Month: July 2016

The Political Glass Ceiling – cracked not shattered. 

Terri Smith is a Member of The Scottish Youth Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith and is Chair of SYP. She tells us about the her experience as an MSYP and why the answer to progressiveness is in our young people: 

A woman is the First Minister of Scotland, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and now a United States presidential nominee. Has the proverbial glass ceiling really been shattered? Is 2016 the year girls and women across the globe can finally say our gender is not a barrier to our involvement in politics, and that we can reach the top solely dependent on our capabilities?

Questions like this are more complicated than they might seem. Here in Scotland, the leaders of the three largest political parties are women, but only 35% of MSPs are women. This is despite the fact that 51% of our country’s population is female. The 2011 Scottish Parliament also only had 35% female representation, showing that there has been no natural increase in representation from 2011 to 2016.

Let’s go back to the glass ceiling metaphor for a minute. The ceiling has been broken, but as a young woman looking up at top it seems I have a rope, and my male counterparts have a lift. How do we bridge the gap of 35% of representation to 51% of the population? How do we create a Scotland where everyone is fairly represented because we have shattered not just ceilings, but all the barriers to representation?

The Women 50:50 campaign is important because it aims to do away with the ropes and lifts, and give everyone the same path to representation, to decision making, and to the top. The pledge calls for action to be taken against the disproportionate advantages men have historically had in politics, in councils, and on public boards. Young women need more than a few women at the top; we need women all along the way. We need a Scotland where our inclusion is a given, not something we have to fight for. It should be the norm to say to young girls “you can make it to the top” or “you can do whatever you dream of doing”. I’ve been a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for seven years. I wish someone had told me those things at the beginning of my time, because it might not have taken me seven years to realise my ambition and become Chair.

Like many things, young people are more progressive when it comes to equal representation. While I’m only the second elected female to chair the Scottish Youth Parliament since it was established in 1999, I am also the second female elected to stand as chair in the last three years. Our current membership is the first in which we have more female identifying MSYPs than male, meaning we have broken that ceiling, but we also have proportionate representation. Our parliament supports the Women 50:50 pledge, because we want all aspects of our governments and public boards to be balanced and representative.

Looking up again at the shards of the broken glass ceiling, I know young women like myself have a lot of hard work and obstacles ahead of us if we want to reach the top, but what I want is to look up and see the same view my male peers are seeing. Someone’s assigned or reassigned gender should not determine their ability to stand up and be counted. Let’s make Scotland a place where Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale, and Ruth Davidson aren’t a novelty, and a place where young women feel empowered to take on the world.

The Tiresome Sexism in our Media

Chair and Co-Founder of Women 5050, Talat Yaqoob, tells us about how media and cultural stereotyping contributes to a landscape with fewer women leaders:

Sexism in the media is apparent day in, day out. Whether it is the pages of The Daily Star who seem to thing a naked woman is needed sprawled across a page to enable us to understand the news or advertising selling apples but of course needs a woman seductively biting into one for us to purchase it. Sexism in media is not new, but it is an on-going, and what feels like an increasing, problem.

When I talk about this I often get told to “brush it off”, “That’s just how it is” or the rarer but more painful “at least women are in the media, it’s only a problem if you make it one.”

The reality of course is – I am not making it a problem, it is a problem. A big one. Let me show you just a few examples of how much of a problem this is:

Here’s how Nicola Sturgeon was depicted during the General Election (The Sun 2015):


Nicola Sturgeon again, during the independence referendum (The Daily Mail 2014):


This is how Kezia Dugdale MSP was described (Edinburgh Evening News 2015):

evening news

When Kezia Dugdale goes on Question Time (blogger, 2015)



When was the last time a male leader was described as this? (Daily Mail, 2016)


Liz Kendall in the 2015 Labour Leadership election:


Who cares what you think Ruth, why are you wearing that colour? (Daily Mail, 2016)


The headline of the above article (Daily Mail, 2016)

Iron Lassie

What Ruth Davidson received (LBC Presenter, 2016)


And  most recently, how the media is illustrating Theresa May – evidence A (Daily Mail, 2016)


Evidence B (Mirror, 2016) – ask yourself; when was the last time we asked a male MSP to justify why he doesn’t have children:

theresa children

And finally, there was that time where women (Sorry, girls) were not members of the cabinet, but on a modelling contract:

The Daily Mail's 'Downing Street catwalk'

The Women 5o50 campaign is fighting for more women to be leaders in councils, parliament and on public boards, but when you have media critiquing women leaders or potential leaders not for their policy stances, but what they wear, their haircuts, their personal lives and the pitch of their voices, it is not surprising that fewer women than men come forward to take on these roles. Who would put themselves under that level of cruel scrutiny? It is old, it is tired, it is time for it to stop. There is potential that main parties both north and south of the border will be lead by women – whilst this is certainly not a sign in of itself that we have reached a “post-feminist” society (trust, me) it does bring to the fore just how ridiculous this commentary is and highlights how much of a novelty our media seems to think women in positions of power are -still. Get over being surprised at their existence, get over thinking they are there to look good. Ask them the questions that matter – how will they make our country fairer? What is their view on austerity? What will they do for the 1 in 4 women who experience gender based violence?

Media and women’s representation – it’s a chicken or egg situation:

Do we need to have more women in parliament first, their leadership becoming normalised and therefore media taking their existence more seriously will follow. Or do we need media to become more mature and respectful in its depiction of women first and then more women leaders will follow? The reality is, we need both to be happening at the same time for there to be any advancement in women’s representation and for us to change the culture of sexism around us.

In the meantime, I will prepare myself for my regular dose of eyerolls and tweeting disdain at papers/journalists. Feel free to join me.