestic violence, housing and the needs of the family at the forefront of the mainstream agenda.

The so-called natural route to equality is set to take over 100 years. The call for equality of representation needs to channel hope and strength, to engage popular support and be seen as key to the challenge of creating a more just society. It’s surely time to end the inter-generational discrimination.

And until then, never ever calm down, dears.